Friday, August 26, 2011

An afternoon at the Tinian Shrine

 I’ve seen the sign on the fork of the road lots of times before, a crudely made piece of wood painted with the words “Tinian Shrine” with an arrow pointing to a rough road leading to a thick shrubbery.
Photos by Raquel C. BagnolThe huge potholes in the road are a big turnoff especially if you are not driving a four-wheel drive or if you are not that adventurous. I had been out exploring and photographing the historical sites of Tinian with visiting photographer and professor Dirk Spennemann from Australia one day a couple of weeks back and the Tinian Shrine was not in our itinerary.
But then, we had an unspoken agreement to “follow the roads and no questions asked until we get there” so off we went.
Spennemann drove all the up to the top of the Carolinas Heights Subdivision, deftly avoiding the huge potholes and the soft portions on the road leading up and stopped at a dead end. Or so we thought when we saw another crudely built sign with an arrow pointing to oh, miracles — a single lane dirt road almost obscured by the thick shrubbery. Hesitant to drive further, my companion said we’d have to walk the rest of the way up.
I was not interested to walk because I was getting tired and my brain was attempting to shut off any minute after working at the computer for the whole night, added to the heat of the 3 p.m. sun blazing down on us and we didn’t even have a drop of water to quench our thirst, my flimsy sandals already gave out from our earlier trek to the North Field that morning so that I had to tie the straps to my toenails, all this added to our heavy cameras and bags.
Visiting photographer and professor of Charles Stuart University Dirk Spennemann aims for a horizontal shoot with his improvised camera.Spennemann finally gave in and taking on a “whatever” stance, took the wheel again. Luckily, the road widened when we were already some meters deep into the bushes and we drove on and up until we reached our destination.
There, nestled amid more shrubbery and green foliage is a wide torii gate and a long flight of slippery, moss-covered stone steps leading up to a stone-built inner shrine at the top. The shrine was deserted so we had the place to ourselves.
Unpacking our gear, we started working and forgot everything else. For the next hour or so, only the clicking of the shutters broke the deafening silence, save for the occasional chirping of birds and crickets.
Although we were just about a couple of miles away from the center of Tinian, I couldn’t shake off the uneasy feeling that we were in another world and were being observed by unseen beings.
I stood still for a few seconds when I reached the small cement house at the top, shrugging off my uneasiness as I glared back at the pair of glaring stone dragons that acted as guards at the entrance of the inner shrine. I learned that the small house was already renovated and renovated after termites the original wood and copper roof.
It was not hard to imagine how Japanese people left offerings in this abandoned Japanese shrine with. An air of solemnity ruled the place and you get the feeling of being intruders and it felt like a sacrilege to touch anything or to even make a slight noise to break the silence.
The small Shinto shrines at the side of the long stairway showed signs of neglect, with several of its smaller stone monuments left shattered around.
The Sumiyoshi Shinto Shrine or popularly known as the Tinian Shrine is one spot that you should not miss on any visit to this island.
An afternoon at the Tinian Shrine | around-the-island.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Revisiting a WW2 structure

A few meters away from the air raid shelters and the monuments erected in memory of the marine battalions is the dilapidated yet sturdy structure used to house the air administrations staff building in the North Field of Tinian. Except for the distant whirring sounds of a brush cutter some maintenance men making as they cleaned the area, everything else was quite and deserted. It was just half past 7 a.m. and we have the place to ourselves.
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I’ve been to the same building a couple of times in the past three years but those were just for a quick stop to take quick photos, and off to other, more interesting sites in the island.
Last week was different. I flew in to Tinian real early with Dr. Dirk Spennemann, a visiting professor from the Charles Sturt University in Australia to visit the historical places and take photos of the people and life in the island.
What made that trip totally different from my previous trips was that I was with somebody who is not only a professional photographer but one trained to see more than what we ‘ordinary mortals’ see, and one who was willing to share his knowledge.
We spent some time in the kitchen area and Spennemann pointed out where the sink and cooking pots used to be installed, the areas where the washrooms and restrooms were, and gave special attention to how the walls, floor tiles and ceilings were designed.
I paid just a passing glance to a white cloth with Japanese symbols and a glass of water placed on the sink. Alongside it were three pieces of incense sticks. To my untrained eye, those were just objects left by some tourists but Spennemann took his time taking photos of it. Only then did I understand that those objects were purposely left by Japanese individuals as offering to their relatives who have passed on during the war.
We gingerly picked our way through the debris and up the slippery stairs to the second floor, where more traces of devastation awaited us. One can just imagine what a busy office that place used to be.
Spennemann pointed out the concrete walls, floors and pillars, the thick pieces of steel sticking out from what was left of the concrete after bombs ripped through. Honestly, I saw the concrete walls, floors and pillars and the thick steel pieces and nothing more as leftovers of a sturdy building before but never took any notice of how sturdily built the building really was so that it is still standing after several decades and despite having several of its pillars blown off by the bombs.
Spennemann said that the constructors did a commendable job using materials designed to last for decades.
Where before I just saw the ruins of the air administration building as one of the must-visit historical sites on Tinian, I left that building not only with hundreds of photos in my camera but saw it under a different light, not only as a remnant of the bloody war but of the important role it played.
Records show that the air administration staff building used to be the headquarters for the Japanese Navy’s 1st Air Fleet under the command of Vice Admiral Kakuji Kakuta, and the building was just one of those vital structures that played an important role in the final stage of the war of the Pacific.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Stopover at Teteto Beach

ROTA—Driving along the paved road from Songsong going to Sinapalo Village on Rota will give you a chance to enjoy many scenic spots that may hinder your trip if you are in a hurry, and this includes pristine beaches, lush jungles, historical sites, and more attractions packed into this small paradise of an island.
One of the island’s attractions that you should and could not miss is this long stretch of a usually deserted white, sandy beach called Teteto Beach Club, located about three and a half miles away from the Rota International Airport. I mean deserted in the sense that you will feel you have rented the whole beach for yourself when you go there. It could be because the island’s limited population just takes the beach for granted, and tourists have other activities and places to explore there, except for few minutes’ stopover.
The slight drizzle did not hamper me from stopping by one afternoon some months back to snap some photos. Contrary to what any photographer would have wanted to capture, there was no blue clouds and bright sun shining above. Instead, the weather was bleak and huge, angry waves crash
Nobody was around, and I felt a little bit strange and apprehensive as I parked my rented car a few feet away from the sign board advertising the name of the beach but I decided to be brave and went out. The umbrellas used to shelter loungers were folded as nobody was using them, and I guess as a protection from being blown by the strong winds. I took quick snapshots as I tried to fight off the uncanny feeling that I was not alone and that someone or something was observing me. Scolding myself for entertaining such thoughts in broad daylight, I hurried back to the car and drove on.
On a bright sunny day, the Teteto Beach would have been a perfect spot to relax and unwind, stretch and read your favorite book, or sunbathe on the loungers.
The water at Teteto Beach looks shallow and safe, but I was told the current could be sometimes pretty strong.
Teteto Beach with its pristine shores is ideal for family picnics, for beach activities, for hanging out or for simply communing with nature.
I would have loved to capture one of the stunning sunsets over Teteto Beach from photos I’ve seen online posted by several photographers but my timing was not good because the weather was not cooperative, and I had to hurry to catch my flight back to Saipan. Maybe, next time.