Lancheru Man, Manlancheru Ham

by Valerie on Wednesday, September 2, 2020

One of my fondest memories of Grandpa goes as far back as påtgon mayute’ days. This is around the same time my cousins and I always smelled like sun and sweat from full days of boonie excursions. Weekends meant visiting Grandpa in Yigo. It meant waking up so early you could hear the roosters’ first crows and feel the dew from grass in between your toes. Time stood still at the ranch. Mom and I walked up to the screen door of a dirty kitchen he built from the ground up. She raised her voice just loud enough so they could hear from the back room, “oooi!” The door was always unlocked–even before Auntie Annie could reply, “maila hålom, Bop.”

Breakfast was usually steamed dågu or nika, mendioka or some root vegetable variation grandpa had harvested earlier that week. I drenched those suckers in maple syrup and stuffed my face silly, turning the lazy Susan around for seconds, often thirds. Pancakes couldn’t compare. Sometimes we had fresh eggs and I thought, eee, these still have dirt on the shell. But sunny side up, the yolks were more vivid than school bus yellow and they tasted richer than the top one percent. A spotted, stained shell exterior lodging something nourishing and wholesome on the inside. I remember Auntie Annie sending me to the backyard to pick green onions and helping her slice them in the kitchen when she made her Spam fried rice. How she taught me the secret is that you gotta fry your rice down long enough. “I like my fried rice crispy, Nen,” she said. We ate until we were full.

Afterwards, we dumped all our leftovers in a red Ace Hardware bucket with a homemade wooden cover, you know the one… or you might be more familiar with its second cousins, old ice cream container and empty Country Crock container. I helped Mom and Auntie Annie wash dishes while Grandpa put on his long sleeves and rain boots. Then I would trail behind him hauling the bucket of pig slop in both hands. We walked across a pebbled and potholed street, just narrow enough to fit one car so that when a neighbor was passing from the opposite direction, one person would have to pull to the side and give way. Why did the farmer cross the road? To feed the chickens and pigs, nai!

He did this every day for his entire walking life. Inviting three generations to tag along with him: his children, grandchildren, great grands. Never shy about calling us out when we didn’t visit him frequently enough. Insisting that much like his plants, we needed watering too. And because we had our fill, the animals needed theirs as well. All thirty idk, forty some manok were free range at the time so stepping on their tåki was unavoidable, but Grandpa assured me that it’s okay to get my feet dirty. When we gathered eggs, he said don’t take too many because the mama hens would become sad. And the smell of six babui when he let me dump their slop into the pen made my stomach a little stronger.

In hindsight, I realize that it might’ve been easier for Grandpa to do his daily lancheru duties without us there to slow him down, but I think this was his way of creating experiences that would teach us kustombren CHamoru. And it’s afforded me valuable life lessons about what it is to be interdependent. About how, with just a little daily upkeep, we can cultivate our gardens (literally, and the way Voltaire meant it too). And about the responsibilities we have towards that which we tame—even on the mornings when we can’t bring ourselves to get out of bed. These are lessons which I still carry with me until today, on his 90th birthday. Minagof ha’ånen mafañågu-mu, Grandpa.

Found in Translation

by Valerie on Thursday, August 31, 2017

Christy wrote it down for me in a cultural intelligence class one day. I took a picture because it was something I didn’t want to forget. Never mind the topical, just save me the important stuff. Like the way you would memorize a person’s features, speech and mannerisms so you could keep them for later — occupying your mind until you’ve exhausted every minute detail.

This word from the Yahgan language — a dying language still able to perfectly describe these real, live actions. It translates to a look shared by two people each wishing the other would initiate something that they both desire but which neither wants to begin. Another interpretation might be that look across the table when two people are sharing an unspoken but private moment. When each knows the other understands and is in agreement with what is being expressed. An expressive meaningful silence.

Language plays an important part in our cultural identity. But despite our differences, we ultimately feel the same things. Sociopaths not included.

If you’ve ever:

1.) heard someone say a thing so cute you wanted to squeeze her

2.) seen someone so beautiful you wanted to punch him in the face

3.) held a baby so chubby chub chubs you wanted to smother the heck out of it when they speak to you in gibberish so you try to humor them to keep the conversation going and sure enough they talk back more nonsense and this makes you lol and they laugh along right with you and it’s just too much to take in that your head ‘splodes

Then you know what it’s like to feel gigil — a Filipino word describing that feeling of being so overwhelmed by someone or something that you get the urge to destroy it.

Also in Filipino, mahal means love, means expensive, interestingly.

Mahalang in Chamorro is a sort of deep yearning in your heart. When you miss something or pine for someone so much that it causes you to be sad

Siempre is an expression of affirmation in both Chamorro and Filipino, of course. It certainly is! In Spanish, siempre translates to always. Not to be confused with Shempi,  the 7th track off Ratatat’s 3rd studio album, LP3. It’s a fantastic album.

Manaakitanga is a Maori word used to describe their kind of welcoming and hospitality. It’s a process of showing respect, generosity and care for others. You can find a complete breakdown of what it means here. Chamorros have similar practices by showing their hafa adai spirit, but I’m not so sure there’s a word for it.

We can communicate the same things through different languages. Just as much, we can convey different meanings by saying the same thing in another language. We can experience so much emotional overload it causes our insides to shake. Or a yearning so deep and desperate it deflates our hearts. We can communicate without having to say anything at all, there’s a word specifically meant just for that. We could be so physically ill that we spend a good part of our night mentally dissecting the meaning of things like beautiful words from various languages. I mean, I’m pretty sure there has to be a word for that too, right? Siempre.

Winter is Coming

by Valerie on Tuesday, August 1, 2017


To fur or not to fur? About a year ago, I placed the highest bid on eBay for this vintage fur coat from the 1960s. It was something that I mulled over for a while. Going back and forth in my head, trying to psyche myself into taking the snipe. Upon winning the auction, I made a list of pros and cons trying to rationalize the purchase, still not convinced it was the right decision. It went something like:

-it’s secondhand/not creating more waste
-at $75, it’s considerably more affordable than paying premium for quality outerwear
-it’ll keep you warmer than the only other down coat in your wardrobe
-it speaks to your inner Margot Tenenbaum
-you are not Kanye

-can easily be mistaken for a modern coat
-thus perpetuating the real fur runway trend
-may trigger holier-than-thou confrontations from random vegans (is it safe to assume us non-vegans have all had one of those?)
-carrying around the constant fear of being blood bombed by PeTA enthusiast while wearing in public
-you are not Kanye

The coat, it had random tears along some of its pelts. The lining, discoloured and unraveling along the collar. And my god, the smell. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love salvaging these worn out vintage pieces so that they become whole again. Potential is such a beautiful word. Thrift stores are overrun with beautiful gems that just need a little polishing. With enough time, energy and love they could be like new again. Well, that and maybe a quick tumble with Dryel. What you’re left with is something that could last for 20 years to come. Something you could appreciate more because you put in the work for it. It seems like a reasonable alternative in a sea of mass-produced, sweatshop-made, fast fashion synthetics. Loved for a day and then thrown away.

But I also find myself asking why I’m still hesitant to pack it in my luggage during cold weather trips abroad. Or how come it feels more offensive to wear than say, to enjoy the taste of a medium rare steak or to prance around in a pair of leather boots—both are convictions that I can own up to. Still, I haven’t worked up enough courage yet to don something so decadent outside. So until then, it’s having to settle for a humble down and complain about how much I hate the cold, burrr.



by Valerie on Thursday, June 9, 2016

“It’s too predictable. I mean, there aren’t any surprises. Not a fan of math.”
“That’s why I like it. It’s like… perfection.”
“Perfection is overrated – I kinda like it when things are a mess.”
“Usually I find that the people who hate math are the ones who are bad at it.”

Possibility is my favourite word. It sits right up there with the creativity, humour, and incidentally the word favourite. That’s what the arts have to offer – endless, unfathomable, surprising possibility. The best thing about Festpac was being able to connect with and learn about different cultures – a hodgepodge of island people united in one diverse, crowded, sweaty pao fafa of a mess.






His first question is always, “where’s the beer?”




Joey used to be part of the visuals dept at my work. Now he’s doing what he really loves- creating kumyus and machetes for a living. Notice how real blacksmiths wear Nike’s.



“Turn your camera horizontal,” I told Reena.

“There’s a reason why I’m holding it this way – I want a full body shot, girl” she says then shoots me a mischievous grin.



Every girl and their mom was raving about the Rapa Nui boys. Reena and I were all, hellooo, Fijian boys! It was too dark to notice how much my cheeks flushed when he extended his hand out to get us dancing in the pit with them. “Oh dear,” I’m grooving backwards and shaking my head from side to side, “not enough alcohol for that.” Reena looks at me, eyes brimming with delight and says, “he smells like coconut oil!”



I scored a pair of iridescent shell earrings and offered the other half to her. They’re hand-carved by one of the Palau delegates. We made them into friendship earrings because fish are friends. (corny dad joke alert) Really delicious, anti-inflammatory friends. Yum!

And another gratuitous camera phone pic of us stuntin’ our new swag pieces







Browsing the art gallery before we stumbled into the theater



The gem that gleamed the brightest for me was New Zealand and their unmatched way of telling stories – a tradition that’s been passed on by Maoris from generation to generation. Lawrence Wharerau was the delegate chosen to showcase a few short films. He introduces and closes each short story with even shorter bits of insight about their culture. Like how in Two cars, One Night, it’s not uncommon for most Kiwi children to experience this – waiting in cars alongside other children while their parents are having a couple of drinks inside. Only to part ways at the end of the night, never seeing each other again.




One of his goals in coming out here was to encourage other islands to develop their own film industry as the New Zealand Film Commission has managed to to. Discovering them has opened up a widow to all these glorious new old films and I have to say – they are showing Hollywood what’s up! Representing Nga Taonga Sound and Vision (New Zealand’s national auiovisual archive), he notes that these shorts are what help independent film makers earn credit and support for future feature films. Although I could argue that short films can be equally impactful if not more so than any full length movie. Director of Two Cars, One Night Taika Waititi can attest,

“There are a few moments in childhood that have a lasting impact. Not because they change the course of your life, or because they arrive with any great fanfare, in fact quite the opposite. Those are moments where an unexpected joy is found in the everyday, a moment of beauty in the ordinary.”

It was as if watching these short films was on a par with listening to a narrative song from Sufjan Stevens or reading an Amy Hempel novella (but that’s an entire conversation of its own). In Run, director Mark Albiston shows us the dynamic relationship between a brother and sister and my heart immediately aches with recognition.



“One small moment of beauty, happiness, or love, lives longer in the memory than a lifetime of sorrow,” Waititi goes on.

Just like in minimalism – a good story has you laughing one minute and crying the next. And that’s exactly what these stories do – they disarm you into feeling. Highlighting the victories of our everyday nuances. So happy and grateful to have lived them, despite knowing how bittersweet an ending will have to come.

You know, I always maintained an A- in math. As it turns out, humanities were just my favourite subjects.

Jasmine + Fernan

by Valerie on Tuesday, July 15, 2014


You know, when I met Jazzy it was my first day at the big, bad galleria. I remember walking into the cafeteria and it felt like high school all over again. Very clique-y with all the ate’s sharing their food along the corner booths. The jocks and bodybuilders were watching the game on t.v.. The cool kids always sat outside in the smoking section. I remember not knowing anybody at all – let alone where to sit. And from behind Jaz was like,

“Val, come sit here with me.”

And I remember thinking, whoa, how does she know my name? And maybe feeling a little embarrassed that I didn’t know hers yet. But I was like,

“ok, I’m just gonna go grab my food.”

On my way back from the refrigerator I find her pushing our two tables together to make we sat THISCLOSE to each other and how warm and fuzzy it made me feel after watching her do that.

She’d always extend the invitation to go running along Tumon after work so we don’t get stuck in rush hour traffic. Or she’ll remember what your favourite fragrance is and slip you a bottle from her allowance poorly wrapped in old newspaper in the locker room. But anyway, that’s just a testament to the kind of thoughtful character Jazzy has. People always talk about the elusive heart of gold, but Jazzy with her little gestures gives you a real glimpse of it.

Congrats to Jazzy and Fernan! We wish you guys all the love in the world, even though it was inside of you from the start.

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