Saturday, September 05, 2009

palau culture

"Alii!", this is the greeting for "Welcome", "Hello" in Palau, kind of like "Aloha" in Hawaiian.

Palau, also known as Belau (in Palau language) is located near the Philippines. The Spanish, German and then the Japanese occupied this area at various times during Palau's history. Most of the history before these occupations is unknown.

Many people can speak Japanese and there are some remnants of Japanese life as well as remnants of war in Palau.

There was a baseball field in the middle of town called Asahi Field. Loved it, it has lots of grass in the outfield too.

Some entrances still have Japanese mon (gates). Many people have Japanese sounding last names, like someone's name was Kimurasan (-san is the polite way to address someone, Japanese-y but not really Japanese), even our taxi driver's last name was Japanese, though he was 100% Palauan.

The taxi driver said his parents spoke Japanese when he was growing up and they also attended a Japanese school in the mountains (run by Japanese temples), so he could converse pretty fluently.

I think our guide said that there are about 600 Japanese words that the people of Palau use in their everyday language!

The taxi driver also mentioned with the introduction of Western foods (a.k.a. American fast foods) into their diets, they have more diabetes/diseases nowadays, though he said his grandma lived to 107 and his grandpa 115!

Luckily there was no McDonald's there, but there was a cafe serving Starbucks coffee.

One item which is popularly bought as omiyage (souvenirs) are storyboards. Apparently this craft was brought to Palau by a Japanese art teacher, Hisakatsu Hijikata. He taught several students carving and the rest is history. These intricately carved boards tell different stories about everyday life and fables of Palau.

A popular picture is of the moneybird, you can see this decorating buildings as well as on advertisements, especially bai (meeting houses).

According to our guide, it is thought that these birds eat stones and produce money beads (or wealth, now that is one bird I think we all would like to have).

The bai is a remarkable building because they use no nails to hold it together. These meeting houses are raised up off the ground and have areas inside to burn fires.

The roof is put together with lauahala (pandanus) leaves.

Apparently these meeting houses were only for men to meet (no women were allowed), though some bai were used for a young man's "first time". The boards used to make the bai are painted with different stories.

The capitol of Palau used to be located on Koror, but moved to Melekeok, in 2006 the new capitol building is said to be a replica of the US Capitol building.

There are 16 states within Palau, each has their own governor and license plate. It was neat checking out all the different types. (can you see us in the bumper??)

The main town is located on the island of Koror and the capitol is located on the big island called Babeldaob.

There is no mail delivery, everyone has a post office box and has to come to the post office to pick up their mail.

They have only recently switched to digital television and only have dial-up internet service.

Cell phone service is available in parts of the island and they have only recently started texting.

According to our guide many countries want to develop Palau, but Palau has a strict law in which foreigners cannot own land in Palau. This has ended some development plans and some projects end up unfinished in Palau due to misunderstandings and lack of funding.

Around the island you will see some farms, mostly taro, tapioca and some veggies. Only women do the farming. The men fish. If you happen to see a guy in the fields, chances he is a foreigner from the Philippines or Bangladesh.

There is no public transportation in Palau, locals travel in their own cars or car pool (riding in back of pick up trucks). I also saw several people bicycling.

Almost any car will pose as a taxi, but be sure to look for the yellow sign near the driver's side. Also, there are no meters in the taxis, so be sure to ask the fare to your destination before getting in.

At about 4:00 pm when the government workers end work, you can see a l-o-n-g line of traffic trudging along on the main road (in both directions).

The roads are awful in most areas. Only in recent years have there been nicely paved areas. According to our guide, a big typhoon hit (maybe a year or two ago) and washed out part of the road, they are only beginning to try to fix it.

There is no sales tax, so the price you see is the price you pay. Also, there is no tipping system.

But don't spend all your money, you'll need US$20 cash (I think they accept travelers checks too, but better to have cash) to leave Palau, they have a departure tax.


Caroline in San Francisco said...

Thanks for a great summary! Learned a lot. Look forward to another post about food in Palau?

KirkK said...

Looks wonderful Kat! Thanks for sharing.

K and S said...

Thanks Caroline, hope to post about food soon!

Thanks Kirk :)

Take care you two.

jalna said...

Great tour!! Thanks!

Deb in Hawaii said...

What a great post--fun to see it through your eyes. I didn't know much about Palau before!

K and S said...

Thanks Jalna :)

Me too Debinhawaii, it was a great experience :)

Take care you two.

Rowena said...

Interesting post, but what especially caught my eye was the post office boxes...were they combination type? I couldn't tell, but if they were, boy are those rare! I remember using combination-style ages ago!

K and S said...

Thanks Rowena, sorry I couldn't tell either from my photo (and I don't remember what I saw). I do know that Palau gets a LOT of "hand me downs" from other countries.

Take care.