A few summers ago, I had the privilege of spending a week with my husband on the beautiful Micronesian islands of Pohnpei. Those sunshine-filled days in the Pacific were relaxing and fun, but also deeply life-changing for me. Asian Pacific Island culture changed me.
As a busy, American mom — constantly trying to keep all the plates spinning on the home front — I often ponder the things about island time I hope I never forget. It’s true, everything I observed on the islands doesn’t necessarily translate well into our hectic American way of life. But I believe there are a few important things all of us can learn from the beautiful Asian Pacific culture.
The deeply relational way of life is probably what impacted me most during our visit on the islands. If American culture is time-oriented, then the Asian Pacific culture is people- oriented.
A visit into islanders’ homes felt like stepping back in time where children grow up with siblings, parents, grandparents, extended family members, and neighbors all around. And the welcome doesn’t just stop with kin. Outsiders (like me) are embraced and given a spot around crowded tables without a second thought.
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Every event, every meal, every interaction on the islands centered around the human beings present. There’s really no need for “ice breakers” in island communities. From the start, you’re “in.” And you can forget about trying to leave in a hurry! (I quickly learned that “hurry” is quite a Western word.)
Life Is a Celebration
When our tiny plane landed on the narrow runway in Pohnpei, my husband and I were met by an enthusiastic greeting committee of about 20 islanders all crowded inside the tiny, balmy airport! Immediately, we were swept into a sea of hugs and bright smiles, and swathed with the traditional mwarmwars, which are floral headdresses not unlike Hawaiian leis.
That greeting marked the beginning of many colorful and generous celebrations. In fact, our days on the island felt like a celebration on repeat!
At most any time, the women and children were apt to remove their sandals or flip flops and break into a colorful dance — twirling in unison to traditional folk songs, singing, and moving with complete muscle memory and abandon. No need to rehearse the song-and-dance; this was not a performance, but a way of life.
When our days on the islands came to a close, my husband and I had an interesting dilemma: Our new friends had given us so many gifts that we didn’t have space in our luggage to take everything home! We ended up sending a box of handicrafts, beautiful mwarmwars, island clothing, and other tokens of friendship ahead of us.
The most treasured gift I brought home with me after our trip to Asia Pacific was the incredible gift of feeling wholly accepted and loved on the spot, no questions asked. As an American woman stepping out of a highly driven, performance-seeking culture, the unabashed acceptance and generous hospitality felt incredibly humbling. I don’t think I can possibly forget how safe that unrestrained kindness felt.
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Reliving Island Time
Not a day passes when I don’t see a gift from our Micronesian friends somewhere in my Fort Worth home. Without fail, a smile touches my lips and, for just a moment, I’m living on “island time” again with music, bright colors, brighter smiles, and all the time in the world to live into that moment.
I used to think the phrase “island time” was nothing more than a jingle created to commercialize beachwear and vacation condos. Lucky for me, a real-life experience with the generous people of the islands taught me better. “Island time” is more than just knowing how to vacation well once-a-year. Truly, it’s about living well, loving big, and leaning with your whole heart into the moment you have right in front of you. No strings attached, no timer set.
I really believe that observing just a few minutes of this kind of “island time” every day would radically change our lives, our homes, and our American culture for the better.