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Introducing Saipan

On first appearances, Saipan seems to be in a bit of a sorry state. Its character in recent years has been aligned to the yen and the crush of Japanese tourists looking to find a cheap slice of exotica in their own backyard. As a result, a great deal of the island's indigenous charm has been overshadowed by fast-food chains and poker houses; foreign workers currently outnumber indigenous groups, and the capital, Garapan, is a flashy tourist trap, filled with massage parlours and a growing sense of unease.

All the same, Saipan has its adherents (apparently, a local joke goes like this: Q: Why do palm trees in Saipan bend to the south? A: Because Guam creates a vacuum).

Outside Garapan, there are gentle beaches on the western and southern coasts, a rugged and rocky eastern coast, a hilly interior and dramatic cliffs to the north.

Finally, despite everything that's been done to their culture (invasion, occupation, appalling economic policies), the people remain welcoming - and tolerant, for the most part.

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