We went to the cemetery to place some flowers at a grave site. In case I forgot I was living in a very different culture, I was reminded at the cemetery. Families were gathered across the grassy knolls, sitting in chairs around a loved one’s grave, telling stories, and having picnics. Almost every headstone had fresh flowers placed at it.
Family is a big part of the way of living here. Family can be extended relatives, it can also be friends and neighbors you consider family. You’ll hear the word “ohana” used frequently to express that feeling. As we placed our flowers and watered them, I noticed the stone of the grave site near us.
She lived to 107. Is a strong ohana the reason for longevity? She had no flowers on her grave and the stone next to hers seemed to be of her son who died in 1965. Was she the last of her lineage to pass? Did her ohana take care of her all those years? I cleaned off the stone as best I could and wished her a peaceful rest.
You know you live in the right place when you don’t want to leave.
That’s what I told myself as I slowed my pace while walking to my boarding gate at Honolulu airport.I stopped on the walkway overlooking the courtyard below and inhaled the smell of the plumeria. I took in the colors of the trees and the sound of the wind before I shut myself into the enclosed boarding area. I didn’t want to go to California.
I was heading to a writing conference at USC, my alma mater. I was going to a place I love, doing what I love, and I didn’t want to leave the place I have come to love more – Hawaii.
Before I moved here, people told me the ‘aina (land) would either take me in or spit me out. I worried, especially after my bumpy arrival here. Hawaii isn’t like anywhere else I’d been. I needed to adjust.
So I did.
I learned to slow down, to listen to the land, the weather, the animals, the people.
I think of the mountains and how they slope into valleys and stretch out to sea. It’s like relaxing in a comfy lounge chair. I settle into the slope and breathe in the green around me, then gaze into the blue stretched out before me. Living here is soothing.
There are three places I feel connected to on this planet: one calls me back to its magic every few years; the second grips me and tells me I can’t leave because I have roots there and need to explore them: the third, O’ahu, welcomes me to the space it has made for me, and invites me to rest and take in its beauty.
Upon my return, I exited the airport and sat in traffic overlooking the industrial part of town. Even there, I felt the land welcome me home.
“You live in Hawaii? So you’re on vacation all the time. Lucky you.”
Friends assume we go to the beach all day, every day and listen to the surf while sitting under palm trees and eating pineapple and coconuts. Okay, maybe not that stereotypical, but life here is like anywhere else. We have jobs, commitments, social obligations, chores, you know, real lives, just like you.
Our past few weeks have been so busy we haven’t seen the ocean other than from our car while sitting in traffic on the H-1 freeway. We haven’t spent a day at the beach since last summer. We have a life. A good one, but it still has the same time commitments as everyone else.
Are you planning on visiting a friend who lives in a tourist destination? If so, remember that while you are on vacation, they are not. We’d love to take a day and show you the North Shore or go to the beach, but that would count against our vacation time. And while staying at our home, remember that we go to bed early because we to go to work in the morning. Or in my case, I work from home. Quiet, please.
In the evenings, we host book club at our homes. We have the boss over for dinner. We wait for the plumber who’s coming over at the end of his day as a favor to fix our water heater. We go to the grocery store. We pay our bills. We answer e-mails and phone calls, some personal or confidential. Sometimes we want to plop in front of the TV in our pajamas and relax. We do the same things you do at night at home.
And as much as we love our friends, we have a lot of them. If they all stayed at our place, we’d never have a night to ourselves. And, again, we love seeing you, but we probably have family or other friends coming to stay with us after you leave. When staying with friends, ask yourself, “What will I do while the boss is over for dinner?” or “Where will I go when my friends leave for writer’s group or another commitment?” or “How long will I have to be out of the guest room that doubles as an office?” or “How much clean-up is there after I leave and the next person comes in?”
Staying at a friend’s house isn’t the same as staying at a hotel. Plan your adventures as if we weren’t here. You’ll need a rental car if you stay with us. There is no room service or late night cocktail on the beach here. There’s no shuttle to Waikiki. You are housekeeping in a home. (And be warned, sand gets everywhere!)
Let us know ahead of time when you are vacationing on Oahu. We’ll help you find a hotel and we’ll make time to see you. You’ll have a great vacation.
Note: If you are one of our teenaged nieces, nephews or godsons, none of this pertains to you. We know how honored to be should you grace us with your teenaged presence.
Sunday and Monday we had heavy rain. The roads flooded. We were under Flash Flood Warning. Everything was wet. And I learned the real reason why everyone wears flip-flops (slippahs) here. I had thought it was because we needed shoes to wear to the beach that slipped off easily and could get wet.
On Sunday, I left a friend’s house and learned how to navigate in slippahs through flooded streets to my car. I was up to my ankles in water and sloshed through runoff filled with oil and gas slicks. Dirt, debris and a dead mouse passed by my slippah-laden feet. First thing I did when I got home was rinse off my cheap rubber flip-flops with the garden hose. Then I hopped in the shower to wash my grimy feet.
Monday I walked through a parking lot that turned into a river of water. I had assumed the lot was level, but the water came at me from left to right as I headed to my car. More debris, gas and oil slicks crossed over my feet as I slogged through seven inches of water, reaching my lower calf just below the hem of my capri pants.
How would it look to walk around Honolulu city streets in my San Francisco black waterproof boots with my pink and blue sleeveless dress or cotton capris? Remember, even though it was stormy it was in the high 70’s.
I’m going to buy more cheap slippahs this weekend.
Last month we were in Seattle for the USC-UW football game. I wrote about the food found in Seahawk stadium; the gluten-free stand, the coffee stands, the healthy popcorn stand.
When I attended a UH football game at Aloha Stadium a couple of weeks ago, I had a difficult time finding something to eat. I wanted something small to nibble on during the game. Popcorn sounded good. Or a pretzel. Yet, I wandered round the stadium and found “plate lunch”, which is a plate piled high with a full serving of meat, rice, and corn. (Usually it’s mac salad, but here it was corn.) My other choices included fish, which was cooked with shellfish, which I’m allergic to. Here’s a photo of a typical food stand at the stadium:
Mark had the saimin.
I ended up with an Ono Pop. It’s a Hawaiian version of a fruit bar.
The game was fun, only because we went with friends and the people around us were entertaining, but UH lost the game and there weren’t many students there.
In the parking lot after the game, we saw a rainbow over the highway next to the stadium. I was told, “There’s always a rainbow after Hawaii loses.” Maybe that’s to remind everyone that even though the team lost, we still get to live in Hawaii?
I’ve come across a few other things recently that I’ve found funny, strange or interesting.
I’ll never get used to seeing a whole fish at the grocery store.
Yes, it is cold on the mainland. Buy your scarf and hat at Whole Foods!
At the crafts fair, I found women lined up early to try on clothes from one specific Hawaiian dress designer. This wasn’t at the mall or a big box store. This was a local crafts fair held at Blaisdell Center in Honolulu.
We first noticed the crawl across the top of the TV screen- tsunami warning for all of Hawaii. A tsunami had been generated from a 7.7 earthquake off the coast of Canada. Earlier that Saturday evening we received text messages from our state Office of Emergency Services saying,”No tsunami warning for Hawaii.”
We are close to an evacuation zone, but not in one. I didn’t know what to do. Was the earlier text correct or the current TV warning? Just then, we heard the first tsunami siren go off in our neighborhood.
Mark and I both jumped up, grabbed our emergency supplies and our kits, added a few items, and drove off.
Within 15 minutes, we saw lines at the gas stations, traffic on the streets with cars driving erratically, and turnouts along the mountain roads already filling up with cars. People were moving to higher ground and staking out spots to stay until the warning was over.
It turns out the tsunami was minor. Many sirens weren’t working and a few other glitches happened, but overall, I’m taking this as a good practice run. State Civil Defense gets a chance to fix the sirens and we get a chance to refill our emergency kits. (We moved a few weeks back, and not wanting to move our extra water, we drank it up.)
The following day, we left the tsunami in Saturday and focused on Sandy, the monster storm, about to hit the East Coast.
Here on Oahu, when I’m invited to a party at a house I’ve never been to before, how do I know I’m at the correct house? When I see I pile of slippahs (AKA flip-flops) outside the front door.
While driving, if I let the bus come into my lane, the driver flashes a digitally lighted sign on the rear of the bus that shows a hand giving the shaka and the word “mahalo” after it.
I love the variety of flowers here. When entering an office building, I often see flowers on the lobby table or the receptionist’s desk. I’m not talking about a typical vase of gerbera daisies or roses. Tropical flowers of all shapes and colors are everywhere here. This pink flower is one I saw the other day on a receptionist’s desk. I have no idea what type of flower this is, but I love it.
In many sections of Oahu I see groups of Japanese tourists with cameras and guidebooks in hand, waiting outside restaurants, walking to sights, or standing en masse in front of shops. They come here with tour groups and given guidebooks that tell them exactly where to go and what to see. And they follow it. If a clothing store is in their guidebook, they will come into that store and point to the photo of a specific article of clothing. They want that exact item shown in their guidebook. They’ll wait an hour or more to eat at a specific restaurant because that restaurant was in their guidebook. They’ll chance getting hit in traffic because they are directed to rent kayaks from a specific kayak company; one that requires crossing a busy road. Ironically, the road is busy with tour buses, not commuter traffic.
Most mornings I work on my computer at a coffee shop. Well, my coffee shop is soon-to-be added to a Japanese guidebook. I watched Japanese women stage photos of the inside of the coffee shop and of plates of food. This place is about to be invaded by groups of Japanese tourists.
At least they are quiet and respectful of others, even in a large group.
While writing this at the coffee shop, there’s one guy who is obviously NOT from here and not a Japanese tourist. How is he so obvious? He’s talking on his cell phone so loudly that everyone can hear his conversation. I guess he’s so important, he can prevent others from having a quiet conversation with a friend or co-worker over a cup of coffee, or keep the rest of us who are on computers distracted from our work. Yes, mister businessman from Denver, I feel like asking you, “Who is the loudest person in here?”
But I won’t.
I’ll just remember for myself, “When in Rome, I mean, Oahu…..”
Shops in Honolulu take Yen. Sales people speak Japanese. Signs and menus are in English and Japanese. The Japanese influence on this town is everywhere. A good example is Marukai market. It’s a club store, sort of like Costco. Members can stock up on Hawaiian-made snacks, Japanese home décor, and necessities like fans, altars, bamboo plants and Hello Kitty items. Never will you run out of rice if you live near Marukai. Fresh sushi and every kind of shoyu/soy sauce is also available.
On a recent visit to my hair stylist, he placed a new product in my hair to give it sheen. I loved it and purchased a bottle. “Put a little in the palm of your hand and run it through your hair before you blow dry,” he said.
“About how much?” I asked. “The size of a dime?”
“Too much” he said.
“So, maybe pea-sized?” I asked. “Too little,” he answered. He then nodded his head, and said, “Edamame size.”
Edamame size? Only in Hawaii have I heard people refer to something as edamame-sized. I really am out of the U.S.
But where exactly am I?
In Honolulu, the Japanese influence is strong, but what about the rest of the island? In the less populated areas of Oahu, there’s another world, one before the Japanese culture landed on this island… it’s that of the native Hawaiian. Here’s a photo that illustrates their thoughts:
I make no political statement. I endorse no group. I am an American living in a land that is removed from mainstream American culture. Life has an ebb and flow here based upon the weather, the geography, and the mix of people. Hawaii has no majority ethnic group. English, Japanese, Hawaiian and Pidgin (among others) are spoken here. Baptist churches reside next to Shinto Temples. The Episcopal cathedral tower can be seen while standing in front of a Chinese temple. The Mormon temple and rural Protestant church live harmoniously in the country, while evangelical churches dot most neighborhoods.
What is important now? Appreciating the beauty of the land here. Even in the rain and clouds, the mountains are spectacular. They tell me a story every time I look at them. When they look angry, I wonder why. Is it my emotion being projected onto them or are the mountains trying to tell me something?
When the alternating blue and cloudy sky reflects upon the ocean creating flowing shades of turquoise, aqua and sea-foam green, I stop to admire the constant change in color as each wave laps upon the shore, then disappears. In those moments, I’m reminded of the constant change of life. Nothing stays the same. Each moment is unique and fleeting. Mother Nature reminds me to appreciate the moments life gives me. And that goes for the people. I’ve written before about the nature of human beings. Seventy years ago Japan was our enemy, now they are our friends. I’ve encountered native Hawaiians who have judged me by my skin color and others who have accepted me as another human, blind to the difference of skin color between us.
A friend asked me what my thoughts are of having lived in Hawaii for just over a year. Mostly, I’ve changed my priorities. I don’t need the latest clothes by some designer or the latest upscale linens. I don’t need to rush. Nothing has to be done so quickly that my rushing it negatively affects another person’s serenity. I’ve learned I can’t assume the way a person is by their skin color or cultural background. I let the land dictate the way my day goes.
Sometimes the ocean calls me and I just have to stop at the beach to feel the water wash over my feet. As the last of each wave swirls around my ankles, I watch the clouds float by reminding me to live in the moment, to be a good person, and to accept all inhabiting this multi-cultural island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.