Showing posts from 2008

Infidelities: or Things I Miss About the Big Island

We've been on Kauai for almost 3 months now. The first three months someplace are usually the hardest-- no friends, no routines-- unfamiliar roads and disorienting landscape, not to mention a mountain of unpacked boxes. But not this time.
This time, I think I'm in love. Everywhere I go-- out to the dry and stunning Waimea Canyon or to rainy and dreamlike Hanalei Valley-- I'm awed. Even riding my bike every day on our little muddy road and through the pastures I sigh and giggle. It's just all so beautiful!
And the food! There is good food in every nook and cranny, in every little lean-to town--the ramshackle little place serving steaming bowls of rich brothy Pho with spicy basil and cool lemon grass on mismatched tables and wobbly chairs, or the cafe with the ugly ripped booths and flourescent lights serving buttery apple turnovers crusted with sugar. And my favorite, genki sushi-- where the sushi comes around on a conveyer belt and you can pluck it off like gleaming lit…

The Playground

Today Rosie and I went to our favorite beach. I buckled her in, drove less than a mile from our house through wide open pastures in the shadow of green cliffs, through a tunnel of Rainbow Shower Trees (their real name), and voila, we're at the beach: blue skies, shading palm trees, golden sand and pounding surf on a hot December afternoon.
There was a huge storm last night-- the rain whipped our metal roof and the lightening lit the room. Our dirt road washed away by morning, and some new rocks are poking up through, jostling the car as I drive over them. And the ocean was still frenzied-- 10 and 15 foot waves breaking right on top of each other, pushing up over the lava rocks, and hiss-foaming long up the beach.
Even the little protected baby lagoon water was wobbling with the heavy waves pounding over the break-- round little waveletts rolling quickly up the sand.
We played on the playground. There were triplet boys, about 7, in matching khaki hats and long-sleeved rash guards (th…

Why I'm Grateful to be in Hawaii during the Economic Crisis

1. The beach is free.

2. The Queen Emalani Hula festival in Kokee Park (also free) was free. It's also bizarre-- a woman portraying the queen rides in on her horse with her ladies in waiting, sits in a royal tent, and then many hula halaus perform for her, to proxy performing for Queen Emalani. If you came to see some hula, too bad for you. The event seems like a ritual for the dancers-- it's certainly not a performance for the public. It was quite moving to see her ride in and all the halaus run out across the field to meet her.

3. Farmers markets where you can get a small mountain of sweet potato greens, or a bag of big juicy okra, or fresh yellow peppers, or a heap of apple bananas-- for a dollar

4. High energy costs means that we've never used our dryer and instead always can hang out laundry up to get nice and stiff and crispy in the sun.

5. Neighbors are generous: we gave our neighbors a bag of oranges, they came over later with a bag of baby snacks.

6. Wild chickens and…

Long absence, New Island, Inn at the End of the World

Kauai is the oldest of the inhabited Hawaiian islands-- she is rutted and raked down the middle-- deeply pitted and eroded with soft jungled mountains and dizzying cliffs.
And here we find ourselves, strangers in a strange land, yet again! It is a little bit vertiginous to be on an island and know absolutely nobody.
We got off the plane in Lihue, picked up our rental car, and drove to Kalaheo to an odd little rabbit-warren of a hotel/shelter/historic plantation mansion/apartment building. We stayed in a tiny room with just a bed, a shower, a sink, a mini fridge and a hot plate for two weeks and got to know our fellow inmates. I mean guests.
In the mornings two big boys-- 9 and 11-- came galloping like bison down the stairs over our heads, with their edgy alert dog Penny in tow. They loved showing us around the grounds-- "This is where James kills the roosters! This is where I caught a lizard and accidentally pulled off his tail! This is sleeper grass!" You can poke your finger …

Malihini 101

If I ever have the chance, I want to have a community education class for recent transplants to the island, whether they're from Oahu or Oakland or Oklahoma. It would introduce them to basics about the island, culture, daily life, and history-- and hopefully make them better able to integrate themselves into the community with as little friction as possible. I'd get long-time locals and successfully-integrated malihini to come and teach each session, and have lots of discussion. And food. Plenny food.

How about this for some topics:

History of the island: pre-contact, Hawaiian Kingdom, plantation, annexation, ww2, statehood, Hawaiian Renaissance and the presentLocal ghost stories (Obake stories!)
State of the island: an overview of local politics-- introducing politicians and major issues and summarizing all (hah) points of view.
Language: Intro to pidgin (what it's okay for Malihini to say, like pau, piko, howzit, and what it's not okay: cuz! Brah! Imua!!! When in doubt, …

Two creepy things:

Number one:
Riding my bike down one of the back roads in Hawaiian homes one afternoon, I smell an overwhelming stink. I keep riding and it gets worse and worse. Then I notice a skull-- then another skull-- then a ribcage scaffolding out of the dirt-- and I realize that all up and down the roadside are goat carcasses. Some of them have been pulled out of black trash bags, some are just pearly white bones. The jaws have pulled open, and the mouths gape in impossible yawns. And it really, really reeks.

Number two:
I stopped to fill up my gas in Hilo (for some reason 20 cents cheaper over there). I unscrewed the cap on the gas tank, and went to put the nozzle in when I noticed hundreds of tiny yellow spiders pouring out of the tank, all over the side of the car. They were so small and slow it was almost like watching dust move in your eye-- but, blink, blink-- they don't disappear.

Creepy times in paradise!

The Good, the Bad, and the Gorgeous

North of Kona, lava rock stretches like a crumpled black cloth for 60 miles. It's so open and endless it's dizzying-- like the long empty drive through Nevada or the Salt Flats. Acacia trees, thorny kiawe scrub, and patches of yellow grass grow crackling and dry on the older lava flows.
Interrupting the black savannah, down by the beach, the resorts gleam in smooth green golf-grass oases.

Are they good or bad?

On the good side, sure, lots of locals work there-- I have friends who go down there, watering and trimming the lawns, distributing the towels, printing the paychecks, vacuuming, patrolling the grounds, clearing the buffet plates, watching the pool. Tourists come to the island to stay at these places and be spoiled and entertained and tanned and soothed-- and along the way they rent cars, eat dinner, buy souvenirs from other places where other local people work. So the tourist economy is doing a little trickling: tourists come, spend money, your boss makes money, so you get…

A Fond Fareweel, or The Best of the Big Island!

Well, we're leaving the Big Island for a job on Kaua'i in less than a month.
It's very exciting and very sad.
But the good part is we have one month to go do all of our favorite BI stuffs one "last" time.
So here's my list for my Best of Waimea:
Hiking up behind the Mormon church, past the reservoirs, through Parker Ranch, over the Puus and up all the way to the top of misty lush Waipio Valley. The Farmer's market on Saturdays (the Haole fishbowl as Uncle Rudy called it) with herb stands and crepes and popsicles and fresh strawberries and mushrooms and beautiful spinach and lettuce...The Aloha festival parade with the chanters followed immediately and completely drowned out by the loudest marching band ever.The Christmas mac truck big rig paradethe rodeos-- cowboys and cowgirls in aloha-print western shirts and dense haku-leis on their cowboy hats, and singing Hawaii Ponoi with the national anthem and that "stand up next to me" song.Island Style Caf…

Disneyland on Lava Rocks

Yesterday I was up for an adventure-- something new. I flipped through my handy-dandy Lonely Planet Big Island Guide book for inspiration and found an enticing-sounding entry about A-bay at the Waikoloa resort. Showers, white sands, mellow surf, the opportunity to trespass at the fancy hotels? Sounds good. So I packed baby in the car (she chanted, "Beach! Beach!" the whole way) and made for the coast.
We get to Waikoloa and I'm driving along-- past the King's shops and the Queen's shops, past golf courses and over-watered manicured golf lawns. I try squinting at the microscopic map in the Lonely Planet book but it's no help pointing me which windy road to follow to get to A-bay. Finally I'm nearly at the Hilton (think indoor canals, trains, massive marble statuary) and I see a tiny sign "Public Shoreline Access Parking."
The law in Hawaii guarantees that all beaches are public access. So private landowners have to provide some kind of access corri…

Conundrum conclusion

I spent two weeks on the mainland and came to a startling conclusion.
I didn't understand a word anybody said. Even if understood the individual words I couldn't parse the sense behind the words. Everything seemed baffling. Drivers were insane. Food was strange. Small talk was indecipherable. The dress code was all pitfalls for me.
Maybe, just maybe...
It's not just Hawaii. Maybe I'm a malihini everywhere I go!


Last night Sister Terukina and Sister Drummondo came "hallooing" at the door. They are two very tidy gray and efficient Hawaiian ladies, the last two surviving of their ten siblings.
Sister Drummondo handed me a print-out and tapped it: "This month's topic is We are Created in the Image of God, and Certainly Not in the Image of Monkeys!"
"Oh, I donno." I said, folding the hand-out, "I'm pretty monkey-like myself."
They laughed politely.
An idea struck sister Drummondo: "Do you know about Tutu and Me? At the Imiola Church? The preschool? Oh, you would LOVE it!" She patted my arm conspiratorially. "It's all haole ladies!"
I must have reacted in some unexpected way. She explained.
"Well, you know, everybody else is too busy working!"

Thinking about Nightmarchers

On my bike ride this morning through the misty windy backroads I got to thinking about nightmarchers. They are warrior-spirits-- hungry ghosts who carry their ghost-lights through Waipio valley, along the Puna coastline, on the plains below Mauna Kea (where I was riding my bike-- safely in the daytime.) I know people who have seen them. Which is dangerous. I don't want to meet them. Because they eat you.

I've heard that if you lie on your face as they pass, you'll be safe. But the best protection is to have one of them speak for you--usually an ancestor.
So isn't that reassuring? You're safe, as long as you're blood-related to the vampiric night warriors.
Actually, there's on exception. If one of them knows you, or for whatever reason speaks on your behalf, you'll be safe. Then I guess you're introduced all around, given a night-beer, and sent on your way.

Today on my bike ride this idea was stressing me out. Not because I'm really worried that I…


This morning I put baby in the envirobuggy pod (Thanks Karen!) on the bike of the bike and set out on an adventure. We biked through Hawaiian Homelands, raced some hunting dogs, stopped and fed grass to some sheep (they bleated and baby signed, "SHEEP SCARY!!!" and hid). We peeked into the W.O.W Organic tomato farm's green houses (they send all their lovely red orbs to Costco, and we can't get any at the store in town) and saw the tall plants climbing up their supports and the little wee ones just coming into little bushes.
It was windy. The Trade winds from Hilo to the west bring cold rain and fog and whipping winds, and the Kona winds from the East bring hot dry air and scorched dust. It's been hot enough to send all my vegetables into bloom-- even the fennel and parsley have bolted. So the cool weather is a relief.
I pedaled standing up to the top of the hill, but on the downhill side we just stood still, held up by the wind-- I had to stand up to push down to t…

Camping... LOCAL STYLE! Part Two

Saturday morning of the "Pioneers of the Pacific" Campout we woke up early-- before the sun was up over the mountain. The ocean, just two sturdy paces from our tent, was so still it was completely silent.Matt went out to the end of the levy and I sat on a little pier with my sketchbook listening for baby's waking up noises and look for sharks in the water.
All around from the 3 bedroom tent-suites, the semi-automatic folding inflatable couches, the climate controlled, card-table-included-two story tent-suites the aunties and uncles emerged and set out their breakfasts: hibachi grills came out, rice was boiled: sausage, pancakes, eggs, and all laid out to share in the main pavilion. I surrendered my chocolate chip rice crispy treats.
I watched the kids play like wild water-things on the rocks, flirting with jumping off the pier, bragging and daring each other.
"You gonna jump off the pylons?"
"If I ask my grandma."
"I can do a front flip."

Camping... LOCAL STYLE! Part One

The announcement said, Church Overnighter at Halau Kukui. Bring Food for breakfast and lunch. The theme was Pioneers of the Pacific-- a churchification of the unbelievably long-distance and delicate settling of Polynesia.
Friday I spent the afternoon cleaning the kitchen and then making a huge mess: I made potato bread and salmon croquette sandwiches with chard, and scrambled tofu and boiled eggs and chocolate chip rice crispy squares-- I used every bowl and cutting board and knife in the kitchen. Why couldn't I just pack PB and J? Who knows.
Baby and I jumped in the shower and realized to my horror that I haven't shaved my armpits for-- I donno-- maybe 12 years. And even though I go to the beach all the time and fasten my ponytail and hang my towel with nary a thought of my festooned pits -- suddenly-- at the thought of going to the beach with people I KNOW-- I was ashamed. And so with five minutes to spare, I found a mostly rust-free razor and a very rusty can of shaving cream…

Linking around

Check out these two great communities:

Hawaii Threads
For conversation about all things Hawaiian and Hawaii-- from living away to moving here, eating, reminiscing about the good ole days... good stuff.

Our Kuleana Calls

Hawaii Activism at its nicest: make commitments on an individual level that will help keep Hawaii clean and beautiful and friendly.

Kohala Adventure Day

So what is there to do in Kohala, the little nubby tip of the Big Island?
First, drive up the mountain road listening to the Lilo and Stitch Soundtrack-- Kamehameha Children's chorus and Elvis, baby. Admire the burly cattle in the green pastures, the moth-eaten cactuses, the spindly iron-wood trees, and the odd over-wrought houses with stone lions in the driveways next to the ramshackle lean-tos.
Drive down the hill to Hawi, past all the old plantation houses. They could be anywhere-- Waikapu, Maui, or Lihue, Kauai-- tight orderly little gardens of Ti leaves and potted orchids, Japanese-influence high sloping roof, latticed crawlspaces. I can imagine the interiors by conjuring up my husband's grandma's house: the memorial Japanese dolls, the hand-quilted pillows and light quilts, the ironing board draped in ti leaves to weave into leis or wrap around rice balls for a beach picnic.
Drive further into Hawi: pass scruffy dusty hippy hang-outs: canvas houses and outdoor kitchens-…

Pick a Peck of Pickled Poke

On Saturday we braved the $4.75 a gallon gas and drove to Hilo for the day. First stop, the farmers market. For ten dollars I got three bags of sweet smelling and sap-sticky tropical fruit and vegetables: papayas, 5 for a dollar, sweet potatoes, apples bananas as long as your finger and sweet and tender. I asked one farmer for a couple of the thick blunt plantains he had on his table. No, no! He said. Those are for cooking. I know! I insisted. I want them! I'm going to go home and fry them up. He reluctantly handed them over, shaking his head. Crazy lady. The micronesian grandmas push the gawking haoles out of the way and bargain in a shout with all the micronesian farmers. I also got a bunch of narrow light purple Japanese eggplants, and some zucchinis. I was tempted by the tiny light-yellow mangoes and the ice cold "organi" coconuts, and bought some authentic Japanese fish-shaped pancakes, stuffed with Adzuki beans and cream cheese.
We went to the zoo and enjoyed the th…


This is my lovely friend Karen from
Her 4 year old boy Shawn is in his pod back there.
This ambitious pair are planning a marathon bike ride through the mountains, hills, rain and snow of the Big Island. Well, hopefully more sandy beaches than snow, and complimentary resort hotel rooms than grungy campgrounds.
Good luck Karen on your adventure! May all your wildest dreams come true!

Auntie Bertha

Yesterday I ran into Auntie Bertha outside of the senior center. She was excited to tell me, as she cinched up her black oversized raincoat, that they give free food-- even milk!--to seniors every lunch, so she gets on the bus and comes over every day. Why not?
She's hip.
She's so hip, she doesn't care that she's hip. She's almost 80 years old. She wears knee-length batik printed skirts to church and heavy bright jewelry. She waves off compliments-- "Oh, my daughter in law gave it to me."
She came to the Halloween party in soft yellow leather with fringes and squash blossom jewelry, and chunky turquoise and silver rings on her bony hands, with her long gray hair in braids. She was stunning-- small and compact and content sitting in the metal folding chairs while her great, and great-great children ran around her in costume. "I'm part Indian" she explained. A half-Indian sailor came to Hawaii and stayed, married into her Hawaiian family tree.
I r…

Wen Buss one GUT!

This weekend we went to Maui for the 38th annual Farm and Ag fair. We saw lots of handsome pigs and cows raised up by and auctioned off for the 4-H kids, and enjoyed such culinary marvels as cold greasy pork and peas, and watery cold curry with blackening baby corn in asthma-inducing cumin goop. But those were nicely balanced by delicious crunchy sweet Banana lumpia (think friend spring roll with a banana inside) and awe-(and diabetes)-inspiring friend ice cream, served in a wad as big as a softball.
There were acts on the main stage on and off: Uncle Richard, a brilliant Falsetto singer with white mutton-chops, a girl with a guitar covering Sarah Mclaughlan and country hits, and the "Amazing Stupor-Man!", the absolute worst magic act I've ever had the misfortune to endure. The amazing rope-cutting trick ended with a hopeless tangle, the card the kid picked was never found again, the card-repair "hospital" frame fell apart and had to be reassembled, the false bo…

Secret Byways

Here are some of the lovely and strange places I've stumbed across lately. A strangely impaled 1.5" beetle on the barbed wire fence. This Hawaiian homestead farm is along the road I walk along. The day I went in and said hello, they were weeding beets, harvasting kale, and planting onions, arugula, and lettuces.
This beach (I'm not telling where) and hike were so odd and lovely-- completely empty rocky beach and clear blue water over black sand and rocks... "Take care of the land..."
An odd eerie horse holding perfectly still along the side of the road.

Different Islands

This weekend we hopped on a plane and went to visit Kauai for a couple of days. Yes, the airfare was outrageous--I bought a roundtrip from SF to NYC for less a couple of years ago-- but it was an adventure. And besides, it was the patriotic thing to do-- spending a bit of our economic stimulus money on a mini vacation (which doubled as a chance for a job interview).
And after four days on the Garden Isle, I went home with this profound impression:
All of the Islands are different from each other. The Big Island is big. Kauai, Oahu, and Maui are small. We have vog, they have clear blue skies. They are green and verdant jungles, we are yellow rangeland plains. They have a lot of good food, we have a little bit of good food, spread few and far across the island.
And maybe I'm nuts, but everyone was very friendly on Kauai. I kept nudging my husband and saying, "am I nuts or is everybody friendly on Kauai?" The museum lady let us in for free, the shopkeeper pinched baby's cheek…

Indigenous People Humor

"Wow," said Auntie Val Hanohano, looking around as the Hula performance ended and all the parents and friends got up to push their way out of the theater, "the natives are getting restless! Ha ha ha!"

Points of View

I was browsing through the webiverse yesterday and stumbled across some very lovely talk-story accounts of the history, culture, and spiritual importance of Kawaihae .
As I read it one thing stuck in my throat a bit-- the people interviewed sadly mention the vast influx of extremely wealthy mainland people into the community. They say the populations of local people are shrinking and vanishing as the haole come in, buy everything up, and then lock themselves in their million-dollar gated communities.
Here's one bit:

“Back in the old times, we had a really strong sense of community,” Pua remarks.
“Now it’s separated. Everybody has their own thing. Everybody wants this and
everybody wants that and nobody wants to come together, and make it work. ‘I
want this, I want a park,’ somebody else wants this and everybody want, want,
want, but nobody wants to do what it takes to make it happen. So, I say, that
during my time of growing up, we were as one community and one family. Not
today. Today, i…

Mana Road

I love walking on the back roads. The wind, the green fields, the vast riveted mountain iced with snow-- it's unabashedly picturesque. I love the ramshackle corrugated roof houses with tarp sheds and the delux garages-as-living space, complete with couches and flat screen tvs, and stacks of industrial size coolers. Yesterday I walked out through the Hawaiian home pasture land roads to a farm that I always admired. Kale, onions, red and green lettuce, cabbage, collards, beets, mizuna, arugula, chard in neat long rows over about 5 acres. There were two people weeding in the field-- I gathered my courage and pushed my stroller in and waved hello. Anna, the farm manager, said sure I could look around and told me all about how they use only organic pest control,(so let the baby out of the stroller!) and that she's worked there since her babies were born, and now they're off to college. She laughed at her dry muddy hands-- no gloves for me she said, and attacked the weedy overgr…

A Rich Day

Saturday morning we went to the beach-- a sort of secluded one in a patch of burnt keawe forest and down a broken old trail. It's shallow with a white sandy bottom and plenty of thorny trees to drape your towels on. My little half-fish one-year old charged out into the waves, signing "fishie" and "water" and "wet" and screaming with happiness. She didn't even mind the unusally rough waves-- strong enough to knock me over a couple of times while she stayed safely perched on her daddy. We swam and splashed around-- two giant honu floated right past us, sticking their noses out of the water to take audible sucks of air. When their heads emerge you can see the lenalena yellow ring around their eyes and the green and amber scales on their wise faces. The big exciting waves knocked us all around a bit, we played on the beach (I enjoy writing things like "permanence" and "eternity" in the sand, and watching them get washed away, ha h…

Prince Caspian

Last night I hosted my monthly book group-- ostensibly an excuse to get together and gossip and eat snacks (last night it was homemade bread with homemade cream cheese and homemade pickles!)
Kehau picked "Prince Caspian" by C.S. Lewis to present. She began describing the story and the setting-- it's been thousands of years since the white witch, and a group from outside of Narnia has moved in and taken over. All of the true Narnians have been forced into hiding while the imposters rule. And the official schools don't teach about the true history of the place-- just a sanitized and superstitious version of things. The woods and the rivers are seen as dangerous places full of maleveolent forces. And young Prince Caspian is the rightful heir of... the Narnian conquerors. But he begins learning the true story of the place-- the magic, Aslan, the talking beasts-- from a half-Narnian tutor who evidently can "pass" as human. Eventually Caspian escapes from his crue…

Parking Lot

Just now I was coming out of the KTA parking lot and witnessed a scene. A shiny blue rental car --some kind of boxy Chevy--pulled out in front of a battered mini-van with a big "In Memory Of..." decal across the back. The driver of the van leaped out of the car. He's wearing an "Eddie Would Go" tanktop in red, green and yellow. He runs and jams his face into the window and starts screaming at the driver. I turn down the radio to eavesdrop and catch some choice phrases: Why the **** you gotta drve like that, What the **** is wrong with you, Yes we have an ****ing problem, etc. etc.
I can't see or hear the driver. He evidently decides he's had enough of this and starts to drive away. "Eddie" shouts after him, finally, answering my unasked question, "****ing haole!!"

City Planning Meeting

We have a little problem in our city. Actually, not just our city. Across the whole island.
We have no city councils. We have no city mayors. We, in short, have taxation without representation.
What we do have is a sprawling, unfocused, wobbly top-heavy, obtuse and immovable county government.
What we also have is rapid and uncontrolled expansion, erratic and flimsy zoning, and a terrifying traffic problem.
A few weeks back while I was standing in line at the theater, somebody was walking up and down with fliers that announce:

"Community Meeting! Review of Planning Process to date, information stations.
Learn what is happening, ask questions, tell us what you think! Next Steps! FREE
FOOD!!!"I decided to go see what a community meeting is like.
Sure enough, there was food and it was free. The little room at the civic center was packed with about 50 people. Every wall surface was draped with elaborate maps detailing bypass roads, farm zoning, historical preserves, Hawaiian homelands, …

Hawaiian Culture Camp

For ten years, George Kahumoku Jr. has been hosting a Hawaiian music camp on Maui. He invites famous slack key and ukulele players to teach a group of enamored haole mainlanders to play (and make leis and chant and sing in Hawaiian), while feeding them gussied up Hawaiian fare at the open aired Mauian hotel in Napili. For a week they get to be immersed in Aloha, Ohana, Mana, and Kaukau, playing Hawaiian music by starlight while the waves crash on the beach. It's overwhelmingly picturesque.
I got to go a while ago because of a gracious research grant. So while everyone else were cultural tourists, I felt like an observer, on a mission to parse this odd experience.

On the first day of the camp I drove up through the windy cliff-roads to George Kahumoku’s beautiful big house and great garden and taro-patch. George opened the gate and set us all to work.

He’s a big Hawaiian guy- very busy all day—and his wife is a skinny haole lady, Nancy. She was the ticking clock that kept everybody a…