Showing posts from 2009

Small Town Death

Today I was driving through our little town, and my 2 year old in the back seat starting keening: "The ice cream store! It's GONE!!!"

She's right. It is. Windows blacked out, fresh-cone-smell gone.

So is the little video store-- run by 90 pound Filipina Auntie Chris, talking 100 miles an hour, and Angelica her daughter-clone, giggling over her homework next to the paper-pile counter. My kid's favorite thing was rearranging all the faded video-cases on the shelves, lining them up into "snakes" across the floor.

The big planned development on the main road has been put on permanent hold. The vacant lot is surrounded by 20 foot high plywood and black-netting wall. The tall grass is growing out from under the fence and the wind tattered the black sheets-- it's very Halloween scarecrow. And that's the view from the otherwise very quaint and charming main drag-- sit on the old-west style porch and gaze at... a wall of black rags. Hmm.

Things are not looki…

Salads and Saving the Earth?

Recently Kauai announced its plans to get on the no-more-plastic-bags bandwagon. Starting next year, we'll all have to remember our reusable bags. Or what? Maybe pay a nickel for one of the biodegradable ones, or a couple dollars for a canvas one. Three cheers! Every time we go to the beach seems like we're chasing people's plastic bags as they blow across the water to go choke a honu or ensnare a seal.

Most of the stores around have started selling little reusable polyester bags, to get us all into practice. I have a little collection: Sueoka's, Long's, Big Save, even a Costco and an imported Trader Joes, from grandma. A friend was telling me that Home Depot's are the best-- super double reinforced, ribbed, double buckled, made in the USA, and infused with man-pheremones.

I mentioned that I loved how the stores give you a discount when you bring your own bag. My friend looked at me blankly.
Yes! I insisted-- everywhere does. Sueokas, Big Save, five or t…

Token Haole Friend

"Haole to you, too" T-shirt

S-----, one of the local ladies who runs the playgroups I take my kid to, jokingly grills newcomers on their level of haole-ness. One mom-- the one who missed last time because she was getting some furniture and some Royal palm trees delivered to her house-- she's the ultimate haole. S---- introduces her to everybody as "my haole friend!" And then S---- gives every white mom there an impromptu "haole" rating. And her first question is "do you cook rice in a rice cooker?" If yes, it's a mark in your favor-- you might be less haole than you think!

Me she points to and says, "you-- you're not haole. You're too country to be haole." My friend -- no rice pot, cooks the stuff on the stove, will never eat canned meat-- gets a "uh oh! You're pretty haole."

It's a funny display-- embarassing to some transplants who would rather ignore all the racial tensions that dent and ding their liv…

Miss Aloha Nui

Way back when I first moved to the Big Island, I was walking past a storefront when a flier for the Miss Aloha Nui pageant caught my eye. It was a call for entries in a beauty pageant, with a photo of an enormous and lovely beauty queen, waving, her arms tapering to small graceful fingers.

The flier listed the qualifications for entrants:
- Must be female
- Must weigh at least 200 pounds
- Must be at least 18 years of age
- Must be a current resident of Hawaii

A few days after the contest, the winner rides in the Aloha Week parade on the main street of Waimea, with the hula halaus dancing on flatbed trucks and highstepping all-haole marching bands. The first year we watched the parade, the winner laughed and cooed "Aloha! Aloha!" to all of us sitting on the curb-- her subjects. She was fantastic-- she filled the whole car and blew kisses and her friends and admirers ran up to her and gave her kisses as she went.

The next year the winner was a quietly dignified queen, staring proudl…

Signs of the Times

The other day I drove past a "We Buy Gold and Silver" place, just as a woman was walking out.

She was crying, pulling herself together, wiping her eyes on her naked wrists.

Us 'n Them

Sometimes I feel like my relationships are racially nuetral.
And then sometimes I'm reminded that there's probably no such thing.

The other day a playgroup mom, Kahea, brought a whole mountain of hand-crafted goodie bags for the kids-- left over from her daughter's one-year luau. These were amazing-- filled with handmade chinese pretzels-- cripsy litle whisps of deep fried goodness, in intricate many-petaled flower shapes. She laughed and said it took her and her sister and mom hours standing over the hot oil with special pretzel irons to finish the hundreds for the party and the gift bags.

I said, "Wow, I can't believe you guys did all that by hand!"

Another mom, Bee, said, "Well, we don't have anything better to do!"

I was confused. Is Bee related to Kahea? Did she help with the luau too? Then I realized. She was speaking as a Local person to a non-Local person. When I said, "you guys" I meant Kahea and her family. What Bee heard was, &…

Secret Places

I've mentioned before that where the Big Island was all walls and barriers, Kauai is open corridors and accessible guideposts. Our favorite spots on the Big Island were unvisited, practically inaccessible, and we only learned about them after years of quiet and humble observation. But here, nearly every beach is clearly identified in ubiquitous guidebooks, and the vast swaths of public land are crisscrossed with neatly marked trails.

It's pleasant-- I feel like less of an intruder. I don't have to work so hard to go someplace new. It's also sad-- where the Big Island is still keeping her secrets, Kauai has been thoroughly colonized and marked by the outsider's use. Who else would need all that interpretation of the landscape?

But there are still mysteries. And there is something urgently itchy about the unexplored territories on the island-- people's favorite fishing spots and family-secret hunting trails-- plain on a map but unnoticed unless you know what you…


I ran into an aqcuaintance in the Costco eatery the other day (finest 1$ dining on island!) and she invited me to come learn a hula with her church group for their upcoming luau. I really want to learn hula-- those slow-moving women of all sizes, eyes following their hands, the steady rocking rhythm, back and forth. But I've been too shy to just call a halau and sign up. So I was eager to give it a try last night.

On the way there I had the weirdest sensation that I should just turn around and go home. But I felt obligated-- I had told this girl I was coming, she'd asked me several times. I didn't have anywhere else to be-- no legitimate excuse for turning around. So obligation and guilt won out over my intuition.

Will I never learn?

I got there and a large group of people were preparing food. I saw my aqcuaintance--Meghan-- she seemed to be in the middle of high-level negotiations about the state of the chopped onions for the lomi lomi salmon. I sauntered up to one choppi…

88 Shrines

This morning we took a short trek up to Lawai to visit the International Peace Center's openhouse. It was so clear and bright that all the heavy cloud leis were gone from the mountains, and we could see their green rumpled skirts all around us. It's easy to forget to see them-- everything was bright today.

The center is back in a little residential neighborhood. A flock of pretty goats graze the grass out front, and a cheerful greeter in a straw hat and designer sandals showed us to some lawn chairs with a serene view and gave us some jasmine tea and Manju--Japanese pastries. We joked under our breath that the red dot on top was the mind altering drugs. Our greeter said to sit and enjoy the peaceful surroundings for a moment while the previous tour finished up the orientation.

The view from our lawnchairs was lovely--a long grassy mound in front of an imposing rock wall. Matt wondered, "oh no, the site of a heiau?" Sure enough, yes. A particularly powerful one, in the…

50 Years

So as a basically uninformed observer, Happy 50 years of Statehood, Hawaii!

You were a chain of connected sisters in the family of Polynesia, and then you were discovered by the West, and everything changed almost instantly. Chiefs got gun-powder weapons, fought brutal battles. You became your own Kingdom-- you were a hub of the Pacific, with sudden wealth from whalers and traders and sudden death and misery from disease and consumer culture. Your people struggled and changed-- newcomers poured in to work, to live, to make gobs of money, to punish you for your sins, to learn your ways. Whalers got Hawaiian tattoos, Hawaiians wore missionary clothes and toppled their gods. Old taboos were discarded, new ones were stamped on your faces.

Hawaiians poured away from the islands and scattered across the world-- marrying Indians in the Northwest, educating freed slaves in the East, and criss-crossing the continents on whalers. Most changed, learned new languages, never came home, and left trac…

One nodda ting about mainlanders....

So, what does your husband do? Really? What kind of degree do you need for that? How much does he make? Wow? Can you live on that? And how much is rent? Seriously, for THIS PLACE? How much would it cost to buy? How many bedrooms? Kids, did you hear that?! That's how much our house is worth! And how much do you spend on groceries? Wow. You guys have a car? Two? How much did you pay for that truck? Amazing. Wow, good thing we live in Idaho, eh honey?

Well, nice to meet you!


Can't stand 'em, but Hawaii can't live without 'em. They harass monk seals, they drive erratically while trying to take pictures out of their car windows, they drive up costs and walk around in public places with nothing but their sunburns.

But I have to admit, I kind of like 'em.

As individuals, that is.

I love chatting with the relaxed tourist parents at the beach park as our sandy toddlers chase or ignore each other-- like the grandpa from Minnesota with his grandson-- or the hip and happening parents from Seattle with their adopted Chinese daughter and expensive camera (and no doubt highly frequented blog).

But my favorite thing-- and this is a confession-- is being helpful. My pulse quickens when a goofy red chevy convertible with four adults in hats and sunglasses slows down next to me on my walk and rolls down the window. Yes, I can tell you exactly how to get to the airport!

The other day I was walking home from the grocery store and overheard a young sunburned …

Speaking of food...

Uncle Ron is retired and now works dawn to dusk every day driving his little CAT up and down our dirt road. He has colonized the wild hillside with ti plants and tropical flowers for a friend who does flower arrangements for the hotels. He has planted dozens of papaya trees up and down the road-- and tiny hot hawaiian chili pepper plants, and enormously bushy basils.

He has buckets of eggplants, green onions, a huge asperagus patch, and a wall of bitter melon behind his house. His cousin catches wild chickens, fattens them up for a couple of weeks in pens, and then eats 'em. Ron even carved a path up the steep hillside and built a pen for his geese and ducks where they honk and hiss and lay huge eggs. Sweet potato carpets all around the pen, and the greenest longbeans you've ever seen climb all the way over it. His longan, mango, avocado, coconut, noni, guava and lychee trees are all fruiting, and the lovely bunches of bananas are all narrow and green. In the winter he had cl…

Food, Form and Substance

I noticed a brightly painted sign on the side of the road: Mana Ohana, community owned, community grown. Vivid papayas, cheery pinapples and luscious mangoes crowded out the cheerful text: local produce, locally grown, organic!

I was intrigued, so I followed the signs to a huge old restaurant space. As soon as we walked in a haole woman jumped up and shook our hands, and launched into an energetic monologue about the virtues of the fruit stand, of vegetarian, GMO free lifestyle, her many community projects, and how we too could become a part of the coop for only $500, or equivalent labor!

As she talked she filled up the back of a name card with a list of all of her projects:
Malama kauai
Kohala Center
KKCR 90.9
Wed 7-9 9-11
kane i ono uma

Her blue eyes were shining as she talked about her triumphs with protecting Hawaiian gravesites from developers and sending a charter for indigenous rights to the UN, and writ…

Settling In Again

We went on an adventure-- traveling across continents (N America and Europe) and oceans (Pacific and Atlantic). I took my toddler to Big Important European cities and also to no-name American rural Edens. In the course of 6 weeks of traveling we saw important sites, heard a hundred different languages, used dozens of public bathrooms, and crossed paths with thousands of people with lives and worldviews all radically from us.

Rosie learned how to say, Bonjour, Au Revoir, Merci, Pardon Moi, WC, and "I live in Hawaii." And now we're home.

Getting off the airplane the passengers underwent a transformation: they turned from a group of tired strangers into a mob of giddy tourists. We transformed too-- we shed our traveler skin and became-- just ourselves again. At home.

Coming back, I noticed the vividness of the shiny dark green leaves, the bright reds and pinks and rainbow oranges of the flowers along the freeway, the dense golden light.

And somehow my malihini-meter has been re…


It was our 6th anniversary last night and we indulged ourselves. For the first time in Rosie's 25 months of life, we left her with a babysitter and went out to dinner.
It was sort of, totally, SPECTACULAR.
Roy's Prix Fix tasting and Hawaiian menus.
I can't really describe it, so here's my tone-poem, free-association, modern dance interpretation of the evening's partakings:
snappy limu seeweed gelatinous sprigs, caramel sauce on meaty ravioli, crispy wontons with ponzu, flaky fish , sesame oil and chili edamame, filet mignon melting onto wasabi mashed potatoes, crisp fried lotus root salad, misoyaki butterfish, asperagus and mac nut crusted white fish, chocolate lava souffle and four delicate little scoops of tropical sorbets with tiny fruit cubes on top, all sworled with elegant dabs of flavorful reductions and sauces on wide plates, low lighting and the sharp awareness of a rare event combined to make a singularly ROMANTIC evening. Roymantic? Har har.
I found myself f…

The nail that sticks out, or something.

Today we went to the beach with the playground to wear Rosie out a little bit (sun, slides, sand and surf, dude. It'll wipe anybody out.) We've only lived here since October-- that's, what, 7 months? We ran into four separate families that we know. And as the months go by, the island is only going to get smaller.

Living here is my first experience with having to make a community work. Knowing that we're going to be here for a long time, with these same people, in these same situations, over and over-- makes me approach problems slightly differently than I've needed to before.

My first example: the librarian is an SOB. He's notorious. Every parent on the island knows of him, and stays away from his library because he is so rude and HATES children. Every time we go to the library (every Friday, 11:30) he tells Rosie to "be quiet or get out!" This is especially annoying when she's saying things like, "Rosie! Loves! Libwawy!" I'm sorry, is…

A Letter to the Editor

This letter was published in The Garden Island Newspaper on April 8, 2009:
Color blindness is wonderful

When someone asks, “Are you haole?” I respond, “Why what I did?”

When someone says, “What comes after two?” I respond, “Tree.”

I now say “da” instead of “the” and always great people with a friendly “howzit.”

I legally changed my name from James to “Kimo.”

President Obama says there is not a White American or an Asian American or a Black America, there is only the United States of America.

Color blindness sure is a wonderful thing, or should I say “ting?”

James “Kimo” Rosen, Kapa’aAny guesses-- is this tongue in cheek? Is this a joke? It couldn't be-- could it-- for REAL?
If it is... how is saying "ting" and "da" colorblindness? And what's the opposite of color blindness anyway-- colorseeingness?
And since when is blindness of any sort a virtue? How about color-seeing-but-it-doesn't-adversely-effect-my-behavior-or-thoughts-ness?

Happy Buddha-mas!

Sunday morning, the choir stood in front of the congregation. The organ started up a four part hymn, and we sang along in four part harmony, reading out of our programs:

Softly Blew the Breezes
By Paul Carus and R.B. Bode

Softly blew the breezes
On that glorious morn
In Lumbini's Garden
Where the Lord was born.

From the earth sprang flowers
Birds in warbles sang
While through earth and heaven
Strains of music rang.

Gods and men and angels
All for worship came
Glory to Lord Buddha
Glory to his name.Organs and hymn harmony, folded chairs, and meandering talks by aged ministers are not the sole providence of protestant Christianity. At least in Hawaii, the sects of Buddhism that were imported with the Japanese plantation workers have morphed into something with plenty in common with the Baptist or Episcopalean churches down the road. George Tanabe gives a wonderful description of this Hawaiian Buddhism in his article, "Shaka Buddha."
Sunday was Hanamatsuri, Buddha's birthday, and was …

Punana Leo

We went to the Punana Leo Preschool fundraiser today-- I had seen the signs for it flapping around town. They are handpainted in bright primary colors, on squares of white fabric, inviting one and all for a full day of music and talk story. I've been thinking that the Hawaiian immersion preschool would be a good choice for my kid next year, and so I wanted to come and get a feel for the school community.
We got there and realized we drove the wrong vehicle. The parking lot of the war memorial hall was full of trucks-- and foolish us, we came in our dusty little sedan. But no matter. In we go, retrieve our kalua pig and cabbage bowls, and peer around at the crowd. It made me nostalgic for our life on the Big Island-- big uncles and grandpas cuddling sleeping babies and swatting at hyper toddlers, skinny portuguese grandmas with gold necklaces and their sensuous micronesian granddaughters in bright haltertops.
The lights flicked on and off and we moved into a beautiful theater. The li…

Pulling to Center

I recently took a pottery class-- once a week for five weeks I got to spend an hour or so thwacking cold wet clay down onto a plaster slab, kneading it into a cyclone, and thumping it down onto a wheel. Elbow cocked to hip, setting it spinning, and then praying, bracing, holding the slick hard lumpy mound. It spins and throbs and pushes against my hands, but I have to hold still-- bracing against the hard mass of clay-- without shoving or jerking-- just holding. Try to find true north, try to float above the pull of gravity-- that's holding still against this thing. One hand pulls up slowly, one hand pushes down and out and after a few lip-biting climbs and descents-- suddenly the thing is centered.
Then I put one finger on the still piko of the mound-- and push down into that navel. The lump opens suddenly into a pot. And then draw the walls up, flare them out, pull them in. It becomes recognizable as a Thing. Every time is like a miracle. Even if they are all tiny and off-kilter!

Hui Alu Shinenkai, 2009!

We got to the Kauai Veteran's Hall at 11:00, and peeked in at the crowded dining hall. The round tables, decorated with giant pomelos and mini snickers bars, were already mostly filled up. The band was doing sound checks on a low stage, and a group of ladies were taking registration fees and doing the sign-in by the door.
We hovered and hesitated outside the door. Matt looked for a familiar face, and hemmed and hawed-- should we go in? Should we pay $20 a piece for a buffet lunch? Or should we join the society?
I handed him the checkbook and took Rosie to run around outside, and left Matt to decide whether he wanted to go to this Hawaii United Okinawa Association annual New Years Meeting.
He's a quarter Okinawan, Rosie's an eighth. I'm none Okinawan. I figured I'd leave it up to him to define his ethnicity as he pleases.
When an acquaintance of Matt's from work drove up, we were finally swept in. I had to laugh-- in a room with 200 people in it, all were Okinawan J…

On my face

So local people who make an effort to enunciate carefully and speak "standard English" are accused by of being "haolefied." In other words, acting like a haole. In other words, acting stuck up. Their poetic pidgin-speaking friends roll their eyes and resent or pity them.
And being a mainland haole I naturally have a standard dull TV announcer accent. The way that I talk, without thinking, all the time, even when I'm mad or half-asleep, or jabbering to an infant, sounds like I'm putting on airs.
It's a quandary. I sound pompous if I just talk like myself. But I don't want to be condescending or ridiculous with an affected pidgin accent.
Last week after playgroup I walked with one of the other moms over to the library. Our cute kids gamboled around each other, darted into the street in front of speeding rental convertibles, got hissed at by the irate vampire librarian. We chatted about local elementary schools, about potty training, about baby talk-- al…

Manna from heaven

Can you see it?
How about now? Under the Samoan coconut tree?

Lookathat! Like Easter or something!
I found 4 wild chicken eggs under the tree-- I'm thrilled! I haven't quite eaten them yet. I'm trying to think of something suitable. I'm hoping there won't be any little bones or feathers inside, but if there are, that will be a new culinary experience.
Thanks for the bounty, nature! Who needs grocery stores? Now I just need some gallons of milk to come tumbling from the clouds.
This is one of those rare posts that is relevant to each of my scattered blogs, so if you are disappointed to see the same one thrice, sorry!

Milton Murayama's "Plantation Boy"

Plantation Boy by Milton Murayama

My review
rating: 5 of 5 stars
Tosh, the number one son of the Oyama family, is the hard-head, short tempered plantation boy-- who terrorized Kiyo in the first book and butts heads with his mother Sawa in the second of this series. Here we get into Tosh's head-- and to my surprise, his storytelling was the most compelling.

Murayama creates complete voices-- full psyches and internal worlds-- so subtly that you don't notice how cleverly he's done it. The narrators are so natural that the novels seem like simple autobiographies. I realized with a jolt half-way through that the whole book is in the present tense. That gives the storytelling an immediacy and compelling urgency, even when the content is as detached as laundry lists: who is getting married, who has died.

Tosh is all reports-- all political headlines, boxing scores, transcribed letters and major life events like a bulleted list. He gives no thought to the interior lives of the peo…


I love-- and loathe a tiny bit-- the Local tradition of hugging and kissing. You hug and kiss people when you're introduced to them, people you see everyday, when you say hello and when you say goodbye... On one hand, it's comforting.

At a wedding, I ran into Aunty Ulu who I had met once briefly at church. She wrapped me in her arms and kissed me soundly on the cheek. I felt so comforted-- suddenly grounded in the strange setting of a fancified wedding with 100s of people I don't know, clinking their champagne glasses and balancing on high heels. And I loved the time consuming tradition of kissing everybody at church before the service started-- it would be unspeakably rude to just walk past all the kupunas and go to your pew. You have to stop and stoop to brush every dry soft cheek with your lips. Kissing down the line of tutus in their bright flowered muumuus made me feel warm and included-- part of the congregation, part of the family.

Kissing can also make me feel …

Still grateful...

This economic downturn thing has been reminding me of a loose t-rex. At first you only hear rumors that it's out there, and then a few newspaper articles confirm the rumors, and then friends of friends have actually seen it, and then an acquaintance, and then it finally reaches the inner circle-- your own friends and family start coming home with puffy T-rex bites. A high school aqcuaintance had his house foreclosed on, friends are getting downsized, and now immediate family members are trying to change jobs, or suddenly experiencing long stretches of unwelcome leisure.
The landscape reconfigures itself-- it's now a place inhabited by monsters. You can feel the distant footsteps, see the water shaking in the glass.
In the last week, I've talked to four people who are being downsized. Two families who moved here this year for construction projects are having the projects shut down under them. One man had his hours on a road crew reduced by 30 percent. Another family was tol…

Rodeo Whales

Skyla announced at playgroup on Friday that her son, Kalani, would be riding in the high school rodeo this weekend, and that everyone should come down and watch.
I like rodeos-- I like the girls dressed up in their ribbed plaid shirts and pink alligator boots, and the boys in their silver-spangled hats and shiny belt-buckles. I like the little brothers and sisters roping each other behind the stands, and the parents screaming and cheering, and the terrible food stalls.
I don't know anything about rodeos-- I know enough to correct myself from "Baby cow" to "calf" but don't ask me what event is on or who is up or what a good running time is.
The rodeo is a cultural experience for me-- like being a tourist in Athens. I can appreciate the aesthetics and excitment of the moment without really understanding what's going on.
When I asked Skyla where the arena is, she said, "at the end of the road. Just go to the end of the road, and it's right there."…