Destination: Honolulu

Interview with Bonnie Tsui: ‘American Chinatown’

Bonnie Tsui, American Chinatowns Photo by Matthew Elliott

Jenna Schnuer talks to the author of a new book about American Chinatowns and why "broken Chinese is the mark of being Chinese American"

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Obama in Hawaii: Commander in Kitsch

Obama bobblehead doll in Oahu Photo by Pam Mandel

Obama bobbleheads! Obama license plates! Obama meets Elvis! Pam Mandel reports from the souvenir section of Obamaland.

See the Obama in Hawaii slideshow »

Lantern Floating for Memorial Day

Lantern Floating for Memorial Day Photo by mujitra via Flickr (Creative Commons).
Photo by mujitra via Flickr (Creative Commons).

If the pictures are anything to go by, the Memorial Day Lantern Floating ceremony at Ala Moana Beach Park in Honolulu was the kind of visual feast that makes you think you’re in a dream.

2,000 candlelit lanterns are sent off into the ocean at sunset, each bearing “healing prayers for victims of conflict, famine, disaster and disease as well as our hopes for the happiness of all past and present.”

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The New Sand: May Contain Plastic

The New Sand: May Contain Plastic Photo by Mason Bryant via Flickr (Creative Commons).
Photo by Mason Bryant via Flickr (Creative Commons).

The May 2009 issue of Hana Hou!—Hawaiian Airlines’ in-flight mag—includes an article called The Voyage of the Junk. The story is about a journey from California to Honolulu via the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The ship itself was a trash heap, made out of plastic garbage and leftover bits of a Cessna. The goal of the journey was to raise awareness of the impact that all the plastic crap we create, buy and use is having on the oceans.

There’s a particularly sad and telling passage in the story. Upon arrival in Honolulu, one of the sailors decided to find out how long it would take to pull a piece of plastic out of the water. He hopped overboard, and: “Less than a minute later he was out, holding up an ‘ABC Stores’ bag. ‘Thirty seconds,’ he said, with both triumph and distaste.”

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Ka’iulani:  the Activist Princess

Photo by clliff1066 via Flickr (Creative Commons).

The Hawaiian Hall at the Bishop Museum is still closed for renovations (we got a sneak peak on our visit—it’s going to be stunning when it opens in August) so there is only a limited amount of Hawaiian artifacts currently on view. The Kāhili Room at the museum is open, though—it’s in a different building—and it displays portraits of the Hawaiian monarchy and their feathered standards. These torch-like staffs were carried in front of royalty to visually announce their arrival.

Two of the portraits really stuck with me: the photo of Princess Ruth, a frowning, broad woman contained in severe Victorian dress, and the portrait of Princess Ka’iulani, also in Victorian attire but looking less awkward. Princess Ka’iulani cemented her place in the hearts of Native Hawaiians by traveling to the mainland to plead with Congress and two US Presidents for the restoration of the Hawaiian monarchy.

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Island Eats: Mango Smoothies

I’m an extremely addicted coffee drinker, but I have a guilty confession to make: I didn’t find the coffee in Hawaii all that great. That’s why, given the choice between a less-than-satisfying cup of joe and a big orange slurp of calorie-laden deep orange-yellow lusciousness, I went with the mango smoothie every time. I’m sure mangoes are full of things that are way better for me than caffeine salvation, but that’s not why I made the switch during my island time. Nope, it’s because mango smoothies are seductively, amazingly delicious. And at least as revitalizing as a poor-to-middling cup of coffee.

My favorite was, hands down, the one from that guy in the Maunakea Marketplace Food Court in Honolulu’s Chinatown. That fruit stand on the way back from Hana, its weren’t bad either, though I was sure one of those stoner kids was going to lose a finger at best, an entire limb at worst, swinging that machete around while high as a kite on one of Maui’s other abundant crops. I skipped the bicycle-powered blender, also on the Hana Highway because I was having an uncharacteristically un-Hawaiian moment of impatience. But I swerved to a halt at the first fruit stand on the way towards Volcano on the road from Kaleakakua Bay. “Large, please. Mango. Mahalo.”

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The Superferry’s Last Sail

The Superferry’s Last Sail Photo by James Willamore via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by James Willamore via Flickr (Creative Commons)

From day one, Hawaii’s Superferry was fraught with problems. It’s all over now. On March 19, the Superferry made its final run between Oahu and Maui.

From a logistics point of view, the ferry made travel between Oahu and Maui seem a lot easier. Drive on, drive off, with whale-watching thrown in for the price of the crossing, in season. Tourism boosters loved it, as did parents and schools—it made getting your baseball team to that game on Maui a snap, and you could bring your own bus or squeeze the whole swim team into the minivan.

But Hawaiian traditionalists objected to the Superferry because it made it too easy to plunder, like a pirate in a pickup truck, island resources. Environmentalists worried about the whales. And quality-of-life types bemoaned the traffic, suggesting that the cars lined up on either end would cause not only pollution, but delays and crowds.

The Superferry ran, and then it didn’t, and then it ran, and then it didn’t. If you held a ticket, you had to check the website the day of your sailing and, even then, there was no guarantee that you wouldn’t be turned back by protesters. The case to block the Superferry went all the way to the Hawaii Supreme Court. The issue? The Superferry had been allowed to operate before the environmental impact research was complete.

The Hawaii Supreme Court on Monday ruled that a law allowing the Superferry to operate while conducting an environmental impact statement was unconstitutional.—MSNBC

It’s back to interisland flights for travelers.You can’t take your car, but you’re less likely to get seasick. And yeah, you can get a refund for that Superferry ticket.

Pork on the Pali: Prohibited

Pork on the Pali: Prohibited Photo by The Pug Father via Flickr (Creative Commons).
Photo by The Pug Father via Flickr (Creative Commons).

It’s a top tourist destination on Oahu; don’t blow it by traveling with the wrong meat.

There’s a Hawaiian superstition that says it’s forbidden to take pork across the Nu’uana Pali. Your rental car will die, you’ll fall off the edge, maybe you’ll be chased by bees or rocks will fall on you. Who knows what bad luck you’ll encounter if you don’t leave your bacon on the Honolulu side. Here’s the story from Wikipedia, though it checks out with a bunch of other sources, too:

According to legend, the Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele and the demigod Kamapua’a (a half-man-half-pig) had a turbulent relationship, and the two agreed not to visit each other. If one takes pork over the Pali, the legend goes, one is symbolically taking a piece of Kamapua’a from one side to the other, and it is said that Pele would stop that from happening.

Still unexplained? How Spam is transported from the harbor to towns on the leeward side of Oahu. Maybe it’s OK if you go the long way, around the south end. Whatever you do, finish up that Hawaiian pizza before you head up to see the view.

Hawaii vs. Office of Hawaiian Affairs

Photo by k*8 via Flickr (Creative Commons).

A brief disclaimer: I’m not an expert on legal matters and while I’ve been doing lots of reading, there’s still lots I don’t understand. Because of that, I absolutely welcome your more enlightened comments on the case. I’d just like to get you interested in what’s happening and why it’s a big deal, I’m going to keep it brief and send you elsewhere to more expert commentary. Now, in summary:

The Hawaiian State Supreme Court previously ruled that the state (Hawaii) could not sell lands ceded in the overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy until a settlement on those lands had been reached with the Hawaiian people. The gist? The lands were ceded to the U.S. government by those who had no right to do so.

The state of Hawaii is appealing the decision—it wants the right to sell those lands. It says that its ability to manage the lands is impeded by this ruling. That’s the bare bones of the case. But Native Hawaiians see a lot more at stake in the Supreme Court’s first case tomorrow.

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Gov. to Hawaii: Tear Down This Clothesline

Gov. to Hawaii: Tear Down This Clothesline Photo by s2art via Flickr (Creative Commons).

From the Pacific Business News:

A similar bill, jokingly referred to as the “right to dry bill” passed the Legislature in 2008 but was vetoed by Gov. Linda Lingle.

House Bill 1273, introduced by several environmentally conscientious House representatives, includes language that says a residential board may implement “reasonable restrictions with regard to the placement of the clothesline so long as the restrictions do not prohibit clotheslines altogether.”

Ah, the politics of a tourism-driven economy. I’m going to stick my neck out and guess that the reason the gov vetoed the bill was hefty lobbying about aesthetics from resort developers and tourism boosters. “All that underwear is going to wreck our view!”

Confession: I’ve shot photos in any number of European towns of laundry drying on the line. The Italians seem to do a nice job making laundry aesthetic. I’d be hard pressed not to be giddy at the sight of a line full of Aloha shirts flapping in the Hawaiian breeze.

Time Travel to Honolulu

It’s politically incorrect, not entirely accurate historically, and oddly, the producers chose to intersperse “Aloha Oe” with “The Skater’s Waltz” in the sound track. But the boards are huge, the leis are fluffy and plentiful, and the footage of Waikiki Beach? Wow, it looks nothing like what I saw last year:

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Must Be Something In the Water

A whale calf either washed up or beached itself on Kauai’s west side. The calf was first spotted by a tour-boat captain, there’s still no known cause of death. From The Garden Isle.

The USS Port Royal, a billion-dollar warship, got stuck on a reef just outside Honolulu. It spent a few days there while measures were taken to lighten the load so it could be freed—that happened early Monday morning. Here’s the story on MSNBC.

Dead fish—including many of the famous humuhumus—are showing up in the waters around the privately owned island of Ni’ihau. The Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Aquatic Resources is still trying to find the cause but in the meantime, fish is off the menu for the residents of Ni’ihau. From the Honolulu Advertiser.

Iz, Gabby Pahinui and the Sounds of Hawaii

Big Iz’s “Over the Rainbow” is an iconic ukulele track—it’s often the first thing folks ask me to play when they learn I have a uke. If you’ve heard the full track—it slid into U.S. consciousness a few years back via a toy store advertisement—then you’ve heard the bit at the beginning where Iz says, in his perfect, soft voice, “K, this one’s for Gabby.”

Iz is referring to Gabby Pahinui. Even though Gabby died in 1980, he’s credited with being the master of slack key. You can take his title as the father of Hawaiian music more literally, too: three of his sons, Cyril, Martin, and Bla are recording artists. For me, Cyril’s sweet falsetto and the sound of slack key guitar evoke the islands like nothing else. I’ve had the good fortune to see Cyril Pahinui on the mainland and in the islands—he’s often on tour with Led Kaapana, another slack key super genius.

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Island Eats: Spam Musubi

spam musubi Photo by bandita via Flickr (Creative Commons).
Photo by bandita via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Blame WW II. It was the food of soldiers stationed in the islands and somehow, it stuck—cans of the meat-like product making their way past the gates of military bases and into Hawaiian daily life. According to an older article in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, islanders go through 7 million cans of Spam annually. Spam seems to show up everywhere Hawaiians are found—Hawaiian center fielder for the Phillies Shane Victorino took heat last year from PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) for admitting that Spam musubi was one of his favorite foods. And stalkerish reporting on every action taken by our new president on his last trip to the islands revealed that he ordered Spam musubi for lunch while on a golf outing.

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Honolulu Overheard

Honolulu Overheard iStockPhoto

Pico Iyer takes in the Hawaiian city through its sounds

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