Thursday, July 05, 2007

Leavin' again

I'm going to be gone for a couple days. I'm going to Hawaii for a couple days. My grandfather's ninety-something-th birthday is coming up, so I'm going.

I was born in Ellay, but my mom's family is from Hawaii. From the Big Island. Hawaii's always been this kind of weird place for me, and my perceptions of it are really different than most people's perceptions of it. I even lived there for a month with my grandparents' house once.

I guess most people's ideas of Hawaii are probably from TV or movies. Bikinied white people in Waikiki etc. I grew up reading Hawaiian versions of Goldilocks, and other fairy stories, and stories of the pig god and Pele the volcano goddess. I wasn't really aware of it at the time, they all got mixed up with the other books that I read.

Hawaii's as close to an Asian American mecca as we're likely to get. Actually, Asian Americans were the majority, or at least the plurality of Hawaii, until recently. It's the only place I've ever been where I've never had to spell my last name, they just write it down. And anyone who has an ethnic or long nonstandard last name will realize how powerful that is. It's also the only place where you can go buy spam musubi.

When my extended family goes out, they act loud and laugh loud. On the mainland, you get this sense of looking over your shoulder, what will the white people think? In Hawai'i we're with the locals, we were here first, so we don't really care.

But I mean, at the same time, we're not local. We're mainland cousins, so it's home in some ways, but again, not home totally.

At the same time, Hawaii can be kind of a ghostly place. The Big Island, where my family lives is the only island with an active volcano. And while most of the other gods have probably been forgotten by the locals, as far as I know, Pele still makes herself felt fairly frequently. When we were kids, my sister and I used to collect iridescent lava rocks, Pele's tears, or peridot, or the gold strands called Pele's hair, but we weren't ever allowed to take anything back. It's bad luck.

Apparently my great-grandfather was fishing once, and he looked back and saw a woman in white walking through the lava rocks much faster than she should be. He turned to tell his friend, and when he looked back she was gone.

My uncle told us never to turn our back on the ocean, because it could suck us under. Nature is still very dangerous in Hawaii, or it was when we were little.

At the same time, the tourist industry is pretty present. My cousin's idea of a good time was to go to the Hilton, which had a tram system, at least 7 giant swimming pools, at least 5 restaurants, a boat system, and a dolphin pool. I don't think any of the tourists that visit there ever leave the hotel. That's certainly not my Hawaii experience.

My experience are trips to beaches where no one ever goes in my aunt and uncle's Bronco, which was probably 20 years old then. It was shave ice, haupia, tako poki, my cousin eating opihi off the rocks raw, eating malasadas in Waimea, and the mango tree in my grandparents' backyard. Hawaii is also watching Pat Robertson on TV with my grandfather, and all the rock piles made in honor of people who have crashed their cars and died.

I kind of envy people whose grandparents live close by. If we were lucky we saw my mom's parents maybe once a year. I haven't seen them in 5 years. The last time I went there, I hadn't seen them in 7. These days, every time I go there, the next time I go, I expect it to be for one of their funerals. But they've kept on living, and I'm very thankful for that. Still, with both of them at 90 plus, this probably is the last time for real, unless someone wins the lottery.

I have never seen stars so bright and so numerous as I have in Hawaii. They're close, so close it seems like you can reach up and touch them.

See you in a couple days.


mark said...

This is such an interesting post. I wish I knew who you were.

Anonymous said...

*chuckles at above post*

i not only wish i had grandparents close by, i wish i had grandparents still alive.


The Insufferable Foodie said...

Dang it, now I'm homesick! I'm probably going to go stay with my dad for a week at the end of the summer -- I will eat some Korean BBQ and Kozo sushi for you :-)


lovelesscynic said...

Mark, If you knew who I was, would it make the post more interesting? I don't think it would, but I'm really glad that you liked it!

Michelle, I feel you on the alive part. My dad's dad died before I was born, and knowing that has always made stuff kind of weird.

L, don't forget to go to Zippy's when you were there.

petitpoussin said...

Awesome! I'm actually just about to move back to the mainland after living in Hilo for the past year and a half, but it's great to read someone else who experiences the 'it's not the Hawaii' thing. Although I gotta say, as a pescetarian, spam musubi is not my jam. But the sashimi that comes with pupus is pretty fantastic... I'm gonna miss it when I go out to bars in LA.

lovelesscynic said...


Weird, I was just on the other side of the island, although my mom's family is a fixture in Hilo and my mom was born there.

If it's fresh, there's nothing in the world that's better than sashimi. Unless it's mochi.