First things first, I just want to clear something up to begin with. I realise Hawaii is a state of the USA, however, I listed it as a separate country in much the same way I did with the Galápagos Islands when we went to Ecuador — Because it is so far away from, and so different to the mainland that it seems like a completely different country at times and is often treated as such.
Anyway, let’s get down to brass tacks here. When you are young, everybody’s dream is to visit Hawaii. Since the advent of both film and television, we have been completely inundated with images glorifying the Polynesian islands that make up the fiftieth state of the United States of America as paradise on earth. Countless films have been set in Hawaii over the years and if you are my age, you would probably remember the obvious, yet generally average ones such as A Very Brady Sequel, Lilo & Stitch, and 50 First Dates. Hell, even Snakes on a Plane began in Hawaii! Then there are all of the TV series, shows like Magnum P.I., Hawaii Five-0, Baywatch: Hawaii, and the bulk of Dog the Bounty Hunter, plus any series worth its salt usually did at least one special based in Hawaii.
As a result, tourists flock to the Hawaiian Islands to experience the tropical climate, the abundance of beautiful beaches, and witness the active volcanoes with over 6.4 million visitors spending more than $10 billion in 2003 alone. People speak of Waikiki beach in hushed tones like it is some exclusive club, the sand a privilege on which to lay and big wave surfers all around the globe flock to the Hawaiian Islands to ride some of the largest breaks in the world.
But is Hawaii worthy of all of the praise and esteem it is often given? Does it really live up to the almost unattainable hype it receives? We’d have our chance to find out firsthand as the annual ARVO conference would be taking place in Honolulu, HI and Anna would be presenting a poster there. The plan was to fly out of Singapore at 8:00am on the morning of April 29, spend three nights in Honolulu and then stay four nights in Tokyo, Japan on the way home. There was just a few small problems; I had only returned from our trip to Melbourne the previous Sunday night and had a minor epileptic seizure on that flight. Also, Anna’s brother, Amos, was getting married on April 28, the night before we were to leave. Anna had a lot family from around the world flying into Singapore for the wedding and if you’re at all familiar with how large Asian families go about weddings, this would mean an entire week of dinners and entertaining guests every day and night in the lead up to the actual event when Amos Tan would marry Cher Ma on Saturday. After a massive dinner and quite a few libations on Saturday night, we would need to be at the airport at around 6:00 am on Sunday. Could we do it? Let’s see…
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Surprisingly, we pulled it off! The wedding dinner was a great night, everyone went to a club at around midnight, however, clubs aren’t really my thing, plus I get a tad worried when there are strobe lights so I went home and got a little extra sleep. Anna got in a couple hours later so it was my job to be the responsible one and drag her out of bed when our alarm went off at 5:30am. We departed on schedule and were in Business Class for the first leg of our flight, a six-and-a-half-hour journey to Seoul, South Korea, but we just slept the entire way. We then had a layover of about three hours in Incheon airport, followed by the second leg of our trip, a flight of around eight-and-a-half from Seoul to Honolulu. I took a strong sleeping pill that also helps prevent seizures, thus a lot of that leg of our journey was spent sleeping too, but one thing seemed a little off when we landed — It was still only 10:00am on Sunday morning. Yes, despite being in transit for around 18 hours, we had only advanced two hours in time. At first I thought I was losing my mind, then I just figured there was a problem with my phone until I eventually learned that the timezone in Hawaii is UTC -10, rendering it 16 hours behind Singapore and placing it almost on the other side of the International Date Line. Maybe this image of timezones will help clear things up a bit:
Once we had wrapped our minds around the time, we soon noticed something else; how old the airport in Honolulu was! It’s reasonably common knowledge that the average American airport is awful and despite not being in continental North America, the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu is, sadly, no exception. However, it begins to make a bit more sense when you read this:
Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, also known as Honolulu International Airport, is the principal aviation gateway of the City and County of Honolulu on Oahu in the State of Hawaii. It is identified as one of the busiest airports in the United States, with traffic now exceeding 21 million passengers a year and rising.
HNL opened in March 1927 as John Rodgers Airport, named after World War I naval officer John Rodgers. It was funded by the territorial legislature and the Chamber of Commerce, and was the first full airport in Hawaii: aircraft had previously been limited to small landing strips, fields or seaplane docks.
The original terminal building on the southeast side of runways 4 was replaced by the John Rodgers Terminal, which was dedicated on August 22, 1962 and opened on October 14, 1962. From 1970 through 1978, the architect Vladimir Ossipoff designed a terminal modernization project that remodeled this terminal and created several additions, which included the Diamond Head Concourse in 1970, the Ewa Concourse in 1972, and the Central Concourse in 1980.
But don’t worry, they’re apparently in the process of modernising:
On March 24, 2006, Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle unveiled a $2.3 billion modernization program for Hawaii airports over a 12-year period, with $1.7 billion budgeted for Honolulu International Airport. The plan involves implementing short-term projects within the first five years to improve passenger service and increase security and operational efficiencies.
As part of the modernization, flight display monitors throughout the airport have been upgraded, new food and beverage vendors have been added, and a new parking garage across from the International Arrivals terminal has been completed. Current projects include an international arrivals corridor with moving sidewalks built atop the breezeway leading to the Ewa Concourse. The first phase of the project was completed in October 2009, while the remainder of the two phase project was completed in 2010.
Still, not a whole lot mentioned about the development and modernisation of the terminals at Honolulu International Airport. In fact, to put it in perspective, the terminals most likely look generally unchanged since Elvis arrived to play his “Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite“ concert back in January, 1973 (left). Credit where credit is due, however, the immigration process is quite modern; there are these cameras about he size of an A4 sheet of paper that automatically adjust their height by sliding up a pillar to take a photograph of your face after you scan your passport, but Anna wasn’t expecting it and her picture came out funny looking, which made me crack up laughing. When the camera was adjusting to take mine, it just kept going up and up and up, making Anna laugh and causing me to laugh even more. I tried my hardest to stifle it, but the end result was one of those ridiculous-looking photos you get when you’re unsuccessfully trying not to laugh, which I was required to use as my identification. Unfortunately, they didn’t give me a copy as a souvenir.
There obviously wasn’t a whole lot to do or even look at in the airport so we jumped in a cab and made our way to our hotel, the Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club, which we were staying in with a couple of Anna’s colleagues who had arrived several days earlier. On our way there, Anna and myself came to a mutual conclusion; maybe it’s just Honolulu, but it certainly isn’t just that airport that seems dated, pretty much everything here appears quite old. Still, I was sure we would enjoy it and luckily for us, our hotel was really nice. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures inside our room, but that link has plenty and this is what the rest of the resort looks like:
The first thing on the agenda after dumping the bags in the room and having a shower was grabbing a coffee so we went to the little store that joined our hotel. Because we were on a tropical island, we had to make a concentrated effort to remember that we were still technically in the USA and had to keep in mind that they tend to do things a little differently there, such as not including tax in any prices and tipping all service staff for just doing their jobs was necessary if we wanted to avoid getting death-stares from anyone who helped us.
After we finished our lattes, we both went about our separate business; Anna went to register for the conference and attend some meetings, and I went out and explored Kalakaua Ave., the main strip near where we were staying. We’re all familiar with the stereotypical image of Hawaiians; Polynesians wearing leis, grass skirts or Hawaiian shirts, all hula dancing while drinking mai-tais and eating Spam, but one thing became abundantly clear the more I walked around — This place feels almost like you’re in a Japanese city! Sure, we did travel during Golden Week, which could obviously have had a direct effect on the sheer number of Asian tourists:
Golden Week is a week from the 29th of April to early May containing a number of Japanese holidays.
Many Japanese nationals take paid time off during this holiday, and some companies are closed down completely and give their employees time off. Golden Week is the longest vacation period of the year for many Japanese workers. Two other Japanese holidays are observed for most or all of a week: Japanese New Year in January and Obon Festival in August.
Golden Week is a popular time for holiday travel. Despite significantly higher rates, flights, trains, and hotels are often fully booked. Popular destinations include Asia, Guam, Saipan, and Hawaii, and major cities on the West Coast of North America such as Los Angeles, Seattle, San Diego, San Francisco, and Vancouver, and a number of cities in Europe and Australia.
Okay, then there probably was a lot more Japanese tourists than any other time of year, but an influx of visitors doesn’t account for most signage and menus being in both English and Japanese, as well as the staggering amount of Japanese restaurants and services available and the huge percentage of Japanese employees in the service industry. However, this does:
The Japanese in Hawaii are the second largest ethnic group in Hawaii. At their height in 1920, they constituted 43% of Hawaii’s population. They now number about 16.7% of the islands’ population, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. The U.S. Census separately categorizes mixed-race individuals, so the proportion of people with some Japanese ancestry is likely much larger.
Anna has an uncle from Hawaii who is half-Japanese, half-Native Hawaiian, but I always figured he was somewhat of an outlier, I had no idea the Japanese population was so prominent here. On the other hand, Native Hawaiians comprise only 10% of the overall population, meaning you’re not going to be seeing many native hula dancers in grass skirts unless it’s performed as a cultural display.
Anyway, back on Kalakaua Ave. and it just seemed like any other large up-market shopping strip in most major cities around the world. There were all the luxury brand stores, like Louis Vuitton, Rolex, and Tiffany, as well as the regular stuff that doesn’t cater to multi-millionaires, such as H&M and Uni-Qlo, mixed in with a few shopping malls and little market stalls selling pseudo-handicrafts. Pretty much a blueprint of the typical high-end retail street in any city that attracts a well-to-do demographic. There was also Jehovah’s Witnesses trying to recruit people on the street while a man handing out flyers advertising a shooting range stood next to them, all taking place in front of a kiosk full of Japanese-language pamphlets for what appeared to be predominantly for brothels or hookers. ‘Merica.
When Anna was done I walked the opposite way down Kalakaua Ave. to meet her at the Ala Moana Center, right near the Convention Center where the conference was being held, for another spot of shopping. This mall was a lot more our style, shops that we would actually enjoy looking at.
It is next to impossible for me to find shoes my size in Singapore so I was unsuccessfully checking out the sporting stores there for a particular pair of Jordans that I liked when I stumbled upon something else I thought was pretty cool. I was always a big fan of the basketball player Rasheed Wallace dating back to his college days at North Carolina, as well as his Nike Air Force 1s, so I thought it was pretty cool when I went into a shoe store that had a pair of Rasheed Wallace signature Air Force 1s commemorating the Detroit Pistons 2004 NBA championship in a display case (I know, sacrilege for a Chicago Bulls fan like myself). I asked about them and they were quite cheap and they only had three pairs left, one of which was a US size 12, my size, so I bought them and my day seemed complete. Only it wasn’t over yet.
I’ve written before about how areas of Prague in the Czech Republic feel like you’re in Vietnam. Well, we were going to find out just how Japanese Hawaii can get. Anna loves eating uni, or sea urchin sashimi to the layperson, and despite the fact that we would be in Japan in just a few days, wanted to hit up one of the hundreds of sushi joints in Honolulu and get some. After a little bit of research, Anna had found our place for dinner and it was pretty damn authentic, with all of the staff and almost all of the other diners being Japanese as well. As for the restaurant’s bathroom, they had “Hawaiian” scented air-freshener (what else would they have?), but I was having trouble figuring out what that even meant anymore. Was it pineapple? Wasabi? who knows, but the food was great:
After dinner we made our way back to the hotel to meet some of Anna’s colleagues and associates for some drinks at the hotel bar, where most of them had chosen to eat. Another strange thing about Hawaii is that when you think of traditional Hawaiian music, one tends to think of upbeat ukulele tunes, however, a lot of bars, restaurants and shops tend to play reggae here, despite the fact it originated in the Bahamas, a bunch of islands on the other side of the US. This bar was no exception, but the drinks were cheap and the snacks were plentiful, however, the overweight white woman serving us was an absolute bitch! Most of the other people ate dinner in the restaurant area at the bar, however, Anna and myself didn’t due to gorging on sashimi earlier and arriving later than the rest. Still, the bar-lady insisted that we put everything on one tab. Anna is a woman that you don’t argue with and she sternly pressed that she would like to put her drinks and mine on her credit card so we wouldn’t be billed for the food. The argument went back and forth for a bit and Anna ultimately won, yet the woman continued to badmouth Anna behind her back to me each time I ordered a drink on her card, either unaware she’s my wife or without a shit to give in the world. Initially we thought she was just lazy and having it all on one bill made her job just a little easier, then it dawned on me — A minimum 18% tip is automatically included in the bill for a party of six or more people in the most US states, including Hawaii, so she was probably just fishing for a bit of extra guaranteed cash. Oh well, no tip for her from Anna, and she couldn’t even spit in our food as a response because we didn’t order any. Sucks to be her.
That bar closed at 10:00pm, but we wanted to continue so a group of us went down to a bar at the end of our street that I knew I would be seeing a bit more of over the coming days, the Yard House. This place had a ton of screens showing sports so I would be able to watch the NBA Playoffs, played some great music and, at last count, had 122 different beers and ciders on tap available in all sizes up to a yard glass, and a bunch more in bottles. I think I’ll be back again tomorrow.
Monday, April 30, 2018
The following two days were reasonably quiet. Anna had to present her poster at the conference in the morning on Monday so I just hung around poolside, drinking coffee and reading the newspapers until she arrived back at the hotel, then it was time for a bit more shopping and adventuring. Anna hadn’t really ventured down Kalakaua Ave. yet so we went down there for a bit of a stroll, taking in the sights and looking at the shops. After that, we caught up with our friends and Anna’s former Spanish colleagues, Rosa and Roberto, for lunch at a poke bar. Poke is a fish salad that’s very similar to chirashi and is absolutely delicious! A few sights from the day up until that point:
Anna was due to hang out and have drinks with some fellow doctors, which would mean a lot of medical talk. Not particularly my cup of tea so I decided to check out some other parts of the town. I wasn’t walking around all that long when I received a message from Anna saying that they were at the Yard House — I’d be there in a jiffy because, despite all of the eyeball banter, I knew that there was great beer and they’d also be showing the replay of the Philadelphia 76ers vs. Boston Celtics playoff game.
On my way down I passed my alcoholic, Napoleonic friend again, resplendent in his blue socks, thongs, and Napoleon hat, and pulled up a seat at the outside table with Anna and some of her colleagues. I’ve mentioned numerous times that this state is a little backwards, but I wasn’t expecting to see a pager deposit box upon entrance and couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed it the previous night! Anyway, I ordered a beer and could see that they were showing the Boston and Philly game inside, but the screen nearest to us was showing the ice-hockey. Unbeknownst to me, the NHL Playoffs were on as well, however, I asked one of the women at the door if she could switch it over to the NBA Channel, which she promptly did. Before long, it was being changed back to the hockey, the woman saying that the Canadian people seated over in the corner had been watching it. I kind of felt bad so I went over and apologised to them, explaining that I didn’t realise anyone had been watching. They told me it was cool and that was that. About 10 minutes later we were sitting around chatting when the waiter came over with a beer for me. I explained that I hadn’t ordered one yet and he told me it was from the table in the corner so I went over to tell them that they hadn’t needed to buy me a beer, but they replied that I hadn’t had to apologise earlier either, and that they are tired of dealing with assholes so I was a welcome relief. Cool, I’ll accept that, but plenty of people can attest to the fact that I can be an asshole when I want to, too. Cheers, guys. The banter continued among the doctors, I was just soaking in the music and watching the basketball on a distant screen, but soon it was time to order another beer. When it arrived, the waiter explained that the keg had blown and they weren’t able to fill it completely so it was free and to let him know when I wanted the one I was paying for. It was less than a centimetre from the top of the glass, but I’ll accept a free beer any day. Batting pretty well tonight. As time passed, Anna and her colleagues were about to go to dinner, Anna informing them that I wasn’t going, not only because I get bored with their general inability to discuss anything outside of work, but also the fact that I wasn’t a particularly big fan of one of the doctors that would be in attendance and that I thought the individual in question was a bit of a douche. One of the doctors at the bar that I get along quite well with asked me who Anna was referring to so I told him. He laughed, said he agreed 100% and paid for my drink because he enjoyed hearing someone say it. I had now had four drinks, but only paid for the very first one, the following three being completely free of charge for me. I love the Yard House!
When everyone had left I went inside and pulled up a seat at the bar to watch the basketball and got talking to a couple next to me who were from Seattle and were celebrating their 22nd wedding anniversary. We had a fun chat, I bought them a beer each to celebrate, which seems like the thing to do there, and before long Anna messaged me to say that the dinner was over and that she was coming back to the bar. I wanted to have a drink ready for when she returned, but I couldn’t prove my partner was over 21 years old so it would have to wait. When she arrived, Anna still got asked for ID! If you want to feel young again, just go drinking in the US, their ridiculous adherence to procedure can be quite flattering at times. Anna had a drink or two and was getting tired, but it was still relatively early so I walked her back to the hotel so she could sleep and I then returned to the bar, grabbing a pizza there and continuing the night by sparking up conversations with random strangers. The honeymooning couple bought me a beer each as they left because I was “nice,” then I spent the rest of the night talking to a Special Ops guy who it wouldn’t surprise me if I found out had a chandelier made out of the bones of orphans at home. The bar shut at 1:00am and then it was time to call it a night. Some snaps from the afternoon and evening:
Tuesday, May 1, 2018
Anna and her friend, Yvonne, went to check out Pearl Harbor in the morning, but I’m not much of a military history buff so I thought I’d take a look at the few areas in our neighbourhood that I hadn’t really been to yet and one of those areas was Waikiki Beach. I’m not a big fan of going to the beach in general, beaches are always full of narcissists, you get sand stuck under your toenails, and I just get bored, however, Waikiki is probably the most famous beach in the world so I should see what the fuss is about. I started my walk by going out of our hotel and walking the opposite direction to usual, towards the river and what appeared to be some of the island’s older buildings, all in front of a beautiful mountain landscape. I followed the river for a bit and then headed toward Waikiki, encountering a lot of US Marines in full dress, giving you that unflinching stare in an attempt to intimidate you into remembering that, despite being about a six hour flight away, you’re still in America. As I approached the last row of buildings and hotels before the coast, I found myself out the front of military recreation centre so I slipped down the side of it and before long I was on Waikiki beach. To say that I was underwhelmed is somewhat of an understatement — It seemed like just another narrow beach for tourists with no surf at all, and let’s not let the problems with the beach go unnoticed:
Over time, Waikīkī beach has had problems with erosion, leading to the construction of groynes and beach replenishment projects. For example, in the 1920s and 1930s sand was imported from Manhattan Beach, California, via ship and barge to Waikīkī. Importing of sand also came from local beaches such as, Pāpōhaku Beach on Moloka‘i, and even a sandbar from Oʻahu’s Northern side near Kahuku. Importing stopped in the 1970s. In March of 1971, the Department of the Army Pacific Ocean Division, created a Draft Environmental Statement for the Kuhio Beach Sector of Waikīkī, which aimed to improve the overall quality and size of the fading and narrowing shoreline. Officials are looking for ways to sustain the existing sand by eliminating loss due to tidal flow. Subject to permits, a partial restoration was completed in the spring of 2012. The proposed project imported sand from nearby shoals and widened the 1,700-foot (520 m) long beach by about 37 feet (11 m) between the Royal Hawaiian Hotel concrete groyne and the Kūhiō Beach crib wall. The project restored the beach to its 1985 shoreline.
Oh, and this:
Waikiki Beach has had contamination problems with sewage spills.
Sure the scenery around Waikiki is nice, it was by no means an awful beach, but there are far nicer ones in many other parts of the world. Take a look for yourself:
After taking in the beach, I had seen pretty much all of Honolulu that didn’t require me taking at least a 30-minute cab ride, something I didn’t feel like doing. Anna and Yvonne had gone to lunch for traditional Hawaiian food so I decided to kick back in the hotel room and watch the Toronto Raptors throw away in overtime what should’ve been a sure thing against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game one of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals in the NBA Playoffs. Anna eventually returned with some of the food and it was great, especially the pork ribs, but after trying some traditional cuisine it comes as no surprise that one in three native Hawaiians are obese. That stuff is by no means healthy! In fact, the husband of one of Anna’s colleagues and a friend of ours, Ivan Howden, would tell me later in the evening that he had taken a helicopter ride over the islands that morning and when he was purchasing his ticket, there was a sign that stated that persons weighing over 400 lbs (180 kg) were required to pay for two seats. Seriously. That’s very nearly double my bodyweight and I am definitely not a small person.
Later that night we were to meet up with some of Anna’s professors and colleagues for dinner, but before that Anna, Yvonne, and myself decided to try a microbrewery near the restaurant where we would be eating later. As soon as we walked in it was like we had been punched in the face by the aroma of hops, but the beers themselves weren’t particularly great so we only had a couple while playing Jenga and a few other games there. It must be said that until that afternoon, I don’t think I had ever encountered anyone who had no idea of the rules for Connect-4 until Yvonne confessed that she had never played it before.
We finished our drinks and went to dinner at a seafood restaurant that was just like any other American franchise seafood restaurant, such as Red Lobster, ironically located just around the corner. The food was nothing spectacular, but we had a fun night, Anna’s professor finally able to put a face to the body from the times when I had accidentally walked behind our sofa in just my underwear when they were having video conference calls about a group project Anna, the professor, and several other ophthalmologists were working on.
When dinner was done, a group of us decided to head down and make the most of the Yard House again before Anna and myself flew out the next day, bound for Japan. You might be wondering how this post got it’s title and it comes from our final night at the Yard House; as we were leaving, an incredibly drunk girl came up to me and asked, “Hey there, can I pat your turtle?” I was wearing my Hawaiian shirt that had skull-shaped pineapple cocktails on it, the same one I wore when we sat in the audience for a couple of episodes of Maury. We were all a little confused at first, but then it clicked when she started to rub my side — This girl was so hammered that she thought the pineapples on my shirt were turtles and that I was covered in them. Sorry, lady, but they’re just tropical fruit printed on material, not testudines crawling over my body.
Avoiding Another Chapter of the ‘T-Factor’
Anyone who reads this blog regularly, which would mainly just be friends and family, would more than likely be aware of what Anna and myself have come to refer to as the ‘T-Factor‘ — My incredible ability to steal defeat from the jaws of victory or just be present when not particularly pleasant things happen, instances covered in previous posts, including:
- Doing six years of German classes during high school, but not really trying because I thought I’d never use it… Then moving to Germany.
- Finally getting the opportunity to see one of my favourite musicians play live for the first time, but getting dodgy tickets from a scalper and having to watch from over a fence.
- Having never seen snow before, then moving to New York and sitting through the second-largest blizzard in the city’s history.
This time it turned out that we were fortunate enough to not find ourselves in another such scenario, but we could have…
Wednesday, May 2, 2018
We flew out early on Wednesday afternoon, but most of Anna’s friends and colleagues decided to stay on for a couple more days. I posted on Facebook that we were flying out to Japan and thought nothing more of it. During our first full day in Tokyo, 17 hours ahead of Honolulu, our friend, Jesse, posted this on my timeline:
We had seen earlier that day that there had been volcanic eruptions in Hawaii several hours after a magnitude-5.0 quake struck the Big Island and they didn’t initially look like much, but we didn’t realise that they would destroy at least 25 homes, swallow cars, and force the evacuation of around 2,000 residents. It was so bad in fact that they would eventually be declared a major disaster by the US. Even scarier for us, if we had decided to stay on in Hawaii for an extra few days, we possibly would have been in that area. Rosa and Roberto had done a little bit of sight-seeing and when I showed Anna our friend’s post, she said that sounded like where they were going that day, leading me to respond to his video:
Fortunately they got away unscathed and everyone we know that was still there is safe and well. We enjoyed Hawaii, but it wasn’t anything like we expected, now let’s hope nothing crazy happens while we’re in Tokyo. At least we know exactly what we’re getting into there, rather than an idealised Hollywood image of the place that is nothing like reality.