Well, first of all, it's Hawaii. It's a beautiful place with delicious food and nice people with a rich and diverse culture and heritage. There's so much to do, and the natural scenery is simply gorgeous. Second, it's America. It's great to be in a place that's different enough to make me feel like I'm "away" but where I can still feel the comfort and convenience of everything that makes America awesome. It also felt great to know that the money I was spending was going back into the U.S. economy. Land of the free. Absolutely.
The first thing I noticed when I arrived at Honolulu Hawaii on Oahu was this sign at the airport that said "go! Hawaiian". I'm still not sure what the unconventionality means. I had left behind a Los Angeles drenched in continuous rain, and the humidity in Hawaii hit me right away, but it still wasn't as bad as the humidity in a Taiwan metropolis on a summer day.
Our taxi ended up being an old limo, albeit a beat up one, but we quickly realized that limo cabs were very common. Our limo cabs became nicer as the trip progressed, although I only have a picture of this one.
After settling in at a rented condo on Waikiki, we were famished and headed for the nearest place that promised a nice variety of food to choose from--The International Marketplace.
"It's like Taiwan here."
"It's like Malaysia."
"It's like the Philippines."
We were commenting on the massive tropical trees and thick green foliage everywhere. One large tree was filled with a variety of chirping birds. We avoided walking under it because we didn't want to start out our trip with bird poop in our hair.
It wasn't just the greenery and the humidity that reminded us of the Asian Pacific rim countries. There were so many Asian Americans around us with plenty of tourists from Japan, Korea, China, and Taiwan. The heavy influence of the Asian heritage there was in everything.
When we got to the food court, we found ourselves with a choice of Vietnamese Pho, Japanese sushi, Chinsese stir fry, Korean BBQ, etc. We opted for Blue Water Shrimp & Seafood Co, trying to go with something relatively local because coming from L.A. we could get all of those other options any time. I went all out and got lobster and steak. Needless to say, it was delicious.
After eating, it was still kind of overcast and drizzling, but the air was warm and humid. We decided the best thing to do was to go swimming at the beach in front of our rental. The water was a little chilly but overall still warm enough to enjoy. However, there was just one problem. I'm a swimmer, and by swimmer, I mean pools of crystal clear chlorinated water with no creatures or growing barnacles. I hate barnacles. And corals. And salty water. The rocks were furry. Gross. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the swim.
We stayed at the Aston Waikiki Beach Tower, which is gorgeous by the way. It's pricey, but doable if you split with friends like we did. The entrance was hung with vining flowers and the view from my bedroom and the living room was the ocean. I could have sun-tanned in my bed if I had wanted to.
I have always loved McDonald's breakfast, and this one in Hawaii was extra special. Spam with eggs and rice. The rice was good, the kind my mom made for me at home--calrose, fluffy, white, and not salty or otherwise strangely flavored.
After the hearty breakfast, we rented a car and headed off to Pearl Harbor, the USS Arizona Memorial. We weren't allowed to bring bags into the area, so we had to check them in for $3. This must be a post 9-11 change. The USS Arizona Memorial consists of a film and a ferry ride to the memorial itself constructed over the sunken USS Arizona battleship still filled with the remains of the majority of the soldiers that went down with her on December 7, 1941, sixty-nine years ago. The tickets to the ferry and memorial were not only free, they were nicely done. Each one had a picture of a soldier on it for us to remember.
When we got there, the next available ferry was at 12:30, almost two hours away, so we looked at some of the artifacts displayed on the lawns and memorial tablets of the ships.
I had recently bought my Barnes and Nobles Nook Color, and I have this habit of naming my devices as if they are pets, but I was having trouble thinking of one for my Nook. Then I saw the memorial tablet for the USS Snook. Perfect.
The new fact I learned that day was that the Japanese in WWII not only had flying suicide bombers, they also had Kaitens--manned torpedoes. Fortunately for us, only one of these suicide subs caused substantial damage on an American vessel.
Armed with an audio tour device, we paid to visit the USS Bowfin (SS-287). This submarine was nicknamed the Pearl Harbor Avenger and launched exactly one year after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
I think if I had served on this sub, I would have wanted to sleep in these bunks that were right over the torpedoes. Not sure why.
I believe that big wheel turned in conjunction with another almost identical wheel is what causes the submarine to dive. Either that or our American tour guide was just yelling "Dive! Dive!" with a Filipino accent for dramatic effect while we turned them.
These two rooms are probably where I'd like to spend most of my time. One's got a desk and typewriter for my writing time and the other has mugs for tea time. Perfect.
This is what a submarine's all about. On the audio tour, one of the veterans speaking said that if you had no more torpedoes, your tour was over and you might as well just head home. There was no point in an unarmed deployed sub.
After a film about the Pearl Harbor bombing, we went on the ferry to the USS Arizona Memorial. I was too busy trying unsuccessfully not to burst into tears the whole time so I took no pictures of the ferry itself.
If you look closely at what looks like just pictures of muddy water, you can see the rusted ship remains outlined in the water. The last time I was at this memorial, I was a teenager, which was about a decade and a half ago. There was oil leaking out of the Arizona then and there's still oil leaking out of it now. I always felt like it was like it was still bleeding.
Being in a solemn place likes this inspires reflection on life, the world, and humanity. I thought about how lucky I was to be visiting war in a museum instead of living it in my backyard. I reminded myself that as a teacher, it is my duty to do everything I can to prevent the need for memorials like this one. War doesn't start with a knife or a bullet. It begins in the human heart.
We didn't have time to go to the new USS Missouri exhibit, but I did get to take this picture of it from afar. We'll save this one for next year.
Next we took a scenic drive through the middle of Oahu and ended up on the East Shore where we found a secluded local park that happened to have a beach attached to it. The drive reminded me a lot of the eastern side of Taiwan which is also less metropolitan, more rural, and very lush and green with vast mountain vistas.
The next destination was a visit to the famous Giovanni's shrimp truck where I got the tastiest plate of shrimp, garlic, and rice I've ever had in my life. The truck looks like a dump and the little plot of muddy land it parks on is infested with chickens. That didn't take away from how delicious their dishes were.
Our next stop was of course the Polynesian Cultural Center. Word of advice, the "Luau" they have there is not really worth the extra money. Just go to the buffet. The only fancy thing was that you get a fresh lei of flowers, but the food was only okay. It felt like a cafeteria. The one really tasty and unique item was a purple taro dinner roll. Sadly, they had no more smoothies in a pineapple by the time I asked for one.
The Ha Breath of Life show was spectacular. It's definitely the Disney version, I'm sure, but it was a great production with intricate costume designs and well done choreography and story-telling. Of course, everyone's favorite part was the fire dancers.
When we headed out and signed up for some jet ski and snorkeling time, we found our receptionist was a bit territorial and barked at guests to make sure they knew who was boss.
We were ferried out to where the jet ski course was.
At first, I couldn't go very fast because every time I sped up, my jet ski seemed to go in every direction at once; I couldn't hold it steady. There were of course small waves, plus I wasn't heavy enough to steady that thing into the water. Then I realized if I did a horse-stance, I could go full speed and adapt to the dynamic movements over the turbulence with ease. I had sore legs the next day, but it was great fun.
After jet skiing, we went snorkeling in Hanauma Bay. It was disgusting. Anyone within earshot of my snorkel would have heard me spitting in disgust at all the nasty coral growth on the ground and blegh-ing at being swarmed by fish. I did have fun swimming after a strange pair of fish, one large and pink and the other small and blue, but overall I felt like I was mucking around in a fish tank that has never been cleaned. I'd do it again, though.
We ended the day with a buffet at the Oceanarium, a restaurant that has a large fish tank in the middle. I finally got my smoothie in a pineapple, and a smoking one no less.
I love breakfast buffets, and the one at Duke's on Waikiki was one of the best I've ever had. I'm one of those waffle eaters that likes jam with my waffles instead of syrup, so when I spotted some guava jelly, I was so happy. I'd never had guava jelly before, so this was a real treat.
Next, we hopped on a trolly to the Atlantis submarine ride. Aside from the man-made corals, some great sights we saw down there were some puffer fish, sea turtles, and an eel. I was hoping to see a shark...but was also glad we didn't see one. Like I said, I'm a swimmer, but not in the ocean, and I have a love/hate relationship with sharks. The Shark Attack attraction is the first place I want to go to when I'm at Sea World, but I'm really quite terrified of sharks and other large ocean creatures.
We spent the rest of the afternoon swimming in the waters of Waikiki beach, and I realized that the water was shallow for like a mile out into the ocean. I rented a boogie board hoping to "catch" some waves, but the waters were so gentle, I realized I'd actually need some skills to do any type of surfing. When I was on a boogie board Huntington Beach So Cal, a wave caught me and propelled me to the shore, so I had expected the same thing here. Guess I should have gone to north shore, which is where everyone said all the big waves were during the winter season at Oahu. Despite the icky salty water and disgustingly slimy rocks, there are few things more beautiful than staring out at the sunset while floating in the ocean. I felt like I was in that CG penguin movie Surf's Up and the New Radical's song "You Get What You Give" started playing in my head.
That night we headed over to Tiki's Grill and Bar, which isn't the most OG Hawaiian food around, but at least I got the Aloha Friday Hawaiian Plate which had some items I hadn't ingested before: Kalua pig, lau lau, lomi salmon, ahi poke, mashed Okinawan sweet potato (the purple stuff), coconut haupia, and poi. I think growing up in L.A. really spoiled me to want to eat something totally different every day, so I always jump at the chance to try something new. I've got to find this dish in L.A. somewhere.
At night we went to the local grocery store to check out what it's like, and on the way we saw Makittii, a Hello Kitty themed Japanese seafood buffet. It was interesting, but we didn't go eat there because the food didn't look extra awesome, and none of us were big enough Hello Kitty fans to be lured in. It's definitely a must for a Sanrio geek.
On the way back, we saw this hip hop happening hang ten guinea pig. Gnarly dude.
At the crack of dawn, we were off on a hike up Diamond Head, a volcanic tuff cone that's named so because they found rocks up there that were thought to be diamonds (false alarm). It was a tough climb, but luckily we'd been working out for over two months before to make the best of our Hawaiian journey, so we made it to the top.
Needless to say, the view was spectacular, and it felt good to have made it up there, like Rocky Balboa beating Apollo Creed good. There were a lot of bugs up there, though.
Our next move was to go on a food hike to some spots recommended by friends. First stop was Tenkaippin Ramen. Nothing like a warm bowl of ramen after an early morning hike. It's a good size, and the broth is both hearty and tasty.
Thanks to some GPS action on my Sprint Evo, we were able to find Waiola Shave Ice in a converted home hidden behind a commercial building. I ordered the blue one, large, which is apparently bigger than Obama's order from Island Snow (his looks like a medium). Mine, the blue one, was vanilla flavored with concentrated milk, pudding, and mochi. My tongue matched my blue shirt afterwards.
Our last stop was Leonard's bakery
The malasadas were delectable. I'm not much of a donut eater, but when I do have donuts, my favorites are usually the suger powdered ones. The malasada is like a super awesome soft and lightly chewy version of that. It makes regular donuts seem like rocks in comparison.
In the afternoon, I made a stop at the local indie bookstore The Recycled Bookstore and picked up some used books for a few bucks, including the "Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker" screenplay.
Nearby was a farmer's market where we got fresh papayas and some macadamia pancake mix, coconut peanut butter, and sugar cane syrup. I can't wait to have a bit of Hawaii for breakfast back home in L.A.
As I left Hawaii, I grabbed some delicious lychee and li hing candy and some sweet potato chips at the airport for the ride home. I thought about how much exercise and fresh air I got and all the delicious food I got to enjoy. When I set off for Hawaii, I didn't expect that I would want to return again soon, but I realized I wanted to come back next winter and hike some active volcanoes on the Big Island and actually go surfing even though I'm terrified of sharks and orcas (mental image of myself punching a shark in the nose and then swimming frantically away).
Hawaii is awesome! I can't wait to go back again.