I come from a fairly big family from both my dad’s and mom’s side, especially my mom’s side. Being graduation season, a member from either clan is bound to finish high school eveyr year. This year, cousin Britt was the lucky one to graduate from a relatively secure life of being a student to joining the unemployed of this great country. Cousin Britt actually visited me before for her 15th birthday. I showed her a good time so basically, it was her turn.
Here are the lessons I learned during my Hawaii trip:
Take the scenic route.
I left NY on a Thursday morning and had an early flight to San Francisco. I actually made sure I have a long layover so I can explore the city. I’ve been in San Francisco once for work, and I didn’t get to see the city. I can say I’ve been to San Francisco but I cannot say I’ve seen San Francisco. I know where the Argent Hotel is, and how to walk from there to the Moscone Convention Center, where to get good Thai food, and where Papa Beard is if you want cream puffs. It’s basically like saying you know where the restroom in a Barnes and Noble and have no clue where the music department is.
I got to San Francisco International Airport around 11 am, and since I already did my research on how to get around using the city’s public transportation, I hopped on the BART and got off at the Mission – 16th Street stop, the nearest stop I know to get to the Castro district. As I got out to the street level, the first thing I saw was the palm trees. It was a nice preview for Hawaii.
Walking along 16th Street to get to the Castro district was a longer trek that I expected. After taking out two hours of travel time to and from the airport, and giving myself an hour and a half allowance for checking in and going through security, I figured I actually only have about two hours to explore San Francisco as much as I could, and I already spent half an hour just walking.
I eventually got to Castro and turning to my left, the first thing I saw was the iconic Castro Theater. It was a pretty cool sight to see in person as opposed to looking at a picture, a picture doesn’t give me the sense of smell – and I believe that a moment is better experienced when most of the five senses are included. That’s why no one forgets a subway ride in NY. Who can forget that smell?
I walked down along Castro with the only intention of visiting Harvey Milk’s old camera shop. If I have to tell you who Harvey Milk is, or if you don’t Google him after reading that name, we probably can’t be friends. I prefer my friends to be a combination of funny, cultured and smart. Take one out of the equation and I probably won’t even follow you on Twitter. Milk’s old shop is now a store for the HRC.
I had lunch in a Mexican restaurant a few blocks up – had a quesadilla with Coke imported from Mexico. I guess it’s as authentic as I can get since the workers in the place were Mexicans as well.
You snooze, you lose.
I landed in Honolulu fairly tired. I had a scowl on my face but that had nothing to do with the fact that I just flew a total of nine hours across a country and an ocean. It’s my default face. If we decide to meet in a public place and you see me first before I see you, it would look like I did not want to meet you in a public place. It’s deceiving, so don’t be confused when I crack a smile upon seeing you. So there I was, lugging my luggage (is that how “luggage” got its name?), greeted by a lady standing outside the gates, waving her hand a tad too fast for my liking. I was convinced she had Alzheimer’s. If that is true, I feel bad for that joke.
When Aunt Elaine spotted me, she gave a quick hug and said “Hurry! Miss Hitler is behind us!” That did not need an explanation because that’s exactly how I felt about the attendant in the arrivals driveway barking at every car that stalled for over five seconds. I threw my luggage in the Bronco, smiled at cousins Meg and Britt and for the life of me, I could not hoist myself up the vehicle so I grabbed on the driver seat and dragged myself up which go well because I held wrong and I started slipping down. It was as if the lei around my neck (I got lei’ed!) weight fifty pounds. I honestly do not remember the conversation in the car – I was not mentally there. I was busy staring at the freeway and the darkness outside the car. I remember a lot of laughs, a lot of funny stories but I was too exhausted to retain anything.
We got to Kaneohe and got my hugs and hellos from Meg’s mom Aunt Irene, Britt’s brothers Jake and Tristan and from our Granma. The first thing my grandmother told me after giving me a kiss was “THEY LEFT ME!” This requires context. It’s not something you open a greeting with. So apparently, the night before when they flew in, Granma was so tired that when they got to Aunt Elaine’s place, she passed out. She hit the bed and turned the main switch off. So everyone else took off to have dinner and drinks. “They left me and they had mai tais! Without me!” If they did the same to me and had dinner without me, I would understand. But I’m with my grandmother – you don’t leave me when you are going to have drinks. If there is a promise of alcohol, I will buck up and stay up. Granma did not walk away without learning a valuable lesson – ever since that incident, whenever we had the chance to nap during the day, she stayed awake. “You’re not leaving me again.”
So with love, I’m telling YOU: you snooze, you lose.
In a twisted way, Michael Jackson and children always seem to be tied together.
Everyone went to cousin Tristan’s May Day school event. There was a “parade” of the islands. Each island was represented by a boy and a girl, lead by a boy carrying what looks like an unlit lantern and then trailed by a princess. It was cool, it was peppered by facts like this island’s represented by the color green and that one is famous for pineapples while this one is known for its beautiful beaches. Lots of information of course was not retained in my head because an egret decided to steal the show by flying in and out of the field. I do not know what May Day is. It sounds very ritualistic to me. Like a cult. I assumed a goat would be sacrificed at the highlight of the event. But this was Hawaii and it was young students involved. Every class from Pre-K to 6th Grade did some dance for the parents and visitors. It was pretty cool – reminded me of my own grade school. My old school was big on end-of-year events.
The younger kids did a song and dance number about being unique. It was really cute watching these kids sing about we are like different colors, everyone is different and when together, it makes a pretty rainbow. It was like Gay Pride but with children and everything was PG-7. Another class did a square-dancing act which really riled up the crowd. There was also a traditional hula dance by the faculty. My favorite was the Michael Jackson medley. It was a crowd pleaser. They also danced “Thriller.” What was distracting though was in between the acts, while the children either enter or leave the field, the dj would play “We are the World”. And it was always oddly cut – they would start playing it mid chorus and abruptly cut, no fade ins nor outs.
Stop thinking about it and just do it.
Remember that show North Shore on Fox? Me neither. After Tristan’s school event, we head back home to rest for a while (my grandmother did not take a nap) and then packed up to head out to the North Shore. It was a long drive. And it was not because it was far; it was the speed limit that was the killer. I think it’s to avoid running over turtles crossing the streets (that’s not true). On our way there, we did a quick stop on a beach that oversees Chinaman’s Hat, which I heard was a sacrificial site. It was an interesting name until it was pointed out to me that it looks like a straw hat from certain angles. Every vision of a Chinese man being sacrificed on top the island was dispelled from my head, but it was a fascinating, albeit, a very racist story.
So we continued on our drive and passed by Turtle Bay Resort also known as Lost, Blue Crush and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Not too far and we reached our destination. Looking for a parking space was a bitch since everyone in the island decided it’s a great day to hit the beach. Hey Hawaii, you’re in Hawaii, EVERYDAY is a great day to hit the beach. We walked up to the beach after getting a parking spot (cousin Meg threatened to run over someone who would not leave the parking space – the someone was not even on a car, she was just standing on the parking space, on her phone. I would have not blinked if Meg ran over her), and then walked to the beach.
The waves were not bad, I’ve seen bigger waves before. It was a warm day and I thought the water should be warm as well. Meg and I decided to get into the water and just walked on the beach. Two things we realized: the water was colder than we expected, and in the past ten minutes, the waves have gone exponentially bigger. We were already wet up to our knees and I wanted at least to have a savage tan when I return to New York, so we went deeper into the water. I don’t know about you, ladies, but once you get your nut sack wet, the rest of the body can tolerate the temperature. And then the next thing we know, a huge wave passed and I lost Meg. I hear Tristan laughing and when the water receded, Meg was covered with sand head to toe. Tristan even made a funny, “Megan’s hair is now sandy brown.” We haven’t finished laughing when the next wave came and it was my turn for humiliation. For a moment, my feet were not touching the ground, the wave lifted me and then dropped me closer to the beach. I stood up totally disoriented. I had to listen to where the laughter was coming from to know which way is AWAY from the ocean. But the best was Aunt Irene. She was wearing shorts and was laughing it up with her sister when the wave dragged her in the water. For a while, she was just sitting down under the water. Apparently, all that time, she was going through an intense debate – the water pulled her and pulled her shorts down. The options: stand up to breathe with your shorts down and die; or stay under water and die. The water receded, one hand on her shorts and the other on Aunt Elaine’s leg. Between coughing up sea water and laughing, she was fine.
Not far from us was this big rock formation, creatively called “The Rock.” Kids climb this rock and jump down from it. It raises a lot of questions about these kids’ rationality. Cousin Jake has done it a few times, so did Britt’s boyfriend Kyle. But Britt wanted to do it. The moment we hit the beach, Britt went straight to the rock, and waited in line with a bunch of guys lining up to jump off it. She stayed there for quite some time. Remember, she was up there as most us were busy trying not to drown. We dried off, soaked up some sun, and was getting ready to leave when we noticed that Britt hasn’t jumped off yet. We waved at her to let her know we were leaving – and the moment every one turned towards the parking lot, while no one was looking – she jumped.
Some people are gullible, thread carefully.
After our beach visit, we went to the Dole plantation. As were driving in, this happened:
Me: Did you know that “dole” is Hawaiian for “pineapple?”
Be brave for those who are not.
Meg and I have tattoos. We both below to the I-can’t-just-have-one-tattoo club. We have a few scattered in our bodies. Being a few years older than Britt, it’s not surprising if she tends to look up to us. She’s of age, and she wanted a tattoo. And being the good cousins that we are, we went with her and got tattoos ourselves to show her that it’s not so painful (It was. Hurt like a motherfucker). Megan went first and got a heart and the peace sign on each of her wrists. I’ve always thought she was a hippie by heart, so am I! I think we both were born in the wrong decade. Britt went next and got a snowflake on her wrist. I like it a lot. I also like it because it means something to her, and that’s what mattered. It wasn’t something she whimsically thought of one drunken night (not that she drinks – she doesn’t), or some guy’s initials. She was born during a snowstorm, and it’s a reminder that she’s from Colorado. She also got a small dime-sized peace sign on her foot. I was the last one and I had a turtle on my foot as well. I wanted something NY-related but that would feel wrong. So I went something Hawaiian. Fun fact: I spent the first four, five years living in Pearl City.
You can always depend on Chinatown.
In New York’s Chinatown, you can buy a mango-flavored cake for $20. In Philadelphia, there’s a restaurant that serves a kind of Vietnamese sandwich that my boyfriend Andy loves. In DC, you can take a bus all the way to New York for $20. And in Honolulu’s Chinatown, you can have dumplings for four for $20.
Britt and Granma went to a Buddhist temple while the rest of us went to Chinatown to buy some leis for Britt’s graduation. I’ve been to a few Chinatowns, and I even mentioned to Meg that we’d know when we’re in Chinatown because it has a very distinct smell. I was wrong. Hawaii’s Chinatown smelled immaculate. There was still a hint of the ocean smell in the air. It was so clean, it was disgusting.
Also, something happened that I see fairly normal in NYC but I’m guessing not so here in Honolulu. We saw someone wearing a bright red dress and a tiara while walking with a cane. I say “someone” because I’m not convinced if it was a guy or a lady. S/He had boobs but s/he also a moustache. Regrettably, we were not able to take any pictures.
Live in the moment.
I was surprised on how a graduation was held like it was a sporting event. Cars were decorated with the graduates’ names, with exclamations of love and pride from moms and dads and brothers and sisters. Signs were held up, not just names but of pictures. Let me just say that I’m happy I did not finish high school here. I sat next to a family who were way too proud of their daughter. Like she was the first to finish high school in the family. They were loud. They had no shame. Bitches please, your graduate wasn’t even in the honor roll.
The whole thing was fairly short. I enjoyed the speeches. They had five valedictorians – I had a hard time understanding that. After the ceremony, we waited for Britt to meet up with us, and when she showed up, we gave her the leis. Now hours before, we were wondering why everyone had floaties. Like for kids in a pool. And then it became clear. Many of the graduates got so much leis that it covered their faces. And the overflow went to their waists!
We spent the following day in Waimanalo Beach. I heard the President comes there when he comes home to Hawaii. It was gorgeous. The water was a deep turquoise. The sky a perfect blue. Sand was fine. Meg and I knocked down a couple of bottles, talked shit about politics, growing up, life in general while soaking up the sun.
Remember and appreciate the past.
We all had evening flights back to mainland, so we had the whole morning and most of the afternoon to do some more tourist-y stuff while Aunt Elaine went to work and the boys to school. Side bar – Aunt Elaine’s office is next door Dog the Bounty Hunter’s shop.
We went to the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. They gave out timed tickets, and while waiting for our turn to head over the sunken battleship, we took the time walking through the museum and reading about the tension between Japan and the US back in the day. I will never understand that. Despite the fact that the country is in war at the moment, I do not think the country feels it as much as it did back then. Back then, the whole country gave up on some metals so we can produce bullets. Now, we show the Kardashians on tv. What’s up with that?
We were shown a movie about how Hawaii did not see an attack coming. I do not know much about US history, and I wish I can bullshit my way through it but I can’t. I was mesmerized by the story-telling. I was listening like there was a written and oral test at the end of the movie.
He movie was followed by a ferry ride to the memorial. It was a quiet ride save for an older couple – a woman who would not stop taking pictures even after being told not to, and her husband who won’t shut the fuck up.
Aside from this and 9/11, I really can’t think of any outside attacks to the US. I hope we’re all done with that.
Learn to stand out.
All the time we were in Hawaii, Aunt Irene rented a small car. Nothing fancy, the only requirement she had when she rented it was air-conditioning. The car rental place gave her a bright yellow car. Not quite an NY cab yellow. It’s like Bumble Bee from the Transformers, or Tweety Bird if she had four wheels and can ride four. It was actually pretty ridiculous until we all realized one benefit of this car – it stands out. It’s basically the opposite cliché of finding a needle in a haystack – finding a bright yellow car in a crowded parking lot. Though it escapes why one would try to find a needle in a haystack. Or how the needle got there in the first place.
One more thing – I learned that if you live in Hawaii, you don’t really need socks. Also, I was reminded that getting tattoos hurt like a sonovabitch.