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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Impressions of Hawaii

Two days ago we took the road to Hana, the single most beautiful drive I've ever taken. It's scary at times, whenever you're on a cliff. And there are a lot of bridges which have room for only one car, so you must yield to oncoming traffic. But the last twenty or so miles are so lovely they seem unreal. You come around a number of bends which make you think you're in a postcard.

On the way we stopped at a roadside stand for shaved ice, which is for sale everywhere. It obviously has a great profit margin, since it's just colorful sugar water selling for $5.25 or so. There was a girl at the stand with part-Polynesian features; she would have been absolutely beautiful if she weighed 40 pounds less. (Polynesians can be beautiful when young, but have a tendency to put on weight quickly.)

We stopped at the same stand on the way back to use the vending machine. The stand was closed, but the girl was still there, riding a mowing tractor on the lawn of the house behind the stand.

The few houses out there are mostly quite isolated; you have to wonder what people do with their days. You can't just admire scenery all the time. You don't get the sense that these are people who are freaking out over their children's SAT's. They mostly just make do, and watch the world go by -- without paying too close attention.

The girl's future seemed to be to spend the rest of her life in this incredibly lush setting, getting even fatter.

At one point I saw a bunch of local boys jumping off a pier into the ocean, yelling at each other and having fun. It seemed idyllic from a distance, but when I got closer and listened to the stupid things they were saying, I realized they were essentially the same crowd you'd find on skateboards in any town on the mainland.

We saw one young Polynesian couple in a restaurant. The man was a striking specimen, powerfully built (though not quite like a bodybuilder), with a handsome and masculine (but bland) face. The girl was almost as good-looking. She smiled at me; given the guy she was with, the only possible meaning of that smile was, "Aren't the two of us magnificent-looking?"

But as a rule, you just don't see as many people of Polynesian descent in Maui you would have thirty years ago. You see a lot of American tourists (all well dressed, middle-aged, white). A lot of Japanese tourists (unmistakeable by their dress and mannerisms). And fair number of local Asian-Americans. This was originally an island populated only by Polynesians, but they seem to be getting replaced. It's not dissimilar to the way the bigger, stronger Neanderthals got replaced by the wilier Cro Magnons about thirty thousand years ago.

You get the impression that a lot of the local whites came here because they were unhappy with their lives on the mainland. They tend to cluster in funky little towns like Pukalani and Paia, which have somewhat rundown-looking gift shops and art shops and restaurants. Many have leathery skin from too much sun. Most of these refugees from the mainland seem to be childless (if they were concerned about schools and the like they wouldn't have moved to Maui). Manhattan has been called an ovary graveyard; Maui seems to be one as well.

There's something sad about this island, and I've been trying to figure out exactly what for the past couple days. Maybe it's that the native Hawaiians seem to be dying out. (They really should be declared an endangered species, much like the Hawaiian monk seal we saw on the beach yesterday.) Maybe it's that the local whites all seem so burned out.

Maybe it's that my own Hawaiian dream is dying. When I was a young man I used to dream of living here; but it seems clearer now that I'd get "island fever" (the desire to escape) if I did. This state has always loomed large in my imagination, but it seems to have shrunk somehow since I was last here. Or maybe it's just my own future which has shrunk.

Of course, it's much easier to feel sad about a place so heartbreakingly beautiful. I've never had, for instance, a Newark dream. And if I was told I could never live there, or if its indigenous people were gradually being supplanted, I must admit, it probably wouldn't bother me.


Steven said...

It looks fantastic there.

I might reply on the welfare thing after you get back but I wont bother you with it while you're on holiday. Have a good time.

John Craig said...

Thank you Steven, yes, give me a few days and then get back to me.

Mike said...

I had much the same experience visiting Maui, John. I felt an underlying vibe of tension or something. I got to know, and corresponded with a cab driver who retired as an Oakland cop, now deceased. He went on at length about the Tongans, Samoans and other sub- groups, about how they had enmity for one another (sounds familiar..) Didn't have a lot of regard for the Native Hawaiians, as he felt they tried to exploit their status.
You also described perfectly the leather- skinned zodiac driver who took us snorkeling. Escapee from somewhere in the Midwest, lives in Paia with other denizens.
Road to Hana is amazing, you can tell the locals- they'll run off those 50-odd one lane bridges (in 50 miles). Did you visit the Garden of Eden? Watch out for the bird guy as you leave..

John Craig said...

MIke --
Thank you; it IS hard to figure out exactly what's going on during a short visit, but if you keep your eyes open you can get a little bit of a sense of the place. You have to get away from Kaanapali though. (I don't understand people who come here to just bask on the beach and play golf near the hotel.)

I understand how that ex-cop felt about the native Hawaiians, but I feel some sympathy for them. This was originally their paradise, the whites came and took it from them, and now they're basically either servants to or dependents on the whites. Pretty much the same as the Indians on the mainland, the only difference being that there's no place on the mainland quite this beautiful. Don't get me wrong: legally, I don't think the descendants of the original Hawaiians should have special rights anymore than I think blacks should have affirmative action because their ancestors were slaves. But, I understand how they feel.

As far as all the other varieties of Pacific Islanders and Asians, I suppose it stands to reason that all that tension and disregard exists.

Yes, the locals on the road to Hana drive as if it's a wide two lane road the entire way with only gentle curve; I'm surprised more people don't die there.

We didn't make it to the Garden of Eden, but thanks for the warning. Yesterday we saw Zula Botanical Gardens and the Iao Valley.

Dave Moriarty said...

I remember reading something about Fiji being a warlike place too . maybe tranquility is an unnatural state for humans. We seem more like sharks in that we need to keep moving forward or we die.

The greatest generation model of work 40 years at GE and go to Florida seems not to work. as sitting around seems more difficult than doing things

Better to keep competing at something

Anonymous said...

Hi John,

Beautiful post, excellently written.

I want to ask you about the picture in that article.
Did you take it yourself?
Does the place really look like that, or did you add some color enhancement to the photo?

John Craig said...

Anon --
Thanks. No, I didn't take that photo. Just Googled "road to Hana" and it came up. No idea whether it's color enhanced.