issue #21



I’ll start with leaving, because in the moment, any moment, there is only perception and response. Reflection happens after, at the end. So I only know what Hawai’i means to me now that I am home. But I want you to know at the outset, to better frame your experience of mine.

We began our visit to Hawaiʻi on the Big Island – and we left from Hilo’s airport too – but our last week was spent on Kaua’i. Kaua’i is the oldest island in the chain and yet at first take it is the least Hawai’ian of the two. So many visitors and visitor accommodations, so many beachy-surfy-natural foodie-hippie-new age-y transplants, so few Pacific Islanders that the esprit or elán or living culture of the island is hidden. You have to go deep to find it. All the guidebooks point you to physical recreation and natural features (often combined), but the heightened sense of wonder thereby gained (yes, Hawai’i is a wonder-full place) blinds you at first to the subtle, comparable beauty of its social fabric. Already I am missing it, stuck here in the combative, competitive Northeast. Islanders are gentle, polite, friendly. To put it another way: People are chill.

One of the first things I noticed – instinctively at odds with, but then accepting, acclimating, and in the end relishing – was the de rigueur conformance to speed limits, the zones themselves conservatively and carefully staked. What was the need, I wondered, on rural stretches and regional highways with little traffic, for maximum speeds of 35mph? And why did no one (local) ever exceed the limit? Here in Connecticut driving over the limit, especially during rush hour on a highway, rarely results in a ticket, and obeying the speed limit can put you on the receiving end of some real rage.

Up north at Hanalei, the mountain-sheltered bay offers one of the most magical swimming pools on Earth, and we swam there every morning until the sun and sand got just too hot for our haole skin and feet. At that hour, and during low (tourist) season there were few others, and no one appeared to be local. All the privately owned houses along the road that runs just behind the beach were empty and looked vacation-y and screamed money too (like the one we rented near Anini). It wasn’t until we went to Salt Pond Bay (a little east of Waimea on the southern coast) for an evening dip by moonlight, that we saw people of Hawaiian lineage at the beach. They were there for dinner, large extended families cooking out, children playing, adults relaxing at the end of a work day – engaging the ocean in a most different way, as a setting for life. As the boundary of life. But even more, this:

The palms that ringed the parking lot were written on in faded white paint,

Is Not
Will Be

We were on Kaua’i first and foremost for Jamie and Max’s wedding. Jamie was born on Kaua’i, and her family history goes back to sugar cane plantations and the migrations of people from China, Japan, Portugal, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, who came to work the fields. To this day her dad talks pidgin, and Jamie likes to go “all Moke” when she is home. And so she wanted the wedding up in the mountains on her parent’s farm. It was an honor to share the occasion and place with her people. All the Aunties and Uncles – and cousins and brah’s and friends – gave her the wedding of her (anyone’s!) dreams. They cooked all of the food – light and heavy pupu (delicious shrimp and salmon and pickled vegetables and pork braised in taro leaves (lau lau) and sushi and pork belly, the buffet went on and on and on) – for two hundred and fifty guests, and some did the setup and breakdown, one provided live, another recorded music, yet another designed and baked the cake, while the bridesmaids decorated the ‘chapel’ and tables. Family and friends made beautiful, funny, and tearful toasts. And everyone welcomed those of us from the mainland and Europe and Australia with their words and acts. Her dad, in the greatest show of a father’s love for a daughter, by himself cleared back the jungle on an acre-sized parcel to make a parking lot. It took him almost two years.

On our way to the airport the Thrifty shuttle driver spoke with us about our visit. We were the only passengers, and it freed us to talk. He asked about our most memorable time, our favorite thing about the islands. I told him we had tried the night before to make a list of Our Hawai’i Top Ten, but after naming more than twenty we realized the futility. He laughed – we laughed – but then in the quiet that followed I told him what would really stay with me, what I would never forget about the islands.

It bubbles up. First the careful driving. Then you become aware of absences: the litter-less environment – none, anywhere. The beach sand pure, all shell and coral and volcanics and nothing else – no plastic, no butts, no bottle tops. No one is smoking; I cannot recall a whiff of tobacco or anyone even fingering a cigarette. Out in the wild you are not burdened with excessive signage, warnings, and safeguards; instead respect for the power of nature is implied, understood, a baseline that even haoles intuit. Back in town there are no liquor stores, or bars. Rather, you purchase spirits at the grocery store. Restaurants serve drinks, but at your table. Or they host a happy hour outdoors on a covered patio, with appetizers and waiters. I saw no inebriated persons, no vagrants. I saw no evidence of drugs or addiction. I saw no one left behind. Everyone is so careful – with each other, with wildlife, with nature. I felt safe, and free in Hawaiʻi.

His reply: “Hawaiʻi is a dangerous place. The ocean is dangerous. There are volcanoes here and hurricanes, earthquakes, and tsunami. We are alone and small in the middle of a big big ocean. We have to take care of each other.”

Andy Bumatai said it, too, with his own poetics on the podcast The Daily Pidgin (episode #87): “It’s not a me culture in Hawai’i, it’s an Us culture. We all one island, Man!”

Culture like a woven basket. It holds everyone, islanders and haole alike, sheltering embracing, carrying – protecting – without crushing or suffocating or stultifying. It let me be open. The people of Hawai’i let me open, easily, reflexively by the time we left. To be there was a meditation. I told the driver so.

“Aloha”, he said. Our eyes met and pooled, each into the other’s.
“Aloha”, he said. “Come back.”


Blue Hawai’i

Blue Hawai’i

No doubt the first thing you notice in the video is how blue everything is, with only flashes of yellow and white. Where are the brilliant colors of captive tropical fish? Some distortion can be blamed on phone camera optics, but as the Atlantis crew explain,

“Sea water filters each color contained in sunlight (white light) progressively, with depth. Red is the first frequency lost as the submarine submerges, and red things start to gain purple tones thirty feet down.” See below the color of the shirt I wore, at both the surface and at ~ seventy feet below – fire engine red changes to a dark dark plum.


More from the crew: “Orange continuously changes to yellow and at sixty feet yellow appears green. At ninety feet below everything looks blue, as blue tones are the only frequencies of light reflected.” We were close to the ocean floor with the iʻa, on the reef and sunken boat; our maximum depth was one hundred and sixteen feet. Hence, Blue Hawai’i. Divers usually stay shallower, as do snorkelers, so their photos show a greater range of color naturally. Many are also creatively enhanced …

The large fish that pass close to the portholes are excited to see the boat, and are tracking us purposefully, snacking. They are after a tasty algae that covers the hull and does not grow in their deeper habitat. Three times a day they nibble along. Food Truck!


The Big Island

The Big Island

Of course we did explore Hawai’i in a visitor’s way, too, getting to know all of its landscapes, along with many other attractions. But before you even ask, we did not dance the hula, or watch anyone else do so; we did not attend a luau or a ukulele concert. We didn’t zip line, paraglide or surf. We felt our way through, letting Hawai’is ways soak in, letting the islands reveal themselves, just as much as we recreated and claimed and conquered. Many of our experiences were subdued and subtle, low-key and under the radar. (Except for Atlantis’ undersea tour of the coral reef and wrecks and ocean floor.)

Some of our other favorite and memorable places and experiences on The Big Island …

We flew into Hilo (on the east coast), but stayed up near Hawi, about as far away from Hilo as you can get, in environment if not distance. The volcanoes/ mountains lie in-between the two, and make a rainforest on their windward side, and a rain-shadowed dry landscape on the leeward side. In the tropics the Trade Winds blow east to west, so Hilo is hot and humid – tropical – while Hawi is arid and serene. The drive from Waimea to Hawi is exalting, as you rise up 4000 feet, in ranch land strewn with boulders and cactus. Looking back along the edge road you can see all the way to Kona district, Mauna Kea’s and Mauna Loa’s peaks in the clouds and their immense and graceful slopes reaching down to the sea. Breathtaking. Humbling.

  • kona
  • hill
  • maui
  • cottage
  • flower-plant-2


Hawi is a sweet town, but many of its main-strip shops are run by transplants and cater to visitors. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the excellent and adventurous maki at Sushi Rock, and the friendly folks at the Sweet Potato Kitchen and Bakery, and the chi-chi organic produce at Kohala Grown. We stayed in the next little hamlet over, and Kapa’au is just east enough of the divide, and low enough to put us back in the jungle. The property had fruit trees galore, full of limes, banana, papaya, breadfruit, and myna birds, chattering, twittering, fussing all day long. The next door neighbor had an arbor/trellis covered in orchids! One lazy afternoon it rained, and we sheltered on the lanai, listening. There was rain overnight too, a few times, a lullaby that blanketed our sleep.

One afternoon we went to the Wildlife Rescue Center in Kapa’au. The patients are mostly birds – Pueo (owl), ‘Ua‘u kani (shearwater), Nēnē (goose) … but a bat (‘Ope‘ape‘a) was there too recuperating. There are videocams on all the healing creatures, and we got to see the ‘Ua‘u kani exercising in the saltwater bath, strengthening its once-broken wing. The center is staffed by friendly, caring volunteers. and funded by donation, so help out if you are so inclined.

We drove all over the island getting to and from the places we wanted to see, and two side trips are worth a mention. The first is a short, four-mile scenic drive, just south of Honomu Town on the east coast. Not one especial event or view, just a lovely, peaceful ride through flowering jungle and birds and ocean. The other drive we found up into the hills near several waterfall stops (a little less than spectacular in the dri-er summer) on Highway 19 near Umauma Falls. A one-lane road takes you up gently, over narrow bridges to grassland pasture hosting incurious cattle, bounded by dense forests of the most splendidly straight tall-trunked trees atop resistant crags. It put me in mind of Asplund’s cemetery, and its perched copse.



We went to Volcanoes National Park, and I’m sorry to say we were mostly disappointed. The offerings at the visitor center are basic, redundant, and boring (if you can believe it, the topic of the educational film was the 2008 eruption, not the recent one in 2017 and showed next to nothing anyway – ??!?), and the natural features of the park were so much less than Wow. Despite the setting, it was impossible to be awed by process or scale. There was no lava flowing at the time we were there, which no doubt contributed to my disengagement. We picked the only plum of the park, hiking down from rim to floor of Kīlauea Iki crater (now inactive, natch) and wandered over the cracked uneven surface to investigate active steam vents – yes they are hot! – and then climbed back up. Somewhat interesting, and a good workout. If I were to go back to the park, it would be to hike other trails, but I’d probably rather spend time exploring Puna. We were hungry after our hike, and stopped for a (large) splendid meal at ThaiThai restaurant in the town of Volcano. The kitchen was appreciative of our appetites! Probably the most adventurous volcano-related thing we did was drive back to Hawi – a two-hour ride – through the deserted saddle between the peaks. In the blackest night. A nice new highway named for Daniel K. Inouye connects route 11 with another north/south road (Highway 190) on the west side, Rather than streetlights, the roadway is lit by reflectors set in the pavement which mark lanes, verges and the middle. But the spacing of the widgets, OMG, it was hypnotizing, and I was fully – tensely – engaged just keeping Bruce from zoning out and nodding off. A good jazz station on the radio helped for a bit, but then it took me elbowing him and shouting and anything I could think of to keep us from crashing. But we made it, obvi.


A better sense of Nature’s Volcanic Power was had on the drive from Hawi to Kailua in Kona district, along the coast. On a clear day you can see Maui’s cloud-fringed peaks floating to the north. As you drive south always in view to your left are the summits of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. The landscape is arid, and indescribable – it looks like no other desert I have ever seen. Side roads to the beaches are intermittent. In-between them you cross repeating landscapes of pahoehoe (ropy lava) and a’a (its jagged cousin) that extend all the way up the slopes and all the way down to the sea. Many are still severely un-vegetated, and they contrast vividly with those that have been reclaimed by brush and grass and small plants. Here was the scale and process revealed that I had been hoping for in the park. It is easy to envision the enormous eruptions and flow that laid down this rock – new land – in simultaneously creative and destructive events. Awesome.

We did swim, along the west coast in Kona, early mornings with serious paddle-boarders, canoe-ers and snorkelers. Our favorite spot was a sheltered small beach near Hapuna beach (shade so much appreciated!). We floated and swam so effortlessly, it seemed the Pacific Ocean had to be saltier and denser than the Atlantic …. could this be? I’ll have to find out.

  • arid
  • beach
  • beach-2


It was from Kailua (in Kona district) that we took our submarine ride, and then went upslope to the Hula Daddy coffee plantation for a tour through the grounds and facilities, plus a tasting. Our guide was wonderful (and graciously fielded all of our group’s nerdy q’s), and I (we) do recommend a visit, and especially HulaDaddy’s coffee. There is a lot to learn about coffee growing, harvesting, and processing and also what makes Kona coffee unique (if you are into that kind of thing). Laura the roaster was just finishing a batch of (award-winning) Kona Sweet when we toured, and she passed some freshly ground beans for us to smell. Irresistible! We bought one half of a pound to enjoy during our visit. $$$$$, but we were celebrating our fortieth wedding anniversary, so we splurged. Delicious and unregrettable. In a lucky turn of events our last rental place on Kaua’i had no coffee grinder, so we brought Kona Sweet beans home, and reveled in memories as we relished every drop of the last pot.


On the way back from Kailua we took the high road, closer in elevation to Waimea (below Hawi) and so saw other natural environments and also more of everyday life, all of it engaging, compelling. I was surprised to learn that the Big Island features ten of Earthʻs fourteen climate zones 1. A beautiful sight that I did not think to capture in a photo, were the wild goats perched in silhouette on jutting crags. I swear they were posing. {But, snails, and pigs, and Nēnē I do have}

  • big snail
  • pigs
  • nene


I loved the Big Island, and I’d like to go back, if life allows. For more of Hawi and Kohala, and Kona district, Hawai’ian string music, and the sea. To see again the forested uplands, and for the first time The Painted Church in Captain Cook, all of Puna, and Waipi’o Bay. To go horseback riding, out-rigger canoe-ing, paddle-boarding. To drink Kona coffee, and settle into Hawaiian ways.

Oh, did I tell you about the stars?




There are three languages spoken on the islands: English, Hawai’ian and Pidgin. One is an imposition, another a reclamation, and the third is an invention.

Here is the text of the recorded greeting and farewell that plays every half-hour at the airports on the Big Island, Maui, and O’aku, spoken by residents of the respective islands.

E nā makamaka kipa mai i ke Kahua Mokulele O Molokai, o ka heke o ke aloha iā ‘oukou!  E na hoa e haalele ana, mahalo keia kipa ana i ka ‘āina hanau o Hina. No na kama’aina no ho’i, e hele a hoi palekana mai no. A iā oukou e malihini me nā kupa āina pū i hoea mai nei, ke aloha o nei ‘āina iā ‘oukou a pau!

And here is audio, of the greeting at Molokai:


I wish I could offer instead the Hilo greeting, recorded by a man. The sound of his rendition is so much rounder, richer, and all the while a caress. Like waves lapping at you, or the light touch of a loved one’s fingers, running along your back.

Another audio of ‘Ōlelo Hawai’i, from a Volcanoes National Park educational film. Listen to the first few minutes:

Hawaiʻian airlines has begun speaking the Hawai’ian on several of its inter-island flights, and also some to the mainland and overseas. The following short history is from the company’s announcement of its re-introduction of the language, among other cultural initiatives.

“ ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i was banned in Hawai‘i’s classrooms in 1896, three years after the overthrow of the Hawaiʻian Kingdom. In the 1970’s, a group of passionate college students, including Dr. Larry Kimura, and the last fluent Hawaiian-speaking elders came together to bring back the language. Their persistent efforts at the Hawai‘i State Legislature eventually led to the creation of the Hawaiʻian language revitalization movement. Since then, Hawaiʻian language has joined English as the state’s designated official languages, and is studied and spoken by students in schools and universities statewide as it regains its place in everyday business and life in Hawai‘i.”

Missionaries gave Hawai’ian its written form – letters, words, diacritical marks – even as they promoted and encouraged adoption of English. As spoken the language has seventeen different sounds: five vowels (with both long and short forms), nine consonants (including the glottal stop ‘okina, and two pronunciations of w), and seven dipthongs. The ‘okina indicates a sound gap left between vowels, like the one heard in English uh-oh, and oh-oh. The kahako (macron) is used to indicate the long vowel sound. Hawai’ian is forbidding at first glance to an English speaker, but a few simple word and pronunciation rules sort everything out.

The alphabet and dipthongs:
A, E, I, O, U, H, K, L, M, N, P, W,
and AE, AI, AO, AU, EI, EU, OU

Consonants are pronounced as they are in English, with the exception of w which is pronounced as the English letter w after u and o, and as v after a and i.

Vowel pronunciations are below, as explained on the Instant Hawaiʻi website1.
Vowels marked with a macron are simply held a beat longer.

ALike the a in far
ELike the e in bet
ILike the y in city
OLike the o in sole
ULike the oo in moon
Source: Hawaiian Dictionary


A nice chart from Wikipedia for dipthong pronunciation:2

aii in ride
aeI or eye
aoow in how
with lower offglide
auou in loud or out
eiei in eight
similar to ew in few
oioi in voice
ouow in bowl
uioo-(w)ee in gooey


Finally, some Simple Secrets, again from the website Instant Hawaii;

” … there are a couple of simple tricks to help you figure out Hawaiian words quickly and pronounce them properly:

  • Hawaiian words may start with any letter, vowel or consonant.
  • Hawaiian words will never end with a consonant.
  • Syllables in Hawaiian words are only one or two letters, never longer.
  • Syllables must end with a vowel, or can be a single vowel, but can never be a single consonant.

How do the above rules help us? Well, let’s consider one of the longer words in Hawaiian (the word for our state fish):


If we remember our rules about syllables we can quickly, and visually, break it up into syllables like this:

hu-mu-hu-mu-nu-ku-nu-ku-‘ā-pu-a-‘a …”

Now you can say aloud all the place names I’ve referenced in this issue! Correctly! If I have figured out how to get my Mac keyboard on board with Hawai’ian diacritical marks!


Talk Story

Talk Story

Hawai’ian Pidgin is just as much fun, and even more widely spoken, although we overheard it more than it was spoken to us. While called “Pidgin”, linguistically it is considered a creole language. Pidgin is an anglicized approximation of the Chinese word for business, and it commonly refers to spoken communication that develops among people who do not know each other’s language, but need to work together or want to trade goods. True pidgin has no grammar or structure provided by the many forms of speech present in formal language, relying instead on adopted, invented, mashed-up nouns, and simple verbs sourced in the speakers’ native tongues. Pidgins vary according to their parent languages.

Creoles, on the other hand, do have grammars and so allow more complex and extensive communication, which is why they persist and often supplant their pidgin sources. Creole is the name given to language developed by the children of pidgin speakers.

Here is a fun vocabulary guide to Hawai’ian Pidgin, from howtoliveinhawaii.com1.

auntie – A respectful term for a woman who is of your parents’ generation or older: The aunties have volunteered at the school for many years. A respectful way to address such a woman: Can I help you carry that, auntie?
borinkee – A person of Puerto Rican descent. !!! (whose ancestors came to Hawai’i early in the 20th century, to work in the sugar cane fields)
brah – Short for braddah or bruddah (“brother”). A casual, friendly way of addressing a male: Eh, brah — you wanna go surf?
broke da mouth (broke dah mowt) – Extremely delicious: Dis Potagee soup broke da mouth, auntie!
buk buk (book book) – A person of Filipino descent (see also manong).
bumbai (bum-BYE) – Short for “by and by.” Otherwise, or else, eventually: You bettah study bumbai you flunk da test tomorrow.
buss you up or all buss up – To fight and win, or hang one on drinking.
chang – Miserly, overly frugal: C’mon, gimme some more, brah — you so chang!
chicken skin – Goosebumps: Dat ghost story always give me chicken skin!
da kine – A catch-all phrase that is often used to fill in a mental blank when talking, similar to “whatchamacallit”: Let’s go to da kine place we grind at last week.
grind – Eat.
grinds – Delicious food.
haole (HOW-leh) – A Caucasian person, not including people of Portuguese descent.
howzit – A greeting, equivalent to “How are you?” or “How is it going?”
kanaka (kah-NAH-kah) – A person of Native Hawaiian descent.
katonk or kotonk (kah-TONK or koh-TONK) – A person of Asian descent born and raised on the U.S. mainland.
kau kau (KOW kow) – Food, eat.
‘k den – An expression of farewell, equivalent to “OK, then — goodbye.”
like beef? – An invitation to fight, equivalent to “You wanna step outside and settle this?” (see also scrap).
lolo – Stupid, absent-minded, crazy. Moron, imbecile.
manong – A person of Filipino descent (see also buk buk).
moke (MOHK) – A local man who looks and acts tough.
no need – Equivalent to “you/I don’t need it” or “that’s not necessary”: No need shoes in Hawaiʻi — just slippahs!
pake (PAH-keh) – A person of Chinese descent. A tightwad.
pocho – A person of Portuguese descent. (See also potagee.)
popolo – A dark-skinned person of African descent.
potagee (POH-tah-gee) – A person of Portuguese descent. (See also pocho.)
rajah dat (RAH-jah dat) – Equivalent to “Roger, that!” meaning “Yes,” “OK,” or “I agree.”
rubbish – Trash, garbage.
scrap – Fight, argue (see also like beef?): In small kid time, me and him scrap all da time afta school.
shaka (SHAH-kah) – Hand signal in which index, middle, and ring finger are folded down while thumb and pinkie are extended, with palm facing body. Means “hi,” “goodbye,” or “thank you.”
shoots – Equivalent to saying “OK” or “I strongly agree”: Shoots, I’ll take some of dat free kau kau!
shoots den – Equivalent to saying “shoots then,” meaning “OK, goodbye” or “OK, see you later.”
sistah – The feminine equivalent of brah.
slippahs – Equivalent to “slippers,” meaning flip-flop sandals.
small kid time – Equivalent to saying “back when I was younger”: I know her since small kid time.
sole (SO-leh) – A person of Samoan descent.
stink eye – Dirty look: Da tita gimme stink eye when I ask her out.
talk stink – Trash talk. Talk behind someone’s back.
talk story – To chat or gossip. To reminisce with friends.
tanks – Equivalent to saying “thanks” in a sarcastic way: Tanks, bruddah — now dat I no need!
tita (TEE-tah) – A local woman who is tough and masculine. Feminine equivalent of moke.
uku (OO-koo) – Lots: No need any — I got uku million of dat.
uncle – Masculine equivalent of auntie.
wagon – Shopping cart.
yobo – A person of Korean descent.

Hawai’ian Pidgin claims gestures – body language – too. The grammar is not easy to explain. Instead, I’ll leave you with one of the most entertaining and expressive speakers of Hawai’ian Pidgin, Andy Bumatai, in an episode of his YouTube podcast The Daily Pidgin: “A Rough Day”.


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