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Young Man Went West #42: Just One More State

As we made our way from the snack stand to the fake river’s edge to watch the “Rainbow of Paradise” canoe pageant, a thought crept into my head: “I’ve done this before.”

This exactly? No. I had never been to the Polynesian Cultural Center before. I had never filled up on a meal of chili rice and mac nut ice cream. I had never squeezed in among tourists to watch a river parade.

But I have done “this.” I’ve explored the most touristy attraction of a region with equal parts admiration and cynicism and my good friend Ian by my side. Sure, our summer roadtrip had ended eight months prior, but apparently he and I had one more state to explore: Hawaii.

Ian came to stay with me during the second week of May. He had been talking about visiting since I moved here almost three years ago, but it wasn’t until news of my impending move reached him did he make plans to come. That, and his savings account had to recuperate after our cross-country adventure. I was excited to have him come. Ian and I went to the same middle school, high school and college. We have a lot of the same friends, interests, and opinions. We spent three months together in a Honda Civic. It was weird to think that something as familiar to me as Hawaii was something he hadn’t truly experienced before. I couldn’t wait to fix that.

I had played tour guide to a number of friends before Ian, so I knew what I was doing. Jenn and I picked him up from the airport ready with a couple containers of poke. In the span of six days, he also tried traditional Hawaiian food, shave ice, Spam musubi from 7-Eleven, Storto’s sandwiches, Kahuku shrimp, and a Zip Pac from Zippy’s. We did the requisite trips up to North Shore, around Waikiki, and into Chinatown. And even though I couldn’t go because of work, he got to visit Pearl Harbor, too. I’ve not only eaten, seen, and done all of these things countless times before, but I’ve also made a point of introducing them all to my friends.

But this time, it was different.

I realized that these mini trips and food experiences were as much for my sake as they were for his; he was exploring these places for the first time, and I was exploring them for possibly the last. At least, the last time as a resident. A transplant local. Universities say you need to be living in state for a year before you can claim residency; on my one-year mark I got a tattoo in honor of my first “kama’ainiversary.” Since then, I’ve transitioned from wide-eyed newcomer to indifferent local. I don’t go to the beach anymore. I no longer walk around Waikiki for the hell of it. I barely leave my neighborhood except to go to work. I decided to use Ian’s visit as motivation to rediscover my island.

On Ian’s first full day here, I swallowed my pride and participated in a full day at the Polynesian Cultural Center. For the past three years, I’ve been told to avoid this tourist trap, but before our day at PCC  was even half over, I was legitimately enjoying the entire experience! Unlike Germaine’s Luau and Paradise Cove, PCC isn’t just a luau–which by today’s terms means a low-quality Hawaiian food buffet with a cheesy dancing and an even cheesier host–it’s a theme park as well as a stage show with high production value. I mean, it does have that aforementioned type of luau, but it’s sandwiched between two much better experiences.

Even though the layout of the 42-acre collection of “villages” looks as fake as Disneyland, it’s more of a living museum than a theme park. There are demonstrations at each of the six main villages every half hour. Each village represents a different major Polynesian culture (Samoa, Aotearoa a.k.a. New Zealand, Fiji, Tahiti, Tonga, and Hawai’i), and each is run by natives from those places who are dressed in traditional garb, demonstrate dances and instruments, and drop some first-hand knowledge of their respective cultures. I learned a lot from the demonstrations, and not just about the characteristics of those six cultures, but also about the distinctions between them. This came in handy for the evening show, which was an awe-inspiring spectacle that told a legendary tale while exploring the six major cultures through song and dance.  Ian and I were equally impressed with our time at the PCC, especially since this was supposed to be our ironically touristy day in Hawaii.

While Ian’s first full day at the PCC was an experience most locals don’t partake in, his last full day was something we almost all do: spend a day on the North Shore. It was his first legitimate Hawaiian beach day. We jumped off the rock at Waimea, got shave ice in Haleiwa, and ate shrimp in Kahuku. To top it off, we spent that Friday night barhopping in Chinatown and Waikiki with Jenn and her friends. It was typical and it was perfect at the same time. I’d never seen Ian lament over leaving a place as he did the next morning. He did just enough of everything in six days to realize that six days wasn’t enough. While I think nearly three years was plenty of time for me, I can expect that my last day here, much like Ian’s, will still be filled with a similar sweet sorrow.

The week Ian came to explore one last state with me was not only a good epilogue to our summer road trip, but also a good ending to my time in Hawaii.

My hat: the past. My shirt: the future.

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YMWW #23-A: California Chronicles, Part I

Part I: Back in Town

Monday, August 2, 2010

After an uneventful, five-hour flight, I was finally back in the Bay Area.  (Edit: I say “uneventful” like a bad thing, but it occurs to me that “eventful” flights usually mean catastrophe.  This flight was perfect.)  My parents picked me up at SFO, but seeing as it was past nine o’clock and near their bedtime, we skipped the restaurants and went straight home to Livermore.  After a meal of leftover ribs and rice, I gravitated towards the digital cable and 60-inch HD TV and got caught up on Entourage.  One hour into my vacation and I was already playing couch potato.

‘Round about one in the morning, my good friend Ian came by to pick me up.  Everything was closed by this hour, like any decent suburb, so we drove around just to drive around.  He pointed out a few new additions to Downtown Livermore—such as the newly-expanded First Street Ale House, the type of pub-slash-restaurant prevelent in Berkeley but lacking in Honolulu—but for the most part, the city entire was just as I’d left it.  Still, we drove.

We drove and we didn’t stop talking.  The conversation was continuous and seemlessly slipped from one topic to the next.  We discussed everything from girl problems to the possible city infrastructure of San Jose.  Before we knew it, it was three o’clock in the morning by the time he took me back to my place.  The car stopped in my driveway, but the conversation did not.  It was not until an hour and a half later did I finally head upstairs to go to sleep.

I took that first night of shooting the breeze in a car with my friend as a good omen, a foreshadowing of the fun, easy time we will have during our roadtrip around the country.  I will go into detail of this later, but basically, Ian and I plan to drive around the continental United States for an entire summer next year, starting in the Bay Area, going up through the Pacific Northwest and then across the northern states, working our way down all the essential cities of the East Coast into Florida, and then back through the South.  The theme of the trip (besides avoiding Middle America) is frugality; we will couchsurf, crash in the car, or camp before considering a hostel, our last resort.  Seeing as three hours flew by during our tour of Livermore, I truly believe our roadtrip will go off without a hitch.  Well, without many hitches.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ian picked me up the next morning for more car-wandering.  This time it wasn’t as aimless; our plan was to drive up the Peninsula for the sake of crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.  Before heading out, Ian and I stopped at Safeway to buy ingredients for a pack lunch.  We spent about half an hour deciding between this sandwich and that before realizing we were both already hungry.  We ditched Safeway for hot food and beer at First Street Ale House.  I love that kind of spontaneous decision-making.  I live that kind of spontaneous decision-making.

Bellies full, the two of us continued on our trip up the Peninsula.  It was a comfort to once again see familiar golden hills, wide open spaces, and highways that made sense.  When we reached the Bridge, I whipped out my camera and started snapping away like a tourist.  It was narrower than I remember, but than again, I don’t really remember the one other time I crossed the Bridge.  I guess it was narrower than I expected.  Shorter, too.  I’ve found monuments are usually smaller in real life than in pictures and expectations.  Still, the familiar orange towers shrouded by grey fog forced a giant smile upon my face.  We pulled around to Vista Point on the other end so I could take an unnecessary amount of same-angle pictures of the Frisco icon.  Dressed in shorts, slippers (read: “flip flops” in CA), and a zipped-up hoodie, I fully indulged my Hawaiian tourist persona.

Fifty pictures later, Ian dropped me off in Berkeley so I could meet up with my friend Olivia, who just happened to have the day off.  I hadn’t seen Olivia in a year, but we quickly got caught up on what we’ve been doing since graduating.  Basically, nothing.  We were both too proud about it, too.

Olivia and I made all the necessary Berkeley stops: Upper Playground, Rasputin, Brazil Cafe, Beckett’s, spending money we didn’t have on things we shouldn’t have bought.  Along the way, we met up with my friend Ben who also—surprise, surprise—was working entry-level jobs solely to pay rent.  There the three of us sat: Berkeley graduates.  Minimum-wage warriors.  Twenty-somethings with uncertain futures but no worries about them.  We should be the poster-children on the post-recession University of California brochures.  Go Bears!

Another beautiful double-exposure photo from my friend Daeja Fallas (www.daejafallas.com) feature the one and only Golden Gate Bridge

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