Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Hawaii - Aloha

14 March 2012

Ocean, ocean, Pacific Ocean, grey sky, cloudy sky, blue sky and oh yes a ship, an enormous cruise ship I am certainly on a fabulous ship sailing towards my friends in America.

Honolulu the most densely populated area in the whole of the United States, a small island in the Pacific Ocean. The first I knew we were there I looked out the porthole on the morning of 13th March. The prow of a black ship much smaller than ours, maybe 50-60 feet, or 20 metres long with white writing on the bow, keeping pace very close to our cruise vessel. Behind the black boat, (I think the Coast Guard), a few industrial buildings visible such as you find in a commercial port. We were also going much slower than usual and the water seemed calmer. I'd arisen as soon as I awoke, so excited were were to be in port, it was around 7.30am.

We'd been provided with detailed instructions beforehand re how to disembark. Those booked on excursions were to go through immigration first. We passengers had also been talking amongst ourselves about the best way to approach immigration and most people, who'd been through the process before, said it all seemed to be the same as usual. It would just take a bit of time. No one had any problem with security measures just with the queuing, so it was best to just follow procedure, not try to jump the queue at all.

So I reported at the time I was supposed to and only had to wait on one of the wooden chairs on deck, (with a comfy blue striped cushion upon it) for about half an hour. I could see the Aloha Tower to my right and Pier 11 building, both in Art Deco style, cream painted with a sea-green trim and so on, directly in front of me. My friend Anne, who works in Hawaii said we could meet in front of that very tower, so I was glad to know I was in the right place. After a while I also joined a line of people headed for one of the nightclubs on board. Tables were set up on the dance-floor there, with officers to question us and stamp our passports at each one. Eventually, I was allowed on ahead into the immigration area to sit and wait, with others who have difficulty walking, since I couldn't stand or walk for long without sitting down along the way.

Off we went after the tedious queuing, (yes, there was some) to check through security with our bags and cards, then down the gangplank with white canvas sides and along the quay in warm weather, turned into the cavernous port building high enough to take our ship for dry dock it seemed to me, but by the time I got through to the other side, I realised our ship towered way above that terminal building.

Surprising to see so few people and so little traffic in port-side Honolulu, even if the place was built-up and skyscrapers stood a short distance away past a park and shopping arcade. Someone remarked the next lunch-time on board ship that during the hotter part of the day, many people in Hawaii take a rest, a siesta-style break. So sensible in hot countries. This gave me a chance to wander around without feeling bothered by crowds or new people right away. Many souvenir shops near the wharf of course, with some fine silk imported clothes on offer, also excellent Hawaiian shirts, (the classic re-worked in various ways with a style to suit just about anybody), and a local girl wore a fitted designer version of the sundress, with cap sleeves and a full skirt to her knee in a local print with palm leaves on it, green, yellow and white. This really impressed me. Anne later explained that the locals dress in a kind of uniform where the men wear Hawaiian shirts and the women wear lovely dresses in local fabrics.

Everyone in the shops said, 'Aloha,' and I'd love to hear, 'Kia Ora' said at home more often. Aloha is also written on the buses beside the door when you enter to take a ride somewhere.

I'm not sure that much of what I saw near the wharf was made in Hawaii, but some excellent clothes and so on were available.

Further along towards the city I walked. An enormous sailing boat with three masts sat at berth. It looked rather worse for wear and maybe 50 or 70 years old. The hull painted black with a cream and red trim. A woman who played bridge with me the next day mentioned that it was part of the Maritime Museum, a sign of the lack of funds which has afflicted the place. The museum is closed now due to financial support being unavailable. A number of large, valuable old vessels are simply mouldering away too, with no funds to restore them.

Large stone or concrete blocks painted green announced ALOHA near the Aloha Tower arcade. A passing man who looked rather worn out asked me with mime and in accented English for a cigarette. He wore a grey hoodie and looked cold even if it was a warm day. I shook my head, no I did not have any and turned away. His eyes ran over my camera, my jewellery, briefly, then dismissively perhaps because I wear and use little of great or easy resale value. I did not feel at all threatened, it was just he looked kind of interested like almost anyone would. I'd been told to prepare myself for the amount of homeless people there would be, so I was not as amazed as I could've been to see this person approach me. He looked sad and ill more than anything else. I wished I knew what to do to make things better but of course, I didn't, not right then.

At a bus stop across the road, I sat around, chatted with other tourists, read some signs, tried to gather information re buses to see the city. A colourful blonde, tall woman with a reddish suntan got off a bus. She smiled broadly and strode about in gold wedge high heels. I think she tried to get my attention and the eye of others passing along from the boat recently arrived. I did my best to ignore her, the elaborate tattoos along her arms and up her back, (the reddish-orange batik silk dress she wore to the ground was a halter). One of my rules when travelling is to beware of anything far too interesting, especially people.

At first I tried one of the colourful, open-sided trolley-buses but discovered they are a private charter only. That was what the driver said, but it could've been he was speaking the wrong language in a commentary to the majority of the passengers for me to understand, (he was presuming I could not speak Japanese, possibly). So I observed various buses and eventually boarded one of the red buses with an open top, a double-decker with the roof missing. The tattooed, charismatic woman also got on and proceeded to try to get my attention again, (what a fine Irish accent she had) but I still behaved like I lived in a bubble and the story of her along with someone else, will be in the poetry collection I'm sketching in at present to be released perhaps by the end of the year.

So the open-topped bus - what a fantastic ride and a wonderful way to see Honolulu for an hour or so. We travelled all the way to Waikiki Beach made famous by Elvis movies, Hawaii Five-O the TV show, and countless others. Highly developed compared to the images from those Blue Hawaii days. There was a building boom in the 1960s and a lot of apartment buildings and other buildings have a distinct 60s flavour. I loved much of the architecture. On the way back I was impressed with a bright pink building, for instance, which houses a design company. It'll be in my little movie I'll post soon.

Everywhere massive, dense trees and lush gardens, which I recall my mother loved on her visits to this lovely island. My mother had a green thumb and could make almost anything grow, however many of these tropical plants would not grow outside in New Zealand, only indoors or in a glasshouse. Absolutely stunning to see the rich variegated foliage and brightly coloured flowers of these exotic, (to me) plants, great banks of them outside hotels and apartment buildings or in public parks, many man-made waterfalls here and there too, lush grass (it had rained for weeks before we arrived, unusually), countless tall coconut palms, other palms, fancy twisted trees and with some gigantic trees there were massive bunches of dark brown aerial roots hanging down from the tops of some of them, like something out of a wild fairy story. I've taken many photographs which will be put into a little movie later on, as mentioned.

We also meet a local man when I did finally meet Anne outside the Aloha Tower. She'd been in one place outside the Aloha Tower Arcade and I'd been by the Aloha Tower itself. A bit of a mixup but we got together eventually. Anne had been by the information booth, she got talking with Art who works here, employed by the Aloha Tower complex to assist people. He also calls himself a human camera, and offered to draw my picture for me in three minutes, free of charge. While Art drew we chatted and when he found out we were both writers, he mentioned a book which he illustrated, a young adult novel. (Anne also informed me of this, earlier). But Art told me they did not have Trees for Travel in Hawaii as far as he knew. They did celebrate Arbour Day and schoolchildren planted many trees then. I could also see trees if I wanted to, they grew everywhere on the island.

Art looked truly interested in what I had to say and maybe he'll add Trees for Travel to his busy life, as an excursion for tourists?  The young man also ran a shopping service from the booth, using his laptop. I was so pleased to meet someone who fully understood what I was suggesting, having asked on three Pacific Islands so far.

I found this experience truly American in the everyday sense, since he was so generous, open, friendly and also interested in being of service and doing business with us in such a charming way. That's my experience of Americans who live in America anyway, my friends made online over the last 12 years or so, people I'm going to meet over the next month and who I will tell you about as best I can.

This account does veer all over the place but hey, I'm really enthralled. Why do I need to be overly orderly with the spirit of Aloha upon me?

At some point on my bus ride around Honolulu during the day, by the way, I fell in love with the place. The warm air, the wind in my air, the sway of the bus and seeing gorgeous trees everywhere, great architecture which suits a beachy place and also a city, people so friendly or at least attractive, happy for the most part. At one point a large local man in a cream Hawaiin shirt, white-framed sunglasses as round as the moon, he spied our bright red open-topped bus and threw his arms up as if to embrace us, beaming a smile at the people travelling by. I had to laugh and smile in return. Can't tell you why I fell in love exactly of course, but I'm pleased that I've enjoyed more or less the same experience my mother knew, and understand now why she always spoke of this beautiful island in such glowing terms and with such excitement in her voice, because now I'm entranced too.

Anne and I returned to Waikiki late afternoon on a public bus this time, chatting all the way about this and that. She told me that where they live it is quiet and a suburb, which is fine since it's restful, pleasant and close to work. The times that she's come down to Waikiki beach too the place always energises her and she finds it exciting in a really pleasant, amiable fashion. There along the shore with palm trees softening the sky, so many people's humanity is truly evident for some reason. I had to agree.

Just on my short drive past earlier in the red double-decker bus I noticed what a glorious stretch of coastline people enjoyed at Waikiki, much longer than I expected and with more features like a man-made waterfall over a cluster of rocks, a Chanel shop, (serious other haute couture too just as we arrived), a lovely shaded area with seats, carefully paved, wide footpaths, many gardens, sparkling ocean in a magnificent bay, classic 60s apartment buildings, views of the lush inland landscape of Hawaii including an outcrop called I think, Diamond Head, many coconut palms just like the postcards would have you believe, stacks of large-size surfboards back in again, and everyone beautiful, casually dressed people from all over the world. Not that everybody looked like a God on the face of the earth but something about the balmy air, the light, the hearted spirit of the place gets most people looking relaxed, happy and to me this gave them all a certain beauty. There were also the most healthy, fit people I have seen in one place for a long time. People in Hawaii spend a lot of time outdoors and they have good food, Anne explained later, this is good for pretty well everyone's health.

I have to mention it was heart-rending to see many homeless people in Hawaii, and also to hear that they are not permitted to park the trolleys on the footpath for very long. If they do park them, their trolleys are taken away, for good. So the city is removing the very last things that these people own, except for what they carry on their person. I do not believe it is a good idea to make the marginalised move completely off the page. We are all part of the story here, or anywhere. I believe the city needs to do more to assist those people not to make their lives worse, this needs to be done world-wide.

After walking a great distance over beautifully paved footpaths, a mosaic of large greyish and white-ish stones in haphazard, crazy-paving, we both made our way back towards the street where Anne believed we could find a Thai restaurant. This was also near the bus stop which would take us eventually towards my cruise ship, (yes, it is mine now, I love it so), and Anne to her bus-stop to take another bus home. On the way I had to sit down as I do sometimes when my arthritis pains me.

We decided on something refreshing. I had a chocolate and hazelnut gelato and Anne chose a cup of tea. Just as the sun was setting and even though it's over in a flash, I had to agree with the palm trees in the foreground and the people gently walking to and fro I found it all most picturesque. A swathe of changing reds, oranges and pinks across the sky for a few minutes, perhaps ten or so but one of the loveliest sights I have seen. But do remember when watching a sunset, we must never look directly at the sun, it damages our eyes.

We talked away, swapped news and views, observed where we were and Anne told me a little of the local history and so on. In the middle of one of these conversations while we sat outside the gelato shop, I noticed a man was dropping pieces of cabbage on the ground. Anne pointed under a chair by our table. A large ginger guinea pig was eating away at one of the leaves. The tanned and rather handsome young man had decided to bring his pet down to Waikiki Beach to show it off to people, an excuse for conversation, a way to pass the time. All about us many people were enjoying themselves in this relaxed fashion. A little further along the road, hula demonstrations took place with flaming torches going along the foreshore and hula music played boldly, buskers performed music at intervals including one Santa Claus playing the violin, (who as Anne said, must've been really hot in those clothes) and sometimes local music played from shops.

Eventually, we conquered the charm of Waikiki, Hawaii enough to find somewhere to satisfy our hunger, a Korean restaurant at the end of a short side street, an alley really but quite swish. Yet another souvenir market at the end of it, too. Examined the menu outside to see what was on offer and the prices. Some dishes within our budget. Then we looked in the window and saw mainly Korean people eating there. Decided this was a very good sign, walked in and held up two fingers, (in the peace sign position) to indicate we were the entire party.

Sure enough for around $18- each we were delivered of many plates of small appetisers with white rice plus two bowls of delicious soup. Mine was tofu and pork, and I think Anne's may have have been chicken and vegetable. We also ordered a Budweiser beer each. I wanted to try this famous beer for myself and never had, (a light rather sweet beer served with a frosty glass, a pleasant touch considering the hot weather). Beer like lager also most often goes with many Asian dishes, I think.

All over the walls and ceiling of the small place were sheets of white paper with drawings and commendations, comments made by various customers, some in Korean and some in other languages. Each small poster was covered in plastic and made a novel, attractive decor for a busy restaurant of this fresh, down-to-earth style.

After about an hour we went to the bus stop and waited. I noticed a man with his shoes off and tattooed arms benignly observing a man, woman and a child sitting on the bus bench seat next to his. I wondered why he was doing that and thought he looked like he wanted to talk with them. Sure enough, after a while he walked over and made a comment about the couple's tattoos on their arms then showed them his, on his forearms. Many of these kinds of casual conversations occurred around Hawaii, apparent strangers chatting to pass the time and a great many people willing to converse in their turn too.

Then a black car stopped and someone got out of the back seat, rap music playing really loudly, a young man waiting at the bus stop, the crown of his peaked cap almost as high and round as his own head, a style I'd never seen before in real life, then they were all in the car again and off, oonst, oonst, oonst on their way to the traffic lights. A woman walked past with a tiny dog on a pink leash and looked nervous at passing the bus stop, then lifted her face to the city lights and looked happier. An extremely old man got on to a bus, correct change in his hand which is what you need, his newish, black baseball cap with Vietnam Veteran embroidered on the front in white.

The bus drivers who stopped kept giving us various advice, or Anne really since she asked the questions. Soon we did find the right bus to be on, and Anne eventually stopped at her junction to catch another bus home, while I was on my way alone in Honolulu just after 9pm. It felt far safer than catching a bus at that hour in night-time Auckland, New Zealand, anywhere and the bus driver gladly told me where to alight so I could walk down to the quay building, go through security and board the vessel again.

We were leaving for San Francisco at 10:30 pm. The two female security officers regarded me and one checked my person with the plastic wand they wave across your body. When this was done the other one smiled and said, 'Time to have a good rest now Ma'am.'

I must have looked tired but I certainly felt happy. 'Aloha,' I called then as surely as I walked back through the cavernous place, past the gigantic mural of passengers from some imagined 1930s voyage disembarking from a cruise ship with streamers down the side of their vessel. They called, 'Aloha' back to me.

We sailed for 'Cisco that evening, I slept without dreams and awoke this morning with a feeling of delight I'd not felt for days. Lovely to see a friend and to have enjoyed Hawaii so very much, thanks to all concerned.

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