Friday, December 24, 2010

The Other Side

Since my last two posts included my favorite things about Hawaii, this post lays out the top five things I miss.  Here they are:

5) The peace of mind that comes from knowing there are no centipedes in your bed... or your shoes, etc.  I have only had one experience on the pointy end of Hawaii's giant centipedes.  It snuggled up to me while I was asleep and apparently took offense when I rolled over on it.  I woke up thinking I had been slashed with a razor blade.  Now I check the bed every night before I go to sleep to make sure no little monsters are hiding under my pillow.

4) The first snowfall of the year.  Especially if it comes around Christmas time.  I don't miss those late season blizzards that seemed to hit every May when we lived in the Rocky Mountains.  But the first snowball fight/snowman/sledding outing of the year is something I will always miss.

3) Privacy.  Houses are open in Hawaii.  No one really uses air conditioning, so all windows are open all year around.  Space is also at a premium, so houses tend to be pretty close together.  Once, Michelle sneezed while she was in our bedroom.  The neighbor said, "bless you!"  I'll leave it at that.

2) Cheap food.  When we left for Hawaii, a gallon of milk was less than $2 at our local grocery store.  Nothing costs $2 here.  A gallon of milk is $5 if you get it on sale.  A box of my favorite breakfast cereal costs a kidney.

1) Road trips.  We are road trip people.  By the time my oldest child was 10 she had been in about 35 states.    We go camping in national parks.  We hunt down and feast on local specialties.  We devour books on tape voraciously.  And it is comforting to know that you can drive to visit family (even if it may take a couple of days to get there).  I miss spending hours and hours driving (in the same direction).  You can't do that on a small island.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

May I Have the Envelope Please: Part II

Here is the exciting conclusion of the "Top Ten Things I Love about Living in Hawaii" list:

5) Mellow traffic.  Want to make a left hand turn in Hawaii (away from the craziness of Waikiki)?  Just put on your turn signal, and traffic will stop and let you out.  In fact, the other day I was trying to turn left out of our neighborhood and several cars passed without letting us out.  My seven year old, in her best exasperated voice, declared these drives to be "TOURISTS!"  And the only socially acceptable use of the car's horn in Hawaii is to get a friend's attention as you drive past so you can wave to him or her.  If the person in front of you at the red light doesn't go when the light turns green ... just wait.  You'll catch it next time.

4) Palm trees.  I love palm trees.  I don't know why ... but I do.

3) Fish ... it's what's for dinner.  The previous two states I lived in, Colorado and Utah, were not the best place to partake of seafood.  Oh sure, there was good trout in Colorado, but that was about the size of it.  No Mahi Mahi.  No Butterfish.  No Moonfish.  No Snapper.  No Moi!  How can you live with no Moi!!!???

2) My job.  Where better for a professor of international relations than the most international school in the US?

1) The beach.  I know, the beach was also number 10.  But the beach is really the Alpha and Omega of Hawaii. The air blowing in through my window right now smells of salt.  I spent the summer swimming, snorkeling, spearfishing, and lounging in the sand.  Now is surf season.  My kids boogie board and "wave jump" on a regular basis.  One day I spent about a half an hour floating on my back in the ocean on a calm day.  I came home, took a shower, and went to a routine doctor's appointment.  The doctor took my blood pressure, and when he looked at the results he gave me a high five.  Gotta love the beach.

Next time: top things I miss about the mainland.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

May I Have the Envelope Please: Part I

Last month while I was visiting the mainland, I was asked repeatedly "So how is living in Hawaii?"  Invariably, I would smile my best my-life-is-so-awesome smile and say, "It is exactly how you would imagine living in Hawaii to be."  However, I am now ready to be a little more specific.  I have come up with a list of the top ten things I love about Hawaii.  Here is part one:

10) The beach.  In June I flew from Hawaii to Fiji.  In doing so, I spent about 7 hours at 30,000 feet.  That means that when I looked out the window of the plane, I was a little over five and a half miles above the waves of the pacific.  It had been almost a year since I had spent seven hours five miles from the ocean.  It is comforting to know that a float in turquoise water is never more than a few minutes away.

9) It is always Christmas in Hawaii.  I didn't realize this at first.  In fact, on our first Christmas I felt a bit like I had missed Christmas completely.  There was no snow.  There was no hot chocolate.  There was no snow.  There were no awful wool knitted Christmas sweaters.  THERE WAS NO SNOW!!!  However, I eventually realized that I didn't mind the warm weather.  Palm trees look awesome coated in Christmas lights.  Christmas dinner tastes better when you cook it on the grill ... while wearing a t-shirt and shorts ... and no shoes (I hate shoes, but more on that later).  It took a while, but eventually I realized that the reason why it didn't feel like Christmas was because it is always Christmas in Hawaii.  After all, what makes Christmas special isn't snow men and sleigh rides.  What I have always loved about Christmas is that people are always nicer to each other at Christmas time.  In Hawaii, it doesn't have to be Christmas to show aloha.

8) Shoes are optional.  I hate shoes.  In classes during graduate school, I used to ditch my shoes in my office and go to class barefoot (class was only up one flight of stairs from my office).  One of my professors always called me "Tom Sawyer."  Here, those of us who think it is a travesty to encase our feet in small bags of leather, nylon, or canvas (in descending order of heinousness), are not discriminated against.  I once went to the grocery store and realized as I got out of the car that I had forgotten to bring my slipper (flip flops).  In Hawaii it is no shirt, no shoes, no problems.  The only problem was that the floor was so cold my toes were frozen by the time I was done.

7) Hawaii is an amazing mix of cultures.  Hawaii is half Polynesia, half US mainland, and half Asia.  If that sounds like one too many halves, all I can say is that life is extra full here.

6) The people who live here love living here.  Many Hawaiian families struggle to make a living.  Hawaii is expensive (we used to be steak people ... now we are mostly pork shoulder people).  Let's say you own a home in Hawaii.  You could sell that home and take the money to buy a much, much, much bigger home in Idaho, or Tennessee, or (gasp) Ohio.  In fact, you would probably still have quite a bit of money left over to do with as you please.  However, instead of leaving Hawaii, so many people work long hours and endure the high cost of living here.  Why?  There is a connection between the people and the land here.  I have never lived anywhere with quite the same connection between people and land.

Stay tuned for the top 5.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Day's End

I wish I could put in words what it is like in the evenings here.  Today was hot, but now, as the sun has gone down and is just barely giving enough light to see by, the weather is as pleasant as it is possible to be.  Days don't just end in the Pacific.  They die.  Slowly.  Majestically.  Quietly.   Time doesn't flow here.  It leaks slowly out of the eternal container it is held in.  Especially in the time between day and night.  Evening are unspeakably nice.  I think I am going to go take a walk.  Barefoot.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Adjustment by Osmosis

When I first moved to Hawaii, I was always uncomfortably warm.  It was not an over the top kind of discomfort, but rather an insidious sort.  In fact, I often didn't know I was uncomfortable until I would enter the local grocery store, Foodland.  Foodland is the only building I entered on a regular basis in my first month in Hawaii that was air conditioned.

In short, that means that Foodland was my only refuge from the warm, wet, tropical air of the islands.  The humidity here seeps into everything.  Within a matter of hours of our arrival, everything we own that had any metal in it began to rust.  Water is the one inescapable force on the island.  It surrounds us.  It penetrates us.  It makes us slightly damp no matter how strenuously we avoid exercise.

But not Foodland.  Foodland was cool and dry and inviting.  Foodland was air conditioning nirvana.

The funny thing was, the humidity was not really as annoying as I had anticipated.  On an annoying scale that ranges from swinging on a hammock while listening to lapping waves (least annoying) to having that cell phone guy constantly repeating "Can you hear me now?  Can you hear me now?  Can you hear me now?" right in your face (most annoying), I would say that the humidity ranked right around a TV playing in the background while you are reading.  Sure it is annoying, but only if you stop and think about it.  Otherwise it fades into the background so that it hardly even registers.  You really only notice it is annoying when someone turns it off and you feel the part of your brain that registers minuscule amounts of annoyance switch off.  It is a sigh of relief you didn't know you were holding in.

That is how the humidity was to me.  I would leave my house to walk over to Foodland, thinking about important things like soup or cookies or apartheid.  I wouldn't even notice that my 200 meter, 3 minute walk had caused a slight sheen of perspiration, or that my body temperature was ever so slightly elevated.  Until I walked into Foodland.  As soon as I walked out of the humidity into the air conditioning it was like someone had turned off the TV in the background.  I hadn't really been paying attention to it, but now that it was gone I felt more at ease.

Eventually, after purchasing soup and cookies, I would leave Foodland and the weight of the air as I walked through the door would settle down on to me.  It was uncomfortable at first, but by the time I got to my house I had forgotten all about it.

That was a year ago.

Just a few weeks ago I saw a movie.  It must not have been a very good movie, because I don't even remember what it was.  What I do remember is this.  After spending two hours in the movie theater, I stepped outside and the heavy Hawaiian air settled on to me.  And I realized that the TV had been on in the background the whole time I was in the air conditioned movie theater.  But once I stepped outside ... it stopped.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Where Even the Mosquitoes are Mellow

The best thing about Tonga?  The people.  The best thing
about the people?  The kids.  
I hate mosquitoes.  Really hate them.  I guess this does not make me unique by any stretch of the imagination.  After all, even nuns, teddy bears, and Santa Clause hate mosquitoes.  But the intensity of my ire often feels one-of-a-kind strong when I am forced to marinate myself in deet (which is to say I cover myself with a sticky layer of poison) and try to ignore the buzzing in my ears as the little vampires try to find an undefended, un-deeted spot to chomp on.  If only they would leave me alone, I would be able to simply sit around a camp fire with my friends discussing the great questions of life.  Such as: if Darwin was so smart, why haven't mosquitoes evolved so that their bites do not result in a welt that make me scratch like a homeless dog ... wouldn't you think that would be an adaptive advantage?

If I ever run across a magic genie who offers me three wishes, the first would certainly be death to all mosquitoes.  And I don't care if that means trout and bat populations would suffer as I wipe out a major food source.  I appreciate all those creatures do for us in eating as many mosquitoes as possible, but really, if they were better at their job I wouldn't need to waste a wish getting rid of mosquitoes anyway.

I really, really hate mosquitoes.  All mosquitoes.

So imagine my surprise a couple of months ago while I was travelling in Tonga, when a lone mosquito found its way into the bathroom in my hotel and homed in on me as I got out of the shower.  I saw it coming and knew it was either it or me.  I prepared myself for battle.  My opening salvo was a half-hearted swing I took at the little bugger as it approached me.  I knew the swing wouldn't kill it, but I needed to distract it enough so I could attach my towel firmly around my waist and devote both hand to the single most deadly move in the world of mosquito combat: the death clap.

However, after my initial swing, the mosquito backed off!  I could just imagine it shrugging its tiny little mosquito shoulders and saying, "OK.  You don't want me to bite you?  'S all good!"  In my experience, mosquitoes are like hell hounds, paparazzi, and telemarketers.  Once they set you in their sights, you either have to give in and let them have their way with you, or you have to kill them.  But not this mosquito.  It was, by far, the most agreeable mosquito I have ever encountered.  Had it been a typical American mosquito, it would have continued to pursue me, and I would have ended up wiping its smashed little corpse off my hand and flushing it down the toilet.  In Tonga I did something I thought was impossible for me.  I spared the life of a blood sucker.

Several days after this encounter, the entire Tongan ferry system shut down for about a day and a half. Lots of travelers, both Tongan and foreign, were left stranded wherever they were (the country's airlines were already completely overbooked due to a very large Catholic conference being held in the capital).  At one point, a ferry worker spoke to a large group of would-be travelers and told them that a boat to one of the outer islands many people had hoped to ride, would not, in fact, be operating.  "Do you know when it will leave?" asked one of those waiting in line.  "Well, it will not leave today" answered a ferry employee.  "Will it leave tomorrow?"  "Oh yes, it should certainly be ready to go by tomorrow!"  "But yesterday you said it would certainly leave today."  The ferry employee shrugged and walked away.  All the white people within earshot of this conversation looked at each other with clenched teeth and pulsing veins in their foreheads as they threw luggage, cursed, and generally expressed discontent the way we are taught in kindergarten should be avoided at all cost.

The Tongans, on the other hand, shrugged, chatted with anyone who was willing, spontaneously produced enough food to constitute a small feast out of nowhere (all Tongans seem to have the near mystical ability to produce food at any given time) and did their best to turn their luggage into a makeshift bed.  "If the ferry goes tomorrow, it will go tomorrow," they said.  "If it goes the next day, then it will go the next day."

It makes me wonder.  If we, in the US, lived life just a little more chill, would our mosquitoes take a cue from us?  One thing is for sure, Tongan mosquitoes live longer than American mosquitoes.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Way to My Heart

Fois Gras with Fried Mushrooms
Having lived in New York City, Seattle, and Boulder, I have developed a distinct affinity for tourist towns. I love the mix of people from all over the country/world. I love the free events that take place on summer evenings. I even like the cheesy little tourist shops selling miniatures of the Empire State Building, smoked trout, or bits of Jimmy Hendrix's hair (apparently the shop proprietor went to high school with him in Seattle ... hey, you took hair samples from all your high school chums just in case they became rock 'n' roll legends, right?). But what I love the most, is the food. Anywhere that attracts lots of tourists develops a lively restaurant scene, and those of us who happen to live in these tourist areas get to take full advantage of all the amazing dishes.

In 2007, a little less than 5 million people visited Oahu. Needless to say, that is a lot of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. And in my own humble way, I like to think of all those tourists ordering meals as giving the chefs lots of practice ... for me. And my wife. And occasionally my kids(I have a twelve-year-old who would push an NFL linebacker out of the way for duck confit, a ten-year-old who is so picky she will eat almost nothing ... but she loves perfectly cooked octopus with a sweet and spicy sauce, and an eight-year-old whose favorite cake is red velvet).

Last month I had the opportunity to do some travelling (more on that later), and I had some great meals. However, I was travelling solo, and an amazing meal is simply not as amazing with no one to share it with.  So when I came home, I was eager to find a great meal I could share with my wife. We ended up driving down to Honolulu to visit a place called Hiroshi's. Hiroshi's happy hour deal is that, between 5:30 and 6:30 the entire menu is half price. So instead of ordering a couple of dishes and sharing like we usually do, we ordered six dishes (but stuck with sharing as per usual). We ordered Moi Carpaccio, fried Kona abalone, sous vide lobster tail on squid ink pasta, fois gras with fried mushrooms, seared sea scallops with an amazing butter sauce, and pork belly. So good.  We can't wait to go back.
Seared Sea Scallops with Butter Sauce
Sous Vide Lobster Tail on Squid Ink Pasta

Sunday, August 8, 2010

I Hate Blogs

My wife has a blog. I make fun of her for having one. My wife reads blogs ... a lot. I make fun of her for this as well. However, I have, at long last, decided to give in to her I-win-this-round-you-schmuck looks and comments and start my own blog. You are right dear ... you win this one.

But it isn't my fault. A year and a half ago when I applied for a job on the North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii, I had no intention of moving there. It was too far from family. Although I have lived away from my family for my entire adult life, it was always comforting to know that with a relatively short plane ride, or a relatively long car ride, I could visit. Hawaii was simply too far ... and there is no chance of driving from Hawaii to ... well ... anywhere.

In addition, I tend to define my quality of life by how much time I spend in the mountains. While Oahu has some beautiful mountains, I tend to like my mountains cold, gray, and icy, not steamy hot and dripping with vegetation. So Hawaii was out. No chance. Plan Z.

Six months after I referred to BYUH as "plan Z" it was suddenly my dream job. Our visit (the university flew not only me, but my wife out for a visit) solidified that there was no place I would rather be than Hawaii. I found that I loved the university and I loved the diversity of students. Which is good since I got the job.

So now I live on a small green rock in the middle of the big blue sea. Family visits once a year or so. Friends promise to visit ... but we have yet to host anyone. Hence this blog. The purpose of this blog will be so that I feel I am doing my part to keep family and friends connected with us a little better. My wife maintains a blog that focuses mostly on homeschooling our children. This blog will focus on how amazing it is to live in La'ie. And make no mistake, it is amazing.

Which brings me to my final point for this initial post. There will be no holding back in this blog. If you easily succumb to feelings of jealousy leading to rage, you may want to avoid this blog. I have a great family, love my job, and live in paradise. I try to be gentle on Facebook (whether my FB friends believe that or not), and not brag about how great my life is too much. Not here. You have been warned.