You guys, we have to talk.
I am so in love with you, and really truly, I do not mind your Facebook messages asking me the difference between Pennsylvania and Hawai’i. I don’t mind you posting on my timeline that you’re visiting Hawai’i and can we see each other. And I absolutely appreciate your interest in the culture here.
I just think, that maybe, it’s time that we take a moment to clarify a few things.
1.) I am so happy that you have the opportunity to visit Hawai’i. And it would be absolutely lovely to see you and catch up, even if we haven’t spoken since I had a crush on you in sixth grade. However there are eight islands that make up the state of Hawai’i. Out of those eight, you will probably find yourself on one of the four main tourist islands – Oahu (home of the city Honolulu), Maui (a popular honeymoon destination), Kauai (the most beautiful and lush of the islands), or the island of Hawai’i, commonly known as “The Big Island” (where I currently live and teach). The rest of the islands are less traveled to, and two of them, you’re not even welcome on unless you’re invited by a full-blooded Hawaiian or part of the military.
When you message me to let me know you’ll be visiting, I will always ask you first and foremost, what island you will be visiting. Please know that if I let you know that I can’t see you, it’s not because I don’t want to. It’s normally because there isn’t a ferry between the islands, and I don’t currently have the funds to fly to Honolulu to meet you for pupus and Mai Tai’s. I totally want to hang out – just make sure you include the Big Island in your visit so we can make that happen.
2.) Every Hawaiian island is extremely different. I live on the Big Island, where local farmers thrive, aloha is prevalent most anywhere you go, and the population is small compared to the size of the island (about the size of Connecticut.) Oahu contains the hectic city of Honolulu, home to the second worst traffic in the country as well as some of the best surfing on the planet. Maui is populated with beautiful resorts and beaches and offers breathtaking sunsets from the top of it’s dormant volcano, Haleakala. Kauai is the second oldest Hawaiian island, and it’s lush jungle is some of the most beautiful you’ll ever see if you take the time to visit. Molokai and Lanai are both within ferry distance from Maui, and with the highest sea cliffs in the world and pineapple farms galore, they are less visited but equally as beautiful. If you are moving here, or visiting here, your needs and your wants can help you pick which island to see. I am happy to answer any questions you may have about the Big Island, and I’ll do my best to help you navigate the other islands if I can.
3) Hawaii is not a third world country. Although not every Hawaiian is pleased about it, we are an actual state in the fifty United States of America. We speak English here. We have a Target and a Wal-Mart and even though I hate shopping corporate, Costco is our best friend. We drive on the right side of the road, and we eat hot dogs, and we have a regular education system, although the amount of homework these kids go home with is absolutely ridiculous. Do we sometimes eat different things than on the mainland? Absolutely. Do we have strange animals and bigger, scarier bugs? Unfortunately yes. We also respect the land here way more than people on the mainland do. There is rarely litter, we’ve banned GMO’s, and we support local farmers more than I’ve ever experienced in any continental U.S. state. There is an entire “aloha grown” movement supporting the backyard revolution and local crops. It is amazing and inspiring and gives me hope that this world is slowly moving back towards what has kept us alive for thousands of years – farming and growing our food, instead of processing and genetically modifying it. If anything, when it comes to agriculture, we’re more advanced than the rest of the U.S., and by no means less “civilized”.
4) Aloha. Aloha is everything. It’s why I stay. It’s healed my heart. It’s given me hope. It’s not just a “hello” and a “good-bye”. It’s a spirit. It’s a vibration. Read this postcard I found last weekend in a Hilo coffee shop selling Hawaiian-grown coffee and cocoa.
5) It’s expensive here. Food is shipped in, so cereals and meats are normally the same price as the grocery stores in NYC. The cost of living is high – electricity is obscene, gas is sometimes $4.88 a gallon, and restaurants have to keep their costs high or they’ll never survive. However, most of us are still happy, grateful, optimistic people despite the financial sacrifices. Paying these prices in the middle of winter in a major city while trudging through the snow can be depressing. Paying these prices all year round while driving past the ocean and shopping at local farmer’s markets for apple-bananas – not so depressing. In fact, I’ve just completely gotten over it. Either I’m gonna pay an arm and a leg to live in a fifth floor two-window walk-up in Washington Heights, or I’m gonna pay an arm and a leg to live in town by the water where I can ride my bike to the coffee shop every day. I’ve happily accepted my fate without too much of a fight.
6) There are three terms used for people who live in Hawai’i. What I’ve come to learn, is that to be “Hawaiian”, a person has to have been born here and be of Hawaiian descent. To be a “local”, a person has to have been born here but doesn’t have to be of Hawaiian descent. Then there are people like me and Johnny, who moved here and now work here, and we are referred to as “kama’aina”. Which brings me to my important point: people who live in Hawai’i have to work to live here. We do not just pick coconuts and float in the turquoise bay all day long. I do not get to the beach every day. In fact, I haven’t been there for three weeks, even though I can see it from my kitchen. I do watch TV, and I do work five days a week, and I do have bad days, just like you. Hawai’i is a great place for a lot of reasons, but we are all still human. We have to deal with PMS, taxes, and traffic just like the rest of the world. Please do not tell us that our life is what everyone dreams of and we have no right to complain. It makes me want to send you moldy pineapple in the mail if the post office would let me send produce. Life is full of ups and downs no matter where you live on this planet. It’s just a little easier to get over when you live in a tropical place.
7) Speaking of moldy produce, let’s talk about that for a second. I seriously want to send everyone I know a care package. I want to send you mac nut butter and avocados and starfruit and jams and coffees and chocolates and banana breads. However, anyone who lives in Hawai’i eventually discovers that care packages will empty a wallet just as fast as a weekend shopping spree. We have to space out sending packages or we’ll be paying off credit card debt for the rest of our time on this earth. A small care package from Hawaii, even without produce (since we aren’t allowed to send any fruits or vegetables in the mail) costs me about $30-$40 before the $15 shipping costs. (Macadamia nuts run about $8.99 for 10 ounces, and a pound of Kona coffee can cost as much as $35.) Local products are well worth the money, but costly. I love you so much, so please know that just because you don’t get a wonderful Hawaiian care package from me, or anyone you know who lives in Hawai’i, does not mean that we do not love and appreciate you. Just wait your turn and eventually, you’ll be so grateful for your patience.
8) Hawai’i is really far away from everything, and everyone. If you are planning on visiting, it’s a fantastic, gorgeous, worth-every-penny getaway and vacation from everything you’re used to. However, if you are planning on moving here, I need you to seriously contemplate everything about moving here. We do not have an IKEA. We do not have a Trader Joe’s. And, we do not have an underground train to the mainland.
Flights home to visit loved ones are expensive, and the jet lag is comparable to the hangover I used to get after a three day bender. Friends’ weddings become huge expenses. Holidays become a bit bittersweet and heavy with Skype dates and phone calls instead of family gatherings and home-baked cookies. Being away from your nearest and dearest while they are having babies, making their Broadway debuts, and celebrating their 40th birthday in New Orleans is REALLY REALLY HARD. I questioned my permanent move here for quite a few months until I really started settling in to my wonderful job and making new friends. It can be a wonderful new chapter in life, if you are completely ready for everything to change.
For me, the aloha and the nature and the spirit here has made my move mean a lot to me. I absolutely feel that at this point in my life, the Big Island of Hawai’i is where I am supposed to be. I am lucky enough to have incredibly supportive friends who mail me things from home and make time for me over FaceTime quite frequently, so I feel connected to them enough to make me feel like I can really handle living so far away. But all of these things are important for you to consider.
9) If you do visit, just for a week, or even for a month, please, for the love of all things beautiful in this world, take what you learned here home with you. Buy local. Be nice. Love people. Hug everyone. Take the aloha that you experienced here and carry it with you into your daily life.
In conclusion, let me just say mahalo for loving me from wherever you are in the world. Mahalo, put simply, is gratitude. Mahalo for reaching out and asking me questions, and sometimes, making me giggle (out of love, I promise). I’m not teasing you, I’m just educating you. I swear. (Okay, yes, maybe the title of this post came from me wanting to tease some of you.) But hey, how could you possibly know these things if you’ve never visited?
Which brings me to number 10………
10) Visit Hawai’i. It is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. Sure, the Florida Keys are great. The Caribbean is stunning. Europe is unbelievable. But there is something special here on these eight Hawaiian islands. And I personally think, experiences like the ones you will have here, are the reason we work for a living. The reason we save money. The reason we explore and travel. There is nothing like Hawai’i, for a variety of reasons, which I actually plan to write about even more in coming weeks.
From ancient lava to snow-capped mountains to sea turtles to papayas, we have things here that you just need to see to believe. Just know, that you will have the experience of a lifetime here if you try new things, meet new people, and really immerse yourself in the culture.
Come experience the aloha that has changed my life. You will never be the same. This video, of the humpback whales who invade our waters each winter, proves it. So dear friends, until we meet at the Kona coffee shop in what I hope is the near future, aloha, and have a great week.
Next week’s posting:
Finally, The Big Announcement I Keep Blabbing About!