The holidays are over, which gives me more time to reflect. As such, I thought about my favorite Christmas ever… which was the Christmas I spent in Hawaii with my brother. In 2014, back when I was doing Americorps service at the Boys and Girls Club as the learning center coordinator (i.e. I was living in extreme poverty), my brother kindly paid for my mother and I to visit him in Oahu. So, these are some highlights of that memory.
Cheap Flight: We flew Spirit Air, which was an adventure in itself. We had to pay more to have a checked bag, so my mother and I pinched pennies by stuffing our clothes and everything else into small carry on bags. Even their carry on requirements were pretty strict. Everything on the flight required money and there was an eight hour layover in Los Vegas. Nevertheless, it was memorable if only for the challenge of packing less and not becoming too grouchy during the layover and long flight.
Polynesian Center: My brother and I went to the pricey Polynesian Center, which was pretty fascinating. It was fascinating because it was run by Mormons and many of the performers and workers were recruited from various islands by missionaries and are students at Brigham Young University. The Mormon influence was subtle, but includes more modest dress and a free shuttle to the LDS church. The center consisted of various villages representing an array of Pacific islands. At these villages were performances, displays, and lessons. I tried a Polynesian dance lesson, watched a coconut uses demonstration, listened to a lecture about Polynesian navigation, and observed several dance/musical performances. One highlight was a floating parade of boats featuring dancers from each island. My mother opted to go to the beach that day.
Bishop Museum: No one seemed enthused to go to the Bishop Museum, as it seemed a little spendy and we had already done quite a lot. But, I love museums. The Bishop museum was excellent, with a giant Nene to sit on, magnificent cloaks made of red, black, and yellow feathers, a Planetarium, scientific and cultural artifacts, and lectures. We went to a presentation on volcanoes and another on Polynesian ethnobotany.
Botanical Gardens: I feel that we went to three botanical gardens while visiting my brother. Some people like going to beaches and relaxing with drinks. I like learning. ALL THE TIME. But, what a wonderful opportunity! Because of its isolation, Hawaii has many unique plants and birds. Of course, the endemic plants and animals have been challenged by the many exotic, introduced species that continue to bombard the islands. The botanical gardens showcased non-native plants, such as those used for commercial use and interesting plants from throughout the Pacific. We visited the Lyon Arboretum, where we saw a small waterfall and went on a hike…only to get rained on. We also visited the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden, where we fed some ducks and geese at a small pond. Another garden was Koko Head’s Crater, which was massive, dry, and featured a large collection of African plants and cacti. I feel that we probably visited another garden as well, but I can’t remember off the top of my head. The best thing about the botanical gardens was that they were actually very empty. We were among the few people to visit them- perhaps because other tourists aren’t as in to plants?
(Note: I don’t think this particular hibiscus is native to Hawaii)
Pearl Harbor: I don’t have a patriotic bone in my body. I am somewhat indifferent to both the victory and defeat of imperialist Japan against imperialist U.S. How can I defend the US? During World War II, we imprisoned socialists…in my own state of Minnesota, no less…and sent Japanese citizens to concentration camps. We bombed civilians with ATOMIC WEAPONS. Of course, I don’t want 2000 people of any nationality to die, but the death of Americans is never uniquely tragic to me (as compared to the deaths of any other nation). But, Pearl Harbor is a place where tourists go. So we ritualistically lined up early in the morning, waited, and visited Pearl Harbor. The visit was memorable in that it was a good study of sociological phenomenon such as “feeling rules” and presentation of self. The American tourists at the site behaved in sober, quiet, reflective, ways…as these are the feeling rules of visiting such a place. Like church, children were expected to behave, not climb on things, not shout, and “be good.” Some Asian tourists broke the unspoken feeling rules by smiling, laughing, and taking fun photos. This is no offense to Asians, but perhaps the don’t feel as compelled to follow the rules. However, once the Americans were back in the parking lot, everyone was loud, rowdy, and energetic again. They had left the public space and were backstage, to use Goffman’s metaphor. It was interesting to watch the performance of reflective patriotism give way to more everyday expressions of self. I also saw the USS Arizona burp oil into the ocean. Is that good for the environment?
Byodo-in: My brother lived right across the street from a Buddhist temple. We visited the temple on Christmas Day, which was not only enormously fun and beautiful…it was vaguely sacrilegious. The temple had a bell, a few nice trails, bamboo patches of forest, koi ponds, and a Buddha statue. My mother was awkward about the Buddha statue, which I suppose seemed like idolatry to her. I was also a little awkward about the Buddha statue since I never know the right etiquette and it is a bit of a hassle to take off my shoes. Still, it was a lovely place and a great way to walk off Christmas dinner.
Christmas Hike: Christmas morning, my brother and I went on a hike on a nearby hill/mountain. The trail was impossibly muddy, making the journey dangerously slippery and messy. It was fun to spend my time doing something active with my brother. Christmas should be for hiking and enjoying nature…not sitting around, eating, and watching TV.
Taro Pies and Sushi: My brother lived walking distance from a McDonalds and a sushi place. So, several days involved visits to the sushi restaurant for really cheap sushi. The sushi in Duluth tends to be a little expensive. On Oahu, it was as cheap as fast food (at least it seemed this way to me). I also ate taro pies from McDonalds. I enjoyed the novelty of eating a pie filled with a gelatinous, sweet, purple tuber.
(Taro, before Ronald McDonald turns it into a pie.)
Diamond head State Park: My mother, Tiffany, and I hiked up the Diamond head crater for a lovely view of Honolulu. I am proud of my mother for making it all the way up the almost two mile trail (which included a tunnel and a lot of steps). It was pretty hot that day too. My mother was pretty good sport and went on a couple hikes.
(My mother and Tiffany, not enjoying the hike)
Whale Watching: We all went on a whale watching boat excursion and had a few sightings of humpback whales. Layton, who was probably only about 2 then, searched the water for whales (looking over the side of the boat). It was a whale of a good time.
(My mother and the sunset)
Crabby Brother: My brother was memorably crabby during the trip. I suppose he did pay for the trip and the activities, as well as drove us around. This is pretty stressful and underlines the lack of public transportation/traffic nightmare that is Oahu. I had enough fun for four people, so too bad I couldn’t redistribute my good mood to the less fortunate.
Stray cats and chickens: My brother and I went out to feed stray cats and chickens on the day after Christmas. We fed them the remains of the Christmas ham. Oddly, the cats were at the bottom of the pecking order…cowering from the fierce flock of feral chickens. I think we might have seen another botanical garden after this, but I don’t remember.
This was a truly magical Christmas. It was the way Christmas should be. Christmas often stresses me out with its social obligations, financial burden, cold, and oppressive presence through trees, songs, sales, traffic, consumerism, religious battles, etc. But that Christmas seemed like a nice escape from it all. Instead of cold, it was tropical. Instead of tons of gifts, it was a few things we could fit in our carry-on. There was a Christmas dinner, but this was a minor event compared to the Christmas hike and Christmas temple visit. There was family time, but instead of the familiar setting of Minnesota and home, it was far away and exotic. And, it was far less stressful as it was only a few immediate family members. There was learning, botany, volcanoes, hikes, stray cats, Mormons, taro pies, whales, and sushi. The trip sparked an interest in Polynesian history. Of course, my wonderful Christmas was only possible because of crushing U.S. imperialism which put Hawaii under its yoke and a tourist industry that commodities Hawaiian nature and culture while at the same time destroying both. But, politics aside, it was enjoyable.
I will probably never have a Christmas as fun as the one spent in Hawaii in 2014. But, life is long!