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Understanding Hawai’i

Our quest to understand Hawaii continues. This morning on our drive south the first revelation was that Hawaii’s “homeless problem” is much more vast and complex than we had first thought. The cities of tents extend for intermittently for about sixteen miles along the leeward Wai’anae shore.

oahu-homeless-tents.jpgOur initial impression was that these were beach bums, drop-outs, and surfers who were only taking advantage of a cheap lifestyle, but upon a closer look it has become clear that families are living there. There are children and old people, people who live in dirty clothes and a few who drive expensive cars.

They have taken over miles of beach and half a dozen state parks. There are hundreds of tents and perhaps a couple thousand people — and the number is growing. It is the largest encampment of homeless people we have ever seen in the United States. The western shore of Oahu is a little slice of the third world, right here in our country, just 30 miles from some of the wealthiest people in the world blithely enjoying Waikiki Beach.


Another angle on Hawaii is found at Pearl Harbor, where the USS Arizona lies on the bottom and WW II history is echoed in the monument, the neighboring Pacific Aviation Museum, the USS Missouri floating nearby, the submarine Bowfin, and a circle of plaques that commemorate the heroics of submariners.

The Arizona monument is right up there with the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC for sheer chilling power combined with historical education. I highly recommend it to all, despite the 1-hour plus waits required to see the monument. (You have to be taken out to the site by Navy launch.) The museum, brochure, and movie all do an excellent job at explaining the events leading up to Pearl Harbor and our involvement in World War II.


So by the time you get to the monument, standing solemnly over the gravesite of 900 Navy servicemen, and see the “black tears” of oil floating to the surface from the encrusted wreck of the USS Arizona, it all comes together. As much as the long-ago volcano that built the island, the events of Pearl Harbor formed the Hawaii we know today.

oahu-nanakuli-chop-suey.jpgOur final lesson on Hawaii comes from the food. Go to a lu’au and you’ll get some traditional Hawaiian foods like poi, and a lot of other modern favorites like pork ribs. In the fancier restaurants you’ll find “Asian fusion” and “Pacific Rim” cuisine. But today’s Hawaii has a people’s cuisine that the fancy resorts won’t acknowledge. Here on the cheap side of the island there are several “chop suey” restaurants, and in our quest we felt obligated to give them a try. Clearly they are popular with the locals.

It turned out to be a good gamble. We ordered a few simple dishes: wonton soup, noodles with shrimp, etc., and were rewarded with an enormous amount of delicious food for dinner in our hotel room. This may be the best deal on the leeward side.

Add to the chop suey another Hawaiian favorite: shave ice. On the North Shore in the town of Haleiwa is the best shave ice we’ve ever had. For a buck twenty-five you get a huge cone of ice drenched with three different flavors of sweet syrup. This is not a 7-11 Slurpee or one of those lame “snow cone” things sold on the mainland. This is a really incredible sensation of frozen nectar, and just the right thing for a humid Hawaiian afternoon. Perhaps if we keep ingesting these things we’ll come to understand Hawaii even better. It’s worth a try.

39 Responses to “Understanding Hawai’i”

  1. James Dodds Says:


    Do not forget to have some SPAM

  2. Jill Says:

    Hey James — that was what I was going to say!

  3. Pearl Harcor Tours Says:

    If you get a ticket for an afternoon tour (a wait time of 3 or more hours), then, proceed to next door to buy the ticket for the battleship. They are usually less crowded then Arizona tour. If your wait time for Arizona tour is less than 3 hours, you might want to drive down to Pearlridge Shopping Center (about 5 min away only). Eat lunch there and come back for the Arizona tour.