Hi! It’s both of us from here on in…
So what’s the first thing we did in after arriving in Hawai’i? Went to see The Adventures of Tin Tin.
If that seems an unlikely choice of activity, you know, being in sunny Hawaii and choosing to sit inside watching an animated tow-headed journalist run around with his dog, it was merely a time-killer. We were waiting for them to clean our hotel room.
After the ridiculous scale of the Marina Mandarin in Singapore, the Best Western Coconut Waikiki was comforting in its smallness. And now that were back on US soil, we unanimously decided that first night that we needed burgers as soon as possible.
Truth be told, a lot of Hawai’i was about eating. Okay, a lot of the whole trip was about eating, but Hawai’i even more so.
Like Puka dogs, for example. (That’s “poo-kah” as in shell. Not “pyoo-kah” as in “one who pukes.”). Puka dog buns aren’t split down the middle; they’re impaled on heated spikes that are roughly the shape of a hot dog. A red-hot, pointed hot dog. Once they’ve been thus internally toasted, they’re removed and hot dogs are inserted in the resultant toasthole, lubricated with Island-y relishes: banana, mango, pineapple, coconut, etc.
This whole process sounds like something Torquemada would nosh on at an auto-da-fé. But they were delicious.
And our big dinner at Nobu. Nobu Matsuhisa, the reknowned Japanese chef, has a restaurant in Waikiki. We ordered omakase: a tasting menu at the discretion of the chef. It changes from moment to moment depending on what’s freshest and most wonderful in the kitchen. We won’t rhapsodize at length. We’ll just say this: it started with raw otoro (fatty tuna) “ice cream,” topped with caviar. If you’re not drooling, shame on you. A monumental menu.
And for sheer yummy volume (volume matters in Hawai’ian food), there was the Side Street Inn. It’s the kind of place that real line chefs go to after hours to eat fabulous comfort food done well. Deep fried kanpachi kama and rare tuna belly, pork chops that are CRISP on the outside and moister than moist on the inside… And desserts that sound disgusting but are actually orgasmic: Peanut Butter Crunch à la mode, butter-fried pound cake…
Yeah. Butter-fried pound cake.
This place is beyond Rabelaisian. This place needs a new word for itself. This place is…
What the hell are we talking about? Movies? Food? This post is decidedly… um… well…
Okay, here’s the truth: there’s just not much to say here about tourism. This is how we planned the trip: 1) Philippines — family, award, HIGH STRESS! 2) BKK/Singapore — Touring, Touring, less stress. 3) Hawai’i. Relax. Melt. No stress.
And we kinda did that a little. Toured the North Shore. Found some beaches. ZZZ.
And we shopped. For Hawai’i kitsch, naturally. Bailey’s Antiques and Aloha Shirts have the largest selection of aloha shirts on the island and they feature vintage items going back to the 1930s. Some of the shirts are so rare they will set you back a few thousand dollars. (You wouldn’t want to eat a puka dog in one of those!)
Then we went to Hilo Hattie’s. Hilo Hattie’s kind of defies description. Apparently the demand for Hawai’iana was so great that they needed not one warehouse store, but a CHAIN of them. Filled to the TEETH with Aloha this and Tiki that. It was going to be a quick stop for a few muu-muus for Bel (yes, for BEL!) and instead turned into a two-plus hour orgy of hula girl oven mitts, aloha paraphernalia and macadamia nut products that are required purchases. Also, pearl earrings (made from pearls pulled from oysters that Bel choose from a little watery dish. Apparently the ugliest oysters yield the best pearls—there’s a metaphor in there somewhere. I learned the truth at seventeen…).
The one non-relaxy visit we made on Oahu was to Pearl Harbor.
While other historical sites on the trip impressed us with their scale or their sheer ornament or their serene beauty, Pearl Harbor, specifically the USS Arizona Memorial, is notable for its simplicity. One can’t help but be moved by it.
The complex is a very simple collection of open-air exhibit halls and drydocked vessels. Really, the only concession to ornament is a tall, white memorial monolith called “The Tree of Life,” with a window etched into it.
The harbor itself is lovely, and every so often the eye catches a square white marker memorializing one of the battleships destroyed there. Which is far more poignant than any elaborate monument might be.
The most famous of these, of course, is the USS Arizona. Arizona sits where she was bombed—the only ship still to do so. And she serves as a tomb for the 1,000 or so servicemen who served aboard her whose bodies were not recovered after the bombing. That’s about half the number of her crew who were actually killed.
We learned this from Stockard Channing, who narrates the documentary that begins the Pearl Harbor experience.
And it’s wonderful to be told the story of What Happened That Day before you see the memorial. (We never saw Pearl Harbor, because we’re both allergic to Josh Hartnett.)
But the memorial: They’ve built a stark, white, modern memorial that runs across the beam of the wreck of the ship, and it’s only accessible by boat. So, fittingly, you board a Navy vessel manned by Navy personnel to visit the resting place of a thousand Navy men.
Though it really doesn’t look like much from the outside, the inside of the memorial is quite beautiful and far more open than one would think.
This all serves its primary purpose: to serve as a meditative viewing platform for the wreck of the Arizona, and for the battleship Missouri, docked next door.
It’s absolutely astonishing to see an enormous, destroyed ship just inches below the water. It’s very moving.
Especially, of course, for Bel, who is the only one of the three of us to actually remember World War II—and specifically the Pacific theater. To be at the site of the Japanese attack that pulled us into the war was very emotional. Specifically for someone who lived through the Japanese occupation of her country and its subsequent liberation by her adoptive-country-to-be.
The Arizona still bleeds. Oil. After sixty years, she still produces bright, rainbow oilslicks that float out to sea. Anywhere else, you’d greet that with revulsion. Here, you want to invest it with meaning. It’s easy to find any of a thousand metaphors and meanings to go along with it. Feel free. That’s what memorials are for.
There are a handful of places in the US that you really have to visit and touch to appreciate a human, historical event. This is one of them.
Then you have to visit the gift shop.
(What? This is US!)
Only one thing to share about the gift shop at Pearl Harbor. It’s the single greatest gift shop item, perhaps, that we’ve ever seen.
The Eleanor Roosevelt Beanie Baby.