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Josiah's Hawaii Travelogue 7
July 2015 - July 2016
Hawaii Travelogue 6
July 19th (Sunday): The Honolulu Ukulele Festival
I assume most of you know what a ukulele is, right? If not, it's a Hawaiian instrument shaped like a guitar but much smaller and with only four strings. If you're ever heard Hawaiian music, you've no doubt heard a ukulele. Anyway, there's an annual ukulele festival at Kapiolani Park right past Waikiki. I had some stuff to do in the morning, but I met up with my parents there that afternoon for the last two or three hours. There were some booths selling food (and ukuleles), of course. But the main focus of the festival was the stage, where there was a constant stream of ukulele performances throughout the day. Some were single players, some were groups, some used other instruments as well, and some of the musicians were even from other countries. From the ones I saw, there were two standouts. The first was Willie K, who I wasn't previously familiar with (though he seemed kinda famous), and the second was Jake Shimabukuro, who I saw once before in Colorado years back. Jake is especially famous and known for doing a lot of music with the ukulele that you really wouldn't think it could possibly handle (classic rock, for example). They're both really impressive musicians, whether or not you're a ukulele fan. On that note, while I'm not sure I would have wanted to spend an entire day at the Ukulele Festival, it made for an enjoyable couple of hours.

July 24th - 25th (Friday - Saturday): Events in Honolulu
This weekend marked the debut of Comic Con Honolulu (aka. Hokukon). It's actually one of several new cons that are starting this year to compliment Kawaii Kon (which I wrote about a while back). Regular comic cons generally don't interest me as much as anime conventions, but I figured I'd check it out. All in all, they did fairly good for a first year con but it was pretty small, with only two panel rooms, a small vendor area, a couple of game spaces, and an autograph room. I was originally thinking I might spend most of the weekend there but the panels that interested me the most were all at times I couldn't go and, over all, there just wasn't enough to hold my attention so I ended up just going for Friday. I could have always spent more time playing around in the video or table top game areas, but I had enough other stuff I wanted and needed to do that I decided not to. As for whether or not I'll go next year, it'll depend on who the guests are and how the other new cons stack up.
My other weekend activity, besides some beach time, was checking out the dragon boat races Saturday morning. While you see a lot of long kayaks on Honolulu's main canal, dragon boats are different. They're Chinese in origin and they have dragon head and tail designs. More practically though, they have two rows of rowers and a drummer to help them keep time (like the old ships used to have). There's also a person laying on the front whose job it is to grab a flag at the end of the race. Now this is what I thought the Dragon Boat Festival in China would have a lot of (I was wrong). Kinda interesting to watch, at least for a bit.

July 28th (Tuesday): Pillboxes and Likeke Falls Hikes

I joined a hiking Meetup group a while back but nothing ever seemed to fit my schedule. Well, I finally spotted one that worked, and it involved two hikes I'd never done before, both in the Kailua area
The first hike was Pillboxes, which is a fairly well known one. It starts in a Lanikai housing development and, after a relatively short but kinda steep climb, follows a ridge to a couple of pillboxes (old military bunkers). While the pillboxes themselves aren't much to look at, the views are great. There were some interesting plants up there too. The hike itself isn't very long (you can make it to the pillboxes in under 30 minutes if you keep a decent pace), though you can keep following the ridge for quite a while after that (I heard it eventually loops back down into a different part of the town). Not too strenuous either, though the very beginning is a bit steep. Definitely a nice shorter hike.
After that going to the pillboxes and back, we drove to the Ko'olau Golf Club, which is the start of the Likeke Falls hike. One end of it, anyway (someone said the other end of the trail connects to the Pali highway somewhere). Hiking from the Paili could have been kind of long. From the golf club though, it was a really short (if a little muddy) 10 or 15 minutes to the falls. The only tricky part was spotting the turn off for the falls (it's by a big tree that lots of people have carved on). Unlike the Pillboxes, this trail was in a thick forest. Really thick at spots (like where I took that photo). The falls themselves are nice. Not amazing, but nice. And one advantage of hiking with others is that there's always someone to take a picture of you. As a note, considering how short the hike is, it's hard to say if it would be worth driving out there just for that. But it makes a nice combo with other hikes or activities.
After we finished the hikes, some group members, myself included, decided to get lunch (see the review, below). It was a fun morning, and I'll definitely do some more hikes with that group if I get the chance.

Restaurant Review: Mike's Hulihuli Chicken
Type: Chicken
Location: On the side of the road north of Kailua.
I've driven past Mike's a few times in the past, and could always smell the chicken roasting. Now, I finally got to try it. Mike's used to be a food truck but got popular enough to upgrade to a more permanent setup, though still with a very strong food truck vibe. They've got a good variety of plate lunches (all meat based, of course). A little on the expensive side for a food truck, but you do get a pretty big serving. I got the chicken plate, which is their signature dish. Got to say, they really know how to grill a good chicken. Crisp skin, tender meat, for rotisserie chicken, the texture was about as good as it can get. Nicely spiced too. I can't comment on their other meats, but you can't really ask for a better chicken. I'll be sure to go back next time I'm in the area.

August 2nd (Sunday): Koko Head Arch Hike
Since last week's hiking Meetup went well, I decided to try another one. There are a few this week, but one of the more interesting ones involved going up Koko Head the back way. I was a bit late to sign up and ended up on the wait list, but manage to secure a spot Saturday afternoon.
Anyway, Koko Head is a mountain on the east end of the island. The main trail is rather popular and known for being short but very strenuous (it's literally a straight climb up, following a old and steep railway track like a staircase). I did it a while back (see the entry for December 19th). However, there's an alternate (but not very well known) route that goes up the back side as well.
We started at the regular Koko Head parking lot. For one thing, there isn't any parking at the start of the other trail. And that way, we were able to make a loop of it. Avoiding the regular trail, we walked around Koko Head, past the nearby shooting range (for about half the hike, it sounded like we were skirting around a battlefield), and to the road by the coast. Turns out there's actually a small lava tube going under the roadway and out onto the coast. As you can tell from the photo, there's no beach at that area, it's all rocks worn away by long exposure to the waves. It made for an extremely pretty walk, though not one you'd want to take at high tide. The tide was low when we were there, but we still had to watch out for the rare big wave on a couple of narrow sections.
As a note, there was actually no reason we had to walk along the coast like that. It was just more fun and scenic than following the road. And, after a while, we climbed back up and crossed the road to begin our ascent of Koko Head. After a bit of climbing, we neared the arch. Can you see it? Here's a closer shot, but it's still a bit hard to tell that it's an arch from that angle. At that point it went from a hike to more of an actual climb. While it wasn't especially difficult (I've done that kind of thing plenty of times when hiking in Colorado, Utah, and Arizona), I wouldn't recommend it if you're afraid of heights or not in decent physical condition. Here's a panorama I took from on top of the arch.
The top of the arch didn't mark the end of the climbing, since we still had to gain a lot of height to reach the ridge. From there though, it was fairly simple to follow the ridge for the rest of the ascent. Here I am about halfway along the ridge. If you hadn't noticed from the previous photos, you can probably tell from this one that it was really windy. The wind kept up for nearly the entire hike (start to finish). It did make the climbing slightly more difficult (and made a total mess of my hair), but it also kept things from getting too hot, which is nice since otherwise we would have been in the sun pretty much the entire time. According to the hike organizer, we got pretty lucky in that regard, since there's usually no wind and it can get very hot.
In the end, we reached the same place the regular Koko Head hike ends. Here's a panorama from the top and here's a close up of Hawaii Kai and Honolulu. From there it was a quick and simple walk down the regular railway trail back to the parking lot. Between the coastline and the arch climb, I'd say this is one of my favorite hikes on the island (at least so far). But, while it's not especially dangerous, you do need to be careful climbing over the arch and pay attention to the tides if you walk along the coast.

August 13th (Thursday): Pali Lookout Hike
Remember that Likeke Falls hike I did a couple weeks back? I believe I mentioned that it's just a side path, and that the main trail goes all the way to the Pali Lookout. Well, the hiking Meetup group was going to do the full trail so I signed up.
For most of the week, the weather forecast for today was looking kind of iffy. Until yesterday, when they said the weather would be fine. Turns out that the earlier forecast was the more accurate one... It was raining when I arrived but everyone else decided to do the hike anyway and I figured that, since it's in a forest, the trees would make for good cover. Actually though, I think the trees somehow made it worse... Still, rain can enhance the scenery sometimes. As a note, aside from the turn off for the waterfall, there's a couple other places where the path splits and the most obvious looking route isn't always the right one.
The path starts out going through the forest. It's bound to be a little muddy most of the the time, much more so when it's rainy. Kind of slippery too. After a while though, shortly after the rain stopped, we left the forest behind and ended up on the old Pali Highway. Since being replaced by the newer and wider Pali Highway, it's been closed to traffic and is slowly fading away into the forest, but it's easy to follow and walk on. Speaking of the new Pali, the trail eventually goes underneath it then continues on the old Pali along the side of the mountains and up to the Pali Lookout.
I know I wrote about the lookout once or twice in the past. It's a popular tourist spot since you get a great view with no hiking required. Of course, our cars were down at the bottom so, after hanging out for a bit, the rest of the group and I headed back down the trail.
All in all, I think it was maybe two miles (give or take) each way. While it is a bit of a climb, it's not an especially steep or strenuous hike, though it can be rather slippery when wet. And you get both a nice forest and some good views, not to mention the waterfall if you want to go a few minutes out of your way.
I was originally planning to spend the day in Kailua, since I drove all the way out there. The iffy weather left me a bit unsure but since it was clearing up by the time I got back to my car, I decided to give it a go.  So I got lunch and hit the beach for a while. The water was nice, though it actually did rain again for a bit... Fortunately, not for too long, so the big farmers' market went off without a hitch. I hadn't been to the Kailua one in months, or any big farmers' market since before my China trip, and it was nice to pick up some hard to find items. In the end, it was a nice day, despite the problematic weather.

Restaurant Review: Hale Kealoha
Type: Hawaiian
Location: Kailua (near Whole Foods)
Despite living in Hawaii, I actually don't eat Hawaiian food all that often. Well, other than poke (which is sorta half Hawaiian and half Japanese), but I was in the area and felt like doing something different. Hale Kealoha is a no frills type of place, though they do have real plates and silverware instead of paper and plastic. Their menu isn't very large, but it covers a lot of Hawaiian classics like chicken long rice and various types of lau lau. Nothing too fancy, but it's well made and you get a lot of food for your money. I have to also mention the extremely friendly server. It looks like they may have live music at times too, though they didn't when I was there.
While I don't think I'll be counting Hawaiian food among my favorite types of cuisine anytime soon, if you're in the Kailua area and want to give the islands' equivalent of comfort food a try, Hale Kealoha is a good choice.

August 15th (Saturday): Celebrating Peace
To commemorate the 70th anniversary of end of World War II (though it's technically not for a couple more weeks), they had a special fireworks show near Pearl Harbor. I'd actually first heard about the show months ago, but had all but forgotten about it. Fortunately, they had some articles in the paper earlier in the week.
For the show, they opened up Ford Island to the public. It's a small island off of Pearl Harbor. It's mostly military housing (not sure which branch) so access is normally limited. Though the USS Missouri and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum are there too (which you can take a shuttle bus to). Anyway, there were some restrictions on what you could bring (including water bottles, annoyingly). Fortunately, I arrived before it got too crowded and found a nice spot in the park where the festivities were taking place. There were some food vendors set up (though by the time the sun had set and I got around to looking for food, the lines had gotten ridiculously long) and various local groups playing music As time went on, there were eventually speeches by various Hawaiian and Japanese officials (the fireworks show was run by the city of Nagaoka, which is famous for its annual fireworks festival). They even brought J-Pop singer Ayaka Hirahara to perform her song, Jupiter (sorry for the poor sound quality, the strong wind made it hard to get a good recording), which was one of the songs they set the fireworks too. As you can see, I decided to try something different this time and do a little video recording of the fireworks instead of just taking photos. Though I took a few pictures too. This is the first time I've tried photographing fireworks with my new camera and I noticed that its fireworks mode uses a much longer exposer time than the one on my old cameras did. That has some pros and cons and, in the future, I'm not sure if I'll rely on it or just use some custom settings. Still got some good shots though. As you can probably tell from the photos, it was a pretty great show (the second I've seen put on by Nagaoka (which really lives up to its reputation)) and a fun evening.

August 19th (Wednesday): Roger McGuinn in Concert
If the name isn't familiar, Roger McGuinn was the lead singer of The Byrds (a 60's group famous for, among other things, their versions of Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn! Turn! Turn!). The group isn't together anymore, but he does a solo act. It was fairly low key. He played a variety of songs, of course. Some from The Byrds, others from various points of his extensive career. But he also spent a lot of time talking about his career as a singer and song writer. It was actually pretty interesting, so no real complaints. His voice still sounds really good too, though there were some songs where it was nearly impossible to tell what the lyrics were. All in all, it was an enjoyable show. Not one of my top oldies concerts, but worth seeing. (Pictures and video weren't allowed, sorry.)

August 30th (Sunday): Hawaii Greek Festival
While not quite as unexpected as the Scottish Festival, the fact that there's a Greek festival here in Hawaii surprised me when I first attended last year (see the August 24th entry). While I certainly enjoy all the Asian festivals, these European ones are a nice change of pace. Like last year, there was plenty of Greek music and dancing. You know, now that I think about it, it's kind of interesting that virtually every culture developed some type of circle dance. Just about every European, Asian, and Middle Eastern country I can think of has one of some kind...
Anyway, there was also plenty of Greek food, of course. I tried ouzo sorbet, which was good and really refreshing. For some reason, I had it in my head that ouzo was citrus based (guess I got it confused with kitron), so the taste completely caught me off guard. For the record, ouzo is a liquor made with anise, giving it a liquorice flavor.
Next year, I'm kind of tempted to go to the festival in the evening instead of early afternoon, since it may have more of a party atmosphere later in the day. On the other hand, it's probably a lot more crowded and I bet that they'll have sold out of a lot of the food by then (I arrived an hour after the festival opened and they were already out of a couple things), so maybe not...

September 6th (Sunday): Okinawan Festival
Hawaii really has a lot of cultural festivals, the majority of which are Japanese. The Okinawan Festival, however, is a bit different than the others since it's focused on the culture of Okinawa, the collection of small islands to the south of Japan. So what makes Okinawa different? Well, until the 1870's, Okinawa (or the Ryukyu Islands, as it used to be known) was an independent kingdom. For several hundred years, it actually served as a major trade hub for much of Asia, developing a unique culture that included elements from Japan proper, China, Korea, and Thailand. And, while it has since become a part of Japan, elements of that culture have remained.
As a side note, I haven't been to Okinawa yet myself (though I would like to go at some point). I didn't make it to the Okinawan Festival last year either, since it was on the same weekend as my brother's wedding, so this was my first time going there. The first thing I noticed was that, judging by my past experiences, it's the largest of the small cultural festivals (bigger than the Greek Festival, Korean Festival, and the like, though a good deal smaller than the Pan Pacific Festival and the other huge ones).
There were quite a lot of tents, some guarded by shisa (Okinawan lions). Naturally, there was plenty of food, including a tent that just sold packaged Okinawan snacks and cooking ingredients to take home. So what is Okinawan food? Well, some of it is standard Japanese food, but they're known for a wide variety of pork dishes (which I don't eat, so I'm glad there was chicken too) and andagi (fried dough balls that are a bit like donut holes (though not as sweet)). There was also a bunch of kids games and a cultural tent, which had several displays about Okinawan history and culture. Not quite a full museum, but interesting to look through.
And, of course, it wouldn't be a cultural festival without lots of performances. I didn't get there in time for the martial arts shows (Okinawa is the birth place of many of Japan's martial arts styles, including Seibukan Shorin Ryu Karate, which I've studied for the past 18 years or so), but I did catch a number of traditional dance and music performances. I'm not sure someone without much knowledge of Japanese cultural would notice, but Okinawan dance, music, and even clothing is actually quite a lot different than Japanese. There are some clear Japanese influences, but the Chinese and Korean ones are just as clear, along with some things from other countries and Ryukyu itself. All in all, it was a fun festival and, for me, an interesting mix of familiar Japanese elements and a new and different culture.

September 20th (Sunday): Amazing Hawaii Comic Con
This is the third convention I've been to here in Honolulu this year, and the second comic convention (the first, Kawaii Kon, was anime). So how did this one measure up? Well, like Honolulu Comic Con (which I visited back in July), this is the first year for Amazing Hawaii Comic Con. And, while they both could use some work, Amazing Hawaii definitely had the better debut. It had a pretty impressive guest list (including Stan Lee) and a really nice vendor area. As such, it was a lot bigger and busier than Honolulu Comic Con. However, it still suffered from a lack of things to do compared to what I expect from a con. Outside of the vendor area, there were only two panel rooms to choose from and no game rooms, viewing rooms, or other special areas or events.
That said, Connie and I had fun walking around and taking in a panel. I would have liked to get into Stan Lee's panel, but it was very limited admission (guess they didn't rent the really big ballroom) and the line was ridiculous (I suspect everyone rushed it the moment the doors opened). Ah well. Stan Lee is cool, but I'm definitely more of a anime / manga fan than I am of American comics. Anyway, it was a pretty good debut there's a decent chance I'll go back next year. Though, unless they expand a bit, a one day pass will probably be enough.
On a side note, Connie and I stopped by Shirokiya (the Japanese department store in the mall) afterwards. Turned out they were having a special event involved some Japanese heroes, Kikaider and Kamen Raider. There was a little stage show with various costumed heros and villains, autographs and photos, a drawing, etc. What really surprised me though was how many people came out for it. The store was packed and there was a really long line (not Stan Lee long, but still impressive). Considering that neither Kikaider nor Kamen Raider have much of a release history in the US, I really didn't expect there to be so many fans, even here in Hawaii.

September 26th (Saturday): Chinese Moon Festival

September 26th (Saturday): Chinese Moon Festival
The moon festival is a Chinese holiday that involves moon watching and eating moon cakes. There's never been a big celebration for it here in Hawaii before, but the Chinese Association decided to start one up this year, so Connie and I headed over Saturday night to check it out. Naturally, it was in the cultural plaza in China Town. I was expecting quite a lot of food booths, like at the Chinese New Year celebrations. On that level, it was a little disappointing. There weren't as many booths and most were decidedly non-Chinese snacks. Still, I got to try ice cream made with liquid nitrogen, which was pretty cool. Didn't really taste any different (good ice cream though), but still cool.
Back to the festival, aside from the booths there was entertainment running throughout. Connie and I saw a little bit of old Chinese singing, face changing (not quite as impressive as the last face changer I saw, but fun), some martial arts demonstrations, and a dragon dance. All in all, it was fun to visit, though I hope they have more food next year. I mean seriously, I would have at least expected to see a lot of moon cakes. On that note, due to the lack of food, we ended up going out to eat nearby...

Restaurant Review: Little Village Noodle House
Type: Chinese
Location: China Town
Little Village is one of the more popular Chinese restaurants in China Town. Though I should note that, unlike many of the restaurants in the area, it's not a dim sum place. Anyway, there menu is pretty large, continuing a number of dishes from various parts of China, including some from Hong Kong and a few that are more American inspired (such as orange chicken). Whether you want meat, poultry, seafood, or vegetarian, you'll have lots to choose from. We got shredded roast duck meat rice noodles, tofu with bamboo fungus, and lemongrass chicken. Neither Connie or I had any complaints about the food. Portions were large and everything tasted great. While I wouldn't say any one dish totally jumped out at me, they were all well made and tasted great.
Food aside, the restaurant is nicely decorated and the servers were quick and courteous. It honestly felt a lot like being back in China. If you're in China Town and want something other than dim sum, I recommend giving Little Village a try. I'll certainly be back.

October 8th (Thursday): Wa'ahila Ridge Hike
It's been a little while since I last did a Meetup hike, mainly since they just haven't fit my schedule lately. Well, this one did and Connie and my mom came along as well. The hike is a little bit north of Honolulu and starts in the middle of a forest. Actually, you're in a forest most of the time. The sections where you come out from under the trees are few and far between. The path is mostly fairly flat with some small ups and downs, though there are a few steep areas where you have to some very minor climbing/scrambling over rocks. The plant life was nice, but what really stuck out was that a very large percentage of the trail was lined with strawberry guava trees. Strawberry guavas are a small bite sized guava that grows wild in Hawaii. They taste great, but they're not sold in stores or even at farmers' markets. I'd never seen so many at once, and it was fun to pick and eat them along the way. We really came at just the right time. Anyway, fauna aside, there were some views here and there of Honolulu and the surrounding mountains.
Overall, the hike itself is decent. Not too strenuous, but an enjoyable trail. And if you go when the strawberry guavas are in season, that's a huge plus. The views aren't bad either. Though, if you're mainly looking for an impressive view, there are better hikes in the area.

October 13th (Tuesday): Kayaking in Kailua
While Kailua Beach isn't much for surfing (not the regular kind anyway), it is a popular spot for various other ocean activities, including kayaking. I'd been meaning to give it a try at some point, and Noah and Hannah felt the same so we all headed over early in the morning.
We ended up getting two two-person kayaks (one for Connie and I and one for Noah and Hannah; my parents stayed on the beach). Getting started actually proved to be fairly easy. I was expecting the kayaks to be unstable but we went the entire time without tipping one over. Rowing in tandem took a little practice, but wasn't too bad either, and my arms held up surprisingly well for the three hours or so we spent on the water. I wasn't even very sore the next day.
Aside from just rowing around, a lot of kayakers set out from the beach to reach one of two small nearby islands which are only assessable by boat. We got very close to the furthest of the two, but one member in our part got a bit spooked by the current there so we turned around and eventually made our way to the aptly named Flat Island. It's actually pretty neat place to visit, with a number of strange rocks, birds, and event some flower I don't recall seeing on Oahu itself.
The weather could have been better, as it was overcast and windy all day with occasional rain. Still, it did mean we didn't have to worry about sunburns. In the end, kayaking was fairly simple and enjoyable. I don't think I'll start making regular trips, but I'd be up for going again some time.

October 15th (Thursday): Off to Hilo

As you may know, the state of Hawaii consists of several major islands. The one I live on is Oahu, which is home to the capital city of Honolulu and is also the most popular tourist detonation. I've visited most of the other islands in the past, but it was a long time ago. Since moving here, I've been meaning to do some short trips to explore them more, but so far the timing and money just never aligned. However, with Noah and Hannah visiting, my parents decided it would be fun to squeeze in a big family trip over the weekend. I was pretty busy with other things, so I left the trip planning to them and, in the end, we set off for the Big Island (also known as Hawaii).
Although the Hawaiian islands are all pretty close to each other, unless you own a good boat, the only way between them is by airplane (with Honolulu airport acting as the main hub). I heard there used to be a shuttle boat at one point, but not anymore. At least the flights are short and relatively cheap. And you can get some nice views from the plane (that's the Big Island).
The Big Island actually has two airports. The one we landed in was Hilo. It's an old town with a strong 60's or 70's hippy vibe. Unfortunately, it's also a bit on the rundown side, though some of the buildings are pretty nice. Our first stop was a farmers' market and the local health food store for breakfast. They do have Oahu beat when it comes to prices on local produce, no contest. Nice healthfood store too.
We didn't stay in town too long before driving off (if you're going to explore the Big Island, a car is a must) to Rainbow Falls. It's a pretty nice waterfall that's also really easy to get to. But there wasn't much to do except enjoy the view, so it wasn't too long before we moved on.
Next stop, Kilaeua Volcano. We happened to arrive just in time for a tour with one of the park rangers so we joined in, walking along an old highway (abandoned after it was half destroyed in a earthquake decades ago) until we got a view of the volcanic crater. It's dangerous to get too close to the crater, so they have a lot of the area closed off. It wasn't especially active then, so the only way to actually see the lava would have been to take a helicopter tour. Though if you go to a different viewpoint at night, you're supposed to be able to see the glow from the crater. While there, we also visited the Thursten Lava Tube. Lava tubes, by the way, are underground tunnels left behind by lava flows and they can be found all over Hawaii. There was a short trail around and through the tube, which made for a fun stop.
Leaving the the volcano park, we stopped at the Mauna Loa mac nut factory (they're one of the major brands of macadamia nuts here). They've got a rather interesting self guided factory tour, though we rushed through that a bit faster than I would have liked, and, of course, a gift shop with samples.
Keeping up the quick pace, we returned to Hilo to drop our stuff off at our hotel and explore the town a bit. Specifically, we visited a Japanese garden in one of the parks, and walked down Banyan Drive. Banyan Drive is, perhaps Unsurprisingly, lined with large banyan trees. What makes it unique is that each tree was planed around 80 years ago by someone famous (including former presidents and a king of England). Though, to be honest, I had no idea who at least half the people are.
After that nice break, it was back to the van to visit the Boiling Pots (another waterfall with some little pools that sometimes appear to be bubbling), and then off to Mauna Kea (a mountain park), while snacking on some wild guavas we'd found.
We ended up inside a cloud during the drive, lending the lava rock covered landscape the perfect otherworldly atmosphere, before arriving at the visitor center. The center is actually quite a ways from the summit. If you want to go all the way up you can drive (if you have a good four wheel drive car), hike (though only if you have the better part of the day to devote to it), or pay for a shuttle bus. We didn't have the time for that but after learning about invisible cows, most of us hiked up a nearby hill to get a good view of the coming sunset.
What Mauna Kea is really famous for though its telescopes. Something about the mountain makes it one of the worlds best locations for high end telescopes and the like. The weather was a bit iffy but it thankfully cleared up when the rangers rolled out some more ordinary telescopes after sunset. While the weather didn't hold forever, we got amazing views of the stars themselves now. the moon and Saturn (I took the picture with just my camera). When we finished stargazing it was finally time to go back to Hilo, get some food, and call it a day.

Random Hawaii Comment: Hawaii
While the name Hawaii is typically used to refer to the islands as a whole, it's actually the official name of the Big Island. The "Big Island" name refers to the fact that the island is larger than all the other Hawaiian islands combined.

October 16th (Friday): Hawi and Waimea

My family had plans to cover quite a lot of the Big Island during our stay, so we left Hilo right after breakfast and headed north. Our first stop was Akaka Falls. While you can go straight to the falls from the entrance, there's a nice little loop trail through the rainforest. The flora and fauna were great and the waterfall itself is one of the better ones I've seen. It probably helped that it rained a whole lot the night before, making the falls extra impressive. From there, we made a brief stop at a state park (looked like a good spot for campers) then had a long drive through rolling hills, which offered a very different type of scenery than we'd encountered so far.
Eventually, we ended up in a little town call Hawi. Despite the old hippy vibe, judging from the art galleries and the like, it must get a decent number of tourists. We met up with an old friend of my parents' and went to lunch at a rather interesting vegetarian restaurant then walked around the town a bit.
Moving on once more, we stopped at the top of a valley overlooking a black sand beach. Noah, Hannah, and I hiked part of the way down towards the beach, but the weather was bad and the beach didn't look all that amazing so we doubled back before reaching the bottom.
A bit more driving, and we made it to our hotel, a bed and breakfast in a town called Waimea. After unpacking, we took a quick trip to a nice nearby beach to watch the sunset and wrap things up for the day. Not quite as jam-packed as the previous day, but still enjoyable, and the change of scenery helped keep things fresh.

Random Hawaii Comment: Hotels
The Big Island, and actually the Hawaiian islands in general, are somewhat lacking in normal hotels. Back on the mainland US, just about every town, even smaller ones, has, at very least, a Super 8 or Holiday Inn or some other basic chain hotel. Hawaii, however, limits its hotels to certain areas. On Oahu, for example, just about all the hotels are by Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, with a few others grouped in Ko'Olina and one odd man out (Turtle Bay) up on the north shore. Other than that, there really isn't much of anything and most of those hotels are fancy resorts. On the Big Island, meanwhile, there are hotels in Hilo and Kona, and a grouping at the coast by Waimea (once again, mostly resorts). Beyond those, your options are pretty limited, though there are some little bed and breakfast type places scattered about if you really want to stay on a different part of the island.
So, in the end there isn't really a lack of hotels in Hawaii, but you choices as far as hotel type and location go are a bit limited so keep that in mind when doing your trip planing.

October 17th (Saturday): Waipio Valley

My parents got to catch up with some more old friends today, so quite a lot of the day was spent hanging out and chatting. I'm not quite sure how the topic came up, but eventually they offered to give us a ride down into Waipio Valley. Anyone can drive to the overlook but getting into the valley requires a good driver with a four wheel drive. There's only one road, it has an average 25 degree grade (which is pretty steep for a road), is on the side of a cliff, and is generally only wide enough for one car (despite being a two way road). Just to make things worse, it doesn't seem like it's been repaved in decades and is full of cracks and potholes. Honestly, I think it's probably the worst road I've ever been on. Noah, Hannah, and I road in the back of the pickup. It was kind of fun, but a bit nerve wracking as well. As a side note, if you don't have a good enough car, or don't trust your driving, you can simply hike down the road if you've got enough time to make the trek.
Once on the bottom, we continued on an equally bad (but less dangerous, due to not being on a cliff) road to a black sand beach. Probably not the best place to swim, but the view was nice. We hung out there and looked around for a while before getting back in the truck and heading deeper into the valley.
We passed some houses along the way. Gotta say, it's hard to imagine living down there. I mean, if you want to get away from it all and grow some fruit trees it may be exactly what you're looking for, but getting in and out is such a slow and harrowing process that it would makes a lot of things really difficult.
Anyway, while the scenery was nice, the highlight of the drive back into the valley was the views of Hiilawe Falls. At 1,450 it's one of the tallest waterfalls in Hawaii (and a really tall waterfall in general, though not close to being a record setter). As far as I can remember, it's the tallest one I've ever seen and it's pretty impressive. Some people hike to the base, but from what I've heard the trail is a little dangerous and requires some trespassing on private property, so it's probably not a good idea.
After taking in the falls, it was time to head back up out of the valley. The truck seemed to be struggling at times, but we made it. Though there was a tense time when a descending SUV completely ignored the rule that it was supposed to yield to vehicles going up the road, leading to use getting stuck nowhere near a section wide enough to pass. That was worrying, though in the end the SUV managed to back uphill enough for us to pass them.
Having successfully survived the ascent, we stopped at the lookout for a bit before going out to grab some good hamburgers and call it a day.

Random Hawaii Comment: Big Island Weather
Like on Oahu, the Big Island has its wet areas (like Hilo) and it's dry ones (like Kona) but, like the island, they're larger and seem a bit more pronounced. The wet side seems to be the cheaper (if a bit poorer) area to live, though you'll have to get used to the rain. The dry side has its own problems, getting a lot of vog (volcanic smog) from the volcano, so neither side is perfect.

October 18th (Sunday): Kona

We woke up Sunday morning to a nice view of Mauna Kea, but it wasn't too long until we set off. The goal was to fit as much in as we could before our return flights that night.
We started out by going to the nearby resort area (one of the few on the island) and walking along the beach. That might not sound too special, but it was a rather neat beach covered with a mix of white coral and black lava rocks. Eventually, we ended up in the Hilton, which was pretty cool (and huge). They even had their own dolphin pool. It certainly looked like a fun place to stay.
After a bit of a drive, during which we mostly passed through fields of lava rock, we ended up at a coffee farm near Kona. If the name sounds familiar, Kona is the main tourist town on the Big Island, but it's also famous for its coffee. I'm not sure about the rest of the US (I don't like coffee, so I usually don't pay much attention to it), but here in Hawaii Kona coffee is pretty famous. After sampling some of their different coffees (nope, still don't like it) and watching some Jackson's Chameleons crawl around on the nearby citrus trees, it was time for the farm tour. While I don't drink coffee, it was still interesting to learn about. Apparently they have to hand pick the berries (or cherries, depending who you ask) because they all ripen at different times. After that, they need to be fermented and dried before the beans can be roasted. Kinda similar to chocolate, actually.
We stopped at a farmers' market for lunch and then continued to the city of refuge. It's an old Hawaiian village. Well, more like the site of one, seeing as there isn't much left of the village itself. Originally, it served double duty. Part of it was exclusively for the use of royalty and included a temple. The other section was meant as a temporary refuge for people who needed protection, such as soldiers whose side lost a war. If they could make it to the city and stay there for a while, they'd be able to safely leave and either return to their old life or start a new one. As I said, there aren't many huts or other structure remaining (and I think they're all recreations), though the old wall is still there. And the coconut palms. Lots and lots of coconut palms. Anyway, it was interesting to visit and there was a lot of tide pools around with little fish, crabs, and even some sea turtles.
Finally, we arrived in Kona proper. It was the biggest and nicest looking town of all the ones we'd visited on the trip, and definitely geared for tourists. It's on a dryer part of the island, which was a nice change. On the down side, while we hit it on a good day, it often gets a lot of vog (smog from volcanic smoke) instead. There was a big farmers' market going on, which was fun to walk through. Got some great local popsicles and ice cream as we went. On a side note, there were a lot of geckos. Not that they're unusual in Hawaii (I see them near my house occasionally), but I've never seen so many before. I snapped a really cool picture of a couple that snuck into a fruit stand. I didn't even know they liked anything besides bugs.
Eventually, everyone except my dad went out for a dinner at a nice restaurant right on the coast. It was a neat place with good food, a skilled musician, and great views of the sunset. It really was a good way to close out trip to the Big Island. After that, it was off to the Kona airport and back to Oahu.

Random Hawaii Comment: The Big Island
The Big Island was fun to visit and I could definitely go back for some more hiking and swimming. It's much bigger than the other Hawaiian islands so you have a bigger diversity when it comes to scenery and types of terrain. Things are cheaper there as well, which is always nice. On the down side, the population is relatively low so there aren't any cities and there's less going on than on Oahu. It also takes longer to get from one part of the island to the other. From a weather perspective, it's a bit uneven. You can actually get snow on some of the mountains (the only place in Hawaii where that can happen), and some areas get way too much rain, not to mention the vog. Still, that's all about timing and which part of the island you're on. If you're don't mind renting a car and spending your time in more rural environments, the Big Island is a great vacation spot. Not sure if I'd want to live there (I'd be worried that I'd get bored after a while), but that's a different matter. If you want to see a more rustic part of Hawaii, go up an active volcano, or get an amazing view of the stars, the Big Island should be on your list.

November 6th (Friday): Wearable Art

Connie and I needed to be in Honolulu Friday evening, so we went in early and paid a visit to the Bishop Museum. I visited, and wrote about, it once before, but this was Connie's first time. The main building's Hawaiian history and cultural exhibits are the same as last time, that it to say quite interesting and well done. As was the planetarium (though they've added some new shows). The other two buildings had changed though. One of the temporary exhibit halls is now the science adventure building which has a bunch of interactive exhibits about Hawaii (wind, the ocean, volcanos, etc.). It's kind of geared for kids, but fun.
The other hall is still for temporary exhibits. The one this time around featured a collection of outfits / costumes from the World of Wearableart (yes, that really should be "wearable art" but I guess they figured that WOW was a better acronym than WOWA). Anyway, it's a fashion show / performance based in New Zealand (judging from the video they were showing at the exhibit, it looks a little like a Cirque du Soliel show without the crazy acrobatics). Anyway, as the name implies, it features very unusual outfits designed more for their artistic merits than fashion or practicality. It seems they have a contest every year to find new designs. A couple of the ones on display were even designed by students from Connie's old university in Shanghai. Anyway, a few of the outfits looked like they could have come out of a fantasy movie or maybe a Lady Gaga show, but many were just plain weird. And honestly, those pictures don't even show the strangest ones. I really wasn't expecting much from the exhibit going in, but it was actually pretty interesting. To the point where I'll go see the actual WOW show if I ever get the chance.
After the museum, Connie and I picked up my mom and we went off to get dinner...only to find that the restaurant just happened to be closed that one day for some reason. We had a time limit, so that left us scrambling to find a difference place to eat. But that actually ended up working out pretty well...

Restaurant Review: Yakitori Glad
Type: Japanese (Yakitori)
Location: Honolulu, Kapahulu Ave.
I spotted Yakitori Glad ages ago while walking on Kapahulu and always meant to check it out, but I rarely get to that part of Honolulu, so I just never got around to it. Now though, I'm really going to have to make the trip more often.
Yakitori Glad is an extremely authentic Japanese place focusing on izakaya type food, mostly (as the name implies) yakitori. For those of you not too familiar with Japanese food, yakitori is chicken coated with salt or a teriyaki-like sauce and grilled on a wooden skewer. It makes for an awesome snack, or a meal if you get enough of it. And getting enough is not a problem at Glad. Everything on the menu (food and drinks) is only $3.90, and serving sizes are surprisingly generous (I'd recommend 2 - 4 plates per person).
While various types of yakitori dominate, the menu is actually fairly diverse. I did most of the ordering for my group, getting us a wide assortment of yakitori and yakiniku (the beef equivalent), along with some agedashi tofu, stuffed mushrooms, and rice soup for variety. The yakitori and yakinuku were all excellent (some of the best I've had outside of Japan), as were the rice and mushrooms. The tofu was a little unusual in that it was served hot and used a very soft type of tofu, but still quite good.
We all enjoyed the meal and plan to return. Glad is one of the restaurants that's makes me feel like I'm back in Japan and the affordable single price menu just makes it better. Whether you want to relax with friends and snack, or make an entire meal out of it, if you like yakitori you really need to visit Yakitori Glad.
As a note, you may want to make reservations ahead of time. We got there a bit early and managed to snag a table, but most of the others had reserved signs sitting on them.

November 11th (Wednesday): Back to the Polynesian Cultural Center
I had the day for Veterans' Day, so Connie and I met up with my mom and an old friend of hers at the Polynesia Cultural Center. I've already written about Polynesian Cultural Center (see the December 23rd entry), but to quickly summarize, it's a theme park of sorts divided into villages based on various Polynesian islands. Each village has a show and often a few smaller activities to teach you a bit about its culture. By the way, if I didn't mention it before, the Samoa and Tonga shows are the ones you really want to make sure to see, along with the Hawaiian movie.
Anyway, they recently added an old Hawaiian themed marketplace right outside of the park entrance. One thing the cultural center was actually a bit lacking in before was shops and restaurants (unless you got one of the dinner show packages), so it's a welcome addition ad makes the whole place feel more like a proper theme park. They've got a fancy restaurant and a set of smaller food truck style booths with a nice selection of Hawaiian and Polynesian food. And, since it's actually outside the park, you don't need admission tickets to check it out.
Marketplace aside, we had a nice afternoon at the Cultural Center and I managed to see a couple shows I'd missed on previous visits, like the Tahitian Wedding Ceremony. I still need to do the whole dinner show thing sometime though...

November 15th - 22nd (Sunday - Sunday): HIFF 2015

The Hawaii International Film Festival is in it's 35th year, though this is only my second year attending. Connie and I went to four different movies (all Japanese) over the course of the festival. Here's the quick reviews.

Our Huff and Puff Journey
Four Japanese high school girls run away from home with little money and even less of a plan to see their favorite band in concert in Tokyo. It's basically a teen road trip comedy that's about half regular film and half videos taken by the girls. All in all it was...ok. It was kinda amusing but not especially funny, so it's didn't really grab me with the comedy, and the whole road trip story was fairly generic. That really just left the characters. Unfortunately, they seemed to give up on character development about halfway through the movie, dropping the handful of threads that had been started. So, in the end, you have a movie that's ok, but doesn't really stand out in any way.

Kakekomi is a word referring to woman who ran away from their owners or husbands. See, in ancient Japan, only men could file for a divorce, with one exception. If the woman ran away and made it to Tokeiji Temple in Kamakura (a city a short distance south of Tokyo), she'd be protected and allowed to live there for two years as a nun, after which, her husband would be forced to divorce her. Kakekomi (the movie) is about several such women, each running away from very different circumstances, who meet on their journey to Tokeiji. It mostly focuses on their time in the temple and their relationship with the family running one of the nearby inns. It's a period piece and, as far as I can tell, fairy historically accurate. The movie description listed it as a comedy action movie, but a handful of jokes and a couple fight scenes isn't enough to quality it for either. It's really a drama with a little bit of romance mixed in (though that isn't really the focus either). While I found the incorrect description annoying, it's still an interesting movie and grants a rare glimpse into the role Tokeiji played in Japanese society. That said, there are just too many plot threads to cover in a movie. The main three fair decently, but the rest feel rushed and underdeveloped. Seeing as the movie is based on a book, this is probably due to trying to cram too much of the source material into the film's limited time frame. While it doesn't ruin the film as a whole, I get the feeling that it could have been a lot better had they dropped most of the subplots and just focused on the main characters.

Hana's Miso Soup
This seems to be one of those movies that primarily exists to make its audience cry. It starts out as a romantic comedy, but takes on a much more serious tone when the main character is diagnosed with breast cancer. From then on, the film tracer her life as she and her husband struggle with their situation and, eventually, the challenge of raising their young daughter, Hana. There's no grand lesson (other than, perhaps, make the most of the your life) or larger plot. It's pure bittersweet emotion from start to finish. Very well done, but not the type of thing I'd normally watch. How much you enjoy it will really depend on how you like that type of movie.

The Boy and the Beast
The latest anime film from Mamoru Hosoda (Summer Wars, Wolf Children, etc.), The Boy and the Beast follows Ren, a young runaway Japanese boy who stumbles into a world of magical beasts (creatures about halfway between animals and humans). He's taken in by Kumatetsu, a bear man skilled in the martial arts but unable to keep a pupil due to his belligerent attitude. Over time, the two begin to bond but, as Ren grows older, he finds himself torn between the beast world and the human world, giving the film a bit of a Jungle Book vibe. Add in the competition between Kumatetsu and his rival Iozen to become their city's new lord, and some drama related to the darkness within human hearts, and you have a fun and moderately touching shonen adventure. The story is the type that will appeal to just about all ages and the animation is great (not Ghibli level, but still good).
I enjoyed it quite a bit (more than any of the above movies), though it doesn't quite surpass the barrier between very good and excellent. I know some people are calling Hosoda the next Miyazaki, but I don't see it. Hosoda does great movies, but they just don't reach the impressive bar set by Studio Ghibli in either art or story. Honestly, I think Anthem of the Heart (which I saw a couple weeks back, though not as part of the festival) came far closer than any of Hosoda's films. With all that said, I definitely recommend The Boy and the Beast. It's not at Miyazaki's level, but not much is. Enjoy it for what it is and you've got a fine movie.

November 27th - 29th (Friday - Sunday): Anime Matsuri Hawaii
Honolulu has been getting a lot of new cons this year. Kawaii Kon (back in the spring) has been around for awhile but this year featured the launch of two comic conventions and a second anime convention, which is where I spent much of the weekend. If the name sounds familiar, the Hawaii version is actually a spin-off of the main Anime Matsuri in Houston, Texas, which is one of the larger ones in the US. Because of that, they knew how organize a con and were able to bring in some notable guests, including one of the cofounders of Studio Trigger and the super skilled armor cosplayer Goldy. They also have a larger focus on Japanese fashion than others cons I've visited, which was reflected in the vendors' area. It could have used a few more panels and anime viewings, but overall it was a very nicely done con. The one thing it was a bit lacking in was attendance. Not sure if wasn't advertised enough, or if the decision to hold the con on Thanksgiving weekend cost them a lot of attendees, but it always felt a bit empty.
I got to see the US premiere of Little Witch Academia 2 (a bit milder than I expected from Trigger, but fun). And, despite not knowing either of the bands, I checked out the concert as well. The opening act was Brilliant Kingdom, the members of which double as fashion designers. A lot of their songs seemed to have stories behind them, though I wasn't able to make out enough of the Japanese to figure it out (songs are often harder to understand than regular speech), but they sounded pretty good. The main act was DaizyStripper, a visual kei group. Visual kei is a band style which involves pretty boys dressing in a very stylish (and often rather feminine) manner. It's not really my thing, but the music itself wasn't bad.
All in all, Anime Matsuri Hawaii was a good con. Not on the level of Kawaii Kon yet, but it was a very strong start and I can see it growing quite a bit in the future, though they may want to adjust the dates a little.

Restaurant Review: Ireh Restaurant
Type: Korean
Location: McCully Plaza
This is Ireh's second location, though I haven't visited the original, so I can't comment on how similar they are. Anyway, I pass by McCully pretty frequently and I hadn't had Korean food in a while so it was only a matter of time before I gave this new Ireh a try.
While the restaurant isn't especially large, it's extremely clean and nicely decorated with an assortment of little Korean knickknacks. The servers were quick, attentive, and very friendly, giving me a great first impression. Of course, what really matters is the food, and it didn't disappoint. Being a Korean restaurant, the meal naturally started with a few sides. I got good cabbage kimchi, a very spicy picked vegetable dish (well made, though not quite to my taste), and a mild cool noodle dish, which made for a nice contrast to the others. For my main course, I ordered the noodle soup with rice cakes and beef. And it was excellent. The race cakes has the perfect soft and chewy texture, the soup was flavorful, and nothing was over or under cooked. Really, I can't imagine how it could have been improved.
Prices are reasonable, with most dishes (sides included) costing in the mid-teens. All in all it was a very enjoyable meal. I'll definitely be going back and, if Ireh's other dishes are just as good, I may have found a new favorite Korean restaurant.

December 24th (Thursday): More Kayaking by Kailua
I first tried kayaking back in October with Connie, Noah, and Hannah. Well, my mom got a good deal on rentals so the two of us decided to go out by ourselves. Like my last kayaking trip, we started from the beach in Kailua (which is, by far, the most popular kayaking spot on the island). This time, I had a single kayak instead of the double I shared with Connie before. Surprisingly, the single one really wasn't much (if any) smaller than the double...
The weather was weird that day. The forecast wasn't bad but, while we were picking up the kayaks, it started to rain really hard. Luckily, it stopped by the time we left the rental shop. Though, for the rest of the day, the weather kept going back and forth between sun and rain.
Since I hadn't made it there last time, we decided to start by heading towards Mokulua Island. Of the two nearby islands that you can land on, it's the largest and the furthest from the shore. Paddling over there was fairly easy up until the last stretch, when the water started getting rather choppy. Fortunately, kayaks are more stable than they look, though it took a good bit of effort to get to shore. It didn't help that the wind and rain suddenly sprang up in the middle of it (though it did make my approach more dramatic). My mom, who came in a bit behind me, managed to hit a calmer patch. Yep, photos! I really missed having my camera with me last time, so I decided to risk bringing it on the kayak. I ended up putting it in two layers of carefully sealed Ziplock bags, which worked very well. I might have been in trouble if the kayak had flipped but, fortunately, that didn't happen.
Anyway, we weren't the only ones kayaking that day. Being Christmas Eve, there were quite a lot of people out on the water, and on the island. Mokulua Island is situated right near another small island, though you can't land on that one since it lacks a good beach. Both islands look pretty similar though, since they're pretty much just large hills. You're not allowed to climb the hill, to avoid disturbing nesting birds, but you can make your way around the coast. One direction from the beach leads to a rocky shoreline, while the other features a narrow foot path through the tall grass.
After exploring Mokulua Island for a little while, we set off once again. After the initial launch, getting back into the open ocean wasn't too hard. Since we still had a decent amount of time left on our rental, and it was on the way back anyway, we stopped at Flat Island as well. Like I mentioned last time, Flat Island really lives up to its name. As with Mokulua, you can walk along the perimeter, but you can't go too far inland to avoid disturbing the birds. I didn't actually see any birds, though there were a lot last time. What I did see were some surfers. Kailua isn't really much of a surfing beach (it's all about kite surfing), but apparently there are some decent waves out off the side of Flat Island. After circling the island, and spotting some neat little inlets, we headed back to the beach to begin the hardest part of the trip, loading the kayaks on top of my car.
It was a fun outing, and great upper body workout, though more constant weather would have been nice. But, then again, I did get a bit sunburned (I lost a lot of my tan over the past month and a half thanks to a busy schedule and a lot of rainy days), so having some clouds was probably a good thing.
Later in the day, I ended up in Honolulu with my parents. My mom and I went out to eat (see the review below) and then we all walked around Waikiki for a bit. We stopped to check out the gingerbread display at the Sheraton but, unfortunately, the main chef who used to make them isn't at the hotel anymore, so the display was a lot smaller this year. Though the other Sheraton (there are a couple on Waikiki) had a large sand sculpture. After that though, it was time to head back home.

December 31st (Thursday): New Year's Eve

I didn't do anything too elaborate for New Year's. Thought about going to a party, but didn't really feel like it on my own. Instead, I went out for a slightly early birthday dinner with my parents (review to follow) and then stayed up with my mom to watch the fireworks on Waikiki. It was a pretty nice show. They had a lot of interestingly shaped fireworks, including a parasol and a peach, and some that just had a whole lot of different colors. And, of course, there were plenty of normal fireworks as well. It was a pleasant, if somewhat low key, way to bring in the New Year.

Restaurant Review: Asuka Nabe
Type: Shabu Shabu (Japanese Hot Pot)
Location: Waialae Ave.
There are a lot of shabu shabu places in Honolulu, so it's takes something special for them to stand out. Asuka is one of the standouts. The decor isn't anything special, but you're probably not going to go up to Waialae for fancy decor, what matters is the food.
While Asuka has a few sides and other dishes on the menu, the main focus is shabu shabu. They have all the usual meats, vegetables, and other ingredients, which you can order in sets or ala cart. Nothing too unique there, but the quality is good and the prices aren't bad. What really sets Asuka apart though is the broths. They have an extensive selection, a number of which are very different and unique (though most are only available on the dinner menu). On my visit, we tried the Rainbow Mushroom and Herb broth (a vegan option with a bit of an Italian flavor) and the Hiroshima Lemon broth. Both were excellent, and I especially liked the Hiroshima Lemon. Personally, I never would have thought of using a lemon honey broth for shabu shabu, but it works surprisingly well. I also have to mention the dipping sauces, all of which were fantastic.
The servers were friendly at attentive as well, making for an all around enjoyable experience. I don't know if I'd call Asuka my favorite shabu shabu restaurant, but it's definitely high on the list and I'm already looking forward to my next visit.

January 24th (Sunday): Chicago in Concert
As you probably know if you follow my travelogues, I like a lot of 60's and 70's rock and have managed to see quite a number of groups in concert over the past few years. Well, Chicago had added a Honolulu show to their latest tour, so my parents and I got tickets. Unfortunately, video recording wasn't allowed so I'll just have to write about it.
Chicago is a bit of an interesting group in that none of the members are especially famous as individuals, it's more the group as a whole. Even the vocals are split between multiple people. They also put a heavier emphasis on the music than a lot of bands (especially modern ones) do with lots of complex musical interludes and some of the members can play an impressively large range of instruments (including a lot of brass).
Four of the nine members have been with the band since the beginning and both they and the newer members do a great job. They saved the majority of their more famous songs (or at least the pre-80's ones) for the second half, but some of the newer music was pretty good too. While none of Chicago's songs quite hit the level of my absolute favorites, they're all pretty solid and fun to listen to. Definitely worth seeing in concert if you get the chance.

Restaurant Review: Agu
Type: Ramen
Location: Ward Center, Kapolei, and other locations
Since I can't eat pork, I rarely get ramen out. It's just too hard to find non-pork broths. Fortunately, Agu has me covered with both vegetarian and jidori chicken broths. Personally, I find the vegetarian broth little strong, but still good over all. And the jidori is excellent. Add in some great noodles and toppings and you have a bowl of ramen that's worth the price. Even if said price (low to high teens) is a bit on the high side for ramen. There's a few sides and non noodle dishes as well, though the ramen is big enough to make for a complete meal if you're not super hungry.
The restaurant itself is kind of small, but classy and modern. It can fill up quickly at peak times, so be ready to wait a bit if you don't get there early.
Though it's a little expensive, Agu has great ramen and the different types of broth assure that there's something for every diet. I'll certainly be popping in from time to time.

February 7th (Sunday): The Windward Side
Some family friends were in town over the weekend so Connie and I met up with them and my parents. We started out with the Makapu'u Lighthouse trail, which I've previously written about. They did, however, recently clean up and repave the entire thing, making it a really smooth and easy hike that's appropriate for just about anyone. The lookout at the very top isn't quite finished yet, but there's still plenty of good views. We were even able to spot some whales in the distance. I got lucky and managed to snap a photo of one as it came out of the water. The zoom was a bit far out, but considering how hard the things are to photograph, especially from the shore, I'm pretty happy with it.
After a snack in Waimanalo (a small nearby town known for its produce), we made a stop at Bellows Beach. I hadn't been there before but it's really long and has some great sand (albeit with a lot of driftwood). The down side is that it borders an airforce base and they only open it to the public on weekends.
If you're wondering, yeah we did watch the Super Bowl after that (well, half watched thanks to DVR fast forwarding). It was a fun day and a nice break from all the other things I have going on right now.
Finally, while it's not really related, here's a video clip from last week's lion pole dance at Ala Moana Mall, in celebration of Chinese New Year. Like last year, it was pretty impressive.

March 13th (Sunday): The Honolulu Festival
The Honolulu Festival is an annual event celebrating...not Honolulu so much as all the different cultures that converge here. Though it's primarily dominated by Japan, to the point where it's almost a Japanese festival. Like last year, there was a lot of booths and performances in the convention center. About half the booths were a mix of Japanese culture and tourism, though there were also a lot of local crafts and a kids' area. There were snacks too, of course. Connie and I tried the odd, but fairly good, combination of french fries and okonomiyaki sauce. We didn't get to see too many of the performances this year, but there was a mix of traditional Japanese, not so traditional sorta Japanese, and hula. We also watched a short anime movie called Garden of Words. Beautiful animation, though the story was a little weird.
After the events at the center finished up, there was a parade down by Waikiki which featured quite a lot of the various performing groups that had come for the festival. In addition to all the Japanese groups, there was some Chinese and Taiwanese, Philippine, Korean, Mexican, and even Italian. And, like last year, there was a big inflatable dragon to help wrap things up.
And, finally, it all ended with a fireworks show put on by the Japanese city of Nagaoka. It was a pretty good one, with quite a large variety of fireworks and made for a great way to end the day.
So, now that I've attended the festival for two years, I can confirm that it's one of the bigger and better ones here on the island. Maybe not for food (the selection at the convention center was rather limited), but between the booths, shows, parade, and fireworks there's something for everyone and it makes for a a fun day. I wouldn't travel all the way to Oahu just for it, but if your trip happens to be at the same time, it's a nice bonus.

April 2nd (Saturday): Neil Sedaka in Concert
If you follow my travelogues, you probably know that I'm a fan of oldies music (60's and early 70's mostly) and tend to catch various singers and groups from that era in concert when I can. Well, the latest was Neil Sedaka, famous for songs like Calendar Girl, Breaking Up is Hard to Do, and Laughter in the Rain. Though, aside from his singing, he's also a prolific song writer and has written a number of popular songs for other singer and bands as well.
Yvonne Elliman opened and, while she did a pretty good job, I only knew one of her songs (If I Can't Have You). She also joined Sedaka for a duet later on. For most of the concert though it was just Sedaka and his piano. He's a great piano player and still a pretty good singer too. One thing that sticks out about Sedaka is how bright and cheerful most of his music is. It's a pretty big difference compared to most modern music (at least in the US), and honestly kind of a nice change. All in all, it was a fun concert. Even Connie, who wasn't very familiar with Sedaka's music, enjoyed it so, if he's coming to your town, you may want to check it out.

April 8 - 10 (Friday - Sunday): Kawaii Kon
Kawaii Kon is the main anime convention in Hawaii. It was my second year attending, but Connie's first. Actually, it was her first time at any anime convention and she enjoyed it. Since I wrote about Kawaii Kon last year, I'll focus more on the highlights. The main thing to know is that it's a medium size con that, thanks to the location, tends to attract a pretty impressive guest list. This year was no exception, though a couple of the guests I wanted to see only had sessions at times I couldn't go. Aside from introducing Connie to the con scene, the main highlight for me this year was Garnidelia, a J-Pop group known for doing one of the Kill la Kill openings, among other things. They had a concert and I was also able to get an autograph. They didn't allow video, but Joe Inoue (known for a Naruto theme) did. All in all, it was a pretty great con. Well organized, lots of vendors, good guest lineup, and always plenty of things to do. I'm already looking forward to next year (assuming I'm around).

Restaurant Review: Osaka Teppanyaki Kawano
Type: Japanese
Location: McCully Plaza
I pass by McCully pretty often, and I eat a lot of Japanese food, so it was only a matter of time before I stopped at Kawano. It's a fairly small bar and restaurant, with only a handful of tables. I've never seen it overly busy, but that might just be my timing. While the restaurant is neat and clean, it's not heavy on the atmosphere.
But anyway, the menu consists primarily of teppanyaki style grilled plates and fried items, such as tempura, yakisoba, okonomiyaki, and a handful of other entrees, along with some appetizers. While the selection may not be huge, most people should be able to find something they're happy with. And the prices are surprisingly good, especially for the area, with most entrees costing only $7 - $10 (though rice and other sides may add to that). I'm also happy to say that the price isn't the only thing Kawano has going for it. The teppanyaki, tempura, and okonomiyaki are all great and even the salmon ikura bowl is surprisingly good, loaded with slices of raw salmon in addition to the ikura. My personal favorites so far are the shabu shabu teppanyaki and the modanyaki (an okonomiyaki variation which includes noodles). The fact that they offer beef okonomiyaki, which can be tough to find sometimes, is also a big plus for me.
Connie and I liked Kawano enough on our first visit that we actually went back and ate there again the next day. The combination of good food, low prices, and a convenient location is hard to beat and I'm sure I'll be back again soon.

April 25th (Monday): Waimano Valley Hike

Connie and I were looking for a short hike and decided to try the Waimano Valley loop. It's a fairly short and easy two miles. The first part of the trail went down though a fairly uninteresting stretch of forest but after getting to the bottom of the valley it started following a stream, which improved the scenery quite a bit. The forest became a bit more picturesque as well. Before too long though, it was time to begin the ascent back up and out of the valley. A large section of the ascending trail goes along a ditch, which is more interesting than it sounds since there are occasional tunnels which you can walk through if you want to (or, if you want to be boring, you can just stay on the trail and bypass them). Near the end, there were even a couple of view points, which was a pleasant surprise.
As I said at the start, it's a pretty short hike that can be easily finished in under an hour if you move quickly, and not especially strenuous. There's nothing amazing about it, but there's a nice variety of scenery (forest, river, tunnels, and a view) to keep it enjoyable. So, while there are better hikes on the island, Waimano Valley is a good choice if you want something quick and easy.

May 1st (Sunday): The Honolulu Museum of Art
I've been meaning to go to this place for ages but never got around to it. Anyway, they happened to have a touring exhibit that Connie was interested in so we finally decided to visit. The museum is a nice complex, comprising a number of gallerias and courtyards. A pretty significant chuck of it is dedicated to Asian art, especially Chinese and Japanese. Nothing I haven't seen before (not with all the museums I've been too in Japan and, to a lesser extent, China), but a fairly nice collection. They also had art from countries that I haven't visited, including Korea and India, which was interesting to see.
After finishing the Asian half of the museum, we made a very brief tour of the contemporary art area, the majority of which didn't do anything to change my unfavorable opinion of modern art, though there was some nice glasswork outside. Then it was on to the special exhibit halls. There was one of Chinese art from the six dynasties period, which is what Connie had wanted to see, and there was also a selection from Utagawa Hiroshige's One Hundred Famous Views of Edo (Tokyo), a famous collection of Japanese woodblock art, which I really enjoyed.
Next up, the Arts of Hawaii...which was a bit disappointing since it was mostly modern art by Hawaiian artists. The final wing of the museum had some more modern art (meh), a few nice European masterpieces, and a section containing a bit of a hodgepodge of every other part of the world, which had a couple of nice American paintings but otherwise didn't interest me much.
Over all, while I've been to better art museums, the Honolulu Museum of Art is nice, especially in regards to its overall design and its Asian collection. Depending on how much you like the various types of art, you can probably spend 1 - 2 hours browsing the permanent collections and a bit more on whatever the current special exhibits are. It's not a must see in Honolulu, but it's not a bad choice either.

June 10th - 12th (Friday - Sunday): The Pan-Pacific Festival
I'm sad to say that this may very well be one of the last entries in my Hawaii travelogue. At least for quite some time, though probably (and hopefully) not forever. But more on that another time, when things are more certain. For now, let's focus on the festival...
The Pan-Pacific festival is a big annual event, and the first festival I ever went to here in Hawaii, back during my big summer vacation here in 2012. I wasn't in Hawaii at the right time in 2013 or 2014, but did get to attend the festival again last year, making this year my third time. To give a quick summary (since I've already written about it twice before), the Pan-Pacific Festival is a three day event featuring a large number of performing groups spread across several stages around the Waikiki and Ala Moana areas of Honolulu. The performers are mostly from Japan, but there's usually a few groups from other parts of Asia as well. In addition to all the performances, there's also a block party (booths and lots of performing stages) on Friday night and a parade Sunday evening. On top of all that, there's the King Kamehameha festival and parade Saturday morning. It's a big, fun event with lots to do and see. This year they even added a street dancing event and a small cultural showcase in one of the hotels.
Anyway, due to a combination of a busy schedule and Connie not feeling well, I didn't get to spend as much time at the festival as I have in the past. In the end, I didn't make it to anything on Friday, and missed the Saturday morning parade. But I did get to watch some performances Saturday afternoon and take in a lot of the Sunday performances and the final parade. Here are a few highlights...
First off, I can't go without mentioning Pan Village All-Stars (a steel pan music group) and Youth Theater Japan (a music and dancing school). They're regulars at the festival and always a lot of fun to watch. There were also break dancers, lion dancers, lots and lots of hula dancers (as usual), and Elfin, a newly formed J-Pop idol group. Then there was this. Yeah... Not really sure what to make of that, other than that it was put on by the local Taiwanese association.
The parade contained quite a lot of the performing groups singing, dancing, and the like down the street. Though there were also some mikoshi, odd sponsored groups, and, for some reason, a giant tengu mask.
So, despite not getting to see everything I wanted to, I still enjoyed the festival quite a bit. It's a fun time to be in Honolulu, whether you're a local or a tourist.

June 29th (Wednesday): Shirokiya Japan Village Walk
If you've been to Honolulu, or been reading my travelogues, you probably know that Shirokiya is a Japanese department and food store in Ala Moana mall. At least, it was. A couple months back Shirokiya closed its longtime location in order to focus on a new and somewhat different location in the mall's new Ewa wing (it's on the ground floor, across from the soon to be opening Foodland). Personally, I wish they kept the old Shirokiya as well, but anyway, I've been looking forward to the new Shirokiya Japan Village Walk ever since I first heard the announcement last year. It opened last weekend, and Connie and I made sure to thoroughly explore it as soon as we got the chance.
The new Shirokiya takes the old one's Japanese food court and significantly expands on it. The interior is done up sort of like old Japanese streets with wooden ceiling beams, lanterns, and hanging flowers. The halls with seating are fairly spacious, while the ones without can be a little claustrophobic (which, honestly, makes it more authentic from a Japanese perspective). Every single wall is lined with food stalls (40+). Most are some type of Japanese food, though I did spot one Korean, one Thai, one bubble tea and smoothie, and one pizza place. There's a massive amount of variety, with relatively little overlap, covering a wide spectrum of Japanese cuisine. The price and style also runs a huge range, with everything from cheap premade bento boxes to fairly high end (and similarly priced) entrees. There's some representatives of the stranger side of Japanese cuisine as well... It was a lot of fun to explore and I had a really difficult time deciding what to eat before finally settling on wagyu beef curry (from one of the fancier places) along with some yakitori and dango. I think I could probably eat there every day for a month without getting bored. Unfortunately, I probably won't have too many more opportunities to visit in the near future, but that's a different subject...
In addition to all the food, one wall is dedicated to some Japanese crafts (mostly rather expensive pottery and glass work). There's also a stage and a display of guardian deities, complete with shrine maidens selling charms. And, of course, with a Japanese village theme, it has to have a Buddha statue.
Despite the extreme crowds (which will hopefully thin slightly after opening week), I absolutely love the new Shirokiya. There's so much awesome food in one place, including many things you rarely see outside of Japan, and the atmosphere is a lot of fun. It really felt like being in one of the themed mall and dining areas I've visited in Japan (though with more English). I do miss the assortment of Japanese knickknacks and seasonal items that they used to have in the old Shirokiya, and the convenience of having Book Off right in Ala Moana (though there's now one in both Don Quixote and Ward, neither of which is that far away), but the new Shirokiya is awesome and absolute can't miss destination in Honolulu.

July 4th (Monday): Independence Day
In case there is any confusion, I'm referring to the holiday also known as The 4th of July, not the movie. There's a few big celebrations for the 4th on various parts of Oahu, and the biggest fireworks show is over the ocean by Ala Moana beach in Honolulu. Connie and I went in a bit early and spent the better part of the afternoon walking around by Waikiki. Being a holiday, it was naturally crowded, but what surprised me was how many boats were in the water. I've never seen half that many at once. Anyway, we spent most of the time in the Royal Hawaiian mall, and eventually ate in the food court there. It's expanded a little since my last visit, adding a couple of Japanese sweet shops to the mix. It doesn't beat the food court (regular or Shirokiya) in Ala Moana, but if you're looking for variety and low prices around Waikiki, it's probably your best bet.
After dinner, we headed out to the beach to watch the sunset, something I always enjoy but haven't had the chance to do for quite some time. This might actually be my last chance for quite a while, so I'm glad we got to see it. Once the sun was down, it was just a matter of finding a comfortable spot on the beach and waiting for the fireworks. On that note, for convenience, we opted to watch the show from Waikiki Beach rather than Ala Moana, but they're close enough that you still get a good view. It was a really nice fireworks show. Long, and with a lot of diversity, including one type of firework I've never seen before. A bit less crowded than the one at New Year's too. Due to all my summer traveling over the last few years, I've often been out of the country over the 4th, so it was nice to be here for the holiday and join in the celebrations for a change.

July: Getting Ready to Leave Hawaii
After about two years living in Hawaii, and a bit less than that in my house, it's almost time to move back to the mainland. While the weekend of July 10th was when everything started to kick into high gear, this is something that's been coming for quite a while. I can't go into all the details. Well, I suppose I could. Honestly, I rather want to. But, in the interest of being professional, I'll leave some things unsaid. Long story short, I moved here a couple years ago to start a game design program at University of Hawaii - West Oahu. And it got off to a good start. Enrollment was good, students loved my classes, and I was getting along well with my co-workers (who also gave some good feedback on my work). So what happened? The way the system is at UH, after two years you come up for your first contract renewal. According to everyone I talked to, and all university precedent, the first contract renewal is pretty much a sure thing, assuming you've been doing your job. It's mostly just for checking in and giving you advice on what you should focus on in your next two years. Last fall, the program was going well, my job performance was good, and I got a positive recommendation from my contract renewal committee and department head, so I wasn't really worried.
Then came mid-January when I got the official notice and everything started to fall apart. Since I got hired, the university had a lot of changes in upper management and one of those newer higher-ups decided to go against all precedent and make a unilateral decision to ignore the committee recommendation and refuse my contract renewal. Why? I'm still not entirely sure. I was given an official reason, but it was very clearly bogus. The administrator in question even said the reason was invalid when questioned by various faculty groups, but never offered any alternative. I wasn't the only professor targeted either. At first, I was sure it was a misunderstanding and that I could explain things and work it out. But, as the situation persisted and others began to side with me and get involved (to no affect, unfortunately), it became clear that this person would not change their decision and it was either due to some secret personal agenda or back room politics.
While there were some recourses I could take to try to get the decision overturned, they take a lot of time and, despite how dubious the entire thing was, there was no guarantee that things would play out my way since the decision was technically, more or less, that person's to make. Actually, at this point, that process is still underway. But, I couldn't really afford to just wait around for months when there's no guarantee I'll get my job back so I began a job search and ended up finding a new position (more on that another time). Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find anything in Hawaii (at present, game development on the islands is almost nonexistent), which means moving back to the mainland US.
Am a happy about this? No, not really. The new job and location have their good points, so I'll make the best of it. And hey, in the long run, I may even like it better there. But I enjoyed both living here in Hawaii and my job at UHWO, and I had planned to stay for at least a couple more years, possibly quite a lot longer. Not to mention that the entire situation really gets me. If I had been denied renewal for a legitimate reason that would have been one thing, but all the deceit and double talk... Sigh... Anyway, I did all I could, and I'm going to see my appeal here to the end on principle if nothing else, even though I've already decided to move on.

July 5th (Tuesday): My House
Before I start writing about the whole moving process, I want to jump back a few days, get a bit self indulgent, and talk a little bit about my house one last time. It's the first house I ever owned and I really loved it and put a lot of work into improving it, picking out the right furniture, and making it what I always wanted (well, within reason; my real dream house would be a custom built mansion). So here's one last look at it from before Connie and I started packing everything.
While there isn't too much of a front yard, it had a patch of birds of paradise, which are one of my favorite flowers. The guest room was right inside. Connie and I had both hoped to have a bunch of our friends visit, but that unfortunately never really happened. Just wasn't enough time, I guess. Moving on, we have the kitchen. I really liked the kitchen. I love to cook, when I have time, and having all the drawers, cabinets, and counter space was awesome. The dining room and living room were nice too. All the windows were great, though it left less room on the wall for pictures. At least I get to keep the furniture. Anyway, moving on, here's the master bedroom. Had a large attached bathroom and closest too. Once Connie and I got married, I'd intended to get a dresser to complete things, but had to put it on hold since we would likely be moving. Upstairs had a large room which I set up as an office, complete with all my figurines. Had I known that I wouldn't even have the house for two years, I probably wouldn't have spent so much time arranging them all... I had intended to eventually turn the other half of the room into a lounge of sort, moving up the TV from downstairs (after getting a bigger one for the living room), hooking up my older game consoles, and putting in some recliners or beanbags or something, but I never really had the chance... Then there's the third bedroom, which I turned in a library (a room I always wanted). There was a decent bit of empty space in there too, which I had been thinking of turning into a sitting area, extra bedroom, or maybe a LEGO area. And, finally, we have the back yard. The plumeria tree was there from the beginning, but I added the dwarf coconut and the papaya and lilikoi in this photo. Then there's my Buddha's hand, the first thing I planted in the back yard not too long after I moved in. It was only a couple of feet tall at the start, but it really took off. Got a few flowers too, though unfortunately I all my trees were too young to get any fruit yet.
And that's the house, or at least the highlights. There are a lot of things I'll miss about my life here and the house is a really big one...

Random Hawaii Comment: Moving Away from Hawaii
Moving from Hawaii to the mainland US is a lot like moving from the mainland to Hawaii. In a nutshell, it's expensive and a lot of extra work since Hawaii is a chain of islands in the middle of the ocean. You can't just load up a car or moving van and drive to your new home, you've got to have everything shipped by boat (well, air freight might be an option if you're rich) to California, and then transported by land from there to wherever you're moving. That includes your personal possessions (unless you can fit them all in a couple suitcases to take on the plane), furniture (if you have nice furniture, it's still more cost effective to ship it than to buy new stuff), and your car (if you have one). On the bright side, shipping things from Hawaii seems to be a bit cheaper than shipping them to Hawaii for some reason. Unless it's just the difference in gas prices since my last move. Also, since living in Hawaii means you're guaranteed to be living near a port, you can actually arrange a specific date for the movers to come get your stuff (rather than the vague "sometime within a week or so" range I was giving in Florida) and you can drop off your car whenever you want (though keep in mind that the port in Oahu is a couple miles away from the nearest bus station, so have a friend or a taxi or something ready). You still do need to pack your stuff well (unless you want the movers to do it) and make an estimate about the cubic footage, which is what you're billed on. I measured everything very carefully this time around, but the movers still said I was way under (a claim I'm a bit dubious about) and charged me extra for it. Still, if you over estimate, you have to pay for the estimated amount, not the actual one, so you pretty much lose either way. As for the car, it needs to be washed, empty, and very low on gas.
Finding a house or apartment can be a pain since, unless you have friends or family there who can help, you need to either make arrangements sight unseen, or take a trip out there just to do apartment / house hunting, which can be kind of expensive. And, when you do have a place to live, keep in mind that it can take 1 - 2 months for your stuff to get shipped there so, whether you're staying in Hawaii until the last minute or moving early, you'll be stuck without your car, furniture, and everything else for while.
This time around, I also had to list my house (and all the things that entails). And then there's all the usual moving stuff like changing your address a zillion a times. So yeah, moving in general is a lot of work and expense, but when you throw Hawaii into the mix it increases both of those, especially the expense.

July 17th (Sunday): The Ukulele Festival
The Ukulele Festival is an annual event held at Kapiolani Park at the end of Waikiki. There's a handful of booths with food and ukuleles for sale, but it's mainly a day to listen to a variety of ukulele performances. I went last year for a while with my parents and this year I went down for a couple of hours on my own. I mostly went to see Willie K, one of the more famous ukulele players. He played a mix of Hawaiian music, classic rock, and some other stuff. While he's not as creative and as high energy as Jake Shimabukuro (who wasn't there this year), he's still really skilled. Despite a little rain, it was fun to watch and listen for a while, though I doubt I could last all day without getting bored.
On an unrelated note, there was a big rainbow later in the day, which actually continued over the canal rather than stopping at the ground. First time I'd seen that, and pretty cool.

July 19th (Tuesday): The Full Moon at Makapu'u Lighthouse
I've done the Makapu'u Lighthouse hike multiple times, and written about it as well. Anyway, it's also popular as a night hike, especially when there's a full moon. Though, as a note, they close the parking lot around 7:30 so you'll want to park on the side of the road instead. I've tried to do the full moon hike a couple of times in the past but I seem to have a knack for picking the full moons when its too cloudy to see anything, so I gave up both times. Well, since I'm moving soon, I decided to give it one more go. Unfortunately, my luck hadn't improved all that much.
Anyway, I arrived around dusk and started up the trail. There were a decent amount of people, and I think about half were Pokémon Go players. Surprisingly enough, there were a few pokéstops and a couple of gyms on the trail. Aside from pokémon, I also spotted a mongoose and feral cat on the way up. It was dark by the time I reached the top. Unfortunately, due to a mix of clouds and haze, I couldn't see the moon at all. Though I did get to see the lighthouse all lit up. The moon did eventually peak out, though not for very long, and all the haze made it look rather like a blood moon. Kind of neat, but not really the full moon hike I wanted. Ah well, maybe I'll try again next time I'm in Hawaii, whenever that is.

July 27th (Wednesday): Thoughts on Living in Hawaii

Random Hawaii Comment: State Government
I don't normally talk about governments, state or otherwise. And, as is abundantly clear, every government has its share of problems. But one thing I've noticed living in Hawaii, compared to every other state I've lived in, is just how dysfunctional the local government is here. Despite the fact that every tax except sales tax is through the roof, the government here just can't seem to get things done. Every big project, even the ones that are supposed to be high priority and fast tracked, gets bogged down, running way over budget and years behind schedule. Just look at the light rail, or the recent initiative to add air conditioning to more school classrooms. There's a lot of reasons behind things like that. Horribly inaccurate cost estimates, attempts to cram a bunch of extra stuff into projects, too many unions and special interest groups, way too much time and money spent on studies instead of actually doing anything, etc., etc. Not all can be blamed on the government itself, but quite a lot can. Heck, even when they have more than enough money, they still can't seem to get things done. The state government actually got in trouble with the federal government not long ago for failing to spend a large portion of the money they'd been given for road work, despite a massive amount of roads needing repair. And even privately funded projects tend to hit a ridiculous amount of red tape, drastically slowing them down or throwing them into limbo. Then there's all the corruption scandals from many different departments (mayoral, finance, education, health care, police, even ethics and oversight). Then there's the ridiculous stuff like how one certain government department was eating up a notable chunk of the entire state's internet bandwidth since everyone was streaming stuff on Netflix every day instead of actually doing their jobs.
Something else that really doesn't help is that there's a notable chunk of the populace, both government and regular citizens, who are extremely resistant to change. Anything new or different, regardless of how much better it might be, is met with a massive amount of scepticism, if not outright hostility. And if that thing comes from the mainland US, it's even worse. There's a strong Hawaiian sense of identity here, at least among some, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but often gets channeled into an anti-anything not Hawaiian sentiment. And, once again, a very strong resistance to change, not matter how beneficial it may be.
So, while there are a lot of great things about living in Hawaii, the highly dysfunctional state government certainly isn't one of them. Hopefully it'll improve over time as different people get elected and laws get changed but, for now, it's got a lot of issues that probably won't be cleared up any time soon.

Random Hawaii Comment: Living in Hawaii
So, after two years, what do I think of living in Hawaii? Well, first off, the good points. You've got what's probably the most consistent nice weather year around, there's great beaches, and great hiking. If you like the outdoors, and aren't a big winter sports lover, this is really one of the best places to be. There's also a vibrant mix of cultures, great shopping and dining, and one of the strongest Asian influences you can find outside of Asia itself (at least on Oahu, the other islands don't really match up in those regards). And, in general anyway, people are friendly and helpful.
On the down side, taxes, and the cost of living in general (especially housing and utilities) is extremely high. Job opportunities are limited unless you're in a few specific fields, which is a bad combination with the high cost of living. The local government is a mess, there's a strong resistance to any sort of change (even very positive ones), and there are some people (not a majority by any means, but some) who harbor a strong bias against those who weren't born and raised in Hawaii. Not to mention the big homeless problem, the horrible traffic, and few other issues. Finally, leaving the islands is both time consuming and expensive.
So, with all that said, I really loved living in Hawaii. Maybe I would have gotten a bit stir crazy after a few years on a relatively small island but, then again, with so much to see and do, maybe not. I certainly wasn't fond of the high cost of living, but I loved all the outdoor stuff, he events and festivals, and the variety of shops and restaurants (especially the Japanese ones). However, if any of you are thinking of living in Hawaii, make sure you know what you're getting into. Don't even think of moving here unless you have a job lined up (it's way too expensive and work in some fields is too hard to find) and make sure you know what you're going to be getting into. Look into the cost of living, especially in regards to housing (preferably near where you're going to work, unless you want to deal with the extreme rush hour traffic, and make sure that you'll be able to support your lifestyle off of whatever salary you'll be getting. You may also want to spend some time on whichever island you're thinking of moving to before hand. Ideally a few weeks, but even a few days is better than nothing. Get a feel for the island and the culture so you know whether or not it's a place you'd be comfortable living. And, finally, don't forget about the moving expenses, which can be pretty high.
There's a lot of great things about living in Hawaii, but there are drawbacks as well, some of which are pretty significant, so it's not a good fit for everyone. But, if you like the lifestyle, can manage to find a decent (and hopefully stable) job, and have a bit of money set aside in case things go wrong, go ahead and give it a shot.

August 1st (Monday): Goodbye Hawaii
It's been just a little over two years since I moved to Hawaii and now it's time to leave. I've lived in a lot of different places, especially over the past 10 years or so. Sometimes, when it's comes time to leave, I've been perfectly ready (or even eager) to move on. Others, I just find myself wishing that I'd had more time. And this is definitely one of the latter. Despite the high cost of living and some issues with the local government and the like (see some of my previous travelogue entries), I've really enjoyed living here. I'm going to miss being so close to both the mountains and the beach. I'm going to miss all the shopping and restaurants (especially all the really authentic Asian ones). I'm going to miss the excellent weather. And I'm going to miss the steady stream of festivals and other special events. On a more personal note, I'm also going to miss living close to my parents. While they only spent about half the year in Hawaii, they don't spend any time living near the eastern US. The list could go on and on, but that's a few things anyway.
And, while I'm glad I was here to see the new Shirokiya, I'm a bit disappointed that I won't be around for the opening of the new shopping malls (including one that's right where I lived), another Japanese themed food court, and the light rail. Then again, I could probably stay here another five years and still not be around for the opening of the light rail the way they're going...
Then there's my job. Which, aside from the issues with a certain dubious senior administrator and my contract renewal, I really enjoyed. Honestly, it's my favorite job so far, with the possible exception of my first teaching job in Japan.
On the plus side, I think I really made the most of my time here. Well, I didn't get to do a ton of things this year with all that was going on, but I really have seen and done a lot. Though, even with all that, there are a few things on my list I never got around to. For example, I never made it to the mission house, planation village, or Sealife Park. Not to mention a bunch of hikes and restaurants. I'd also wanted to make some short trips to all the other islands, but in the end I only managed to do the Big Island with my family. I really wanted to go to Maui too... Well, I'll probably get my chance eventually, at least for some of those things. On a related note, I'd also always planned to get a board and get more into surfing. Guess it's a good thing I didn't...
Anyway, I did get to do most of the things on my list. And, if the current offer on my home goes through, I should more or less break even on living here. So, despite all the extra work and stress of two long distance moves (especially one that I was more or less forced into), I'm glad I moved here, even if it wasn't for nearly as long as I hoped. Living here has been amazing and, while I don't know if I'll ever be able to do it again, if nothing else, I'll certainly be coming back from time to time. Goodbye, Hawaii. It's been great and I'm sorry I couldn't stay longer.

Hawaii Travelogue 6

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