Monthly Archives: January 2016

Humuhumunukunukuapuaa

A couple of friends have remarked to me about the intimidating appearance of a lot of Hawaiian words, so I thought I’d add a postscript about the language. Two words: don’t panic.

Hawaiian is actually very easy to pronounce if you know a couple of the most important rules. So here they are:

  • The alphabet comprises only the five vowels (no Y) and these seven consonants: H, K, L, M, N, P, W
  • There are no consonant blends at all (e.g. kl), i.e. there is always a vowel in between two. That alone makes pronunciation easy: you just break things down syllable by syllable. So you start pronouncing the title of this blog post — which is the name of the state fish of Hawaii — like this: hu-mu-hu-mu-nu-ku… etc.
  • Every letter is spoken, except for a couple of important diphthongs (vowel blends):
    • au (rhymes with “pow”)
    • ai (sounds like “eye”)
    • ei (rhymes with “pay”)
  • The vowels are very consistent in their pronunciation:
    • a is soft, as in “father”
    • e is like the French é, about halfway between “ay” and “eh”
    • i sounds like “ee”
    • o is always hard, as in “mote”
    • u sounds like “oo”

…and that’s mostly it. Other than the three dipthongs, if you see multiple vowels together you just follow the “pronounce every letter” rule and say them all in a row, one at a time. So for example, if you see oo, you would say “oh-oh”. Resist the temptation to pronounce the words in English; it can lead you astray. For example, there is a street near here called “Likelike” and if you’re a native English speaker you want to say the word “like” twice. But that’s not it: follow the rules above and you’ll come out with lee-kay-lee-kay, which is correct. The island of Niihau is pronounced nee-ee-how. Et cetera.

reef-triggerfish_620It’s a little more complicated than that, because there are glottal stops — pauses that are indicated with an apostrophe between letters — and there actually a few more vowel rules. But if you go by the set I laid out here, you’ll be spot-on 98% of the time. In fact, I once got a discount at a teeshirt store for correctly  pronouncing the fish name at the top of this post. Which fish, by the way, is a cute little thing about 9″ that looks like this.

 

 

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Categories: Hawaii | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Who Are All These People, and What Are They Eating?

People who are not actually familiar with Hawaii — and this includes the large fraction of tourists who are focused entirely on their mai-tais — can easily overlook its complex and yeasty ethnic makeup. Hawaii’s demographics don’t look anything like the rest of the US; in fact, they don’t look much like anything anywhere. More than 20% of Hawaiians identify as mixed-race; taking that into account — because it makes the numbers add up to more than 100% — the breakdown of the largest groups is:

  • 58% Asian
  • 39% White
  • 23% Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander
  • 7% Hispanic
  • 3% Black

That’s quite the mix (and I should add that the absence of blacks is quite noticeable as one walks down the street here in Honolulu).  Precisely because it is such a melange, the faces of the locals make for quite the panoply.

Honolulu-004 Honolulu-023 Honolulu-018 Honolulu-009

(I’m not sure why that first guy reminds me of Leonardo DiCaprio, but somehow he does.)

OK, what does this mean for us in practice on our visit? It means that there’s all sorts of cool food, that’s what. (What, did you think this was going to be some kind of anthropological treatise?) We are here visiting our old friends Laura and Brian, and they wisely realized that yesterday, our first day here, was a happy confluence of two food-related events: a farmer’s market at local Kapiolani Community College, and — insert drum roll and Asian gong sound here — a Chinese New Year parade.

(Laura and Brian themselves are pretty good exemplars of Hawaii’s ethnic potpourri. She’s a Jewish girl from Massachusetts; he’s ethnic Japanese from the Hawaiian island of Kauai. They have a daughter in her 20’s, whose consequently stirred-up gene pool makes her beautiful in proper Darwinian fashion.)

So, food. For breakfast we worked our way through the farmer’s market, chowing down on everything in sight like a small group of well-behaved army ants, or perhaps a genteel Sherman’s March to the Sea, navigating through a mass of both locals and Japanese tourists, the later all in sun hats and moving in amoebic little groups as though chained at the ankles. As we ambled with feigned patience from stall to stall, our diet included the following, all locally made and in no particular order:

  • Assorted local fruit juice blends, e.g. passion-fruit/ginger and strawberry/blackberry
  • Grilled local gigantic shrimps on skewers. (You eat the whole thing, shell and all.)
  • Seared ahi tuna sliders with mushroom tempura sticks
  • Kimchee sausage on a stick
  • Assorted homemade popsicles including honeydew with ginger and dark chocolate with Chinese spices
  • Ice cream bananas, which is a type of creamy banana, not a type of ice cream
  • Kahlua pig
  • Dark chocolate plus Kona coffee-covered macadamia nuts
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Brian bites the big one.

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Alice, still hungry.

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One could persuasively argue that poi = taro hummus.

And this was breakfast, mind you.

Having eaten our fill — a sentiment that would immediately prove both naive and ironic — we headed home for some down time, inexplicably becoming peckish along the way and so stopping en route to pick up some poke (marinated, seasoned ahi sushi),  boiled peanuts (a Hawaiian local favorite), and chicharron, which sounds Hispanic and is: it’s pork rinds.

We variously napped and pigged out some more at home before driving downtown for the Chinese New Year parade. And of course, upon arriving there, the first thing we did was start eating again, kicking things off with some roast suckling pig from this guy.

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OK, so we just ate. What’s your point?

Honolulu’s Chinatown, like so many American Chinatowns, pretty clearly has its best days decades behind it and has a rather characteristic seedy feel that you will also experience in its counterparts in Washington DC, Philadelphia, and even — though it is vastly larger and somewhat less tatty — San Francisco. It all has something of a time-warp-y feel to it, with tattoo parlors and dusty arcane-looking herbal remedy stores, the ones with dried lizard skins in the windows.

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Good place to pick up some dried lizard for either your arthritis or your black arts.

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An 1890’s bawdy house that became the “Club Hubba Hubba” just after World War II. I don’t think the women are still there. God, I hope not.

But the important thing is, that we kept eating. Strolling through the crowded streets as the dragon puppeteers suited up for the parade, we continued to glut ourselves on mango ice cream, lobster chips, and almond cookies, all the while reminding ourselves that we had dinner reservations for later. This was roughly equivalent to reminding a cokehead sucking on a crack pipe that he has a job interview scheduled in three hours.

(Speaking of cokeheads, I feel compelled to relate a minor incident. As it happens my arms are covered at the moment with some painless but very nasty-looking bruises, souvenirs of a short hospital visit just before our departure during which I came under the ministrations of a technician who had, apparently, never inserted an IV or taken blood before. The side streets of the parade route had a number of stalls advertising local worthy organizations — Jaycees, local sports clubs, and the like — including a meth clinic. Despite my pleadings Alice rather stodgily forbade me from walking up to them, arms out with black-and-blue marks on full display, and asking for help. I suppose that in any marriage you need to have at least one responsible adult present at all times, but still.)

The parade itself was a raucous and colorful affair, full of dragons and martial arts displays and little old ladies carrying fans whilst sitting on festooned flatbed trucks, smiling and waving delicately to the crowd as they represented assorted charitable Chinese organizations that we of course had never heard of.

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There were drummers, a platoon of kids on BMX bikes, and of course beauty queens riding on top of convertibles: “Miss United States: Samoa/Guam/Hawaii/Mariana Islands”. “Miss Chinese Chamber of Commerce” and her first four runners-up, the latter in a convoy of Mustangs whilst the winner rode in a Corvette, and all waving gamely with that odd rotary side-to-side waving technique perfected by Queen Elizabeth II. And game they had to be: how would you like to be the last of those girls, smiling at the crowd while sitting on a top of a car with a sign announcing that you were the fourth runner-up? “Hi, I’m Jessica! Those four girls in front were all prettier than me!”

Anyway, we had a wonderful time, and saw many dragons.

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And a couple of hours later, we of course went to our dinner reservation and had a big and wonderful meal.

Categories: Hawaii | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Winter

As I type this, here is the view out our front door:

snow pan

Snome, sweet snome.

…and it is still snowing. All of which will become irrelevant, if all goes according to plan, since in about a week we will be exchanging it for this view out our front door.

2016-01-23 13_49_57-An Artist's Home on the Big Island - Houses for Rent in Kailua-Kona

Now we’re talkin’.

This is because we have decided to transform into snowbirds this year, about to sojourn in Hawaii for nearly six weeks. Our goals are to escape the winter, do a lot of snorkeling, visit the volcano, hike around, and make our friends jealous.

There is an element of homecoming on this trip, as I lived on the Big Island for three years in the early 1980’s as a postdoc at Mauna Kea Observatory. For those of you unfamiliar with the geography of Hawaii, here’s the picture:

2016-01-23 14_28_01-Hawaii - Google MapsWe chose Kona because it is on the sunny, leeward side of the island. The Big Island is far and away the most diverse of the islands in the Hawaiian archipelago. Its size is one reason, though at its widest point it is only 93 mi (150 km) across. More importantly, the presence of two 14,000′ (4300m) mountains in the middle of the island, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, break up the terrain into a remarkable number of distinct climate zones. For our purposes the important fact is that the trade winds blow from the east, pick up lots o’ moisture from the Pacific, and collide with those two mountains when they get to Hawaii. That causes the winds to dump all their moisture on the eastern side of the island. Result: Hilo (where I lived) is very rainy, averaging (wait for it) 156″ (4m) of rain a year, whilst Kona gets about 1/3 as much. The temperature is pretty steady throughout the year, with lows of about 70F (19C) and highs of about 82F (28C).

This is an El Niño year, as you may know – one of the most powerful on record, as it happens. What that means for Hawaii is slightly warmer water temperatures than usual (about 80F/27C) and more cloudy days. But we can live with that.

We’ll be enjoying a pretty steady stream of visitors during our stay, and I hope to take a lot of photos, a sampling of which I’ll post here along with the occasional brain dump about Hawaii’s history, geology, etc., along with our own experiences.

 

Categories: Hawaii | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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