2015-08-18

Honolulu: My General Impressions


The view of Honolulu from the
Diamond Head crater.
I am going to be brutally honest in this post. I think Honolulu is, albeit beautiful, one of the saddest places I have ever visited.

Western imperialism and its depressing results have left deep scares on the city. I use the term "Western" because it is clear that the Hawaii is in no way, shape, or form a Western island, although it has been part of the United States for over 50 years. The atmosphere in Hawaii is so different it may as well be a different country. Wait—it was before.

Queen Lili'uokalani
Source
The Hawaiian kingdom was overthrown in part by the American Dole Food Company, which was founded by Samuel B. Dole, Hawaii's president after the coup d'etat that overthrew Hawaii's last monarch, Queen Lili'uokalani. Although she attempted to have a say in the new government before the coup, she was ultimately silenced and essentially shutout from molding the future of her own land. Why? Long story short, Dole and the United States were money-hungary and wanted to rape Hawaiian land for all they could get. (Thanks Dole Food Company. I'll stick with Turbana).

Hawaii's unfortunate history aside, did I generally enjoy my time in Hawaii? No. Why? Because of the melancholy.

Once you leave Waikiki, the degradation, homelessness, and destitute nature of the area is obvious. The natives have been pushed to the edge of the island due to insane property costs, and big companies as well as rich folks from the Mainland are beginning to buy up a lot of the land. By the time I left Hawaii, I felt guilty for vacationing there and indirectly promoting the marginalization of the people. (Granted, the trip was my dad's idea, not mine. I've honestly never been keen on visiting Hawaii).

Good luck if you plan on vacationing in Hawaii. Most activities are overpriced, and food is quite costly as well. Parking is hell, so don't rent a car. My dad and I found ourselves either driving around, walking about aimlessly, or eating cheap food. I think hiking in Diamond Head and visiting the Hawaii State Art Museum were the highlights of our trip. After all, those activities cost us $1 and nothing respectively, but I genuinely enjoyed those two stops. Oh, and we fell in love with eating at Marukame Udon.

One of Hawaii's Kamehameha Statues in front of the Ali'iolani Hale
in downtown Honolulu.
A regal statue of
Queen Lili'oukalani by the
legislature building.
Admittedly, downtown Honolulu is small and compact which makes it a nice place to walk around and take in some of the sites, especially the cheaper or free ones in the city. You can see one of Hawaii's Kamehameha the Great statues in front of the Ali'iolani Hale building, which houses the judicial branch of Hawaii's government. The statue is partially gold leaf which is pretty impressive. 

The legislature building.
Across the street from the Ali'iolani Hale is the legislature building. We didn't go inside as the legislature was not in session, but the ground level of the building—which is an open plan that is exposed to the outdoors—was decorated with various sculpture art and flowers. On the same block as the legislature building sits the Washington Palace which later became the governor's residence for awhile after Queen Lili'oukalani was arrested there. We decided not to take the tour; according to the faces of the people in the tour group that walked by us it wouldn't have been worth the money.

On the block to the west of Washington Palace sits the Hawaii State Art Museum. To see the general collection, which is quite large, admission is free. I don't know how crowded it is in the thick of summer, but there weren't many visitors on the mid-August Saturday that we chose to visit the museum. The museum features only artwork from Hawaiian natives, those from other ethnicities who grew up on the island (i.e., mostly of Japanese and Chinese decent), and artists who called the islands home later in life. Perhaps it's because I love art, but I really enjoyed the museum; it was easily my favorite place in the capital.

The wonderful garden at the Hawaii State Art Museum.
A statue of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen
in Chinatown.
Not for from the core of downtown Hawaii is Chinatown. It simply takes a walk down Beretania Street from the south side of the legislature building to get there. Honolulu Chinatown is not particularly impressive. There isn't much to it and it's mainly comprised of overpriced souvenir shops and restaurants. Maybe it might be appealing to those who enjoy collecting souvenirs or don't often eat Chinese food, but for me it wasn't exciting. I also noticed Chinatown housed a large homeless population. Naturally, I don't have a hostile attitude toward homeless people, but I found several of the homeless people there to be drug abusers who had no qualms about aggressively accosting strangers. Generally, I'd say Honolulu Chinatown is not a place to visit alone at night and isn't as fun a San Francisco or New York City's Chinatowns.

On Diamond Head.
Aside from strolling downtown Honolulu, I enjoyed climbing the Diamond Head crater, not only because I love physical activity, but because it was an escape from the bustling, commercial nature of Waikiki. I don't consider Diamond Head to be a particularly difficult climb if you're in shape. In fact, if you exercise regularly you should be able to climb and descend the crater twice in less than 90 minutes. I would have done this if I weren't with my old man, but I had to be content with once otherwise I would have killed him off.

There is a bus to Diamond Head, but if you have a car, you'd be better severed to park somewhere outside of the park and walk the 10-15 minutes to the base of the crater. Parking isn't particularly expensive at Diamond Head (I believe it was $10 when we visited in August 2014), but every penny counts—especially in Hawaii.

A random road which passed through the mountains
somewhere in northern Oahu.
Driving around the island was also enjoyable, albeit slightly upsetting. The lush greenery around the island is plentiful and gorgeous; however, the signs of systematic Western domination and a 21st century imperialism of sorts are palpable. Major hotel chains like Marriott are buying out communities in remote areas of the island in order to build what I assume to be "island paradise" resorts. Ignorantly, I believed the native people were only being pushed out of Honolulu, but it became apparent to me that the same is occurring even in isolated areas of Oahu.

More than I usually do while on vacation, I found I indulged in food quite a bit in Hawaii, maybe because I felt dejected by my surroundings most of the time. I don't know, but I did eat yummy things in Honolulu nearly everyday I was there. 

My dad struggling with chopsticks.
Udon is one of his favorite foods.
The best food I had came from the Waikiki location of Marukame Udon. I read about the restaurant online beforehand, so I expected it to be good. Positively, it lived up to the hype. The udon (うどん)or wheat flour noodles are made fresh, and you can watch the chefs prepare them as you place your order. With Hawaii's large Japanese population—and many Japanese tourists—I suppose Marukame Udon must be on top of their game.

Octopus poke or raw seafood salad.
I expected a bolder flavor.
While my dad found it a bit too daunting, I tried traditional Hawaiian food and Hawaiian derivatives of Western food. I tried Octopus poke or fish salad from Ono Seafood. Honestly, I expected more given the online reviews, but it was tasty and I liked the spicy kick to it. I also had a traditional Hawaiian food plate (from a restaurant close to Waikiki that I don't remember the name of). Although it was delicious, I still wonder how mac and cheese has made it into Hawaiian cuisine. I suppose the story is similar to how all purpose flour and condensed milk ravished the diets of American Indians and Nigerians respectively after Western takeover and imperialism. 

Hawaiian food.
Kaula pork, rice, laulau, and mac'n'cheese.
Massive donuts from Kamehameha Bakery.
Delicious. Utterly delicious!
I had my fair share of sweets as well. I'm not one to gravitate toward desserts, but the ones I had in Honolulu were definitely above average. When I do decide to have a sweet treat, I rarely choose donuts, but the poi or pounded taro-filled donuts from Kamehameha Bakery continually came up when I was researching places to eat in Honolulu. Therefore, I made my dad drive the almost 20 minutes from our apartment to the Kalihi location of Kamehameha Bakery so I could score a few donuts. Initially, I planned to get a dozen to enjoy throughout my stay, but when I saw how huge they were, I decided a half dozen would suffice. Needless to say, they didn't last long.

I also enjoyed the mochi (餅)ice cream from the University Avenue location of Bubbies Homemade Ice Cream & Desserts, which is basically on the campus of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. It was also a bit of a drive from our apartment, but Bubbies offers several unique ice cream flavors, and it is seriously the best ice cream I have ever had. Bubbies ice cream is actually sold in many locations around Hawaii and even on the mainland. Check out their website to see if you can buy their ice cream at a place near you!

Mochi ice cream from Bubbies Homemade Ice Cream & Desserts.
A bit on the expensive side, but worth it!
In the end, while I desperately wished I could have enjoyed my time in Honolulu more, I'm glad I went at least once in my lifetime. After all, traveling is not only about having a good time, taking tons of pictures, and buying gifts and trinkets. Traveling gives you an opportunity to see how other people live and examine firsthand the human condition in countries other than your own.

A post-drizzle rainbow not far from downtown Honolulu.

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