Monday, August 31, 2009

Manoa Falls

Last week's Intro to Hawai'i series threw off my posting schedule, but now I can start to catch up. I've got a couple posts on my recent activities in Honolulu planned (photos included), a discussion of recent movies I've seen, plus my routine entertainment news kind of post and a Saturday stroll down memory lane. Today: a post with photos from a recent hiking trip.

I live about a ten-minute drive from a tropical rainforest. Up Manoa Valley towards the central mountain ridge, where the clouds essentially all get stuck and make a lot of rain, lies a lush rainforest. I understand they've filmed some jungle scenes for Lost in that area (including The Orchid station exterior and the banyan tree that Ethan hanged Charlie from). And last week for the first time, I made the hike to Manoa Falls, buried deep (and by that I mean there's a mile and a half trail leading to it) in the tropical rainforest.

The first thing I noticed as we drove up the road to the trail head was that as we transitioned from residential area to forest, everything suddenly became HUGE. Compared to the trees that I see elsewhere on the islands, these were many times bigger. Also everything became much dimmer. It was sprinkling on and off throughout our hike, so the clouds made the sky gray, but also the thick canopy of the trees further dimmed the light.

The walk to the falls was muddy but beautiful. I was wearing my old sneakers I've had since high school, and actually neither of them made it out in one piece. Pieces of rubber on the bottom of them were suctioned off in the mud! I recognized the banyans and the multicolored trunks of the eucalyptus trees along the path, but mostly I had no idea what the plants were--the giant ferns, the twisted roots, the orange flowers. There were several extensive bamboo groves along the path; walking through these when the wind blew through them, knocking their tops against each other--thok, thok--was a pleasure.

We reached the waterfall quickly enough. It's not a particularly impressive waterfall, not too high, and not too full at least when we saw it. There are also warning signs about falling rocks and how if you go into the pool at the bottom you'll be in danger, so stay behind the rope, etc. We saw a trail continuing up, and wondered if it perhaps led to somewhere at the top of the falls, or somewhere else that had a view. It turned out to more than double the length of our hike, but it was worth it. When we finally came out of the thick forest into the light, we were on a windy ridge overlooking the next valley. On the way back down, we took a dip in the pool at the bottom of the falls. We had started our hike early, so on the way up we had encountered only two other parties, but at this point the tourists were pouring in. There were a dozen or so people standing looking at the falls when we went swimming, but no one else joined us. They were probably just wishing we'd get out of the way of their photos. The water was cold and refreshing, and it was a good conclusion to our hike.

Speaking of photos, almost all of the photos I took on this hike sucked. I've complained about my camera screen not working before, and I know I should just shut up and buy myself a new camera. But anyway, as I said it was surprisingly dark in the rainforest, and all of my pictures taken beneath the shade of the canopy were blurry, and I couldn't tell nor could I have adjusted the settings anyway because I couldn't see the screen. Alas. I got a couple reasonable shots of Manoa Falls, plus some clear pictures out in the light at the lookout points.

Here's the bottom of Manoa Falls so you can see that there is indeed a waterfall and a pool that we could swim in. I'd say this is shows about half the height of the waterfall.

Somewhere along the path above the falls, as we zigged and zagged back and forth through bamboo groves, banyan groves, and other vegetation, there was a parting in the trees where we could look over the rainforest of Manoa Valley.

When we reached the top of the ridge, we could see all along the next valley, over Pali highway (Bonus: who knows what "pali" means?). You may have noticed I'm kind of addicted to making panoramics right now. If I had taken a step forward when taking this photo, it would show water all the way to the left and right; that is, if I had set up the shot better, you could have seen one whole cut across the island (though not at its widest transect, of course).

It was a nice hike, and given its convenience to my house I will probably be making it again. Hopefully with a better camera. And better shoes.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Housemate: Part III - First Date?

This follows previous posts The Housemate and The Housemate: Part II. I realize this all may make me seem like a silly teenager, but that's how it is.

As we stepped out of the door from the sticky-hot, crowded club into the cool open night air, I quickly established a firm two body widths distance between us. We walked toward the parking garage a couple blocks away, exchanging the normal small talk that follows a concert.

"That was really fun."
"They know how to put on a good show."
"The crowd was very enthusiastic."
"And the opening act was surprisingly good, too."

The conversation trailed off. I was quiet as we stood waiting for the crosswalk signal, mulling over how to broach the subject. When it finally came out, I gave my tone a little edge so it could almost be interpreted as a joke, if necessary.

"So... You refused to let me pay you back for the ticket, and I know it was really crowded in there, but still, you were getting pretty close. This was suspiciously like a date. Was it?"

"If you want it to be..."

There it was. The moment of confrontation I'd been dreading since I first felt him rest his palms lightly on my hips as we swayed with the crowd--as my brain screamed "Stop! We can't do this! Don't touch me!" while at the same time all I wanted was to lean back into him. I had resisted at first, subtly trying to loose myself of his hands. But I was not willing to be harsh about it, and we all know guys don't pick up the subtle hints. Besides, in that packed, wild crowd, it was just as well to have someone hanging onto me, and if I was going to be pressed up against someone's warm, sweaty body anyway, it might as well be a person I knew. So after a few song-lengths of feeble resistance, I just let it slide, not leaning back into him but not pulling away either.

But the whole show, my brain had been bouncing mixed signals through my head, so I would not have been surprised if he was picking up some mixed signals himself. Now was the time to explain. My head buzzing and my face flushed, it all came out in a rush.

"Look. I like really like you. A LOT. But it's complicated, because we're housemates. I mean, living together--if things didn't go well, it could make things very awkward. And also there's a certain stigma attached to having a relationship with someone you're living with--when all my old aunties here heard that I was planning on rooming with a guy, I had to assure them that you were just a friend. And at the time, I was convinced that was true; I never even suspected it could be different, because frankly I...I haven't met a guy that I wanted to be anything more than a friend And in college, even the guys that I might have wanted, I--I never did--I mean--*Sigh.* See, here's something you don't know about me that may help put this all into context. When you put your hands on my hips there in the crowd, you were the first guy who's ever done that to me. There have been guys who wanted to, but they all knew better. And there's the problem: We've been living together for three weeks, and we know each other well enough that under normal circumstances it would be perfectly fine to do this--go on dates I mean, and stuff. But as housemates? I just think we have to know each other much better and be much more sure than we are now before we dive in."

He hesitated for only a second, pausing perhaps not to consider but simply to make sure I'd finished saying my piece. Then he responded.


What did he say in response to my little monologue? I wish I knew. The events at the concert described above were all true, but the conversation afterwards was a work of fiction (as you might have guessed--when in real life do people actually get to deliver monologues?). I know I'm leading him on, but...I like it. I want him to want me. And I haven't met anyone I wanted to want me for years. So the hot-blooded side of me wants--well, what it wants is obvious. The practical side of me, which from experience I'd say is more obdurate in me than in most, thinks this is all a bad idea, at least at this early point in the game. But ultimately, the indecisive, cowardly side of me wins out, leaving everything unsaid and up in the air. Poor Housemate.

In my computer RPGs, the conversations are already written, the encounters planned, the few possible outcomes all preset--you just have to select the right lines when they pop up. But the RPG of real life is much more intricate. Someone please write us a happy resolution.

Continued with The Housemate: Part IV.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Housemate: Part II - Dear Housemate

Dear Housemate,

When was it--
When halfway through cooking dinner you suddenly decided we had to dash out for frozen yogurt?
When the next night we figured out there was a Bubbies within walking distance and we went out for mochi ice cream?
When we went back to Bubbies the next day?
When we sat on the couch watching Firefly while munching on mochi ice cream?
When you went with me to see Ponyo in the theater?
When we went back to the theater the next day to see District 9?
When you brought back all the ingredients and we made miso soup together?
When you cooked the first bitter melon dish that I've ever enjoyed?
When you cooked that delicious curry dish, or that other curry dish, or that tamarind dish (etc.)?
When you carved the pineapple to be eaten like an ice cream cone?
When you made me eat rice with my fingers?
When we hiked up Diamond Head and tried to find our house through the binoculars?
When we went for a hike and, in spite of the warning signs, swam in the cool pool beneath the waterfall?
When you learned to play the songs I like on your guitar so I could sing along?

When was it that it suddenly became clear:
My life would suck without you?

For further developments, see The Housemate: Part III.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Introduction to Hawai'i: Odds and Ends

I wrap up my Intro to Hawai'i series with some odds and ends. Things that one should recognize if one should run across them in Hawai'i. Things that haven't fit into the previous categories.

Assorted foods:

shave ice
Elsewhere in the U.S. you can find snow-cones, grainy chunks of ice with sweet but flavorless syrups. In Hawai'i, we have shave ice. It varies in quality from shop to shop, but the best places (my favorite is Waiola Shave Ice) shave the block of ice into a fine, smooth snow. The fine shavings not only feel soft on the tongue but also absorb the syrups better than grainy ice would. And at a good shave ice place, the flavors are heavenly. I tend to go for the tropical fruit flavors: lychee, mango, lilikoi, etc. On a hot Hawai'i day, nothing hits the spot like a nice shave ice.
Look who likes shave ice

Hawai'i may be the only place in the world where spam is not a joke. The locals here really love it. I do not know why. Keep an eye out especially for spam musubi. (Musubi, by the way, is a Japanese food where rice with some sort of filling is formed into a triangular or oval shape and wrapped in seaweed.)
Photo courtesy of my little brother

These are best described as Portugese doughnuts, deep fried dough rolled in sugar. They are very popular here; one good place to buy them is Leonard's. You can also find different flavored malasadas: cinnamon sugar, chocolate filled, or lilikoi filled, to name a few.

This is a Japanese food, but it's popular here in Hawai'i. Steamed rice is mashed into a chewy moldable mass and then shaped into a little round pouch around something. That something is most often a sweet red bean paste, but can also be ice cream. I looove mochi ice cream, especially the lychee flavor from Bubbies.
Mmm, mochi ice cream.

Shame on me, I should have mentioned this in the Hawaiian language post. Haupia is a Hawaiian coconut pudding. But you can also find haupia-flavored things: shave ice, ice cream, and malasadas, to name a few.

li hing
Li hing is a distinctive mix of spices that are sweet, sour, and salty. I think the classic thing to find it on is dried plums (li hing mui), but you can find it on other dried fruits such as cherries and mangoes, on gummy candies, and more! (When I get shave ice I tend to select some tropical fruit and li hing mui as flavors). I think it's delicious, but some people find it way too strong. As with poi, you can earn a lot of respect from the locals if you like li hing.

Random other things:

So I talked all about the Hawaiian language, but what you may actually hear some locals speaking is Hawai'i Creole English, aka "Pidgin". It originated as a dialect used between English speakers and non-English speakers and is still used today as a kind of slang dialect by some locals to varying degrees. I couldn't really do it justice (there are plenty of websites on the subject), but here are a few things to know:
brah - "brother" (used for male friends, not just actual family).
da kine - from "the kind", it's often used as a placeholder ("that thing/person/place that I can't be bothered to think of the name right now but you know what I'm talking about anyway").
Howzit? - "How's it going?" Even people who don't speak Pidgin can be heard using this as a greeting.
stink eye - a dirty look.
Like beef? - The answer is no, even for hungry meat eaters. This means "Do you want to fight with me?" And if it's spoken by a huge, angry local, you'd best be stepping out of there.

Make a fist, and hold it up so that the back of your hand is facing away from you. Now stick out just your thumb and pinky finger to the sides. You've made a shaka. Rotate your wrist back and forth a little for emphasis. It's kind of hard to say what it means exactly, but it's a friendly gesture: "cool", "thanks", "hi", etc. If you're driving and someone lets you turn, give them a quick shaka. This is an important part of the friendly, easy-going, aloha spirit culture of the islands.
Sorry, gotta have our world's most famous Hawai'i local boy model this one as well.

Um, so I've kind of fizzled out now, but after this whole week I'm run dry. I'll probably think of all sorts of things later that I meant to include in my guide, but this is probably plenty to get you started on. I hope you've enjoyed my brief introduction to what I know about Hawai'i. Now if you ever visit, you can impress all the locals with your kama'aina knowledge. Oh! There's one Hawaiian word I forgot to put in Wednesday's post, so I'll sign off with one final lesson:

kama'aina - from the Hawaiian words for "child" and "land", a kama'aina is someone who has lived in Hawai'i for a long time.

Mahalo and aloha!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Introduction to Hawai'i: Wildlife

I don't really know that much about Hawaiian wildlife, but here are a few plants and animals found in Hawai'i (some native, some decidedly not) that I have found it helpful to be able to identify. Get ready for a lot of pictures (all but a few of which are not mine).


Hawaiian monk seal - This is the only mammal native to Hawai'i that can be found on land; Hawai'i is so isolated from other land masses that nothing else could get there. Hawaiian monk seals can sometimes be seen sunning themselves on the beach, but they are endangered and it is illegal to harrass them.
(my photo. I should note it looks stripey due to being partially wet and sandy; they're actually a solid gray color.)

mongoose - In India they may be cobra-slaying heroes, but in Hawai'i they are an invasive species that is a threat to the native wildlife. The story as I understand it is that rats came to Hawai'i on board ships, and they were being pests. So someone had the brilliant idea of bringing in a shipment of mongooses to eat all the rats. But since the rats are mostly nocturnal and the mongooses mostly diurnal, the mongooses decided that it was much better to eat the eggs of the rare native birds of the Hawaiian islands. Cute as they may be, mongooses are not thought of favorably by locals, and I have seen people swerve their cars to try to run them over.

cats - You know what cats are, but I just thought I should mention that there are a lot of feral cats in Hawai'i, so don't be surprised if you're strolling down some lane in Honolulu in the evening and suddenly find yourself in a scene from an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. I think they're mostly around because of people who decided they didn't want their pets anymore.


nene - The Hawaiian goose, Hawai'i's state bird, that I mentioned in yesterday's post.
(my photo)

myna bird - Introduced from India, they can be taught to mimic human words (for a while there was a myna in the Honolulu Zoo that could "talk").

i'iwi - Pronounced ee-EE-vee (but not actually a Pokemon), this is a native bird with brilliant red-orange feathers. You might see one if you're lucky.

zebra dove - These introduced birds are the pigeons of Honolulu--they're everywhere in the city.


gecko - There are 7 species of gecko in Hawai'i, all of them introduced. You can find them everywhere, they're cute (lots of souvenirs bear images of geckos), and they eat various pesky bugs, so they're really quite useful. I've seen many, though none have offered to lower my car insurance rates.

honu - I mentioned this one in my post yesterday as well: the green sea turtle. You can find them sunning themselves on the beach or swimming calmly in the water.
(my photo)

no snakes - On the island of Guam, the invasive brown tree snake has run rampant, wiping out the native bird population (visitors notice the unsettling quiet that comes from the lack of bird songs). Like Guam, Hawai'i has no native snake population, and the native birds would be totally helpless should snakes be introduced. People are very vigilant, and any sign of a snake in Hawai'i is hunted down. The zoo even is only allowed two snakes, which must both be male and of different species. As careful as people are, though, it may be only a matter of time until one slithers through the safeguards set in place.


humuhumunukunukuapua'a - As I mentioned yesterday, this reef triggerfish is Hawai'i's state fish. It's really the only fish you need to know, so say it with me again:


hibiscus - The state flower of Hawai'i is the yellow hibiscus, but it comes in many vibrant colors.

pikake - I should have included this in yesterday's post; this is the Hawaiian word for jasmine. The fragrant white flowers are one of the most desirable flowers to have in leis.

red ginger - Red ginger are very distinctive in the wild, and in flower arrangements.

yellow ginger - These have a wonderful sweet scent.

bird of paradise - These are very unique, striking flowers.

plumeria - Popular in leis, they come in many delicate colors and have a strong scent.

Trees and other plants:

banyan - Banyan trees are great. They can grow to be huge, and one of their defining features is that their branches develop vines that grow toward the ground, eventually becoming both additional roots and an extention of the tree trunk. It's hard to describe, so perhaps a picture is best. Because of this growth, a good big banyan tree has a cage-like trunk that kids can climb around in and strong vine-roots to swing on (though I think recent policy protects the vines of the prominent banyan trees from being swung on).

above is my photo, but this one shows the roots better:

shower trees - These trees have lots of small flowers, generally pink or yellow, with petals that gracefully drift off in the wind.

silversword - I mentioned this in my geography post, as they are a rare plant found only on the slopes of Haleakala on Maui. They bloom once every seven years, so if you see one blooming the tour guides might try to make it sound like you're really lucky as this is a once-in-seven-years occurrence. Really, they bloom every seven years but not the same seven years, so you can usually find one in bloom. But they look really cool.

ti - A flowering plant introduced by the Polynesians, ti leaves were used for Hawaiian clothing. In fact, you couldn't find any Hawaiians wearing grass skirts as is the stereotype; it was the large, wide ti leaves that they used to make skirts.
ti leaf skirts

taro - This tuber plant provided the staple starch of the traditional Hawaiian diet. Its roots are mashed and mixed with water to make poi, and its leaves are used in laulau.

kukui - This is the state tree of Hawai'i. I mentioned it in yesterday's post; the nuts are polished and made into leis, but they are also roasted and used in food.
kukui leis

Kona coffee - You know what coffee is, but you should know that the Kona region of the Big Island is famous for its coffee. I saw this in a final Jeopardy question, which highlighted the Kona region of Hawai'i and said "This is the main export from this region"; none of the contestants got it right.

Tomorrow I will conclude my Introduction to Hawai'i with a post on various other things you'll need to be able to recognize should you visit Hawai'i.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Introduction to Hawai'i: Language

Although the Hawaiian language is an official language of the state of Hawai'i, its native speakers account for less than 0.1% of the state's population. Still, most people living in Hawai'i know a few key Hawaiian words and can also passably pronounce the countless Hawaiian place names (islands, valleys, streets, etc.) that one comes across on the islands. I will go through the essentials of pronunciation and then list a few Hawaiian words that locals use on a daily basis. This post is a long one; I'm a bit of a nerdy linguistics lover.

Hawaiian pronunciation is very different from English and the finer points of it are complicated. Since true speakers of the language are rare even among locals, most people in Hawai'i don't use proper pronunciation. So what I will describe should help you pronounce Hawaiian words as most locals pronounce them, not as a native speaker would. Furthermore, there are common words that locals don't even pronounce correctly according to the rules that I will describe, whether it's because of convenience or ignorance. Some things you just have to pick up on a case-by-case basis.

The written Hawaiian language uses 12 letters: the vowels a (as in father), e (as in bet), i (ee as in bee), o (as in both), u (as in rule); and the consonants h, k, l, m, n, p, and w. W is generally pronounced similar to the English "w", but in some cases it takes on the sound of a "v". An example would be in the word Hawai'i itself; a native Hawaiian would pronounce it as "Havai'i"! But most locals still pronounce it with a "w"; only people being very proper would say it with a "v". Some examples where the common local pronunciation actually does turn the "w" to a "v" are in the town names "Haleiwa" and "Ewa", and in the island name "Kaho'olawe".
Diphthongs in Hawaiian include any combination of two vowels in which the second vowel is i or u, as well as the vowel combination ae. Otherwise the vowels should be pronounced separately.

Two types of marks may appear in Hawaiian words. One is a line over a vowel which I can't produce on this blog; Manoa (the area where the university I attend is located) is properly written with a line over the first "a". This means that the vowel should be lengthened. The other marking properly looks like an upside-down apostrophe. I type it merely as an apostrophe, as in "Hawai'i". This indicates a glottal stop, as one would pronounce if saying "uh-oh." Unfortunately, both of these marks are often omitted for convenience (I'm not going to do the line over the vowel mark at all); street signs, for instance, frequently omit them. But if two of the same vowel appear next to each other in a word, you can count on there being a glottal stop between them, plus it's more likely that the common, lazy local pronunciation includes the glottal stop (for instance, as far as island names go, you will always hear locals put the glottal stop in Hawai'i, Ni'ihau, and Kaho'olawe, but you may hear people omit them in O'ahu, Kaua'i, Moloka'i, and Lana'i).

Stress in Hawaiian words is placed on syllables with a long vowel if there is one (Manoa which I mentioned should have a line over the first "a" would be pronounced "MAAH-no-a"). If there isn't a long vowel, then stress a diphthong. If there isn't one of those, then stress the second to last syllable. If a Hawaiian word seems to be composed of multiple parts, then go for the second to last syllable of each part ("Haleiwa" would be "HA le EE va"). I don't think you need any detail beyond that.

Here are some essential words that locals like to use:
aloha - The tour groups will surely use this one, too. It is most commonly used as a greeting ("hello"), but it also means "love" and is used as "goodbye". You might also hear the phrase "aloha spirit", which is just the caring, easy-going spirit that the people on Hawai'i are supposed to have.
mahalo - "thank you". You'll see and hear this one a LOT starting the second you touch down: "Mahalo for flying ____ Airlines". Signs all over and the trash cans in fast food restaurants say it. It's a good one to know.
wahine - "woman" or "women". You see this one on bathroom doors, though it's almost always accompanied by a picture so you know it's the ladies' room. Almost always (so learn this word, and the next one).
kane - "man" or "men". Don't go in the wrong bathroom!
[Edit 8/27/09--ack, how could I forget this one?]
keiki - "child" or "children". You might see signs for keiki activities, or find a keiki menu. This one is really used a lot, usually as a plural when referring to groups of children.
lanai - An outdoor balcony. You'll hear the word a lot in relation to hotel rooms, since many hotel rooms come with a lanai. Not to be confused with the island Lana'i, which has the glottal stop.
ohana - "family". This word was given wider reaching popularity with its prominent use in the Disney film "Lilo and Stitch" ("Ohana means family, and family means nobody gets left behind"--aw, so cute).
mauka - This is frequently used by people giving obnoxious directions to get places, and means "towards the mountains".
makai - Like mauka above, this is used in directions and means "towards the sea".
haole - This is the Hawaiian term for white people, and it's usually mispronounced as "how-lee". There's no need to take offense at it, unless it's used in the phrase "damn haole" or something like that.
hapa - "half". You'll hear it in the phrase "hapa haole" (half white), though it is frequently used alone and in that context usually means half-Asian or Pacific Islander.
humuhumunukunukuapua'a - I am not pulling your leg. This is the Hawaiian state fish, in English called "reef triggerfish" (how boring!). You could call it "humuhumu" for short, but you should learn the whole word. It's not so hard if you break it down:
Its name means "triggerfish with a snout like a pig". Isn't that fun?
humuhumunukunukuapua'a (not my photo--I do have a photo of a humuhumu I took in an aquarium but it's pretty sucky)
honu - "sea turtle." The kind we get around here are green sea turtles, so it may specifically apply to that species.
lilikoi - "passion fruit".
poke - a Hawaiian raw fish dish.

The following Hawaiian words have actually been accepted into the English language; you can find them in an English dictionary ("aa" is a Scrabble favorite) and some of them you may hear outside of Hawai'i.
hula - traditional Hawaiian dance.
lei - a necklace usually made of flowers, it can also be made of shells, nuts, or other materials.
kukui - speaking of leis, this is a black (usually), brown or white nut that is frequently polished and made into leis.
a'a - rough lava.
pahoehoe - smooth lava.
poi - a purple paste made from taro root that was the staple of the traditional Hawaiian diet. Some people love it; I think it's gross, but if you ever come to Hawai'i you should try it.
laulau - a Hawaiian dish made by steaming fish or meat wrapped in taro and ti leaves.
ukulele - an instrument that's basically a small four-stringed guitar. Its name means "fleas-jumping"--I think it's rather nice imagery. If you've never seen Jake Shimabukuro play the ukulele, check him out. A (long) note on the pronunciation of this word: English speakers are prone to pronouncing "ukulele" as "you-kuh-lay-lee". This has a number of things wrong with it:
1) There should be no "y" pronounced at the beginning. The word should begin like the word "ooze", not like "unicorn".
2) Clearly the second syllable is "koo"; pronouncing it as "kuh" is just the tendency to turn unstressed vowels into the "schwa" sound. Best to avoid if possible.
3) There should be no "y" at the end of the third syllable (this is a problem English speakers have with languages other than Hawaiian as well). The vowel sound should just end with the "e". A related problem is putting a "w" on the end of "o"s as in "know". The sound should be cut off at the "o".
4) The fourth syllable should be pronounced like the third, not as an "ee".
So the word should be pronounced as "oo-koo-le-le".
nene - Hawaiian goose, evolved from the Canadian goose. Hawai'i's state bird.

Extra credit words, somewhat less known I think:
pali - "cliffs".
moana - "the sea".
lani - "heavenly", usually seen as a suffix.
nani - "pretty", usually seen as a suffix.
hale - "house"; seen in place names, as in "Haleakala" (house of the sun).
wikiwiki - "quick". The airport shuttle carries this word in its name, but did you know that "Wikipedia" (along with all wikis) gets its name from this Hawaiian word?

Phew, that was a lot to get through. I didn't realize my mind was buzzing with that much Hawaiian. I hope you enjoyed it, but if you fell asleep, I understand.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Introduction to Hawai'i: History

Here's a rundown of essential Hawaiian history.

The Hawaiian Islands were settled by Polynesians as early as 300 BCE. The society was structured into local chiefdoms.

In 1778, Captain James Cook "discovered" the Hawaiian islands. He was killed on his second visit to the islands after abducting a Hawaiian chief. Not such a good idea. But with these newly discovered heathens brought to the attention of the western world, missionaries came to the islands starting around 1820, and many Hawaiians converted to Christianity. But the missionaries also established schools, introduced western medicine, and developed a written form for the Hawaiian language. Unfortunately, as happened throughout the Americas, diseases came along with the westerners, killing much of the native population over the course of the 1800s.

In 1810, King Kamehameha the Great united all the Hawaiian islands under his rule. History is told by the victors, so he's generally seen as a hero for uniting the kingdom, but one must remember that he did this by killing lots of other chieftains.

Throughout the 19th Century, American and European businessmen gained increasing power in the islands. In 1887, they forced King Kalakaua to sign a constitution stripping him of most of his power. Kalakaua's sister Lili'uokalani became queen in 1891 and planned a new constitution, but the businessmen called for the U.S. to overthrow the queen and annex Hawai'i. A company of U.S. Marines invaded, and Queen Lili'uokalani surrendered under protest.
Queen Lili'uokalani
There was some debate at the time over whether this overthrow was legal or not, but it wasn't until 1993 that the U.S. issued a formal apology. Hawai'i existed as the Independent Republic of Hawaii until 1898 when congress voted to annex it into the U.S. International law requires a treaty of cession or a conquest for annexation, so the fact that Hawai'i was annexed by a simple vote in congress shows further questionable practices by the U.S. in regards to Hawai'i. Hawai'i became a United States Territory in 1900.

Hawai'i was the site of a significant world event when on December 7, 1941 the Japanese launched a surprise attack on the U.S.'s military base at Pearl Harbor on O'ahu. It was this attack that brought the U.S. into WWII.

Hawai'i gained statehood in 1959.

Tomorrow I'll explain what you need to know about the language, so you'll know how to pronounce all these Hawaiian names.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Introduction to Hawai'i: Geography

Almost any place you go in the world, the locals tend to see tourists and outsiders basically as buffoons. Those damn tourists are always reading maps, getting in the way of traffic, spending way too much money at the bad restaurants, buying pointless souvenirs, dressing funny, asking stupid questions, frying themselves on the beach... It's really not the tourists' fault that they didn't grow up in the place they are touring, so the attitude toward them usually isn't nasty. But the more you understand about a place you are visiting, the more respect you will find from the locals. I am only recently a resident of Hawai'i, but before this I was a serial visitor to the islands, having two grandparents and tons of great aunts and uncles, first cousins once removed, second cousins, and other relatives living in Hawai'i. I was a "Mainlander", but with my mom (who lived in Honolulu from age 9 - 18) and the local relatives to teach me, I got to the point that the locals respected me. Since all that most people probably know about Hawai'i is "beaches and hula", I thought I'd share what I learned about Hawai'i as a respected serial visitor. If you ever come to the islands, maybe you can use this information to garner a little respect from the locals.

This post will introduce you to some basic Hawaiian geography. The Hawaiian island chain consists of 137 islands, islets, and atolls reaching in a northwest-southeast span of 1500 miles in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. There are eight major islands: O'ahu, Hawai'i, Maui, Kaua'i, Moloka'i, Lana'i, Ni'ihau, and Kaho'olawe.

O'ahu is the most populous of the Hawaiian islands. The state capital, Honolulu, is located on its southern shore. Due to its mix of beautiful beaches and city life, it also attracts the most tourists. Some popular tourist destinations include Waikiki, with its busy beaches and the highest concentration of hotels (and souvenir shops); Hanauma Bay, a very popular snorkel spot; Pearl Harbor, for those looking for a little WWII history; Diamond Head, an easy hike with a great view; and the North Shore beaches, famous as world-class surf spots.

Hawai'i, The Big Island
The island of Hawai'i is the largest of the Hawaiian islands. Therefore, largely to avoid confusion over whether one is referring to the island or the whole state, it is generally called simply "The Big Island" by locals. As the newest of the islands, it is the only one of the major islands with active volcanoes, and it is thus still growing. The main tourist attraction on this island is Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, where one can see the Kilauea volcano and its Halema'uma'u caldera, walk through lava tubes, and, if lucky, see some red hot lava (from a safe distance). The island is also home to Akaka Falls, the town of Hilo, and Kona, where they grow Kona coffee.

Relatively populous and a popular tourist destination, Maui has two main volcanoes. The larger of the two, Haleakala, reaches 10,000 ft high and is a popular tourist destination. Visitors can drive to the top and watch the sun rise, and they can also see the rare plant silversword, which is found only on the slopes of Haleakala. Hana, a tiny town on the easternmost shore of the island, is also a popular spot to visit, not for the town itself but for the narrow windy road that leads to it along which are numerous beautiful swimming holes and beaches.

Another popular tourist stop, Kaua'i boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world; it is also a popular stop for filmmakers who want a nice beach in their pictures. Waimea Canyon in the center of the island has striking views, and Na Pali coast is a long series of breathtaking cliffs, best viewed from the sea.

Now we're getting to the less populous islands which are also less popular as tourist destinations (and I have never visited them). I don't know much about Moloka'i other than it had a leper colony at some point. As far as sight-seeing goes, its pristine nature in comparison to the islands described above makes it a lovely place to visit, and it also has the highest sea cliffs in the world.

Lana'i is a small island that in the last century was covered in pineapple plantations, as James Dole (as in Dole Food Company) bought the whole island. Tourism has begun to pick up as the pineapple industry has died down.

The smallest of the inhabited Hawaiian islands, Ni'ihau is owned by the Robinson family, and it was recently counted as having a population of 130. There is a small military station on the island, but generally only relatives of the owners, invited guests, and limited groups of tourists may visit the island. The island inhabitants are known for making beautiful shell leis.

The smallest of the main 8 islands, Kaho'olawe was once used as a bombing range by the U.S. military. Now controlled by the state, people are working on restoring it.

That's all the essential geography that comes to mind. Tomorrow I'll have an essential history of Hawai'i.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Housemate: Part 1 - Just noticing...

So I was just noticing...

My housemate is
-smart (he's in the same Ph.D. program I'm in, so he must be smart!);
-musical (he plays guitar);
-exotic (he's American and he's totally white, but he spent his teenage years growing up in Indonesia);
-athletic (well, he's a surfer);
-a Lost and Firefly fan (that is, he has good taste);
-a great cook;
-just about the nicest guy in the world;
-totally off-limits (he's my housemate).

What have I gotten myself into? I mean, I'm all cool now, but will my little mind be able to keep it that way? I guess we'll see.

Index of later installments of The Housemate saga
Part II: Dear Housemate
Part III: First date?
Part IV: It was perfect
Part V: Complicated
Part VI: Over the pitcher's mound
Part VII: Mosbied?
Part VIII: Definitions

Further developments in our relationship:
When is Love?
Anticipating Valentine's Day
Valentine's Day Adventure
First Anniversary
Not quite the week I was hoping for
Hold me like you'll never let me go

(Also, selecting the Housemate tag will summon a few more posts detailing various adventures I've had with the Housemate.)
To be continued...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Happy 50th, Hawai'i!

Today marks the day that the 50th state turns 50 years old. In March of 1959, Congress passed the Hawaii Admission Act. On June 27 that year, Hawaii residents voted to accept statehood at a referendum. On August 21, 1959, President Eisenhower signed the proclamation and executive order officially making Hawaii the U.S.A.'s 50th state.

Since then Hawaii has flourished as a fully modern state while still maintaining a great respect for its rich native traditions. The state currently has a population of about 1.3 million. The population is 39% white, 3% black, 2% American Indian, 58% Asian (mostly Japanese and Filipino), 23% Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, and 4% other. If this looks like it adds up to more than 100%, that's because 21% of Hawaii's population is mixed race. Tourism is Hawaii's biggest business, with nearly 7 million tourists per year flocking to its world-famous beaches.

Seeing as it's Hawaii's 50th birthday, this is as good a time as any to kick off my long-promised Introduction to Hawai'i series (i.e., What you need to know about Hawaii so the locals don't think you're an idiot). I will be working on those this weekend.

Happy 50th birthday, Hawai'i!

Introduction to Hawai'i series:

1. Geography
2. History
3. Language
4. Wildlife
5. Odds and ends

Math pwnage, math fail

So I might have mentioned before that all of us incoming oceanography grad students had to take a math exam last week. Students who did not perform satisfactorily on this exam have to take a math course this semester. Considering that I hadn't taken a math class in over four years, I was concerned about whether I could remember how to take derivatives, much less solve differential equations (which, as I had to explain to my mother, is very different--and a lot harder--than taking derivatives of functions). But I studied the practice exam, and even though the actual exam was twice as long and three times trickier, I still passed! My advisor said I even passed with "flying colors"! I think more than half of us incoming students didn't pass the exam, so this was no small achievement. I spent all weekend feeling pretty good about myself and my math background.

This week, that all dissipated. To make a long story short, I discovered that three of the five courses I was considering as possibilities for this semester had listed as prerequisites math classes that covered topics beyond any math I have ever studied. I talked to the professors of these three courses, and two of them basically told me I just wasn't good enough for them, and the third... Well, students who had taken the course assured me I would probably be fine in the class, and I didn't want to risk being rejected, so I just sent the professor an email asking for permission to take the course and was very vague about my math background, and he gave me the authorization to sign up. Being intentionally vague is not the same as being dishonest, is it? And if he had said I couldn't take that course, I would have had to fill the spot with something much less relevant to my research.

Anyway, it's really not such a big deal, because I was planning on taking three courses this semester, and I was able to sign up for three courses I need to take. The two courses I can't take I will do next fall after taking an advanced math course in the spring. It's just that those two courses I can't take will be important to my research, and completing at least one of them in my first year would have been a great advantage. And it's knocked my confidence down a notch. Last weekend I was feeling so confident about my math skills, and now I feel like I'm totally behind. Bummer.

My courses this fall:
Physical Oceanography
Geological Oceanography
Marine Hydrodynamics

After two years of work, it feels weird to say that I will be taking classes again. But there it is. Three classes, starting Monday.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

More beach photos!

I've actually had these photos for a little while now, I just haven't gotten around to putting them up. Before my family flew back home, we went for a driving/beach-sighting trip along the southeast corner of Oahu. There are some gorgeous beaches there, a stunning mix of soft sand and jagged rocks, deep blues and vivid greens. So here are some of the photos I took.

This is the Blow Hole. The waves that come in just right funnel up through the rock and burst out the top. Here you can see it just before it happens...

And here it goes!

A bit of rocky coast near the Blow Hole. I just love the colors in the water!

Rabbit Island. Lots of surfers down there.

Here's a beach up the coast a little bit. The sand was so soft.

Same beach but with children.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Spidey troubles, WoT MMO, new BSG and more

Some tidbits of recent entertainment news that caught my attention...

Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, who in this past year's Oscar ceremony turned Frost/Nixon into a romantic musical number (Jackman as Frost, Hathaway as Nixon), will re-team for a movie musical called "The Greatest Showman on Earth", about circus showman PT Barnum (IMDb). Jackman has proven himself in musicals, winning a Tony for best leading actor in a musical. All I've seen of Hathaway doing song and dance is that Frost/Nixon number. But she is a very talented young lady. This project is still "in development", so we'll see what becomes of it.

Having gently poked fun at the concept ever since I first heard about the project a year ago (various posts), I am sorry to report that there may be production troubles surrounding Spider-Man: The Musical (formally known as Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark). There have been a whole series of articles about it, reporting on various rumors that it's been scrapped or put on hold followed by producers insisting that it will debut as scheduled. It seems that the technically demanding show has run into monetary issues, perhaps not for lack of money but because there have been issues mobilizing the money that has been raised. Production is on hold until the cash starts flowing again, but people involved with the show are convinced that will be soon and they will be able to stick to the schedule, with previews starting on February 25 followed by a March opening (Variety, IMDb). There are rumors that cast and crew have been released from their contracts (IMDb), and Evan Rachel Wood, who was cast as Mary Jane, is looking to win back some movie offers she had passed up because of the musical (IMDb). After everything, I think I would be sad if this project fell apart. I'll be keeping my eyes open for more news.

Warner Bros. is planning to make a Lego movie (IMDb). The film will not use real Legos, but will be live-action/CG. No word on the plot, but the studio says the movie will be suitable for children but will also hopefully appeal to adults.

Jay Chou, a Taiwanese singer-actor, has been cast as Kato alongside Seth Rogan in The Green Hornet (Variety). He replaces Stephen Chow, who was originally also supposed to direct until he stepped down from that role to be replaced by Michel Gondry. I don't really know Chow or Chou, so I'm kind of indifferent to the recasting, other than it's a bit sad that someone originally planning to direct and star has been completely ousted. I don't know the story behind all this, but I guess that's the business.

Channing Tatum, the star of G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra as well as the Step Up movies, is apparently writing what he describes as a "fantastical dance-ical" (IMDb). This is apparently a dance musical with a fantasy theme, a la Alice in Wonderland. He's just working on it; the project is a long way off. Fantastical.

This bit of news isn't particularly interesting to me, though it does have a nice example of "artistic differences": the author of novel The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer wants Mickey Rourke for the lead role in the adaptation, while the director wanted Channing Tatum (IMDb). But the article made me laugh because of the line that labels someone as "the brains behind Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra". Haha. "Brains."

Chris Morgan, who was a screenwriter for Wanted, Cellular, and Fast and Furious, has signed on with Red Eagle Games as the story director for the Wheel of Time video games that Electronic Arts will publish for all major gaming platforms (Variety blog). Red Eagle is also planning to make an MMO based on the WoT world. A WoT FPS came out in 1999, but was not a hit. As a gamer and WoT reader, I am intrigued that they are making a new video game based on the series, and an MMO. I'll have to see how they come out; even though I'm a fan of the series, I won't play the game unless it's supposed to be good.

Bryan Singer, director of the first two X-Men movies and The Usual Suspects, has signed on to direct and produce a movie version of Battlestar Galactica (Variety blog). It will be a complete re-imagination of the BSG story (yes, another one). As a fan of the very recent BSG series on Sci-Fi, I find the fact that they're making the movie now to be very odd. It's too soon. We finished a very long, difficult journey just this past spring, and now they're going to do it all over again? And as a movie? Bryan Singer is pretty good, so I guess I'll wait to see where he takes this.

And last, Sony has hooked James Vanderbilt, the first writer of Spider-Man 4, to write the screenplays for the Spider-Man 5 and Spider-Man 6 movies (Variety). Yes, while they're planning to begin production on Spider-Man 4 early next year, they are already getting two more sequels into motion. At this stage, we don't know if director Sam Raimi and stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst would be back for 5 and 6 (they will all be back for #4). If not, then the new Vanderbilt scripts may become "reboots" for the franchise. Oy. If you must continue, just make them good, please.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A room with an OCEAN view

I have discovered that I did not do my new house justice when I said it had a nice view of the Waikiki skyline and of Diamond Head. My house actually also has an ocean view!

You'll have to work with me here...

Here's the picture from my initial post.

Zoom in on that box.

Now zoom in on that box.

See it?! It's that slightly darker blue strip down between the buildings, with a palm tree reaching up in the middle. Click on the photo to see the full size... If only my camera did better than 4.1 MP and 3x optical zoom I'm sure you'd see it no problem.

There's actually one other spot on our skyline where we can glimpse the sea, but it's not as good a view as this one, and you'll appreciate that that's saying something. The other one you really need binoculars to pick it out from between the fronds of the palm trees in front of it. This bit here you can see as a glittering deep blue strip with the naked eye. Really! It's a genuine view of the beautiful Pacific Ocean!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

How life should be...

So it's been over a week since my last post; I'm a bit behind on everything. How time flies! This past week has been busy: saying goodbye to my family, moving into my new house, starting work, studying for and finally taking the math proficiency exam (I passed! Wohoo!)... Anyway, I finally bought a bed and have now physically moved into my new home. Here's a picture I snapped on the first morning that I moved in:

Hopefully a good sign of things to come.

This evening was lovely. Our Ukrainian roommates cooked dinner for us two non-Ukrainians. We had something sort of resembling a casserole that had mushrooms, potatoes, chicken, and creamy stuff (very yummy), and then two plates with beautifully cut vegetables. I also tried a bit of kefir. Not as bad as it looked as they poured lumpy milk into the cup. Here's a picture of the veggies:

The closer plate is finely sliced cucumbers. The far plate is tomatoes cut like tulips, and cucumber carved like leaves.

After dinner, we sat in the living room while my third housemate, the one who is also a new oceanography grad student, played guitar. He tried to play songs that I knew so I could sing along... Some worked out better than others. But even the ones that we totally messed up (usually because I suddenly would realize that even though I "knew the song", I had no idea what the verses sounded like) were fun. The Ukrainian woman drummed along on the bongos. All this while looking out over the beautiful city night skyline.

That's as good a photo as I'm going to get for now, I'm afraid; without my camera's screen working, I can't adjust exposures or anything :(

It was just exceedingly pleasant. An Ah, this is the life! kind of a moment. Classes will start, real life will start, and soon enough I will not have so much time to just enjoy a simple, beautiful evening with good food, good music, and good company. But if I can just hold onto this moment, maybe it will be enough.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A room with a view

After two weeks of searching, I have finally found an apartment in Honolulu! It's actually a room in a house that has been converted into a duplex (though the staircase between the floors remains). The setup is that both floors have a master bedroom with its own bathroom, two single bedrooms which share a bathroom, a big living room, and an eat-in kitchen. I have the corner single on the top floor. A very nice young Ukrainian couple just moved into the master bedroom on my floor, and the current resident in the other single will be moving out on August 7, and a friend of mine I met when I visited UH in March will move in on the 11th.

The house is just blocks away from campus, less than a mile from the building I'll be working in. There's not much of a yard, though a bit of raking could make a difference (clearly no one has tended the yard in a while). The interior is newly renovated and shiny and the living room/eat-in kitchen has a view of Waikiki and Diamond Head! It's really quite beautiful, which I appreciate a lot after visiting tons of really shabby places (it took me two weeks of searching to find this place). I'm so excited and can't wait to move in. First I'll need a bed, though. For now I'm still sleeping at my auntie's house.

I'll take some photos of the interior once we get the place furnished a bit more. For now, I just have a photo of the view from our living room. Click on it to get the larger view. You can see Diamond Head (an extinct volcano) to the left.

Monday, August 3, 2009


My cousins have an adorable dog named Wookiee. They think he's around 4 years old--he was adopted from a dog rescue. We don't know what breed he is, but it's probably a mix of a couple things. In general I think of little dogs as annoying yappy creatures, but he is the most mellow dog I have ever known. Totally sweet and easy going, he loves everyone he meets, but in a chill kind of a way. Really, mellow is the term that gets thrown around him the most. His fur is silky soft, and he gets a trim every couple months so it doesn't get too long. He's just so cute, and I love that they named him Wookiee. Since I can't have a dog of my own (current house rules and I wouldn't have the time anyway), and these cousins live very close to my house, he may become my substitute dog.

I took to photographing him as he chilled out on the beach. Here are some of the shots. Enjoy!

Relaxing on the beach

He found a "ball" to play with! (I'm not sure what kind of plant it comes from... some tropical beach thing)

Walking along the beach

Taking a break again, mellow dog that he is. Good camouflage on the sand.

Can you see why they call him Wookiee?