Fitting In

On Sunday, we went to a birthday lunch for a friend. It was at Hilo Burger Joint, one of a half block of creaky wooden buildings, vestiges of Hilo’s heyday as a cowboy town. When we walked in, it struck me as the runt of the TGI Friday’s litter. It had the same kind of menu and jolly atmosphere, it was just smaller. Our waiter was perky but not festooned with buttons and stuffed toys. And it was just as loud as its Tokyo litter mates.

The Big Island seems to have everything other places offer, they’re just smaller. Instead of Kinko’s, we have Paradise Business Center, which is gray and dusty and run by an equally gray and dusty skeleton of a man, but he takes Amazon and UPS drop-off without too much complaint. Instead of Costco, we have Cost U Less, which is much more manageable in scale and has tiny birds fluttering around inside it, a delightful addition to the shopping experience. The Hilo version of the Apple Store Genius Bar is a second floor back office with two computer dudes slouching on folding chairs, but they get the job done and you don’t need an appointment. Our Walmart and Target may be smaller than some, but they sometimes have what you want. And if they don’t, there’s always Amazon, which takes a week instead of a day but where’s the rush anyway?

At the Burger Joint, I discovered that the menu carried an involved discussion about how their burgers were made with wagyu but not Kobe beef because only beef from Kobe can be called Kobe beef and theirs is wagyu from Colorado. The editor in me was wondering why they had to bring up the concept of Kobe beef at all, as I heard split hairs gently fluttering toward the floor. Their standard burgers are made with local, grass fed, hormone free, Kulana beef, which sounded lovely to me, wondering why people make such a fuss about Kobe beef anyway. It’s fatty and tasteless, but that’s just my opinion.

Overwhelmed by the beef dispute, I focused instead on the company, which proved to be well worth the drive to Hilo. It was a jovial groups. I counted two sets of hearing aids, one cane and more than a few age spots. When we were done, it took all of us a moment to leverage our creaky knees off the hard wooden chairs, but everyone was alert and eager to communicate. It never really sank in when we decided to move here that we didn’t know a solitary soul, but over the months, we’ve birthed a litter of our own, all interesting people who’ve done interesting things with their lives, all coming from Somewhere Else and now coming from Here. Local people are called kama’aina and we’re included. I’ll never be Hawaiian any more than I’ll ever be Japanese, but I do feel welcome. I feel at home. We’ve been lucky, I guess, or maybe the Big Island just attracts the sort of people we want to know. Part of our continuing adventure will be finding out more about that.

The Benza

I had a lovely video chat with my dear friend Chris in Tokyo this week. If you have Amazon Prime, please check out The Benza, like it, comment, write a review, be supportive. It’s a collaboration, but Chris’ brainchild and he’s busted his tail to make the series happen and get it noticed, plus it’s very funny, both silly and smart. Bonus: If you look closely, you will see my name in the credits.

While we were talking, Chris asked me what a typical day is like here in paradise and I realized that there’s no such thing. My general rule is yoga and/or power walking on the lanai in the morning but after that Bob’s your uncle. So I have set myself a challenge to write something about some of the extraordinary things that happen here each day this week. Wish me luck!

Moving On…Or Not

We’ve just completed the seventh month of our residence here in paradise. I still don’t know what we’re doing. I had set myself a goal of six months to settle in, get my ducks (or nenes) in a row, figure out where we’re going from here. Instead, I find myself completely clueless. I admit to being overwhelmed, unable to process the array of new places and people and experiences flooding my life. To illustrate, in the past week, I….

…ate blue eggs…

…made some new friends…

Shining Star

…performed taiko drumming onstage at the University of Hawaii…

…sat in on an improvisational singalong…

…ran into some beautiful faces at Foodland…

Emily, Joli, Rochi, Raenette, John Ray, Mahina and Paul

…saw orchids bloom in my garden…

…had a mammogram in English…
…attended a drumming workshop…
…took part in a gratitude circle…
…had a girls’ night out in Pahoa…
…started a new exercise regimen…
…and played a hang drum.

That’s a lot.

The thing is, living in Tokyo, sometimes months went by and nothing interesting happened. Now something wonderful happens almost every day.

The key to this magic, I have discovered, is opening myself up to what could be instead of sitting on memories and waiting for magic to walk through the door. It almost never does.

I am overwhelmed, delighted, grateful and very, very aware of how lucky I am.




Fresh Eyes

Our first guests from Japan were here this weekend, two lovely ladies I have known for years and worked with many times. Even though we haven’t even been here six months yet and Tokyo is much closer than Pennsylvania, at times, our Japan life seems very long ago and far away. So it was a great pleasure to see Junko and Yoshie and welcome them into our home.

They had asked to see the ocean and some lava, so we drove along Beach Road (where there aren’t any beaches) as far as you can go until you abruptly run into a 20 foot wall of fresh lava. Along the way, the narrow road winds and twists through lush greenery that even Walt Disney would have had trouble imagining. We stopped a couple of times to stare at the craggy rocks and crashing surf that make up the Puna coastline. As we sailed through tunnels of trees, at times we expected Alice and the White Rabbit to peep out from behind a gnarled tree, at others a velociraptor to jump out of the Jurassic looking foliage.

To cap off the afternoon, we took a stroll through Lava Tree State Park, where I took a photo of Rochi taking a photo of Junko taking a photo of Yoshie taking a photo of all of us. That big lump of lava behind Yoshie was once a tree. Hence the name of the park. But you got that, right?

It felt strange to be driving, stranger to be driving while speaking Japanese, but we all felt relaxed and comfortable together and it was a delight to see our world through their eyes. Puna is nothing like the image of Hawaii that everyone carries: white sand beaches and pretty girls doing hula dances under waving palm trees. Puna is rough and wild, exotic and awe-inspiring but also quiet, still thinly populated, a backwater in some ways. Junko and Yoshie live in Tokyo and could keenly appreciate the airy space of our house, the exotic plants and flowers in the garden, the earthy damp of the virgin forest and salty scent of the pristine ocean.

In the morning, they tumbled out of bed, rumpled and sleepy. Both headed straight for the deck to stretch and breathe and take in the miraculous morning freshness which still moves me nearly to tears every single day. I told Junko that I’ve wondered again and again if we made the right decision, to dismantle our Japan lives and start over here, but the longer we stay the more I know we were meant to be here. Hawaii wants us here and we want to be here. I can’t think of any place I’d rather be.