Sonia Yoshioka-Braid (2010)

Kualoa Ranch
[Photographs by Sonia Yoshioka-Braid]

Lost in Hawaii

Hawaii. It evokes different memories in people. For some it is palm trees, white sand beaches, dusky natives and a Mai Tai at the Pink Palace on Waikiki Beach. For others, it’s the action-packed memories of “Book ‘em Danno!”… and Hawaii Five-O. Jack Lord and his sidekick always got their man. Or Magnum PI, with his Ferrari and Dobermans, helicopters and Higgins.

I went to Hawaii as an add-on. It was my first trip there. He was already going because of work. He’s the one at the front door of the plane, greeting you as you board. He’s used to being in charge, organising the troops, getting the job done. He’s been doing it for a while now, and he has his habits. He hadn’t been to Hawaii in a number of years.

I was lucky to get a seat on the plane; lucky to have a ‘free’ hotel room; lucky to be going where my extended family once owned land. I wanted to investigate those Japanese roots, but instead, to all intents and purposes I disappeared. My name wasn’t on the hotel register, so I didn’t get my own room key. Big mistake. We ended up stapled to each other’s sides. He hated the heat. I hated the cold. It was a match made in hell.

It is a five day trip, rather a luxury really. I am frantic with work but there is no way I would miss an opportunity like this. I am excited to finally get to Hawaii. It holds a special place in my Japanese family. I remember when I was nine or ten, my mother talking about signing a consent form to sell the family land so my grandmother would benefit. She has always wanted to see where that land is. Maybe I’ll get a chance on this trip?

We spend a day getting our bearings, finding his old haunts, like the Wailana Coffee House, a 24-hour diner where the staff look and act like they’ve been there forever. It is relaxed and the food is good. We walk down to Waikiki Beach as the evening darkens - he is keen to show me this magical place. We wander past high-rise hotels and the Pink Palace. It is getting late. We walk back through the shopping district. We don’t stop for a Mai Tai.

We want to hire a car but need to work out our plans. Hanauma Bay is closed on a Tuesday, so we decide to go on Monday. This means we have to organise the car hire on Sunday, but the city office is closed. He calls up the airport branch, and we arrange to go out early the next day to pick up the car. He forgets to ask for directions.

When we get to the domestic terminal, he says: “I’ve got a feeling it’s this way” and wanders off across the path and down a busy road. I see a sign saying “Car hire shuttle here” but he tells me it is for another company. We walk for 20 minutes along the dusty, truck-filled road before we find the car hire office. As we open the office door the shuttle bus from the domestic terminal pulls into the gate.

The car is a small white PT Cruiser. We arrange a 24-hour hire, and drive south, counter-clockwise around Oahu. We stop at Hanauma Bay to snorkel. I am small-framed and somewhat scared of deep water. Maybe the memory of almost being swept out to sea as a child is imprinted on my brain. I love and fear the ocean. I tell him I didn’t want to go out very far. “Come on!” he burbles, before taking the snorkel out of his mouth. He repeats his command.

Hanauma Bay

He is taller and has snorkelled more often than I. What else do you do when you’re resting on tropical islands? He wants to go out further into the bay, into the deep. I follow reluctantly, and keep getting dashed against the coral by the coursing waves, my bodyweight no match for the sea’s power, while his larger bulk seems to hover through the fish. Isn’t this fun? I give up and return to shore, where I lie in the sunshine and let the heat soak through my bones. It turns my skin a slightly darker shade of tea. The scratches on my knees stop bleeding and begin to scab over.

We are on a tight schedule, so we pack up and set off down the highway heading for the Windward Coast. Kailua Beach is for turtle-spotting, but I am tired after the exertions of Hanauma Bay. He’s been told the turtles are not far from here.

“They’re my favourite creatures!” he says. “We can’t come here and not look.”

“You go,” I say. “I’ll stay here with the bags and look at the scenery.”

He goes off in search of invisible turtles, while I sit on the sand, watching the testosterone surge with the tide. It is awash with men. Men with weird short haircuts, the total opposite of a relaxed surfer. Topless men with an unusually upright bearing. I am definitely in the minority. Then it hits me. They are US military personnel from the Marine Corps Base just up the road. They strut up and down the beach, punt footballs and chase bikini-clad girls in kayaks or on surfboards. They are loud and parade their manliness. I shut my eyes.

Our allocated time at Kailua beach over, we head north. In the spaghetti jungle of roads, we get lost around Kaneohe and turn right on to H3, almost ending back at Honolulu. This is not part of the plan. H3 cuts through the centre of the island and exits are few and far between, but we finally manage to get off the highway, turn around and get back towards the Windward side. We find our way to King Kamehameha Highway, looping back onto the road leading to the North Shore.

This time I drive so he can look out the window at the impressive backbone of the island, the Koolau Mountain Range, and I nearly fall asleep at the wheel as we round the top of the island, looking for the Banzai Pipeline. We turn off the highway at Ehukai Beach Park, and walk down to watch the waves crashing over jagged rocks before spewing onto the sand. The seabed rakes steeply away and a couple of surfers revel in the late afternoon quiet, taking turns on turbulent tubes of blue and white. The Banzai Pipeline, it turns out, is the next beach along.

Ehukai Beach Lifeguard Tower

He is keen to get to Waimea Bay and visit a waterfall he’d heard about, so we park the car and negotiate our way across the highway. The sign on the gate says Waimea Valley closes at 5 pm. He isn’t deterred. “We’ve come all this way – maybe we can still see it?” he says. I groan inside my head.

Waimea Bay

We walk down a long driveway, watching cars drive towards us. The native village is empty. Closed. There is nobody to ask for directions. There will be no waterfall today. He looks deflated as we trudge back along the driveway in the heat. He goes to take photographs of strangers jumping off the cliffs while I sit taking photographs of him, and the slowly sinking sun. We watch the sun go down on Waimea Bay.

The next day, we get up early and eat a good breakfast before heading down to the lobby. It is just before 7am. This is the highlight of his trip – a five hour Lost tour – in a Hummer! For those who are unfamiliar with the Lost phenomenon, I am told it is a television programme without peer. The series follows a group of plane crash survivors on a tropical island. I smirk at the irony. Apparently Lost spans the genres of adventure, drama, fantasy, science fiction, and psychological drama - the acme of that oxymoron ‘intelligent television’. I’ve never watched it, but he is a card-carrying, podcast-downloading, internet-stalking Lost geek.

We are met at the hotel by our small but perfectly formed tour guide. He has already picked up the other customers, a pair of Crocs-wearing British honeymooners. They are all Lost geeks. I am a minority again. The tour departs early to avoid Honolulu traffic and we head up Nu’uanu Pali Drive.

Along the way the tour guide pulls over. “If you have a look in here, you can see the driveway of a house that was used in this episode of Lost …” He brings out a folder with photographs from the show. My eyes glaze over. The other three nod their heads like plastic dogs on a dashboard.

Pali Lookout is next, an impressive land bluff with a bloody Hawaiian history. It fascinates me. Chickens scratch around the car park while we wander up to read information plaques. It is a brief stop. We are soon back on the road. The tour guide is itching to get us to Kaneohe Bay and the pièce de resistance, Kualoa Ranch.

The ranch, a 45-minute drive from Waikiki, is a 4,000-acre privately owned block of land acquired, so the brochure says, from King Kamehameha III in 1850. It boasts a five-mile coastal stretch, three mountains and two valleys, as well as the Molii fishpond, an 800-year-old, 125-acre aquatic habitat. It is Oahu’s largest and oldest cattle ranch.

Molii Fishpond

We drive up and park the Hummer outside the large wooden souvenir store and café. We are the only people there, but the tour guide assures us that buses of eager tourists will soon be packing the aisles. He goes off to sign our group in with the ranch as we wander around the store. It is packed with the detritus that ends up on office desks or takes pride of place in Japanese homes. Aloha. Welcome to Hawaii.

The tour guide gathers us back together, the other three straining to get on with the adventure. We jump back into the Hummer and set off through the ranch. It is still a working ranch, and all the protocols of farming have to be followed. Gates that are opened have to be closed again. Animals have right of way. It feels a lot like New Zealand.

We drive out into the valley and he throws the gearbox into four-wheel drive. This is no Sunday afternoon promenade. We stop at particular sections of land and the tour guide pulls out a DVD player so we can see a movie excerpt and compare it to real life. As the list grows, I notice a pattern. Very few are Oscar-winners. Most fall into the genres of romantic comedy or the instantly forgettable. It seems an insult to the surroundings.

Photography sleight of hand
[Hurley image from KOS Tours website]

The tour guide kicks his delivery up a notch. We’ve reached Hurley’s golf course! He makes a great fuss of a very practiced trick of perspective, getting the Lost geeks to stand in the distance while he holds up a plastic model of the Hurley character. Snap. Instantly, they’re standing ‘next’ to Hurley. That’s one for the photograph album! My camera, so often my second pair of eyes, remains in its case.

Kualoa Ranch itself is an impressive microcosm of Hawaii, the terrain varying from dense rainforest to broad valleys leading down to beautiful white sand beaches. During the war, the northern end of the ranch was used as an airstrip, incorporating part of the highway into the runway. Whenever planes came in for landing traffic was stopped to allow them through. We stand looking out over the valley. It is breathtaking.

Movie and Lost Museum

The ranch is also home to a WWII gun battery, which now houses a movie and Lost museum of sorts. The tour guide mentions a group who flew out from the mainland for a day to do the 10-hour Lost tour. “They all wore Dharma orange jumpsuits and knew everything about the programme,” he laughs. “Were they from Microsoft?” I venture. He looks at me. “How did you know?” I smile back. “Just a lucky guess.”

There is no escape, but after five long hours, the tour is over and we are returned to our hotels, Hard Rock Café vouchers in hand. “Tell your friends about us,” says the tour guide. “We sure will!” he says, tired but happy. I am just tired. We return to our room and he turns the air conditioning up full blast to escape the heat. I climb into my bed and shiver under the blankets.

We rest for a couple of hours before the siren call of shopping rouses me. We are staying right next door to the Ala Moana Shopping Centre, which I have already explored, drooling over Chanel shoes and wistfully staring at a dazzling array of food and gift items in the specialist Japanese store. I find the island a strange but comforting mix of American, Japanese and Polynesian influences. I feel slightly inadequate when I hear the ease with which multi-lingual shop assistants interact with tourists. I still haven’t learned to speak Japanese.

I want to check out Walmart and remember that the bus driver also mentioned a local haunt. “Go to Don Quijote” he says. “My girlfriend is always in there buying something.” We eat a late lunch and venture into the afternoon heat without a map to find these elusive icons, so I rely on my innate sense of direction to find the stores. Our initial foray around the outskirts of Ala Moana reveals nothing, so we head south down the road in a direction that feels right to me. We turn a corner, and there it is, Don Quijote, housing an El Dorado of predominantly Japanese goods.

We spend a bit of time in the store, and then go out again in search of Walmart. He starts walking, but I think we’re going in the wrong direction. He’s fixated on something, and then looks up. He gets a glint of excitement in his eyes. “Ooh – it’s over there. Let’s go!” We are still heading south, away from the shopping centre, and away from where I’d been told to look. We walk a couple of blocks before he says: “There it is!” “What?” I reply. “That church! It’s in Lost. I knew it was around here. I saw it from the Hummer as we drove past.” I groan – outwardly this time - trapped again in a Lost vortex, in the afternoon heat of downtown Honolulu. I look for somewhere to sit, but there is nothing to support me, so I stand at the edge of the grassed verge as he wanders up and down, taking photographs of the blessed exterior.

Eventually he manages to drag himself away and we walk back towards the Ala Moana Shopping Centre. I am foot sore and sullen, a dull ache moves across my temples and I really need to find a bathroom. We stop at an intersection and I look down the road to the left – there is Walmart! I nudge him. “There’s Walmart” I say. “Do you still want to have a look?” he asks. He seems surprised. “Well, I’ve never been in a Walmart before, so we may as well go,” I reply.

We walk into the air-conditioned coolness of Walmart. It feels like an oasis. There is even a bathroom by the front door so I take care of that distraction and then set my sights on the store. Apart from a small Hawaiian section at the front, it is wall-to-wall bland with row after row of the same types of items on display. I feel as though I haven’t left New Zealand. Replace the ‘Wal’ with a ‘K’ and I’m suddenly back in Auckland. It is also not cheap, and is packed with people. I have hit my limit. I’m over it.

I want to leave, but he is engrossed, he’s found a few items he wants to buy. I stand alongside him like a surly teenager. I don’t want to play any more. We go back to the hotel room, and I sit on the bed, too tired to move. He’s found his second wind.

“I really want to go down to the marina – they did a lot of Lost shooting there,” he says.

I glare at him. “Then go on your own,” I mutter. “I don’t want to go anywhere right now. I just want to lie down.”

He looks at me, taken aback by the steely tone of my voice. “Oh. Okay. So you’ll be okay if I take the room key?” he asks.

“Fine,” I spit. “Just go.”

I turn my back at him and put my head down on the pillow. He bustles out of the room pulling his backpack on.

I turn down the air-conditioning and go to sleep, but when I wake up, he is still not back. I’m dying to go for a swim in the pool, but he still has the only room key. I’m trapped. I turn on the television and wait.

The Ala Moana Hotel Pool and view out to Waikiki Marina

Visitor Centre looking out over Pearl Harbor

The next day we get up early to visit Pearl Harbor, where infamy runs both ways. My grandfather was in the Japanese Navy and his boat was somewhere in the Pacific in support of the Pearl Harbour raids. He died when his boat was sunk off the coast of Java not long after that by the US submarine Bluefin. I grew up hearing stories of his adventures from my mother, and how her life changed irreparably after he died. When I discover that submarine mascot in a glass display case at Pearl Harbor, I shudder.

We catch a Number 20 bus and arrive at Pearl Harbor early in the day in an effort to beat the crowds and the heat. They are rebuilding the visitor centre, so there are detours and delays getting to the right place. We have to check our bags at the small office and can take very little in with us. We book tickets for the 9.15 tour of the USS Arizona and wait.

The tour is preceded by a short film. I sit and listen to the stories being told on the movie screen, but my filter is out of kilter with theirs. How evil were the Japanese? It looked like they were tactically smart to me. Smaller, quicker and more devastating. You could only pull out your own weapons of mass destruction. What a lesson to give the world.

View of USS Arizona from the Memorial

On board the Arizona loud tourists are shouted at by on-duty volunteers. Show some respect, will you? Why? Did you show any respect when you sent out two atomic bombs to show your might? There are markers where the ships went down. Did you leave a marker over my grandfather’s boat? Oil seeps from the graveyards below water. Rust never sleeps.

I wander around the Missouri where the surrender treaty was signed, and gaze in amazement at the icons preserved. I can feel the ghosts push past me. The stories on the wall don’t mesh with mine. They’ve somehow forgotten to mention the two Atomic bombs they contributed to the war. It is a telling omission. The spot where the surrender document was signed is forever commemorated with a shiny bronze plaque.

Surrender on the Missouri

Fee-paying veteran-guided tours are available, but I want to see this for myself. I look at the spot where a kamikaze pilot crashed into the deck. At least his story is remembered. We wander all over the massive boat. He likes the big guns. I find it ironic I can now sit on the bridge of this once-hated icon.

Outside the souvenir store US veterans sit, under baseball caps and behind sunglasses, talking to visitors. I eyeball them wearily. Which one of you killed my grandfather? What do you think of war now? I search through the books for information on my grandfather’s boat, but there’s not much about the Japanese Navy. I am not surprised.

Looking back at the Arizona memorial from the Pearl Harbor Visitor Centre

I want to stop, sit down and soak it all in. This place evokes a feeling of unreality. He can’t cope with the heat. Thinks he’s getting sick. Lies down in the shade with a cold water bottle to his forehead. Poor thing. I want a drink, but the only tea I can get is iced tea, cold and sickly sweet. The food is fried or jam-packed with fat. I pass.

At last, we leave. It feels like a very long day. He wants to get back to the hotel room, back to the cool and the quiet, so he can rest. I am weary. We board the bus back into town, and go straight to the hotel. He flops onto his bed, still feeling sick, so I take the magic room key and go to find food. He can’t work if he’s sick, so I pick up fresh food and yoghurts to calm his stomach. He has something to eat and then tucks himself back into bed.

I bolt out the door and head back to the shopping centre, looking for a bookstore to wander around in. Borders is open on the level below, so I grab a couple of magazines and sit in a comfortable chair. It is quiet. Bliss. Eventually my phone goes off. Who’s calling me now? Is there an emergency at home? I push a button and hear his voice. “Where are you? I woke up and you weren’t there.”

Our last day on the island is a push-me-pull-you of competing demands. I have work to finish, he needs to rest and catch up on sleep before his job starts on the flight home. I still have presents to buy for my family. I pull out my laptop and begin to focus on a piece of academic writing, due the day after I get back. I am way behind schedule. I try to make sense of what I’ve already written and go through my notes. He turns on the television, changing rapidly through the channels. I close my laptop.

“I’m going shopping,” I say.

He looks at me. ”I thought you’d done that already?”

“No, we’ve been too busy doing other things, and I need to get the girls something,” I reply. “I’ll need the room key.”

He sits up. “Oh… well, I was going to go out a bit later,” he says.

“Then we need another room key,” I say. “Why don’t you go down to reception and grab another one, and we can both do what we need to do?”

He nods in agreement, puts on some clothes, and sets off on his mission. He returns in 5 minutes with another key, and I head off, looking at my list.

Aloha sunset

I walk through the door at Macy’s but my budget doesn’t match their prices. I’m determined to find a memento just for me, but something feels off. I try on clothes but the sizing is wrong, or the design doesn’t suit me. This happens again and again. I am exhausted and disappointed. At the very last block of shops, I try on a white J. Crew blouse. Michelle Obama wears their clothes. It fits me. I take it away.

I get back to the hotel and realise I am still missing a few vital gifts, nothing big, but it’s important to me to find something to take back. I discover a collection of shops in the bowels of the hotel. I select a few items and take them up to the room. I figure I can buy more at the airport.

Our flight home leaves late at night. By the time we get to the airport, I discover all the shops are closed. There is nothing to do but wait. In the meantime, he has already gone through the gate to start his day’s work, check if everything is how it should be, and follow his lists. I wait until they call us through, and my heart lurches as I step off Hawaiian soil. It held the promise of discovery and adventure, but I got lost.

© Sonia Yoshioka-Braid

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