Hawaii is sitting on mom's deck, watching the sunset over Diamond Head and Waikiki and drinking wine. Hawaii is those Iolani high school years studying and running cross country. Hawaii is where you have morning showers with double rainbows, sunshine, and a deluge of water within hours. Hawaii is walking the streets of Waikiki with your high school girlfriends, watching the street performers and counting your money to get spam musubi at the ABC store and have enough left over for Waiola's shave ice. Hawaii is the best snacks and crack seed: shave ice, kakimochi, haupia, li hing mui-covered...well, everything.
It's been 14 years since I left the island. Honolulu, that is. Each visit back is an emotional grab bag of calmness to be home, then realization of how much the island and I have grown apart and how much I (unwarrantedly?) don't feel local anymore. I know it's not where I can live, for many reasons, but it's home.
Q: "What's it like to grow up in Hawaii?" or "How was your vacation to Hawaii?"
A: Hawaii is just home. It's family. It's a unique place, but not a vacation. For those who live there, Honolulu is a bustling city. Oahu's population is nearly 1 million; there's a downtown, Chinatown, city outskirts, big malls, outdoor recreation, and schools. In culture and politics, it's quite like other small US towns.
There's things that don't change about Hawaii. There's a dichotomy of sticking to "local," yet luring large mainland changes. Longs Drugs is the local to-be place after church on Sundays, with the morning newspaper coupon insert in hand (to avoid cult uprising, CVS maintained the Longs brand in Hawaii). Yet other mainland retail were a welcome relief from pricey local stores. I remember the first KMart, Macys, Walmart, Costco (which grosses the highest in the nation from its Hawaii stores), Safeway. Hawaii's a politically Democratic state that's hugely religious. "Where you wen' high school" [with a slight flick of the head to match the inflection] is a religious, cultural, and economic badge that you'll take to your grave. For the record, Iolani.
The last few years have brought an influx of high-end retailers like Bloomingdale's, modern condo highrises near Ala Moana, and "gastropubs" and "eateries," which I'm not sure has entered local vocabulary--eating out is a weekly trip to Costco, potluck, or family-style Chinese food. There's a lot more of a lot of [foreign?] money. Global warming is real; occasional days of 90+ degrees in summer are much more the norm.
For the most part, my visits home are spending time with parents, doing house odds and ends, drinking wine with mom, going grocery shopping, and cooking. I rarely do the touristy circuit, and while beaches are gorgeous to look at, I've never been a water person. In this little part of Hawaii, on mom's deck, watching the clouds, sun, rain, planes flying overhead, and ships going by, Hawaii doesn't seem to change.