“The familiar sounds, visual cues, even olfactory inputs, can trigger memories and emotions we thought were long gone. It happens every time I go home too.”
These are words spoken by Dr. Spencer Reid, a character in the CBS TV show Criminal Minds played by actor Matthew Gray Gubler. This was in reference to Dr. Alex Blake (played by Jeanne Tripplehorn), who was back home for a case, “home” being Kansas City, after not being there for five years. It immediately reminded me of my own situation.
Next year will mark fourteen years where I haven’t been back in Honolulu. I used to have a friend who hadn’t been back that long and I thought “that’s insane, how can you not go back?” Then real life happens, money is tight to the point of almost non-existence, and each chance you get to go back home, “things happen” and then it moves to “maybe next year”. Then the next. Then the next. I was last home in 2000, I went with my family for my 30th birthday and the goal was to climb Diamond Head crater on the day. However, a lady died on the flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu and we had to turn around, which lead us to San Francisco. Sadly, my first and only visit to San Francisco, but I spent it in an airport eating cold sandwiches. One day, I’ll visit the city in a real fashion. What is normally a five hour flight from the West Coast to the middle of the Pacific Ocean turned into a 24 hour “delay”, and we were beyond tired to anything that morning. We arrived at about 1 or 2am, and no one was going to wake up at 6 or 7am to make the climb at 8 or “whenever it’s not too hot to climb”. A few days after I turned 30, we made the climb. Fortunately I did a small bit of “training” to make it happens, so it was possible for this fat human to make the climb that included occasional moments of groaning and heavy breathing. Before that, I had been back home in 1998. Before that: 1991, so that seven year stretch between visits home seemed like way too much. I knew that “in my 30’s, I’m going to prosper and make sure I get a chance to come back every two to three years.” I never once thought of saying “maybe next decade”, yet alone 14 years. Then again, I also never thought I’d lose a decent job, nor did I realize the recovery would have taken… well, it’s still taking forever for me to get around.
Every now and then, I’ll go on Google maps to track and see some of the old places I remember. My old neighborhood in Pauoa is still the same. The old trees are there. The houses. The bus stops. Surrounding churches. The bridge that lead to my intermediate (now “middle”) school. The corner stores, one that remains alive, the others closed down. The Chinese restaurant I grew up with that was my dad’s favorite Chinese restaurant. For now, all there. When I go through the Google maps, I’ll go through various spots in Honolulu and in the broad picture, I still know exactly where I’m at. I used to ride my bike from Pauoa to the Kapahulu area, which was about 4 1/2 miles and yet felt like I had been outside for hours. In truth about an hour but I was 12 and 13, I went to video game rooms, record stores, and ate hot dogs. I knew if I passed certain businesses, I would smell some kind of ethnic cuisine, but I didn’t call it “ethnic cuisine” back then. It was “the Korean place”, “the Filipino place”, or “the Vietnamese place”. It wasn’t complex or difficult, it was just my bicycle ride around town, and I lived for that. I felt independent, it was a bit of freedom, it was my chance to know where I was going and where I could go, thanks to the normal drives around Honolulu. It meant I was going through the neighborhoods, always being sure to “be careful”.
My last trip back home, it seemed as if we didn’t do a good amount of “traveling around”. Then again, I think I say that because it becomes increasingly difficult to do everything I want within the span of seven days. I have to cram a mental list of the places I want to visit, the beach time I want to spend, and as with most Hawaiians, plan out the eating schedule. “We’ll go to Gulick’s, Zippy’s, and W&M, maybe we’ll get some manapua at Libby’s.” That’s part of the fun, to go back to the old haunts while seeing what remains and what is no longer.
Each time I go through Google maps, I’ll see less of what I remember, or at least it looks different. There may be a new building or apartment complex. There may be a block of stores replacing the old corner store. As I go deep into the neighborhoods, I still see the Honolulu I hold true, the places that made me who I am. I’ll go through Waikiki and sometimes I’ll go “wait, this is there?” or “what happened to this place?’, “when did they tear that down?” Waikiki is a tourist trap, and yet my Omama (grandma), grandpa, uncles, and aunties all lived within the neighborhood so I knew the places to go and what to avoid. Tourist nick-nacks? Avoid. ABC Store with the pens that showed nude women when you turned them upside down? It may have been a tourist store, but it’s where one could get candy, ice cream, and soda, which meant “snack”, which most of the time my grandparents never kept.
There are also a number of places in Honolulu and on Oahu that I’ve never been to, and would like to visit. While I value “the old haunts”, I also want to see what’s new, to embrace what present day Honolulu loves and enjoy. I also want to go to the places I didn’t visit or was aware about until now. Oahu is a small island, it takes a good three to four hours to make the drive around. Probably shorter, but there’s always the mandatory stops at beaches, mountain cliffs, corner stores, off-road sellers, and of course a visit to Matsumoto for shave ice. I want to do all of that.
I want to see and revisit what makes me happy, yet being there will always make me happy, it is one of the few places on Earth where I don’t have to think about a “comfort zone”. Yet it’s about those things that will trigger a memory, both happy and sad. I love it when I come across something I didn’t expect. There was one time where we were eating lunch at Booth Park in Pauoa (the park across thre street from Pauoa Elementary) and as we were on the table, there was a family with their hibachi making lunch or dinner, and someone was on a chair with a guitar, singing and playing music. That immediately brought back memories of the backyard parties, the get-together’s, the baby showers, what used to be customary for us. Music is everywhere in Hawai’i, be it on the radio, on TV, the stereo, car radio, and…everywhere. It truly felt like home, and it’s the kind of thing the tourists will not know about. Yet in many ways, I feel like an outsider, I am now the tourist who can only revisit what I was brought up with. There’s that struggle of trying to stay close to the parts of my culture that I love, but knowing the connection cannot be 24/7.
I do wonder what kind of memories. will be triggered once I do return home. I essentially haven’t been back home in my 30’s, having only been there for six days or so. I’m now 43. 50 may be a little over six years ago but it’s…still…approaching. It’s a bit scary.
One question that I’m sure can be raised as “why not move back home?” Cost of living is outrageous, and I’m not in the position where I could live comfortably, or at least someone who could live and get by. Even if I were able to live comfortably there, I don’t think I’m ready to make the move. When I moved to the mainland with my family, the great thing about it was that it was a chance to explore. I had only traveled around and within the island, and now, as someone who lives in the Pacific Northwest, I’m able to drive to Oregon, Idaho, down to California, maybe over to Nevada or Arizona? I can catch a Greyhound or Amtrak to Chicago, eventually head to New York City? I love the idea of the possibilities, even though I didn’t take them at first. I used to be someone who felt that traveling to new places was a tourist thing, a “haole thing” if you will, but I’m the kid who used to borrow map books and study them, when I had the chance to travel. I was making plans to travel and didn’t execute them. This past year, my nephew played football in high school for the first time and while we traveled to a number of small towns, it was great to do so because it meant some sense of exploring, even if it was nothing more than punching up Google Maps and saying “we’ll be in this down that’s an hour away, we have to take this highway, and the closest place for coffee is here.” It was a means of creating new memories, and I will not pass them up. I will always have my memories, which sometimes I view as “to be continued” moments. Or as Queen Lili’uokalani once said in “Aloha ‘Oe”, “one fond embrace, a hoi ae au, until we meet again”. Hawai’i will always be there but the older I get, the more I realize that I will not always be here to enjoy it. I must do so while I’m able to. I also want to be able to explore as much of the world as I possibly can. I want to say hello to new people, new sunrises, new sounds, but still have an awareness of where my journey began. I’m nothing without home.
Until we meet again…