For those of you that haven’t seen it yet, I made a slideshow. It captures my three years in Japan. It took me a long time to put together and invokes great nostalgia when I watch it. Check it out, if you like! Don’t forget there’s a media tab!
Between posts my blog surpassed the 20,000 mark. That’s an average of more than 200 hits per entry. Thank you all for staying up with my journey. Your encouragement helped me go the distance. Arigato. Mahalo.
As mentioned I’ve began a new career in Hawaii. I am now a public servant. I am a legislative aide to the Representative of Hawaii’s 7th District. Allow me to explain my job a bit.
I am essentially a secretary to the Representative and to her chief of staff. Each morning I make coffee, check messages, print news articles, make copies, and attend to emails. Throughout the day I greet and help manage constituents & other guests either on the phone or in the office. During my remaining time I manage between five to ten projects a day. Each day I track the Representatives’ 70 personal bills and often work the phones trying to secure testimony. I’ve collected data and helped write a bill. I’ve mediated problems between constituents and state departments. I’ve researched laws through statutes and session laws. Each time I’ve finished one project another pops up.
In addition to learning how offices in America work I’m also learning a great deal about the legislative process. My boss is the chairperson of the Water & Land Committee. She has also served six terms in the House. In the beginning I was overwhelmed by the jargon and the pace of our office. Now however I know all about bills, resolutions, drafts, laterals, hearing notices, decking, crossover, decking, speakership, committee assignments and about a hundred acronyms. (For the record, Americans LOVE their acronyms.)
Now our session is nearing the final stretch. I’ve greatly enjoyed my experience in the Hawaiian legislature and I plan to come back next year. With some more experience I will open an assortment of possible career paths in public service. But for now, I’m happy thinking I may have found my niche.
Just before I left for Nebraska I made my first big purchase back in America. I bought a brand new bicycle. I opted for a bike instead of a car for a number of reasons.
1. It’s healthier. In addition to walking everyday I also have to cycle to work, the supermarket, my friends’ houses, and anywhere else. I love the idea that I’m giving my heart a little work out all the time. If I learned anything from super health-conscious Japan, and I learned a lot, it’s that taking care of yourself is important!
2. It’s free. I paid for my bike in cash. It’s mine and there is little-to-nothing in terms of upkeep. Compared with a car I have avoided monthly payments, gasoline, insurance, parking, tickets, and all the other charges that come with a car. That kind of financial independence feels good.
3. It’s sustainable. The older I get the more interested I become in sustainable living. I am not producing any carbon during my commute. I’m not making the congested roads of Honolulu any worse with another car and one less parking spot. It feels good.
All said I do miss driving and I will definitely buy a car again when I’m a bit more settled. But in the meantime I’m enjoying it. Honolulu is a flat city and it’s almost always sunny. Ideal conditions for a bike ride.
My birthday came in early February, as it usually does. It fell on a Sunday and I was exhausted from working a special hearing on Saturday. I hadn’t planned a party since my 21st and wasn’t going to start now.
Luckily my neighbors were good sports. Garrett and Caroline, from downstairs, threw together a barbecue in my honor. We cleared the driveway, set up some chairs and fired up the grill. Some of their friends and other neighbors showed up and we got rolling.
Everyone brought something to share. I personally brought my favorite Japanese beer, Kirin Ichiban Shibori (キリン一番搾り), and some wild boar that had been caught on Big Island and gifted by our constituents.
My upstairs neighbors came home and saw our party. The guy opened his ice chest and pulled out a 20 pound tuna he had caught an hour earlier. He gutted and cleaned it right in front of us.
“Happy birthday,” he said to me.
It was a $100 fish he just gave to us.
We put the fish right on the grill.
After the tuna, some guitars, ukuleles and drums got busted out. Everybody in the circle picked up and instrument and started jamming.
This was “ohana,” Hawaiian for family.
Not a bad birthday on the fly.
It’s a Small World-
In January I had dinner with my old friend, Lisa. You may remember Lisa from the early chapters in my Japanese journey. She and I were in the same training group back in November 2010. Together with Elisha and Lauren, Lisa and I were part of a ragtag group of English teachers. Unfortunately Lisa left shortly after the March 11th earthquake/tsunami. I never thought I’d see her again.
Then I moved to Hawaii. Lisa lives in Hawaii.
Funny how life works.
I called Lisa up and we made plans for dinner. We both live on Oahu, albeit on opposite sides of the island; her on the north and myself on the south. I took the public bus up to her neck of the woods and she picked me up from the stop. At her condo I met her husband and her puppy. We enjoyed dinner and caught up. Reminiscing about time together in Japan and all that happened between meetings. We met in Japan three years earlier and there we were having dinner in Hawaii. What a small world.
The size of the world got smaller in March when I had dinner with my friend Sean. I met Sean in sixth grade in Lincoln. We were friends through middle school, high school and university. Around the time I left for Japan he joined the Navy. We fell out of touch.
Then I moved to Hawaii. Sean lives in Hawaii.
He and I met up for some Mexican and talked story for a few hours. It had been years since we’d had any contact. It was good to catch up, but surreal. Here was a man who I had known as a boy on the plains. And now we were eating dinner in the middle of the Pacific. What a small world.
In late March I visited a family friend for dinner. My late grandfather, whom I never knew, had a best friend named Charles. Apparently Charles lives on Oahu. I got in touch with him via my grandmother and made plans for dinner. I caught a bus out to his side of the island and found his retirement home.
I arrived early and waited in the lobby. As the only young person in the building he found me before I found him. We sat down and enjoyed dinner, dessert, and coffee. This man’s history with my unknown grandfather was very interesting. In some ways he was like my own grandfather. What a world.
The very next night I met my aunt for dinner in Waikiki. She and her sister were in town for a few days and looked me up. My aunt, Vicky, has been a recent addition to our family and thus I didn’t know her very well. But it was a delight getting to know her over dinner and drinks. Despite her living in Virginia we were able to meet in Waikiki.
My favorite “small world” moment came on a mountain peak. My mate, Matt, and I had gone for a hike and had taken a break on a mountain top. We had finished our granola bars and were shouldering our packs when a man walked out of the trees.
“Oh, hi Avery,” I said.
“Hey, Alex,” he returned.
We shot the breeze for a moment before going our separate ways.
Matt turned to me and said, “that was really nonchalant. Do you work with him?”
“No. Avery and I had went to high school together. But I haven’t seen him since graduation.”
Perhaps I had been low-key because we both knew the other was living in Hawaii. We had spoken via email but hadn’t made plans to meet up. But as luck would have it we crossed paths on a mountain.
The last time I had seen Avery we were 18 years old. Then I saw him on a mountain in Hawaii nine years later. Now that is a small world!
In the four months I’ve been living in Hawaii I have done a lot! Here’s a partial list:
Stand up paddle boarding.
Visited Big Island.
Toured Pearl Harbor.
The times I’ve gone hiking here it’s been a breeze. I consider myself a strong hiker and I’ve dusted the local peaks here with breeze. Fortunately even the easy hikes are always rewarded with spectacular views. I can look one way and see mountains and valleys. When I look the other way I see the blue ocean.
I try to go snorkeling as often as I can. However I am still a little spooked when I’m out in the open ocean. A few weeks ago me and Matt went for a swim. We swam 100+ meters off the shore to a huge pipe that pumped warm water out into the sea. We had to swim through really large waves and a hellacious rip current to make it. But the view and the experience made it worthwhile. There was plenty of life around the warm vent. I looked back at the beach and realized how far out we were. I shivered. So I put my face back into the water and looked at the bottom 20 feet below. That’s better.
Surfing may be my new hobby. I paid for an instructor for the first lesson. Much to my surprise I popped up and rode my first wave. I was completely exhausted at the end of the day, but it was totally worth it. I’m going to try to pick up a used board this summer and hit the beach at least once a week. Cowabunga!
I’ve wanted to go skydiving ever since I was a little boy. For my last birthday I decided to finally treat myself. I caught a shuttle up to the north shore and signed up for a tandem jump. Our plane flew up to 14,000 feet and I jumped out of the plane.
“Geronimo!” I cried. I’ve always wanted to say that.
We fell through the sky off the coast of Oahu. To my left was the Pacific Ocean. To my right were mountains. What a way to feel alive.
A quick 90 seconds later and we touched back down on the ground. I was safe & sound, and was coursing with adrenaline & testosterone.
Happy birthday, Alex.
I’ve also wanted to scuba dive for as long as I can remember. I finally had an opportunity to try it. Out in Hawaii Kai bay I slipped into a wetsuit and sat on the side of our boat. The instructor strapped an oxygen tank on my back and I slipped into the clear blue water. After a few basic tests I was free to descend into the water.
I slid down the rope stopping every few feet to pop my ears and equalize pressure. Finally I let go of the rope and floated to the ocean floor. I checked my depth gauge, 35 feet. I swam a bit further following our instructor. We swam over the bleached coral and came down into a sandy basin. Right in front of me was a giant sea turtle. He opened his eyes and woke from his nap long enough to casually dismiss me. Then he returned to sleep.
I like turtles.
Too soon I had burned through the oxygen tank and had to resurface. We drove to the next spot and had the opportunity to go once more. I snatched it up.
Sitting back on the stepboard the instructor strapped my tank on again.
“Think of yoga when you’re down there,” she said. “Slow, deliberate movements, and controlled breathing.”
I thought of my three years of yoga from university as I slipped back into the water. I floated to the bottom and fell to my knees on the soft white sand. In front of me was an endless ocean. I sat there and stared into the blue until it faded to black. I slowed my breathing. I looked up and saw the sun break the ocean’s surface 40 feet above my head. I slowly stood up and swam back to our group.
When my second dive was completed I looked at my watch. I had increased my dive time from 20 minutes to 55 in one dive. Namaste.
The day after scuba diving I went for some stand up paddling, or SUP. There was a free clinic down at Ala Moana beach. By the time I got to the beach, 15 minutes early, 30 other people were finishing up the tutorial. We made a mad dash to the paddles and boards. I got the last of the each: the longest paddle and the smallest board. A perfect pair; for an expert. I had missed the instructions but intuitively figured it out. Resting on my knees, I paddled out to the reef and built up some speed. Confident I could make a go I stood up and rode like a pro. I passed a woman as I built up speed.
“Ho! You look like a pro, huh! Good one!”
Indeed I was feeling good considering it was my first time out. I reached the turning point and stuck my paddle out to create drag.
I ate it. I was moving too fast and the board was too small. I swam back to the board and grabbed ahold. On the other side of the board was a sea turtle. He looked me in the eye and submerged himself.
Sunday morning I got a text.
“Want to go yachting?”
“Yes. Yes I do.”
I met with my friend James and was picked up my his friend and four of her girlfriends. We drove down to a harbor, met the skipper, and cast off.
The conditions were ripe for a young man. There was a healthy 2-1 ration of women to men. James and I chatted with the girls as we lazily cruised the southern coast of Oahu. We pulled up on Waikiki and dropped anchor. That was my cue.
To hell with the women! I’m on a boat!
I tore off my shirt and ran down the boat. I leapt off the bow and dove into the clear, warm water. I swam around to the stern and helped my new friends load a large raft into the water. I crawled inside and someone tossed me a can of beer.
I cracked the seal and took a big gulp. Cold beer mixed with warm saltwater. I looked up and saw Diamond Head ahead.
What a life.
Soon after the skipper’s friend pulled alongside our boat and dropped anchor. They lowered a kayak into the water and paddle the 100 meters over to us. They went back and forth, shuttling beer and women. Apparently satisfied they tied up on the other boat and went below deck.
The other captain was aboard our boat and I leaned over to him.
“Is that your boat?”
“Is that your kayak?”
I jumped into the water and swam over.
I climbed up the latter silently. A party was happening below and funny smells came from the window. I untied the kayak’s rope and climbed in. I quietly paddled away and laughed like a pirate.
“Har, har, har. Thanks for the gift, matey!”
When the sun began to set we pulled anchor and cast off. It had proven to be a good day.
My boss is Hawaiian State Representative from the 7th District. The 7th District is on Hawaii Island, often called “Big Island” to avoid confusion with the whole state. Big Island is 200 miles from Oahu island. The only way to travel inter-island in Hawaii is by plane. And at $150+ roundtrip, that’s not cheap.
Luckily I was able to make a quick visit for work. Early in the year I helped some public schools in my Rep’s district get state funding. When an opportunity to visit the schools came up, I leapt at the chance.
My boss and I took the short 40 minute plan ride to the east. The plane was a regular jet plane and was sold out. However the Kona airport was not regular. It was intentionally rustic. I exited the plane and walked down stairs to the tarmac. We were ushered into the waiting lounge. Which was basically a picnic area.
We picked up our car and drove north to the schools. Big Island is the youngest of the Hawaiian islands, and you can tell. The scenery is all black lava rock. Soil hasn’t accumulated and vegetation cannot grow in lots of places. It looks primal.
We cruised along the coastal highway. Out the window I could see dozens of whales spouting water. It was marvelous.
It was equally cool to visit the schools and see how I was able to help them.
Though my stay was very short, it was a great trip. I can’t wait to get back later this year.
I woke early on a Saturday morning. I caught a bus out-of-town with my eyes set on Pearl Harbor. Or more specifically, the USS Arizona.
I arrived at the park and was delighted to see admission was free. I picked up a ferry ticket to the Arizona wreckage and had two hours to spend in the park. I purchased an audio guide and shuffled over to the museum.
As a quick aside, please remember that I both studied history in university and have visited the Hiroshima Peace Park. Because of this my impression at Pearl Harbor was probably different from other people.
The museum was actually split into two sections. The first was describing life in Hawaii and across the Pacific prior to the attack. The second explained the attack and briefly covered the immediate aftermath. I worked my way through the museums before getting in line to the Arizona. We watched a 20 minute film explaining the attack. I was especially captivated by the footage I had never before seen.
After the film we boarded a ferry and cruised out to the memorial. We exited the boat and walked along the beautiful white structure. I looked down over the edge and saw an oil slick on the water’s surface. The ship still leaks a quart of oil everyday. I walked into the memorial room and looked at a wall filled with the names of men who had died with the ship.
Back out again I peered down a viewing well and saw the deck of the ship. The remains of some sailors and soldiers are still entombed in the ship. But along the surface you could see fish and plants growing. I thought it was very beautiful to see life coming from death.
We took the ferry back to the shore. I took a second tour through the museums. I then sat on a bench and mulled over it all.
I didn’t sense the pain and torment that I had in Hiroshima. The aura of this place was different. I had learned quite a deal about the attack that I didn’t know. It had been a genius military strike. Swift and clean. My thoughts drifted back and forth from Japan to the United States. I looked out at the Arizona memorial. This is how it started. I thought back to Hiroshima. That was how it ended.
Perhaps most interesting was putting the two places into perspective. At Pearl Harbor we can see the American perspective. The beginning of war. A winner’s point of view. That is, “You have awoken a sleeping giant. You have started something terrible and we will finish it with justice.”
But in Hiroshima we can see the war from the Japanese perspective. From the end. A loser’s point of view. That is, “War is terrible. We’ve all done terrible things. Let us not do it again.”
I felt completed having visited Pearl Harbor. I had seen both sides of the same story. Learning from two perspectives allows one to better understand the whole. This time I had learned about World War Two. But more importantly I had reinforced the importance of critical thinking.
Nearly all of the above mentioned activities have one thing in common; I’ve done them alone. For a number of reasons I haven’t been able to make any really good friends here yet. I’m social with a lot of people and everywhere I go I find people to talk with and have a good time. I have friends around town. But I haven’t been able to find anybody I really click with.
But that’s okay.
I’m hardheaded enough that I’m not deterred by this. For whatever reason it seems I’m supposed to be doing this part of my life alone right now. I’m happy. I have passing friends. My health is good. And I’m having an incredible adventure. Hang on, we’re not done yet.
Gaijin All Over Again-
Remember in Japan they have a special word for non-Japanese people? They say gaijin (外人). Literally it means outside person. In recent times it’s become politically incorrect to use it. But of course it’s still there. And it’s interesting. The word gaijin always reminded me that Japan is an island country. It reminded me that there is an “us” and a “you.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly there is directly comparable world in Hawaiian; they say “haole.” I say unsurprising because Hawaii and Japan often have a lot in common. They’re both islands. Native ethnic people lived, and thrived, in isolation for a long period of time. Western culture, see the United States, forced themselves into both places and created long-lasting legacies. And both were/are countries. Hawaii, as you may know, was once briefly an independent country until it was annexed by the United States.
So it should come as no surprise that there is not only a word used for foreign people, but that there is also a certain level of hostility to the foreigners.
And guess who has pale skin, blond hair, blue eyes and showed up oblivious to local culture. This guy!
The notable difference between Hawaii and Japan is this: I speak the local language. (Hawaiian as a language is around, but not really prevalent in Hawaii. English is everywhere. Pidgin, though, is very common place.) While before a Japanese person may have said a slur, I would have been oblivious. But here, I know exactly what they’re saying. And folks let me tell you, racism is racism no matter what race you are.
It would be easy to get upset by this. But I try not to. I’ve been through this before. Instead I remind myself that I am a visitor to many of these people. And Hawaii gets a lot of visitors. So I owe it to them and myself to be respectful. I’m doing my best to learn the local customs. I speak pidgin when I can. I may not be here forever, so I’m going to be a good guest as long as I can.
A Native Population-
I find it fascinating living in a place with native peoples. Native Hawaiian culture is old and strong. It’s actually making a bit of a comeback. Hawaiian people, though heavily interbred with others, are still everywhere. The Hawaiians really are like the American Indians on the mainland.
And just like the mainland, there is a long history of caucasians and government trying to stamp out their native culture. And like many times in our country’s history, there is a movement pushing back. Many Hawaiian people are trying to organize themselves. Some have even turned over their government documents and revoked their citizenship.
I am in a unique position working at the capitol. I get to see firsthand many of the discussions about Hawaiian sovereignty. There is a movement alive right now that is gaining momentum. I think it’s fascinating to watch, and to sometimes be involved with.
66% American, 33% Japanese-
I have been stateside for five months now.
I’ve worked through the worst of the culture shock. I think and behave like an American. Well mostly.
Just the other day at the office I was called out for something Japanese. I sat down while waiting for a document. As I sat down I let a “yoisho” (ヨイショ).” This is a subtle exclamation made when Japanese people sit down. I say it all the time subconsciously.
A man turned to me and said, “You’ve spent some time in Japan, huh?”
“Yep, three years,” I said.
I picked up my papers and got to thinking. Three years. If I’ve been an “adult” since I was 18, and I spent three years in Japan, then that means I spent 33% of my adult life there. That’s got to leave a heck of an impression on someone.
And I can feel it. Everyday. Whether it be how I speak, behave, or think, I feel Japanese culture below the surface.
33% was the high-water mark. It’s all downhill from here. The older I get the more that number with shrink. Obviously as time passes my identity will continue to change. Still though, I wonder how.
That’s all for now. I’ll come back to y’all with another update in July. Aloha!