Waikiki is an incredibly fun place, but one complaint that I’ve often heard is that it lacks ‘authenticity’. I don’t agree, because while it is indeed touristic, commericial, and manicured – Waikiki is perfectly authentic as a post 20th century urban & tropical mid-high-end tourist beach destination. There is no place more authentic than Waikiki in that regard!
But still, I understand what people mean. They want to see a place where people live, work, and actually invest their time in businesses – not a tourist destination where less than 10% of the people you see actually live, but a place where people hang out, work, live, and enjoy life.
Allow me to introduce Kaimuki, Waikiki’s hip and much more ‘authentic’ Honolulu neighbor. Situated between Kahala, the University district of Manoa, and Waikiki – Kaimuki has what you are looking for. Funky shops, great restaurants, a very walkable main street and plenty of hidden gems. Kaimuki is the Honolulu version of the Haight in San Francisco, Hawthorne in Portland, or (on a much smaller scale) New York City’s Brooklyn.
Back in the day, the neighborhood was the personal farm of King Kalakaua. He had a flock of ostriches that roamed over the green hills – so it’s no surprise that Kaimuki still has a flavor that is anything but boring. Kaimuki is a Hawaiian name and it means “Ti Root Oven” which refers to the ancient bakers who made a delicious candy from the roots of the native ti plant (the same plant used to make the hula skirts and rain cloaks of the day).
Kaimuki is the neighborhood on either side of Waialae Avenue from where it meets Kapahulu Ave to where it ends at the Kahala Mall. Kaimuki retains the ‘funkiness’ that Waikiki lost more than a decade ago when every retail space turned into a high end shop or restaurant.
Which is a little bit ironic because in the early 1900s – Kaimuki was THE high class neighborhood on Oahu, while Kahala was still mostly pig farms and Lanikai was still part of a cattle ranch. There’s not much left from those days except for the Crack Seed Store which opened about 1940. This is one of the best places to pick up all kinds of Hawaiian snacks (some of which aren’t covered in Li Hing Mui).
Wander the streets and you will find junk shops, surf shops(Surf Garage) , bakeries (Pipeline) shave ice, plate lunch places (Okata! Cheap and yum), thrift shops, boutiques (Superette), great little coffee (Coffee Talk) and breakfast joints (Kokohead Cafe), bars, hole in the wall restaurants (Kaimuki Chop Suey) , and even the old historic Queen Theatre which opened in the 1930s, closed in the 1980s as a theatre and became a music venue for a while before becoming a plumbing warehouse and then being abandoned. Locals hope that something will someday happen with the Queen, but so far, it is simply becoming a target for grafitti.
I love Oahu. Have no doubt about it – this island is one of my favorite places in the world – but, unfortunately, there have been some negative changes from the time I fell in love with Oahu during 2001-2008 and my current residency here from 2017 to the present. Rents have gone much higher making it only possible for subsidized military or wealthy one percenters to survive in anything but subsistancy, the cost of homeownership and rent has skyrocketed thanks to military subsidies and illegal vacation rentals, the numbers of homeless in every public place have gone up dramatically making it feel unsafe to go to parks or libraries, accessibility has decreased while crowds have increased, traffic and food prices have both gone up so much as to make life almost unsustainable, and meanwhile wages and employment opportunities have stagnated. I love Oahu but there are some massive issues that are ruining this place. Nowhere exemplifies that more than Chinatown.
I love Chinatown in Honolulu. I really do. The fresh produce in the mornings, the fun exotic food and bathing products from other countries like the Vietnamese instant 3-in-1 Coffee (that’s coffee, cream, and sugar all in one pouch) and the Japanese Ding Dong cracker snacks as well as the seemingly questionable meat market and the fish that range from still moving to probably on the edge of toxicity.
When I first moved to Hawai’i back in 2001, Chinatown was a place no one recommended you go to. Chinatown was still the haven of prostitution, drug users, and low rent housing above illegal gambling operations – I probably wouldn’t have been able to survive without my weekly trips to Chinatown – not for the reasons above but because it was also home to rice for next to nothing, $1 pineapples, and other cheap vegetables. I arrived here with $100 and was staying in a shared dorm room in Waikiki – I got a job painting and lived on Pineapple fried rice I cooked in the communal kitchen. While I waited for that first check – I had fifteen dollars to live on – lucky for me, I spent it in Chinatown and not in a grocery store. I bought rice, pineapple, cilantro, onions, coffee, and a couple of cans of Spam back before it was expensive. So, I love Chinatown.
Even as it began to change in the early 2000s, I still loved it. I had mixed feelings about the gentrification of Chinatown, but loved seeing things like First Friday Art Walk and The Arts at Mark’s Garage, Bar 35, and great blues acts showing up at hole in the wall Chinatown bars like Hanks or the Dragon Upstairs. My friends and I were frequent visitors to Little Village and our entire Burning Man group would meet in Chinatown bars for drinks and planning. Yes, the prices went up, but so did the quality of experience.
When I came back with my family in 2017, I led my wife and daughter to Chinatown. We parked in the Maunakea parking garage and got out of the car and were overwhelmed with the smell of urine. As we went into the stairwell leading to the surface streets, it was even worse. We had obviously picked a public urinal and not a staircase! The smell of urine stuck with us through the day. Chinatown had pushed out much of the gentrification but only in terms of it still being peed on a lot. Prices and the rents had gone up just like everywhere on Oahu. Totally unsustainable – and that was refelected when I saw the prices on things $850 for a buddha statue, $10 for a bag of rambutan, $6 for two bunches of parsley. The prices are no longer cheap – (although they can be a bit less if you look deeper, but I didn’t have time). My wife and daughter were wondering why I loved Chinatown so much – but I couldn’t really take them into Hanks to hear a throaty blues gal singing sultry songs and we weren’t hungry enough to venture to Little Village.
Chinatown wasn’t very fun so we drove up to Haleiwa where the lines for Matsumoto Shave Ice were simply too long to contemplate in the bee filled courtyard. So we drove onward to the Dole Plantation a place designed to deal with crowds and we had a delicious Dole Whip before heading home. We stopped at Costco on the way home and had to drive around the parking lot looking for a spot for almost a half hour. Once we got inside, it was astounding to see the sea of shoppers flowing in and out like the tides. There was a constant flow that was so thick it took us five minutes to get across so we could get into the store and do our shopping. There was a two hour wait for Costco whole cooked pizzas…which I’ve never run into before. So we got what we needed, waited in line and went home where there was no line but just outside in the street there were people waiting to find a coveted street parking space. Parking is a big big problem on Oahu.
One of the things that has changed most in Hawai’i since 2008 is a lot of favorite ‘local knowledge’ places have exploded with popularity. I suppose that’s a good thing in some cases – at least for the business owners. A good example is Nico’s Fish House at Pier 38. When I left it was a hole in the wall plate lunch place at an industrial pier – I was excited to take my wife there – when we got there, I thought maybe I’d come to the wrong place – I had to get on my phone and Google it. Nico’s changed from a counter with plate lunches to a huge (three times larger) dining establishment with those vibrating buzzer things to let you know when your order is ready. The prices had gone up of course, but not terribly but the quality of the food just wasn’t what it once was, how could it be? It was still good, but it wasn’t anyplace I would go out of my way for – it was just a better than average tourist joint.
I haven’t been to Jackass Ginger Falls since getting back, but the line of tourist’s hiking down Old Pali Road and the badly parked cars at every available space tells me that it’s probably a crowded hike and a crowded waterfall. So – I wasn’t surprised that the Kuhuku shrimp trucks had lines when we drove up to the North Shore the other day…but I was suprised by the size of the lines. I shouldn’t have been – I mean I’ve seen them on the Food Network, I see them regularly in social media posts, and I’ve seen them on the Travel Channel and in nearly every travel magazine with a story about Oahu. The lines were two hours long – hot sun, no shade, standing next to the highway – two hours. The wait once you ordered was between two hours at the longest and 45 minutes at the shortest. So, people were willing to spend four hours of their lives to get a plate of garlic shrimp from Romy’s Truck? Apparently so – but not me. We moved on and went to the Korean Shrimp Truck which was cheaper, faster, and not very good. I can’t recommend that move – nor can I recommend spending four hours of your Hawai’i time (or your lifetime) standing in line for a dozen shrimp.
It’s a theme I’ve returned to again and again – the lines on Oahu have grown to unbelievable sizes. There’s a good reason for that – the places where you get true value have grown few and far between. Also – the tourists all read the same books and see the same stories and read the same blogs and follow the same instagram accounts and hashtags – so they all go to the same places. And that, I’m pretty sure, is really good. There are places on this island where you don’t find crowds. There are still great hole in the wall restaurants, there are still great beaches where you won’t find a dozen umbrellas in the sand, there are still great local secrets. And this may be disappointing to you, but when I find them, I’m not going to tell. I’m sure that someone will, but it’s not going to be me. I’m going to share my adventures, I’ll continue sharing my instagram photos, and writing about the known and little-known and well-known treasures on this island of Oahu – but the un-known ones – I’m going to keep them unknown.
I love being back in Hawaii but I’m not wild about the uncontrolled growth of tourism here, the massive favoritism played with the military personnel in terms of housing, the out of control numbers of cars and lack of parking, or the draconian rules that nieghborhoods have felt compelled to put in place to protect themselves from aforementioned uncontrolled growth of tourism. And yet, it’s still one of the best places in the world.
Many visitors to Hawaii are curious about the ancient and traditional religion of the Hawaiian people. They want to know where it is practiced, how it was formed, who the gods are, and what the rituals are. The first thing to know is that the ancient religion of Hawaii was overthrown and abandoned by Queen Ka’ahumanu in the years 1819 and 1820. She overthrew the religion (called the Kapu System) and adopted Christianity when missionaries showed up – not because she was in love with Christianity, but because she understood that the overthrow of the Kapu System would never work unless she could fill the void created with a new system of belief. Christianity showed up at an opportune moment. Since that time, the Hawaiian religion has been dead as a coshesive societal force.
The Kapu System was both polytheistic and animistic with belief in a wide range of gods and a number of nature spirits and forces in animals and natural phenomenon like waves and wind. The religion was born from an even more ancient Polynesian set of beliefs but during one thousand years of isolation in Hawai’i developed many unique characteristics. It’s important to note that there are modern Hawaiian religions which claim descent from the ancient practices of the Kapu System, but which are very different in both practice and belief. Most notable among them in Huna, which is a new and modern invention which many claim as cultural misappropriation.
The four main gods of Hawaiian religion were Ku – the god of war, Kane – the god of the sky, Lono – the god of peace and fertility, and Kanaloa, the god of the ocean. In addition there were the ‘parent’ or ‘creation’ gods of Papa (Mother Earth) and Waikea (Father Sky) as well as elemental gods and goddesses such as Madam Pele of the volcano and the demi-god Maui. Families, clans, villages,and other groups had protector spirits called ‘aumakua and there were literally hundreds upon hundreds of lessor gods and goddesses.
The ‘priests’ of the ancient system were known as kahuna. They were learned men, healers, and scholars. Kahuna played a large part in all aspects of ancient Hawaiian life including birth, mating, death, and burial practices.
The entire kapu system was a prohibitive system, meaning that it was more about what you could not do than what you could or should do. The word kapu comes from the tahitian word ‘taboo’ which literally means forbidden. The things forbidden were vast – everything from women not eating bananas or pork to men and women not eating together to times and places when fishing or hunting were prohibited. There were literally tens of thousands of things forbidden. The punishment was most often death but there was a relief valve built in which allowed for escape and exile for a set amount of time into a city of refuge, a pu’uhonua. There was an element of human sacrifice in ancient Hawaiian religion and ritual cannibalism was practiced (as it was in many other times and places such as ancient Scotland).
Among the forbidden things were a few practices that were proscribed, chief among them was Malama Aina – or caring for the land. The world land in Hawaiian is aina and it means ‘that which provides for us’. Hawaiians considered kalo (taro) as their older brother. Much of the ancient Hawaiian system revolved around an invisible force called mana. Mana came from the land, was strong in pohaku (stones) and was distributed to living things, it was passed to the people and then given to the chiefs or kings. The leaders would use the power of mana to take care of the land and the cycle would begin anew. The motto of the Hawaiian kingdom was translated as ‘The life of the land is perpetuated in the righteousness of the leaders’.
Prayer played a huge role in ancient Hawaiian religion and constructed many stone temples (heiau) on the islands. In addition there was the practice of hula which was considered sacred. Many of the practices and beliefs of the ancient Hawaiian religion are still with us – though with the meaning and context changed.
The Sony Open is being played right now (and every January) at the Waialae Country Club in the Honolulu neighborhood of Kahala on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. It’s not just wealthy golfers who love Kahala – it’s known throughout the islands as the place where old mone, new money, and crooked money goes to retire. The neighborhood has one of the largest concentrations of wealth in the State of Hawaii with an entire street of high multi-million dollar properties and estates – and the fancy front gates to prove it.
Kahala sits on the back side of Diamond Head but before you reach Aina Haina and Hawaii Kai. It’s a flat neighborhood within a 20-minute drive of downtown even with traffic and to get to Waikiki never takes longer than 5-10 minutes. There is a mix of old money and new money with the old time Hawaiian families having been there for up to a century and the newcomers mostly since WWII building bigger and more ostentatious mansions. One of the best things about Kahala is that the State of Hawaii has denied the residents the ability to shut down the Kahala beaches because free public access to all beaches is written into the Hawaiian constitution. Frankly, it’s a nice beach but it doesn’t compare with Lanikai, another beach that the wealthy would love to lock the rest of us out of.
On the far end, just past the country club, is the Kahala Hotel and Resort (hint: free dolphin show) – which used to be the Kahala Mandarin but changes owners from time to time. Kahala is a favorite location for celebrities and business moguls to purchase vacation homes and given the multi-million pricetags on the homes – it’s been a flippers paradise. Homes in Kahala range from $2 million upwards to $20 million with the beach side of the road being where the upper range sits.
There are lots of rumors and stories about movie stars and rich tycoons having places in Kahala – but I haven’t seen a single one of them confirmed by a reputable source. There is however, a bizarre story involving Genshiro Kawamoto, the Japanese billionaire and rumoured gangster. From the 1980s to the 2010s he bought up to thirty properties in Kahala and moved gaudy and bizarre statues to them. When the neighbors complained about his lack of upkeep and ugly statues, he moved three homeless families into three of his mansions. When he was buying, he would roll up in his limo, have his driver knock on the door and offer a 5 day quick title for cash well over the market value. Then he started bulldozing mansions that were perfectly fine, filling in swimming pools with concrete, and essentially trying to drive market values down. He was finally forced to sell, but not before proving himself the worst neighbor ever.
The people who sold were happy, the homeless families were happy, but no one else was thrilled until he was gone. There are many bizarrely vacant mansions that went to ruin during his Kahala hobby time.
There are past stories of Kahala famous people – Time Magazine founder Henry Luce, David Geffen of Geffen Records, and a few other not so well known rich folks. Rich white people started moving to Kahala after World War II. Back in the real old days, however – it was only pigs and cattle that lived in Kahala. It was where Kamehameha the Great landed his invasion from Maui in 1795. Most of Kahala became his descendents property, ending with Bernice Pauahi Bishop who transferred it the Bishop Estate Trust when she died. The Bishop Estate still owns the majority of Kahala – though not the houses along the beach which were converted from lease-hold to free-hold in the late 1960s when the residents sued and forced the Bishop Estate to sell them them land their houses sit on.
On my first trip to Paris, I went to the Louvre – saw the huge line of people waiting to go into the glass pyramid and said “Forget this, I’d rather walk along the left bank and look at the book stalls.” There are incredible things to see in the Louvre.
After hearing about the crowds around the Mona Lisa, I almost decided to skip the Louvre on my second trip too, but instead, I decided to do a bit of research so that I could enjoy the highlights of the museum, have some time to explore, and avoid the crowds. I’m glad I did. By itself, The Louvre is reason enough to visit Paris (as if you need a reason!) but doing it smartly is the trick.
About The Louvre
The largest art museum in the world opened it’s doors in 1793 without the pyramid or the lines. Inside are some of the world’s most precious treasures. Not just Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa but more than 35,000 individual wonders that each could be the centerpiece of a smaller museum. With massive mazes of corridors spread through eight cultural departments including decorative arts, antiquities, sculptures and paintings. You could spend a lifetime there and that doesn’t even include the huge line.
Knowing what you want to see in the Louvre is essential. Study the map or go to the museum’s website.
Avoiding the Crowds
So, first things first – skip the line. The Paris Pass or the Paris Museum Pass allows you to walk by all the people waiting in line and go straight in. Or, if you don’t want the pass (and by the way, it is completely worth it) you can enter through the Carousel (Louvre Mall) across the street and go right to the ticket counter, thus avoiding the big line outside the pyramid. With your ticket you will get a highlight map that points out the major treasures. Of course, if you want to wait in the long line for some reason you can go very early in the morning or after 4 PM and it will be more manageable. During the week, the crowds inside the museum are smaller and don’t forget that it is closed on Tuesdays.Once you are inside, here are my suggestions for ten things to see that will make you thirsty for more.
My Top Ten Highlights
1) Of course you want to see the Mona Lisa, despite the crowds and the poor presentation. To see the Mona Lisa, head straight for the 13th-15th century Italian paintings section (on the first floor).There will be a crowd of people elbowing their way close to the painting. Good luck getting a picture without someone’s head in it.
2) Nike of Samothrace aka Winged Victory. Almost 2000 years old, massive and beautiful. Take some time to contemplate here, it’s worth it.
3) Venus de Milo – I mean you have to see her, but really, she’s not all that hot. A big armless woman not wearing a top. Here’s a funny fact, the statue used to be on the seal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Fill in your own punchline.
4) Islamic Art Collections – spanning thirteen centuries and three continents, this collection is astounding. Islamic art holds a special place in my soul because of my time in Turkey and Morocco. If you take a bit of time here, I think you will see why.
5) 17th and 19th Century Dutch Artists. You know what’s great about this section – you will probably be alone and frankly, the art is mind blowingly wonderful. Not nearly as many religious themes and plenty of drunk, stoned happy looking people (in the pictures I mean).
6) The Raft of Medusa. This 1818–1819 by the French Romantic painter and lithographer Théodore Géricault is simply astounding. Rather than a classic Greek theme as you might expect, this is the aftermath of the shipwreck of the French Vessel Meduse’ where 146 people struggled to survive on a raft. Only 15 were rescued, the others were eaten, committed suicide, were killed or died of the elements. The painting depicts the moment when rescue appears imminent. The history of this painting alone is worthy in terms of art history and historical events.
7) Madonna on the Rocks by Leonardo danVinci. The Virgin Mary, Jesus and John the Baptist. Not so much the religious icons, but this painting gives you the chance to see da Vinci’s mastery much closer than you can with the Mona Lisa.
8) The Coronation of Napolean by Jacques-Louis David is ten meters by six meters. Massive and beautiful. Painted in 1807 and depicting the coronation at Notre Dame. This is a painting that will also enhance your visit to the Cathedral of Notre Dame and Napolean III’s Apartments.
9) Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss. This masterpiece, Antonio Canova’s statue Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, first commissioned in 1787. To me. this is the ultimate classical sculpture. Riveting.
10) Akhenaten, the rebel pharoah’s statue – his name and images were systematically destroyed by later Pharaohs. This statue piece is over 3,300 years old. The Sphinx at Louvre is another great piece – again over 4,000 years old. Check out the history of Akhenaten – awesome dude.
Finally, give yourself time to indulge in some aimless wandering.
Location, Admission, and Hours
To get to the Louvre take the Metro to Palais-Royal / Musée du Louvre or just walk along the Seine until you reach it. You can’t miss it, but you will only see the pyramid when you enter the Louvre’s courtyard. Inside you can find expensive food court food to sustain you – even a bit of wine, but here’s a winning tip, bring a small backpack and pack your own food. There are areas you can sit and picnic in the Louvre!
The museum is open every day but Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. On Mondays the Musee d’Orsay is closed so expect crowds. Wednesdays are probably best because it is open late. There are also evening openings until 9:45 p.m. on Fridays. It is closed on New Year’s Day, Labor Day (May 1) and Christmas Day.
Entry costs 17 Euro for general admission. The price drops a bit after 6 p.m. A ticket is valid all day for repeat entries. Entry is free for anyone under age 18 (or under 26 on Friday evenings) and the disabled. The first Saturday of each month, admission is free. By the way, a two-day Paris Museum Pass is gets you in this and 60 other museums around Paris.
Get the audio-visual guide and keep in mind that you are in France so don’t expect all the descriptions to be in English
There are no shortage of delicious treats hidden away on Oahu and yes, many of them are tourist traps designed to capture Hawaii tourist dollars by getting you in the door with the hype that has grown around them. When you go to these five locations you will wait in line, you will be joined by hundreds of other tourists, and you will be happy that you went because your taste buds will be singing glorious hapa-haole chants.
If you’ve ever seen the movie Forest Gump where he goes on and on about shrimp this and shrimp that – it would be easy to substitute pineapple and have him talking about the Dole Plantation – pineapple Candy, pineapple dolls, pineapple bread, pineapple wine, pineapple magnets, pineapple t-shirts, pineapple cookies, pineapple books – everything pineapple happens at the Dole Plantation – plus a pineapple garden, a pineapple maze, and a pineapple railroad trip. And of course, the famous pineapple ice cream – Don’t forget the Dole Whip!
Leonards hasn’t gone into merchandising on the scale of the Dole Plantation, but they’ve still done an amazing job of branding themselves with the pink boxes, thier iconic Kapahulu signs, and of course the red and white malasada trucks they park all over the island. What’s the draw? The magical malasadas waiting inside! Always hot, light, delicious and so good that this little bakery usually has a huge line waiting outside of it! The record on my tours was a lady who ate seven of them – but one or two is perfect for most people.
Ted’s Bakery is a North Shore institition. The food tastes best after a day battling the surf at Sunset Beach or Banzai Pipeline – but let’s be honest – the food is only so-so but the pie! You go to Ted’s for the pie. Specifically the Chocolate Haupia Cream Pie. You might have to wait in line – but it’s worth it.
There aren’t a whole lot of attractions that offer your freebies in Hawaii. Tropical Farms is one of them. Offering free samples of their locally grown macadamia nuts and free macnut coffee for weary tour drivers (or anyone else). This is a great local, family owned and operated tourist trap with plenty of local products, local handicrafts, and of course, the tasty macadamia nuts. Go in the back and smash a raw one on a lava rock or go with the tasty caramel, garlic, or honey roasted variety. Any way about it – you’ll be glad you stopped at Tropical Farms.
Matsumoto Shave Ice is one of those places you need to go at least once. It gives you a solid baseline for what a Hawaiian Shave Ice is. Plus, you can buy one of those t-shirts with the cartoon version of Stanly Matsumoto on it. The general store is filled with a wide variety of tourist items but you know why you are there – shave ice with ice cream on bottom, sweetened condensed milk on top, and organic cane sugar syrups giving you a mind-blowing sugar rush.
The North Shore of Oahu is known mostly for surfing but there are those who head there just for the Chocolate Haupia Pie from Ted’s Bakery too. While the North Shore’s 7-mile-miracle of surf breaks draws crowds, dont’ be surprised to find crowds also lining up at Ted’s. It’s easy to whiz past it when you drive up the Windward Side, pass the Turtle Bay Resort, and are tantalizingly close to Sunset Beach. Ted’s doesn’t look like much – it’s a little plantation style complex with an awning and some tables in front.
Ted’s serves up breakfast and plate lunches as well as the famous Haupia Chocolate Cream Pie – and yes, they are a full bakery so you can buy other types of pie, donuts, breads, and more – but if you are like most people – one bite of the signature pie will convert you for life.
For those unfamiliar, haupia is a traditional Hawaiian coconut milk desert – almost like coconut jello. Ted’s brilliant innovation was to put it between layers of chocolate, whipped cream, and a perfect flaky crust. If there is a dessert in heaven, this is probably it.
The bakery started (like most things on Oahu) with the sugar cane industry. Ted’s grandfather worked on the North Shore in the sugar industry and eventually bought land from the Kuhuku Sugar Plantation that was too rocky for cultivation. A couple of decades later, his son, Takemitsu Nakumura opened the Sunset Beach Store in 1956. In 1987, Takemitsu’s son, Ted, opened Ted’s Bakery and the rest is history. His pies were a hit all over Oahu. Today Ted’s sells pies to restaurants and stores all over the island of Oahu. So, you can get the pies anywhere – but they always taste best at Ted’s.
My recommendation is that you buy the pie by the slice unless you have at least six people to help you eat a whole one – because otherwise, you will be tempted to eat it yourself!
Back in 2008, I took Amtrak trains across the United States of America. I started in Portland, Oregon and ended in New York City. Along the way, one stop was in Chicago where I visited the glorious Art Institute of Chicago – one of the top art museums in the world. Below there is a slideshow of the pictures I took there but before showing you that, I’d love to show you the five pieces that hit me with the most power.
Founded in 1879, the Art Institute of Chicago is one of the oldest and most respected art museums in the United States. It is the second largest art museum in the United States (the largest is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City which I visited a few days later). With more than 300,000 paintings in it’s collection and thirty wings – the Art Institute isn’t a one day stop – but I did the best I could with the time I had. Here are five paintings that brought out a vivid sensory feeling in me….but these are just five…the collections at the Art Institute of Chicago are mind bending – Hopper’s Nighthawks, Picasso, Miro, Rembrandt, Andy Warhol, and so much more….take my word for it, you simply must go!
American Gothic by Grant Wood – 1930
I really didn’t expect this to have an impact on me. Of course, I’d seen it in books and film and I’d seen lots of parodies of it. Standing in front of it, however, I was quite taken with it. The allusion between the farmer’s face and the gothic window in the clapboard farmhouse behind him. The pitchfork also seemed to echo both elements and then there is the absurd, almost constipated look on the woman’s face. Interestingly, it’s not suppossed to be his wife but his daughter or sister. Looking at this painting, I could feel exactly where I don’t want to be and who I don’t want to spend time with.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. At the Moulin Rouge, 1892-1895
The woman’s blue face and the energy in the drinking hall behind her captured my imagination and wouldn’t let go. All of Toulouse-Lautrec’s work captures my imagination with his modern art deco style and compelling figures. This one, however actually made noise in my head. I could smell the smoke and hear the chatter. There is a depressed somberness to this painting – like something that you want but know that you can never have.
Nightlife by Archibald John Motley, Jr. 1943
While there was something almost opiate about Toulouse-Latrec’s work – Nightlife just made me want to have a drink and go dancing, do the jitterbug and swing to some serious frenetic jazz. Again, I could hear the music in this one. The complete opposite of the Moulin Rouge but better and more fun.
The Drinkers by Vincent Van Gogh – 1890
On a totally different drinking level are these guys sharing a drink (with the child as well) on a cloudy afternoon. It’s not starry night, but there is the same sort of dreamlike fluffiness to this painting that is real enough to take you there, but dreamy enough to make the entire world seem suffused in magical realism.
Resting by Antonio Mancini 1882-1892
She is so beautiful. Looking at this painting, I had the urge to call in sick and climb in bed with her. Could there be anything better than this moment? The soft beauty of this painting is a major contrast to the nearly inch thick impasto of the work. The paint on this is so thick and hard and jagged and yet – the subject is so soft in the light. It’s no wonder this took ten years for Mancini to complete – no doubt it took him that long to buy enough paint! This impressionist painting captured all of the longing I’ve ever felt for love…
These pictures were taken with my old 8 megapixel Pentax back in 2008 – it’s amazing how much better my iphone takes pictures now – but these are what I have for the moment. I hope you enjoy the slideshow.
After I had climbed the heavenly mountain in Shangxi, I left from Tai Shan a changed man. Looking back, I can see that there was something different about me – before I had been lost, but now I was simply wandering. My next destination was to be Xi’an – I wanted to see the famous Terra Cotta Army. It was a long trip and midway through – I saw a white guy getting on the train. He was quite obviously another backpacker and so we smiled and nodded at one another, sat near each other and struck up a conversation. Where I had just come from climbing Tai Shan, he had just come from climbing Tian Shan (I think). In any event we’d just both climbed up separate holy mountains and had come from different directions to the same crossroads heading to Xi’an to see the Terra Cotta Warriors. We were instant best mates.
Johnny was English and I was American – he came from a wealthy life of privilege and I was a homeless guy – it didn’t matter. We were fellow backpackers on a steam train in China drinking cheap Chinese whiskey. In Xi’an we checked into a hostel and met two lovely English girls who also wanted to go see the Terra Cotta Army. We all went to get a meal in the cafe next door ‘Genghis Kane’s Cafe’ and met up with another English backpacker, Keith (who had just sold his house and was traveling around the world) and a burned out German English teacher named Sasha. We all set off as a group and seeing the organized tour groups all wearing similar hats or armbands, we decided to make fun of them by all buying identical yellow Chinese hats – moving forward we were the yellow hat gang.
I was glad to have the company as Xi’an was a tourist zoo even back in 2001. After the clean air and natural beauty of Shandong, it was a totally different environment. At the time, I remember thinking ‘This place feels evil and grey’. Even so, the company was very good and the terracotta warriors were astounding to behold.
From Xi’an, Sasha was going back to work at a school in Northern China where he claimed to be a virtual slave and the girls and Johnny were heading to Tibet. Keith and I were more interested in seeing the pandas in Chengdu and eating true Szechuen hot pot. We discussed taking a boat trip down the 7-rivers gorge to see it before it was flooded and would disappear forever – but for some reason didn’t. It’s a decision I regret (as was not goint to Tibet) but which at the time made sense because I didn’t want to run out of money and was trying to be careful with my planning.
From Chengdu, Keith and I were going to meet up with Johnny again in Kunming, get visas that would allow us to enter Laos from the land crossing, and then move onward to new adventures in a new country. Our designated meeting spot was an astoundingly cool hostel called ‘The Hump Over the Himalayas” where I made friends with a wide variety of Chinese, Israeli, European, and Australian backpackers, punk rockers, rappers, and more. I’ll save that for another flashback.
And, as you can see in this photo sequence (above) …by the time I reached Chengdu, I was no longer a homeless guy wandering around China – I’d more or less turned into a 20-something backpacker from the Pacific Northwest. Looking at the transition now – nearly twenty years later – it’s an astonishing transformation and I can’t help wondering what might have happened if I would have stayed in the USA and never gone to see the world.
No trip to Oahu is complete without a visit to Hanauma Bay on the south shore of this beautiful Hawaiian Island. Whether you are going to snorkel or simply look down at one of nature’s wonders from the lookout point above – this is a definite must see natural attraction in Hawaii.
To get there, head south from Honolulu and Waikiki. You will go around Diamond Head, through the neighborhood of Kahala, and on through the neighborhoods of Aina Haina and Hawaii Kai before reaching the turn just as you are passing Koko Head. Hanauma means ‘curved bay’ in Hawaiian languange and this is a beautiful coral filled bay in the remains of a tuff cone volcano. Not your average snorkel spot.
Hanauma Bay is a Nature Preserve and Marine Life Conservation District. It is open to the public six days per week with the seventh day reserved for park maintenance – or as we say in Hawaii – to let the fish rest. To enter the bay, you will need to attend a short environmental presentation that teaches you how to respect and appreciate the beauty of nature in the bay. Visitors are not allowed to touch fish, marine life, or walk on the corals in Hanauma.
Hanauma Bay is home to Hawaiian green sea turtles and over 400 species of fish including parrotfish, rasses, and even the famous humuhumunukunukuapua’a. Global warming has exacted a terrible cost on the bay and nearly half of the corals in it have died as a result.
Hanauma Bay itself was born about 32,000 years ago. It was one of the last eruptions on this island. A crater was formed and eventually waves broke through and flooded it creating the perfect environment for corals and fish. Hawaiian Kings and Queens frequented the bay and one possible interpretation of the name is that there were a variety of sporting and wrestling events held there each year at makahiki. The bay belonged to the Bishop Estate until the 1930s when it was purchased by the City and County of Honolulu. It became a protected area in 1967. In the 1970s white sand was brought in from the North Shore to create the beach you see there today.
The area was overused and suffering greatly up until the early 2000’s when the city enacted an entrance fee, closed the park on Tuesdays, and began requiring visitors to attend the educational presentation. The city has also restricted how many vehicles and how visitors can come to the bay. Commercial vehicles are strictly regulated.
Hanauma Bay can still be crowded with nearly 3000 visitors each day. If you are going, bring reef friendly sunscreen, water, and it is recommeneded that you bring your own snorkel gear as the rentals on site will cost you almost as much as buying a new set of gear.
In ancient times, Hawaiians harvested more than 2-million pounds of fish and shellfish each year – much of that came from fishponds. It’s estimated that there were more than 750 major fishponds in the islands at the time of Captain Cook’s arrival here. Hawaiians were one of a handful of civilizations who had mastered aquaculture. So, it’s great that aquaculture continues to this day – one of the best places to see and taste that is near the North Shore of Oahu in the little town of Kuhuku. Kuhuku was a sugar town until 1971 when sugar left.
In 1975, the State of Hawaii directed funding and research to develop oyster, fish, and shrimp farming in what had been taro patches, rice paddies, and small fish ponds. Today, the terms shrimp pond and shrimp trucks are almost synonyms for Kuhuku (which doesn’t mean shrimp or prawn, it means point).
Back in 1993, Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck was among the first to start selling the now famous garlic shrimp near Kuhuku and within a couple of years it was so popular that imitators had followed. Today there are literally dozens of shrimp trucks on Oahu. Some good, some bad, and some with bizarre stories. I will focus on the most popular ones here – Fumi’s, Giovanni’s, and Romy’s. There are others but you are taking your chances with them. Some of the names are Korean, Famous, Big Wave, Blue Wave, Garlic Shrimp, etc.
Fumi’s is my favorite – hands down. On a busy day they serve up to 2000 pounds of fresh shrimp caught from their ponds. Their menu has a wide variety of options, the best of which (in my opinion) are the butter garlic, spicy garlic, breaded coconut, boiled, and salt and pepper fried. There are actually two Fumi’s trucks – I prefer the blue building over the truck – rumor has it that there was a schism in the family and they parted ways – which is why there are two locations with two different menus on two different sides of the family shrimp ponds. Expect to wait in line 10-15 minutes and another 10-15 minutes for your food to cook. They have a lot of people working and they are incredibly efficient without sacrificing taste. 5-8 large shrimp with two scoops of rice, a scoop of cold canned corn (wierd), and a slice of pineapple.
Romy’s is also delicious but the wait is much longer and the prices are higher than Fumi’s. Expect a minimum of 20 minutes wait in line and 20 minutes or more for your food on an average day.Personally, I find their shrimp harder to peel and not as delicious as Fumi’s. They are also owners of the ponds behind them so the shrimp are guaranteed fresh.
Giovanni’s is the wierd one. Even though they started the whole thing – I almost never go there. Their prices are higher and the shrimp are not cooked to order – personally, I’m not a fan of the quality. The original owner’s Giovanni and his now ex-wife – sold the business in 1997 – and then split up. Apparently, the ex-wife wasn’t happy with the sale and tried to buy it back from the new owner who didn’t want to sell – so she hired a couple of thugs who kidnapped him and forced him to sell at gunpoint! She was arrested and the sale was nullified. At some point people began signing the truck and finally in 2006, the current owners bought the land the truck sits on. Since that time, the whole area around Govanni’s has become a sort of food truck mecca with everything from Fijian Indian curry to funnel cakes, Hawaiian BBQ, Da Bald Guy, Cheesus Crust Pizza, and more. Giovanni’s has built a pavillion and continue to sell buttery garlic scampi just like in the old days but without the kidnapping and extortion. If shrimp just isn’t your thing and you don’t like the vibe in Kuhuku, just keep heading down the coast until you reach Mike’s Huli Huli Chicken
In 2001, I came to Hawaii with $100 and no plan. Through good fortune and good luck, I somehow became the manager of the most rocking backpacker hostel in Waikiki. The Polynesian Hostel Beach Club in Waikiki. It was a terrible time for my liver, but the rest of me enjoyed it immensely as I made friends from all over the world, fell in love with Hawaii and beautiful people from everywhere on the planet, and somehow managed to survive it all over the course of the next two years. These are some of the pictures I took during that time. I will leave it to facial recognition and people who know to identify those in the pictures. I am grateful to the former manager who stole a bunch of money and left the owner in the lurch needing a manager, I’m grateful to the owner who trusted me to become that manager, and I’m grateful to the people who came as strangers sometimes became staff and with a few glaring exceptions left as friends.