Places I’ve Lived #25 – Honolulu, Hawaii

HonoluluI’ve already written so much about Honolulu and Oahu that I don’t really feel like there is much to say beyond our personal journey since we arrived here three years ago. Hawaii has always been an expensive place to live, but until we arrived and had boots on the ground – I had no idea just how expensive it had become. Mind-blowingly expensive.

We pay $1700/month for a small 2-bedroom apartment in a decent building but in a neighborhood that is inconvenient to the beach, Waikiki, or Honolulu. We live in the Salt Lake Neighborhood. It’s clean, generally safe and friendly.  Once we arrived and I began working – I quickly realized that earning $15/hour as an archaeologist wasn’t going to pay our bills. Archaeologists don’t earn much in the first place, but that was a particularly crappy wage. The three month raise they had promised me only brought my wage to $16/hour. I asked them to give me a raise that would at least cover my monthly living expenses but they offered weak excuses about how I was doing a dream job in paradise and shouldn’t expect much. Pretty lame. I was qualified, had the right degree, and had a family to support and the bottom line was that archaeology wasn’t going to work.

I found a far better paying job in tourism and offered my two-weeks notice. My wife was going through a bit of culture shock and still didn’t understand why I had made us move from Reedsport, Oregon. I’d kept a lot of the racism and xenophobic stuff from Reedsport to myself while we were there. When I told her, she didn’t seem to believe me. In any event, it was up to me to take care of us.

HonoluluI sold my antique shop for a fire-sale price. My best inventory wasn’t in it when I put it up for sale. That inventory came to Hawaii with us in a box trailer along with our possessions. I began learning the ins and outs of antique dealing in Hawaii. Most of the stuff I had brought with me was premium goods in Oregon but hard to sell in Hawaii. It’s a very different market here. I was still selling things on Ebay and began using the Aloha Swap Meet, selling at antique shows, and any other venue I could find.

I started working on forming my own tour company and once again became seriously interested in tech. I co-founded a cryptocurrency (which failed without making any money) and then started looking at finding a job in tech again. It was a bit like archaeology – the pay was less than the cost of living. It’s a common problem in Hawaii which is why most families have three, four, or five jobs to make ends meet. Since I couldn’t afford to work for start-ups, I decided to start my own. That process has been going on for about ten months now. I’ve founded two companies ZguideZ and Iwahai. It’s been an amazing learning process so far. Iwahai is launched and ZguideZ is still a work in progress. I still do tours – and that is what pays the bulk of our living expenses.

Oahu Salt Lake NeighborhoodMy daughter is in school. She’s thriving and loves living in Hawaii. She wants to learn how to surf but we’re still getting the swimming skills up to speed – though she and I do love body boarding together. My wife is also thriving and works as a special needs teacher (RBT). We have friends, we have a nice, safe place to live, and we somehow manage to pay our bills every month. We managed to scrape enough together so that last year the two of them were able to go see my wife’s parents in Morocco and her sisters in Belgium. We have taken a couple of short family trips to the neighbor islands of Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next. This is where we are. We live in Honolulu. I’ve founded a couple of small tech companies. We scrape by in one of the most expensive places to live in the USA – but it’s beautiful, safe, and a good place to live.

I still dream about the Aegean in Turkey and Greece. I’d love to live in Europe again. I’m still drawn to my home state of California and as a tech founder – the San Francisco Bay Area has a huge draw. My siblings are now both on the California coast. It would be nice to have our families closer to each other.

I suppose it’s all on me – where we end up in the world – and where we have ended up. Honolulu is a good place to be. It’s not perfect (it’s crowded, expensive, remote, has too much military, and a lack of tech opportunities and high paying jobs) but it’s among the best places I have been – so I feel like we are doing alright. This is the end of Places I’ve Lived …..  for now, but I still don’t have any moss on me. I’ll do one more post where I rank the places I’ve lived from best to worst and then we’ll move on to something else.

Honolulu, Hawaii

Road to Hana MauiHonolulu, Hawaii is the capital city of the State of Hawaii. It has a population of approximately 1 million people. It is an incredibly diverse place to live. With more than a dozen languages spoken by significant communities, a wide diversity of religions, and a culture that spans the globe. When you consider the fact that Honolulu is not just a city but actually a combined entity of the City and County of Honolulu all run from as jurisdiction with one mayor, one city council, and one police force – it really changes the way Honolulu looks both geographically and demographically.

Aliamanu in Moaunalua – Salt Lake, Honolulu – America’s Densest Asian Neighborhood

I’ve lived in a couple of neighborhoods and towns on Oahu. Waikiki, Kailua, Lanikai, Punchbowl, Punalu’u, Manoa, and since 2017, the Salt Lake neighborhood.

I never thought I would live in Salt Lake – not Salt Lake City, Utah nor Salt Lake – the neighborhood in West Honolulu in which I currently reside. It’s not because of problems in either place – I had a great time in Salt Lake City and made some great friends there – and honestly, I never really thought about Salt Lake in Honolulu much at all – I just drove by it if I was going to the H3 or coming back to town from a North Shore trip. Salt Lake was firmly in my mind as a place intimately connected with ‘the bases’ meaning Pearl Harbor Naval Base, Hickam Air Force Base, Fort Shafter Army base, and Camp Smith – a US Marine Corps installation which holds the headquarters of the United States Pacific Command. In addition to those – there is Red Hill – the strategic fuel reserves located deep underground which the Japanese forgot to bomb when they hit Pearl Harbor (it probably cost them the war because if they had hit it, the US fleet would have been paralyzed for much longer).

Up on the hill is the Tripler Army Hospital, home of the VA in Hawaii and nearby are the cities of Aiea (the only town in the US with no consonants) and Pearl City – both of which I always intimately associated with the bases. In my mind – those cities and the Salt Lake and Red Hill neighborhoods were most likely filled with military families, base housing, families who worked on base, and the kind of low rent businesses I used to see around Marine bases – discount furniture, tattoo shops, strip bars, and car lots.  Certainly, there is an element of all of that in the surrounding areas – but in truth – Salt Lake is far different than I expected even if it is surrounded on all sides by military bases, military housing, and freeway interchanges. And we have no shortage of rainbows.

First of all, let me point out that there is nothing touristic about this neighborhood. It sits between the airport on the ocean side and the beautiful pink buildings of Tripler on the mountain side. There is Pearl Harbor to the West and Makiki to the East. I include the Moanalua neighborhood as a part of Salt Lake since the two are intimately connected with Moanalua High School. Salt Lake  is a densely packed high rise neighborhood with golf courses on either side of it –  the Navy Marine Course and the other the Honolulu Country Club. There is one little shopping center with a half dozen unremarkable restaraunts, a McDonalds, a small Safeway, and a Longs drugs. That’s it. A couple of schools and lots and lots and lots of apartments in high rise buildings.

The nearby hill, called  Alia’manu by the Hawaiians (salt crusted bird) and Aliapa’akai (Crusted Salt Lake) was said to have been created by Pele on her first circuit of the islands as she looked for a home. It was a salt crusted pond where prized salt was harvested and traded throughout the Hawaiian Islands – the red dirt and salt were said to have been dropped by her as she rested and her bottom created the lake. The salt was valued so highly by the Chinese for making incense that the lake itself was completely depleted by 1900s and ceased to be even a pond.  Before that time, the shores and bottom of the lake were covered with crystal blocks of salt – it was considered the chief wonder of Oahu and several early visitors even described it as the most remarkable site in the islands. All that is left today is a pond on the golf course of the Honolulu Country Club – not salty at all and no blocks of crystal. A comprehensive history can be found on Peter T. Young’s blog.

Salt Lake had a reputation for high crime in the 1990s and 2000s – a reputation which appears to have been largely wiped away. According to several demographic samplings online – Salt Lake is the most densely packed Asian neighborhood in the entire United States – a fact that I can’t confirm but which my wife assures me must be true. She points out that I’m virtually the only white person she sees here, something I don’t really notice not being able to see myself – actually, I think I tend to think of myself as a brown person and it is usually a bit of a shock to see myself in the mirror or in photos – so perhaps she is right. To be fair though, I do sometimes see white people here when I’m not looking in the mirror, but not very often.

The population here is mostly Japanese with a strong mix of Chinese and Filipino and a sprinkling of Hawaiians, Koreans, African Americans, and haoles like me. People are friendly but keep a respectful distance – there are no welcome wagons of neighbors knocking on your doors when you move in.

To sum up, I like Salt Lake. It’s central to everything and feels safe and comfortable. I like that there is no touristic reason for people to visit. The weather is nice but can get a bit hot at times. There are a couple of nice parks, decent schools (by Hawaiian standards) and we even get an annual homecoming parade from Moanalua High School. The neighborhood is split between the houses and the high rises and it is circled by busy highways and surrounded by base housing and military bases. My one big complaint is that there is no safe way to ride my bicycle to and from our neighborhood without crossing busy highways that lack bike lanes. Actually, I do have another complaint – it would be nice if we had a farmer’s market here but the Aloha Stadium Swapmeet is not far and usually has a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.

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