Curiosity: forget “Cherchez la femme” (Look for the woman.) “Cherchez l’histoire.” (Look for the story.)
Tuesday morning we enjoyed a 3.5 mile hike on a wet rain-forest trail, the surface of which alternated between a mat of spiny pandamus fronds and a pavement of gnarly tree roots. We laughed as we waded mid-shin deep across a rocky stream bed and, a little later, lowered ourselves down a steep bank to wade ankle-deep across a small river–plus, our clothes got wet because it rained. But the rain and the water were warm, so what the heck? The trail, by the way, is in Kahana State Park, the last state owned apu’hua’a–slice of land that extends from the mountain to the sea. We saw no other people while we were on the forest trail
We opted for an urban walk on Wednesday. Gary found the Hawaii Heritage Center recommended in the Lonely Planet guide. They don’t have their own website, but the Chinatown Walking Tours (given on Wednesdays and Fridays, beginning at 9:30 AM) and gallery are worth every penny of the $20/person tour charge. There were only four of us in Alma Ho’s group on Wednesday: a couple from Okanagen, B.C, Gary and me. Alma provided bottled water and loaned us umbrellas.
She showed us around the gallery, pointing out, in particular, photos illustrating the role her own family played in the history of Honolulu’s Chinatown. Her grandfather was a vegetable gardener and produce peddler who set up produce shops at Ft. Shafter and Schofield Barracks before opening a large supermarket. Very likely my grandmother bought produce from him when my grandfather was stationed at Ft. Shafter in the early ’30s.
We set out, walking first through what used to be the Red Light District, where sailors of every nationality found entertainment and where one of the bars still features nude dancers. We came to a small park featuring a statue of Dr. Sun Yat Sen, revered as the Pioneer of the Chinese Revolution. Dr. Sun’s brother came to Hawaii as a laborer, then became a merchant and rancher. He brought his brother to Hawaii to be educated at several institutions, including Oahu College–which is now called the Punahou School. We commented that’s it a little surprising that one or another wacko “birther” hasn’t made something of this coincidence.
Alma told us that when the chiefs who owned the apu’hua’as began cultivating sugar cane, they imported laborers from China to work the fields and foremen from European countries to supervise the workers. After their period of indenture, the Chinese workers went into business for themselves. Those who became successful helped later arrivals work their way up. First Hawaiian Bank was founded in Chinatown, where the original location still features a vintage service counter. Cooperative community centers became more formal–and still exist.
Today immigrants come from Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand and new community centers have formed to help them.
I won’t even try to describe the fascinating kaleidoscopic perspective we gained. A major highlight of the tour was stopping at five shops and kitchens where Alma used much of our tour fee to buy special things for for us to sample and I think I can remember all of them. We started and finished with dessert: peanut-sesame bars, baked pork buns with honey glaze, rolled rice noodles with sweet red peppers and black beans, crispy dry buns filled with shrimp and water chestnut, and a banana-apple wrapped in crisp pastry and dipped in honey. Yum!
She took us to a fascinating acupuncture/herbal medicine shop, where, Alma said, that by taking one’s pulse, the doctor could determine which herbal remedy to prescribe, which might even be crocodile bile. None of us opted for a diagnosis.
I didn’t attempt photos of the fabulous array of fresh fish. But I was seriously disappointed that there were no live bullfrogs available.The screened-over terrarium next to the Sun Fish tank was empty.
Still, the pig head was pretty good. And look at the huge pigs’ trotters.
Finally, we learned that guardian lions come in pairs: the male rests his right paw on a ball, which represents the world. The female rests her left paw on the belly of a cub lying on its back, which represents the cycle of life. It’s a stretch, but I guess I can see it.