November 8, 2005

Hawaii Blogging 1: the Polynesian Cultural Center

Hatched by Sachi

We are in the Island of Oahu, Hawaii. My work brought me here for a week. (I declined the opportunity to go to Norfolk Virginia and picked Hawaii instead. That was a hard decision.) Since I am already here and have a hotel room and a rental car, Dafydd decided to join me.

Today, we drove to the northern part of the island to visit the Polynesian Cultural Center. The main reason for the visit was to eat Luau and see a show. But on the way, we stopped to see a famous Buddhist temple called "Byodo-In."

This is a scaled-down replica of a Japanese temple found in Uji, much smaller than the original. The serene scenery was emphasized by the prosaic, almost hypnotic buzz of a gasoline-powered hedge trimmer.

The temple itself is not particularly interesting, but I was very impressed by the jagged mountain behind it, shrouded with greenery. It looked like the giant Roc from the Sindbad stories had clawed the side of the mountain! The fog over the spearhead crags reminded me of old Chinese brush paintings. The temple also has the world's largest carved Buddha not from ancient times; it was carved in the 1960s, laquered in gold, and then covered with gold leaf.

A pond curled around the front of the building like half a moat. But instead of sharks or crocodiles, it was filled with koi (big Japanese goldfish; actually, they're a kind of carp), some of them humongous. I guess tourists have been feeding them like crazy; when we stood still and looked at them from a bridge, a huge mass of them noticed us and crowded around, their mouths wide open. I imagined them saying "feed me!" like the plant in the musical version of Little Shop of Horrors.

A black swan was also in the pond, pecking at something invisible on the bank. It was floating oddly higher than the waterline, and it suddenly occurred to us that it wasn't floating at all: it was standing on the backs of some koi, like they were floatation devices. The fish didn't seem to care.

We took a few pictures and moved on.

The Polynesian Cultural Center is kind of like Florida's Epcot center, separated into several different Polynesian pavillions, each corresponding to a different island: Fiji, Samoa, Aotearoa (Maori New Zealand), Tahiti, Hawaii, the Marquesas, and Tonga. We rode a small canoe on a canal that runs between all the "island" pavillions. Then we started visiting the different cultures... which seemed very similar, except they had different styles of thatched hut.

In Islands of Marquesas, we saw a couple of women, one old, the other new, teaching a gaggle of tourists how to weave long grass into some shape: it consisted of two big loops, with the ends of the foot-long blades shuttling inside and out in some complicated pattern. We moved on to Tahiti... and came across a pair of women teaching a clutch of tourists how to weave long grass into some shape: closer inspection revealed it was exactly the same as the previous "island."

We found the same teachable moment in Tonga; this time, it was two old women. Crossing over the bridge to Fiji, we saw the same pattern, but the loops and ends pointed the opposite direction. Then we saw the old Fijian woman writing something and realized she was left-handed.

This must have been basket-weaving day in Polynesia, because the next pavillion (Samoa) had an old woman and a young one teaching the exact, same patter of grass weaving (right way round this time; anybody want to bet the head woman was right-handed?) The last pavillion we visited, just before we got to the Luau, was Hawaii -- and there were no women and no basket-weaving gawkers; if they were there, they had already left. We did, however, find a single blade of long grass on the ground; it had split down the middle. We deduced that at least one tourist hadn't listened to his old woman.

Hawaii is not exactly known for great food. Oh, sure, it's better than our backpacking trip through the Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite, where we hiked for five days on nothing but dried pieces of buffalo, squid jerky, and oatmeal. But you don't go to Hawaii for the fine cuisine.

The one exception to this rule is the luau. We honeymooned in Hawaii some time ago, and the luau is the only meal we can really remember. (Dafydd says he remembers every lobster from our trip to Maine a couple of years ago.) We're pleased to report that the luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center is just as good as or better than the one we had on Maui last time.

If you played a word-association game and someone said "Hawaiian luau," I'll bet the first word that would pop into hyour mind would not be "Mormons," but that's who runs the Polynesian Cultural Center: Brigham Young University. In practice, this only means that you can't drink alcohol on the premises... so if the highlight of any luau for you is a gigantic Mai-Tai, you have to go somewhere else. But the food at the Center's luau is excellent.

The highlight of any luau is the kuala pig, steamed underground in a hole that acts like an oven: they line it with heated rocks, drop the dead pig on it, toss on herbs and vegetables and other food, then bury it under cocoanut husks. Then they drape wet burlap over it, so it steams instead of burns. And then they leave it alone for about twenty-four hours.

By that time, it's done. In fact, it falls off the bone; so they serve it the only way they can: shredded, as part of a huge buffet. I didn't like the pig that much, but Dafydd said it was really good. I liked all the vegetables, even the poi (made from pounded taro root). At the end, the cocoanut cake was excellent, but I could only eat a bite. I thought I was going to explode like the anaconda that tried to digest an alligator!

The last thing we saw at the Center was the traditional dancing and singing show. It's called "Horizons;" but even with such an insipid name, it's a terrific show. The second half was a lot better than the first, with actual hula dancing (which seems to have come to Hawaii from Tahiti) and the fire dancing. The fast movement of the hips is incredible. I could never figure out how anyone can move a hip that fast without moving anything either above or below it.

The acrobatic dance using fire was from Samoa. Three guys litereary sat on fire to put it out. They were walking over the fire and torching their grass skirts on purpose.

The star of the last half was a Samoan who we watched at the Samoa show a few hours earlier. He was very funny... he knew a few words in a lot of different languages (French, Chinese, Korean, Japanese), and he knew how to make fun of people's languages without getting them angry at him. At one point, he had a stick that was burning at both ends, and he threw it high up on the stage to another guy. The guy on the upper stage caught it and started spinning like a baton. Later, he threw the torched stick back to the guy on the lower stage. I don't see how they can do all that without burning themselves!

The drive home was uneventful. We decided we had been eating too much of food that wasn't all that great to begin with; so we stopped off at a supermarket and bought fixings to make sandwiches instead, for lunch and dinner.

Yeah, right. We'll see how long we stick to that budgeting plan!

Hatched by Sachi on this day, November 8, 2005, at the time of 6:01 AM

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The following hissed in response by: tgharris

Haven't been there since '97, so taking that into consideration.....

Try Chuck's Steakhouse on Waikiki. Its in the same complex (or at least next to it) where the "Society of Seven" performs. Ask to eat on the balcony.

Also, Benihana's of Tokyo Japanese Steakhouse. In the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

Finally, if you've never been there, go to Pearl Harbor and see the Arizona Memorial. The USS Missouri is also now on display at Pearl.

The above hissed in response by: tgharris [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 8, 2005 11:07 AM

The following hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist

America is involved in Domestic and Foreign *WARS*, and you two take a trip to Hawaii!?!

France has offered to surrender, but the rioting Muslim youths refused to accept the surrender unless America surrenders also, and you two take a trip to Hawaii!?!?!?!

Forget worrying about "that budgeting plan", the UN has new plans to turn America into a seventh world nation, and y'alls money won't be worth much when you return from that trip to Hawaii.

Just kidding...y'all enjoy,


The above hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 8, 2005 3:55 PM

The following hissed in response by: Kalroy

Try to find a place called the Wisteria in downtown Honolulu. It's not a secret, and not quite one of those unknown hole in the wall places, but the food is good and inexpensive. Not four star or anything, but their tonkatsu and their tempura are wonderful, especially for the price.

Their clientele tend to be young professionals whose roots go back a couple of generations who, like me, were introduced to the place by their parents who were introduced by their parents. I try to go there everytime I go home.

Oh, or you could call my cousin Miles and get his reccomendation, he knows all the good places and could show you around.


The above hissed in response by: Kalroy [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 9, 2005 9:05 PM

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