Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | Hawaiian Eye – Pt. 6 (Coasting with Richela)
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Hawaiian Eye – Pt. 6 (Coasting with Richela)

One of the beaches Richela drove us to along the eastern shore of Oahu.

Wednesday, Sept. 19

It was sad leaving Laura and John’s in Mililani – it’s a beautiful and comfortable home, and they were so gracious and generous, it felt like we’ve known them all our lives.

At the same time, we were looking forward to seeing Erin’s friend Richela, who we knew from the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival. She’s half Japanese, half Chinese, and she volunteered and helped Erin with the festival’s performing arts stage. She moved from Denver to Honolulu several years ago; she’s a native of Hawaii who lived in Colorado for over two decades.

She now lives in a condo along the marina in an area west of downtown Honolulu called Hawaii Kai, with two cats, Sporty (who looks like a mature, heavier version of our black-and-white, Rufus) and a handsome gray and tan cat named Tokyo.

We reserved the day for sightseeing, nothing else. No shopping (!), no family research. Of course, eating was allowed.

Erin fell in love with these birds, which were everywhere.

We got to Richela’s in time for lunch so we began our day with her at lunch. We went to the Koko Marina mall, where we’d seen Isaac’s group play on Sunday night, and grabbed a plate lunch at a Hawaiian chain called Loco Moco. Then we headed on a leisurely drive up the east coast of Oahu, past the Blow Hole and Sandy Beach areas where we’d been a couple of days earlier with Auntie Harriet.

It occurred to me how foreign it was to be someplace where there was coastline everywhere you went. The beach is an ubiquitous destination in Hawaii. In my mind, as a tourist, I think of the cliché image of Waikiki Beach, with the distinctive rocky crag of Diamond Head looming in the background. Or maybe I think of Ala Moana Beach, which is a tad less touristy and just to the west of the Waikiki area.

But there are literally endless beaches, some with names, other simply along the road, where you can park your car and wiggle your toes in sand or dip your feet in the encroaching waves.

It’s a mind-blowing realization in a way – I suppose it would be similar to someone from Hawaii coming to Colorado for the first time and seeing the majesty of the Rocky Mountains, or experiencing snow, for the first time.

We called it Chinese Hat, but the common name is “Chinaman’s Hat.”

We stopped at lots of scenic pullovers to take pictures, including photos of “Chinaman’s Hat,” an island shaped like a Chinese straw cone hat. The preferred politically correct name should be “Chinese Hat,” but it somehow didn’t carry the same sting of racism in the context of Hawaii’s multicultural mishmash that it might in, say, the deep south.

We also stopped at an amazing place called Byodo-In, a replica of a Japanese Buddhist temple hidden away in a huge, multi-denominational cemetery called Valley of the Temples. Nearby were Japanese-style graves with typically tall, built-up stone memorials. But the temple itself, painted bright red and surrounded by ponds and streams stocked with koi, was like a mirage, a structure lifted right from Japan and plopped in front of a dramatic backdrop of a rocky tropical island mountain.

We took the time to ring a temple bell, then walked through the temple building itself, paying respects to the huge statue of Buddha, and then fed the hungry koi with pellets from the gift shop (the fish, some of which were huge, went into a frenzy over every handful of food tossed into the water).

The hungry carp, or koi, at the Byodo-In Temple, a vision of Japan amongst the tropical paradise of Hawaii.

From the Valley of the Temples we continued north along the mostly two-lane Kamehameha Highway, following the coastline and taking more pictures of beaches, water and sun. Since Richela had grown up here, she knew a lot about the history of the area, and told us about the towns and beaches as we passed them. We stopped along the road at one point where a sculptor had stacked rocks into curious and cute stacks, like sentries watching over the tides.

Curious rock stacks along the Kamehameha Highway heading up to the North Shore of Oahu.

We eventually made it to the North Shore, the fabled haunt of generations of surfer dudes.

We stopped briefly in the town of Haleiwa at Matsumoto’s, famous for shave ice, the Hawaiian take on sno-cones. The ice wasn’t shaved as fine as at the Waiola market near where my dad and his family lived, though, and the syrup was no more special-tasting than a Slurpee at a 7-Eleven. OK, so maybe I’m being too harsh. These were finer and better-tasting than a mainland sno-cone, but we thought for the reputation that Matsumoto’s had, they were plain over-rated.

While we were there, in fact, Laura called to check in with us, and told me that she thought Aoki’s down the street served a better shave ice, without the hype or the crowds. Sure enough, as we drove through Haleiwa on our way to the highway that would take us back down to Honolulu from the North Shore, we zipped by Aoki’s – and it was open and had no crowds.

We stood in line for shave ice at Matsumoto’s, a North Shore institution.

We had come up to the North Shore along the eastern coast of Oahu. For our return, we took the highway that met up with the H-2, and drove straight down the middle of the island. Going that way, the island can be dissected in little more than 45 minutes or so, if traffic allows. We ended up driving past the Mililani exit where Laura and John, and Regine and Dick live.

It had been a relaxing day – very Hawaiian, I thought – of doing nothing.

For dinner, after we returned to Richela’s, we headed back to the nearby Koko Marina and had dinner at Zippy’s. Zippy’s is a Hawaiian institution – they’re everywhere. It’s like an island version of Denny’s, a 24-hour diner with local specialties, as well as an attached bakery (Napoleon’s Bakery) for pastries and breads.

Erin had been raving about Zippy’s for years. She’s eaten there every time she’s come to Hawaii, and has a Napple, a flaky-crust apple turnover. So we had a delicious, if unfancy, meal. Richela ordered saimin noodles, Erin had spaghetti with chili con carne (wonderful!) and I had a combination with white rice, two pieces of very tasty fried chicken, a piece of thin-sliced teriyaki beef and a slice of spam. How Hawaiian can you get?

After dinner, we took our Napples (I had a coconut-filled one) and sat out on Richela’s dock (she’s going to buy a motorboat eventually to go with the dock) and talked and looked up at the stars peeking through always restless, swiftly-moving clouds.

We were feeling more and more at home.