One of the places on my family’s list of things to see in Honolulu was Chinatown. My hypnotherapist, Marga, has sent me some pictures of her last trip, filled with steamed dumplings, vegetable stands, and unusual cuts of meat including a pig’s head. So we asked the hotel Concierge for directions. Apparently she didn’t actually know because we walked the full 16 blocks she recommended and saw nothing remotely Chinese except for one take-out sushi stand and a Buddhist monk tapping on his cell phone. The only other restaurants we saw were Greek and Thai. Disappointed, we wandered a bit and finally found a fancy Chinese restaurant in a business area.
Jade and I had been telling BG and Faye about the alligator we ate while on the mainland at a fine restaurant, at of all places, the Dallas airport. We agreed to be experimental here too: all at least tried the chilled marinated jellyfish. We found the strands crunchier than expected, but also springier in the middle – sort of like pickles. The tasty half-duck made up for the jellyfish.
We decided to drive around the city, mostly on the road to and around Diamond Head beyond the city center. Everywhere you look in this city, Diamond Head seems to be perfectly framed in the distance. Yet the closer we got to Diamond Head, the less impressive and smaller it looked.
BG and I once took a vacation in Nevada where the same thing happened. We’d see something beautiful on the horizon, but when we drove up close, it was just a pile of rocks. We called that vacation, Beauty at a Distance.
A plaque on the side of the road told the story of Diamond Head’s name. Apparently, some British sailors climbed the crater in 1825, and found what looked like diamonds among the lava rocks. Alas, these “diamonds” turned out to be clear calcite crystals.
Along this road we saw multi-million dollar mansions with million dollar views, though these views were mostly obscured for mere tourists like us. Faye grabbed a flier out of one of the sales boxes on an empty lot – $3.5 million just for the lot, and it wasn’t even on the beach side of the road!
At one point, we saw a truly attention-grabbing display of wealth. Having money obviously doesn’t mean having good taste. Someone had filled a large yard with Grecian statues interspersed with lions. The yard next door looked the same, although they had also included a statue of the Hawaiian God of War, Ku. Were they keeping up with the neighbors or trying to outdo them?
On the way back into the city, we stopped at Waikīkī Beach, approaching it from Kapi’olani Park on the east end. We were excited to finally experience it, but once we did, were disappointed and puzzled by its fame as one of the world’s best beaches.
Personally, we think Hapuna Beach on the Big Island has it beat in so many ways. Hapuna has a wide beach; Waikiki is plagued by beach erosion. Hapuna has very few rocks in the swim area, it’s in an unspoiled natural location, the sand is finer – less grainy, and it has lots of parking.
Yes, Waikīkī has romance, history, and apparently a long surf ride, but I don’t care about those things. I guess some folks like the urban nature of this beach, just a block or two from the main drag and luxury shopping and hotels. Not me. We stayed about 90 minutes, watching people playing beach volleyball and surfers taking their long rides in.
I did enjoy seeing the ingenious ways the young people got their boards to the beach. On the Big Island, they load them into their BA trucks and go. Here, parking is scarce and it’s metered with a two hour limit. That means remembering to haul themselves out of the water and off the beach, hike back to the parking area and shove more money in the meter. In fact parking spots are so limited that the city reserves about a half dozen primo spots just for the lifeguards.
So people get to the beach on skateboards and bicycles, holding onto their boards. Some have either made or bought attachments for their bikes and motorcycles in/on which they can prop the boards. Love (for surfing) will find a way.
The next day, we were still feeling disappointed by our non-Chinatown lunch the day before. So we drove back to the supposed Chinatown area, and found a different Chinese restaurant – Lobster King. Oh, yes, this was authentic. The menu was strange, the clientele was Chinese, and the waiters did not attempt to explain their practices. They plopped a warm bowl of what looked like chicken broth with a lemon slice floating in it in front of me. I was puzzled – I didn’t order soup. But by watching the little kid at the next table, I figured out it was a finger bowl.
Here we tried abalone and mushrooms, Chilean sea bass (cut through and deep fried), and I tried the lobster. It wasn’t what I expected. First, it was all cut up the same way they cut and serve chicken, bones and all – in this case, exoskeleton. Then it was covered in a slippery garlic sauce, making it hard to grip the pieces to get the lobster out, especially with chopsticks. I guess this just points out, be careful what you ask for – we got Chinese food in an authentic Chinese restaurant.
Overall it was a fun trip. We enjoyed touring the Bishop Museum and the Iolani Palace and I finally saw the kitchen on the lower level. It was a luxury to be able to stay as long as we liked in both places.
Would I come to Honolulu again? Probably – we never did see Chinatown. It would also be interesting to walk the deck of Mighty Mo, the USS Missouri, where the Japanese surrendered, and where General MacArthur signed the Instrument of Surrender on behalf of the Allies so many decades before. Maybe I can get my husband to come along again.
For more essays on Honolulu and things to see there, see:
Highbrow Honolulu – Blaisdell Symphony Hall
Art History 101; Sad History 201 – Honolulu Museum of Art/ Iolani Palace
Shop ’til you drop – Ala Moana Center
She could have been Queen – Bishop Museum
It could have been my Dad – Pearl Harbor
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