maui reflections

Just returned from a wonderful vacation in the peaceful paradise of Maui. We recharged our batteries with a week of 85 degree days filled with swimming, snorkeling, surfing and whale watching - before attending the main purpose of the whole trip - my cousin's wedding. While it's fun to remember those action-packed activities, I also can't help but reflect on my experiences with the people and within the culture of the island.

My wife and I felt right at home in Maui, which is populated with many Japanese and Filipinos. You can always spot the Japanese by their eating habits at a buffet. While the Americans and Filipinos indiscriminately heap one convoluted mound of mixed up food on their plates, the Japanese arrange several small and neatly separated piles of each food. Their plates end up looking like a bento box without the dividers... or the box. This difference holds true at our table as I shoveled spoonfuls of cornbeef/rice/egg/bacon/sausage/potatoes/veggies in my mouth while my wife took turns in picking at each of her 10 separate piles of fruits, veggies and rice. I observed an elderly Japanese couple pulling out their own condiments - including nori (seaweed) to add to their breakfast. My wife was also very happy to find many Japanese snacks and products in local grocery and convenience stores. And, I was happy to sample the local spam dishes!

Of course we also tried the traditional cuisine with the "Hawaiian Diet" dish at the Kaanapali Tiki Terrace. This dish featured chicken or fish wrapped and steam cooked in tea leaves with an assortment of sweet potatoes, purple yams, bananas and poi. The protein was lightly seasoned (if at all) and proved too bland for my relatives who are used to heavier flavors of Filipino foods. But I appreciated the healthiness of the plate and the lightly seasoned chicken/fish comes to life when eaten in harmony with its veggie and fruit costars. As for the poi, I don't hate it as much as other newbies...but I'm not going to claim it as my favorite new food either. Consistency was okay, but the overall sourness left it unfinished in my bowl.

With a mix of diverse peoples and the influx of tourists, there's always a potential to find humor in mundane situations.

One day we took the Sugar Cane Train - an old-fashioned steam railroad train that runs through the sugar cane fields. The caucasian conductor ambled up the aisle to check tickets and make friendly small talk with tourists. As he takes my ticket, he looks at our faces and asks where we are from. Whenever I hear that question from white people, I brace myself for the "Where are you from?/No, where are you REALLY from?" game. This guy did not disappoint. After I answered with "New Jersey", he asks, "Oh...and where were you from before New Jersey?" I deadpanned, "Maryland", while staring unblinkingly at his face. He seemed disappointed and mumbled, "Oh, that's close enough, I guess...", before shuffling on up the aisle.

"It pays to speak Ilocano in Hawaii." That was the observation of my aunt. Many of the workers at the hotel are Filipinos from the Ilocos region. While Tagalog is the national language, there are many regions and dialects in the Philippines. My mother's side of the family is from Pangasinan and speaks the dialect of the same name. My aunt requested dry cleaning service from the hotel and was prepared to pay the full price. When she spoke a few phrases of Ilocano to her husband, in perhaps an attempt to fish for a discount, the hotel employee brightened up and ate the bait, "Even though you speak broken Ilocano, I'm happy to hear it and will give you a family discount."

Are there separate prices for tourists and locals? I took my rental car for a car wash after a muddy drive through the famously curvy road to Hana. The advertised price on their sign read "$4.50 car wash with at least an 8 gallon purchase of gas." I head up to the cashier window and asked for the car wash without the gas. The Filipino-Hawaiian cashier smiles, looks at me and the car and charges $2.00. I wondered if they lowered the price, so I watched the caucasian tourist (obvious with camera around his neck) approach the window after me. He gets a $4.50 bill after explaining that he will fill up his car with gas. I guess I could fool people into thinking I'm a local. As a sidebar, whenever I travel to other cities, people always ask me for directions. My wife says people must think I look trustworthy...or I act like I know where I'm going (which usually is not the case)

My cousin's wedding listed barongs (traditional Filipino formal wear) as the preferred attire. I wore a beautifully colorful barong (courtesy of my aunt) with an island theme print. So before we left for the hotel, my wife and I posed for family pictures. As my father began snapping pics, I noticed a crowd of white people gathering behind him and pulling out their cameras. They started taking photos. At first, I thought they were taking shots of the scenery behind me - so I started to duck out of their way. Then I noticed they were all smiling and following me in my colorful barong and my wife in her sundress. Turns out they were taking paparazzi shots of us! So right now - somewhere in America or Europe, a white family is showing pictures of me and my wife, spreading misconceptions of "native" Hawaiian wedding attire. As the caucasian paparazzi snapped more shots of us, we continued to walk through the hotel lobby... and as my fresh barong flowed with me, I received some non-verbal props (smile & head-nod) from the Filipino employees. When I returned later that night, the maid left a note saying "Congratulations!"


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