Thursday, May 4, 2017

First I need to apologize to Hawaii

 When I was little, I thought eggplants are the ugliest vegetables on the planet. Their phallic shape, and the slimy inside when cooked, shouldn’t and didn’t appeal me as a kid for a long time. I had an aunt who was known among “the kid community” for making mixed rice bowls – basically, she just threw a bunch of curries on rice, mix forcefully with her bare hands, and the meal would be exquisite. One day, she threw in eggplant curry while making a bowl for me, and my former perspective, rooted deeply on ignorance and assumptions, have forever changed.  Since then, eggplants have become my favorite food, and I have asked my moms and aunts for Burmese eggplant curry every time to Yangon. And they are usually nice enough to oblige. I went through a similar eggplant-like experience for Hawaii.
Taken at a scenic point right beyond Halona Blow Hole

I was kinda “forced” to go to this Hawaii trip because my aunt and uncle are visiting from Myanmar, and the plan was to take them to Hawaii – a place where Hollywood made into an iconic honeymoon spot, with beautiful beaches, and more importantly, good looking natural-tanned white people serving. My gut told me that it would be a cultural wasteland. The worst part was we were joining a tour group – the ultimate CSI-level torture for me. Although I was very much tempted to fake an illness and skip the trip, I finally dragged myself to Hawaii, and finally at our hotel in Waikiki.
Tako Poke in Ono Hawaiian Seafood Restaurant

Hawaiian pork luau - fatty piece of pork wrapped in taro leaves and cooked until fall apart. Taro leaves are mildly toxic when eaten raw? Yes, I have tried them raw and it sucked.
We might have over-ordered Dole Whip for 4 people. 

The bridge leading to Byodo-In temple in the Valley of Temples

Another View of Byodo-In temple, nestled between the cheeks of lush green mountains.

Although Waikiki embodies every drop of my anxiety about Hawaii being white-washed, the rest of Hawaii, the history and culture of Polynesia made me fall in love with the Polynesian culture. And, I fell in love harder than I have ever felt for a place. First, what really moved me was the culture actively resisting epidemic of Western ideology of individualism, normalization of the constant stress and Hollywood standard of beauty. It was liberating to see that performers in every show in the Polynesian culture center doesn’t give a fuck about Hollywood beauty standards when it comes to choosing performers. Performers were big but looked healthy. In fact, I like it better this way. I can relate more and feel more. Then, there was also this omnipotent quality about the harmonized music and chants of Polynesia. The synchronized choreographs along with intensity and passion of performers weirdly brought me back to my state school days in Yangon. In the morning, at my state school, as soon as the bell rang to indicate the start of school, all students, both big and small, would start chanting Buddhist texts, and then singing our national anthem. These synchronized chants and songs created this all-powerful echo that could and had instantly stopped any latecomers to the school from running. I was often the kid who was late to school (reasons ranged from oversleeping to forgetting my backpack), I felt that urge to chant along. When you give wholly of yourself something bigger than your aspirations and identity, you feel this strong sense of belonging, and more importantly, a sense of purpose that is otherwise, impossible. May be that’s what I was feeling back in Oahu.

Picnic at the beach - our menu includes unagi, steak and pork lau lau bowls with a side of simian (Hawaiian ramen)

View from the park.

Finally, I am usually not the person to travel to places for landscapes. Even after having said that, I still feel that no post about Hawaii is complete without blatantly bragging about its natural wonders. Ok, first ditch the particle-laden, dark musky water of Waikiki beachfront. Start driving towards the east bay on Kalainanaole Hwy, you will soon find yourself having to stop every 5 minutes for some of the most magnificent lush green mountain structures and pure white floury sands. The hazy island mountains in Hawaii are arrogant yet addictive – every time I saw one or drove by one, I felt succumbed to their grandiosity and mystery. They made me feel small, and they made my first-world problems even smaller. I did not even feel the need to complain why my Iphone Bluetooth was not connecting to my rental car. Moreover, the beaches look like something plucked straight from a highly photoshopped travel magazine. I was born and raised Southeast Asia, an area famed for its beaches. But, blue and green waters of Hawaii can rival any beaches I have visited. I played Moana soundtrack while digging my feet into fine loose sands of Waimanalo Beach. Warm water and sand slushy slowly exfoliated the callous of my toes as I lost myself in soundtracks. It was truly a spiritual experience.

Making of the bread oven in Tahiti village of the Polynesian Cultural Center

Tahiti guys, singing for  a mock traditional wedding.

Haka chants

Samoan peeling coconuts

One thing that this Hawaiian trip did was that it reaffirms I suck at knowing what I really want. I ended up loving every bits that I thought I would be repulsed at. I still don’t know why this is the case. If I have to guess, I have to blame on my fear. But, fear of what? Not liking the experience? Or worse, really liking the experience and now that I have to yearn for more? I cannot even answer simple questions like that. That’s freaking insane.

One of the best poke bowls I have had - @Ono Seafood

Hawaiian papayas are small yet very floral and sweet.

Homemade bread by Heatherly from YangonBakehouse. Potluck at her her lovely home.

Pastelle - pork and olive stew. No one talked about it, but it is freaking delicious.

Kong Coffee and Acai bowl.

Loco Moco - patty, gravy and eggs on rice. What can be better? None comes to my mind.

Dole Whips <3 td="">

View from Koko Head

Sun rise at Koko Head

View of Hanauma Bay and peninsula from Koko head.

Railroad stairs leading to the Koko head

Scenic spots long Kalainanaole Hwy 

Scenic spots long Kalainanaole Hwy 

Scenic spots long Kalainanaole Hwy 

Beautiful blue water and white sand at Waimanalo beach

Waimanalo beach

Coconut trees at Waikiki

Waimea beach at the North Shore. The sand is coarse but the waves are stronger. This is also a famous spot for cliff jumping.

Waimea beach - do you see that rocky area in the middle of the pic? This is where people do cliff jumping.

The North Shore of Oahu is filled with shrimp trucks.

Hazy mountains of the North Shore

Driving by deeply lush green mountains is such a unique experience.

Be sure to explore the east bay at night. If you are lucky, you will be greeted by the none other than the galaxy


  1. I love the stories you tell in this blog post. I loved Hawaii as well when I went there. The people, the culture, the FOOD are all things that make me miss it so much as I read your post. I love all of your pics of the ocean :) That is truly my favorite part of Hawaii. I'm glad you had a good time:) Looking forward to seeing more gorgeous photography

  2. oh you reminded me of our school ritual too, how we chanted the Buddhist text :) I used to kinda "hate" it. I guess the saying you don't know you love it until you miss it, is somewhat true! I absolutely love Hawaii too, the scenery, the food,and oh yess...those papaya. I think we stuffed ourselves with the papayas everyday for breakfast :D and the shrimp truck!!! arrghh...we need to go again!!!

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  8. The pictures are just awesome! I'll print them and place on all walls in my room! So jealous about your trip! Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

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