Friday, May 22, 2009

Musings: Something New

The moon, shrinking and rising later each day, was lagging well behind Venus in the fiery streaked eastern sky when Koko and I went walking this morning. The temperature was brisk and the ground was saturated from a much-appreciated rain that slipped in yesterday afternoon, quenching the heat and refreshing the land and flora.

I stopped on the way back to check the headlines on my neighbor’s newspaper, and saw one article extolling the virtues of stand up paddle boards as a boon to the island’s economy, which seems a bit of a stretch. What’s more likely is the fad is helping a couple of surf shops.

But if folks follow the Chamber’s advice, the sport could turn into yet another of those unregulated — or push the rules because there’s no enforcement — free-for-alls that seem to pop up every time somebody figures out a new way to commercialize, and thus capitalize on, Kauai’s natural attributes.

“It’s a good business to get into as the sport is growing,” said Randall Francisco, president of the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce, who is no stranger to enterprise success. “From the business standpoint, an opportunity like this adds to a visitor’s experience, as they are always looking for something new and also it’s a chance for residents to get out in the water and enjoy themselves.”

While the paddleboarders are enjoying themselves, the short board surfers aren’t quite so much. Seems the stand up guys, who can catch any wave, are hogging rides, and conflict between them and the surfers is increasing. After one altercation at a southside beach last week, a stand up guy found the air had been let out of all four of his tires.

Surfers, of course, can fend for themselves. What really bothered me about Francisco’s comment was his observation that visitors “are always looking for something new.” Here they are, in one of the world’s most beautiful spots, with a totally unique culture and endemic flora and fauna, a place that is almost guaranteed to be better than what they have back home, and they’re bored already. Been there, done that. Yawn. What’s new? What’s next?

And we keep catering to it, wasting water by running it down the irrigation ditches so folks can go tubing, stringing up zip lines because the spectacle of this place isn’t thrilling enough, exploiting each and every hidden nook and cranny as the latest “secret spot” that tourists can go to get away from it all — only to find, inevitably, each other.

We’ve got the tour boats on Na Pali and kayaks on every river and helicopters over every valley. We’ve got vacation rentals on nearly every beautiful beach. And it’s still not enough. The insatiable clamour continues: What’s new? What’s different? And in the course of providing it, we whittle away what is new, what is different in this crowded, homogenous world: a distinctive place that isn’t entirely — yet — devoted to human pursuits, presence and pleasures.

Meanwhile, "Dr. Beach," who in a just world would be forced to live out the rest of his life under a freeway overpass with the author of the Ultimate Kauai Guide, has generated unwanted and unneeded publicity for poor, beleagured Hanalei with his pronouncement that it’s America’s best beach.

I found it amusing that The Garden Island ran it as “breaking news” in its online edition, and devoted sizable coverage to the "story” in today’s print edition. Do we really need to be told how special that place is by a self-proclaimed beach expert who uses it to promote himself and write off his travel to beaches?

Worse, though, is the utter gushing bullshit that characterizes AP’s story:

Hanalei features postcard views from every angle and is untouched by the feverish development that has transformed the coastlines of other islands.

So what are all these expansive and expensive homes that now line the white sand, and the eyesore of the Princeville Resort that hangs over its edges?

The village is a throwback to old Hawaii. There are sprawling plots of taro, which is used to produce poi, a staple in the Hawaiian diet. Neighborhood kids sell fresh leis on the corner. Gift shops, art galleries, surf stores and casual restaurants line the main drag.

Yup, sure sounds like “old Hawaii.”

The writer then shows his complete ignorance with this paragraph:

Hanalei first gained fame when the hit musical "South Pacific" was filmed here five decades ago, and it hasn't changed much.

First, Hanalei has been famous for centuries as the subject of numerous songs and chants. It didn’t come into existence simply because Hollywood found it, and on the process created such fake and persistent place names as “Bali Hai.”

And second, Hanalei has changed tremendously in 50 years. Just 40 years ago, a friend who grew up there told me, he and his cousins would race to the road and stare in wonder when a car drove by. Traffic was scarce, tourists were rare, and very few haoles lived in the region.

Now the traffic along the road is unceasing during the day, and as old Uncle Walter, a Haena native and veteran of Hamburger Hill, opined at the Kapaa Laudromat the other day: “Get too many haoles on the North Shore these days.”

Nowhere in the article is there any mention of the high bacteria counts that give surfers and swimmers “the itchies” at certain times of the year, or the sailboats that anchor in the bay in the summer and dump their waste.

Nor is there a peep uttered about the rising property taxes and the proliferation of vacation rentals that have pushed out locals and undermined what once was a strong and vibrant community.

And of course there’s not a whisper about the locals, who don’t even want to go to the beach because of all the tourists, who feel overrun, who regularly have altercations with oblivious tourists and arrogant newcomers who are so caught up in the myth of Hanalei they entirely miss the real place.

But fortunately, the spotlight will only be on Hanalei Bay for a year. Because, of course, even “heaven on earth” gets boring and you’ve got to keep giving the tourists something new.


Anonymous said...

“Get too many haoles on the North Shore these days.”

Yeah, they complain too much!

Andy Parx said...

Maybe if we're lucky they won't find it- Charlie Gibson reported the name of the beach on ABC News last night as Hannah- as in Montana- lei

Anonymous said...

Another great and insightful look into deteriorating segments of Hawaii. Yes, deteriorating. Or dead spots...these places are no longer flourishing with life. some kind of awesome and robotic boringness. The life has been snuffed out but the organs are kept alive on a machine. I guess the machine could be compared to Hawaiiʻs legislature.
Thanks Joan.

Anonymous said...

Interesting debate on Oahu between the stand up paddlers versus the swimmers, getting pretty heated...

Anonymous said...

No wonder they hate us.
The big serious issue of life is fʻg paddle boards - stand up or lie dire issues such as, will my family eat today before they get their legs and arms blown off?

Anonymous said...

Oh, such a postive outlook. I think it's funny when a haole uses the word haole. Oh, what, some haole's are better than others?

I did notice they left out the water quality thing. Water quality is a problem around the island, not just Hanalei bay, after it rains because of all the septic tanks and no systematic wastewater treatment system. That's something the longstanding residents (the good haole's?) could have done something about long ago, but didn't, 'cause they just like complaining unnecessarily.

Anonymous said...

"No wonder they hate us.
The big serious issue of life is fʻg paddle boards - stand up or lie dire issues such as, will my family eat today before they get their legs and arms blown off?"

Or will the big bad stupidferry bring evil Oahuans to my personal island? People here have way too much time on their hands and spend way too much time complaining about idiot nothings.

Anonymous said...

"because of all the septic tanks and no systematic wastewater treatment system."
That would be cesspools. Septic tanks are a step in the right direction as is recycling the water all water and population control.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Joan Conrow said...

Remember, no anonymous attacks on people who post under their real names.

Anonymous said...

"Oh, what, some haole's are better than others?"

Haoles (caucasions)run the entire spectrum (good to bad) just like most races.

Dawson said...

Tourism invariably destroys the very amenities that made a location a tourist attraction in the first place.

Read Hal K. Rothman's Devil's Bargains: Tourism in the Twentieth-Century American West, University Press of Kansas, 1998.

darwin_was_pretty_smart said...

i dont live up north; cant say what all is right or wrong there now. i did hear it was pretty lawless not too many years ago from people that lived there in the 60s and 70s and a number of the drug houses were smashed down and nice homes put in their place, so that is a positive development

localism as practiced on kauai often seems pretty stupid. also noticed and shown here is how quick people are to blame others for their poor station in life or other problems

good weather on kauai tho, its got that for sure

Anonymous said...

So if you don't like this kind of thing as a "boon to the economy" then what would you suggest as an alternative?

Don't say sustainable ag, because, in my opinion, the majority of the people don't want to live in a farming community. They want the money tourism and military provide. They want to buy their groceries at Costco, etc.

How many people, really, want anything different than "the American way" here in the islands?

The answer is: it doesn't really matter, because the American way is going to continue. All the powers that be currently, and most likely will be elected in the future want it that way. They will pave the way and put up the welcome signs for off-island money to be spent and mainlanders to build their own "dream" just because they can.

Try to change that. Just try.