Monday, August 31, 2009

Musings: Trouble in "Paradise"

Koko and I woke to the sound of pigs tromping around in the underbrush, which got her whining and excited, and both of us quickly out of the house. As she sniffed curiously, I gazed up at Makalii and Triangle, directly overhead, and then we went walking under a mosaic of distant galaxies and countless constellations.

Dense clouds were bunched up on the eastern horizon, and they teamed up with the approaching dawn to slowly blot out all celestial bodies, save for Venus, which was far too bright to easily extinguish, much like the peace and happiness instilled in my own heart by the joy of spending all but two of yesterday’s daylight hours outside, and frequently in water, both fresh and salt.

We’re in the glory stretch of summer now, that time when the first north swell of the season comes in and freshens everything up and fills the air with the fragrance of limu, and both the water and air are warm and the light takes on that special golden sheen that gives all the greenness an ethereal glow.

It’s the kind of weather that fulfills most every tourist’s fantasy about Kauai, but apparently some — or at least one, according to an editorial in yesterday’s Garden Island — leave with hurt feelings when they discover it’s not entirely the idyllic paradise that the Visitors Bureau sells.

In this case, it was a father visiting his son (perhaps the unidentified TGI staffer who penned the piece?) who had an unpleasant encounter at a North Shore bar (care to wager it was Tahiti Nui?):

“Haole tourists!” a would-be hitchhiker yelled after being denied a ride to Kapa‘a. “No forget fo’ go home!”

The father did indeed go back home — in a fiery state of confusion. The lasting effect of this incident, and a growing number of similar tales we have been told over the past year, is will these victims of such senseless abuse ever want to return to the Garden Isle?

What the editorial fails to recognize — even as it scolds the cantankerous locals who are “undermining” the current $1 million effort of the Kauai Visitors Bureau to lure more tourists here and reminds us that “we should not bite the hands that feed us” — is that many locals (especially on the North Shore) do indeed hope that “these victims,” and the friends and neighbors who hear their sad stories, will go home and stay home.

Frankly, they’ve had quite enough of tourism and its spawn: vacation rentals, crowded beaches and surfbreaks, traffic, mainland mentality, ostentatious displays of wealth and yet more haoles — many of them with attitudes — moving to Kauai.

They haven’t been on the receiving end of all the wealth derived from the visitor industry, but they have endured all the fallout from its growth as they’ve watched tourism reach into every corner of this island and in the process, erode their communities and lifestyle.

They’re tired of being told to show more aloha when folks like Joe Brescia build vacation rentals on their burials, and sue them for objecting. They’re weary of dealing with tourists who behave with an ugly sense of entitlement because they’re spending a lot of money.

They’re sick of feeling like strangers — or worse, outcasts — in their own backyards.

I’m not certain if the editorial writer caught the irony in these statements:

When an embittered or unthinking local takes his or her frustrations out on tourists, or takes money or possessions from their cars or hotel rooms, what they are really doing is taking food off of their own family’s table. Take, take, no give, and suddenly there is nothing left.

That’s exactly what the visitor industry has been doing for years: continually taking more — the industry must always be growing and finding new secret spots to exploit and new diversions to entertain — while giving back to the locals a lot of low-paying, suck-up jobs. And as tourism so often disrupts fishing, it's actually taking food off their tables, too. Is it any surprise there's so little aloha left?

Yes, visitors are sometimes treated badly by locals who yell at them or rip them off. But by the same token, how many visitors (and clueless residents) have treated locals badly, dishing out a condescending attitude, trespassing on their land, disrespecting or denigrating their culture, stiffing them on tips?

And how many times have locals risked their own lives to save visitors from drowning, or offered directions, given advice, shared food or extended any number of kindnesses to total strangers who, like so many before them, are just passing through?

At any rate, aloha has to come from the heart. It's not something that can be mandated, nor is it to be expected as payment in a financial transaction.

The editorial, entitled “The Golden Rule,” goes on to advocate treating others as we would like to be treated – and I certainly can’t argue with that — before issuing the directive:

Reach out to a visitor as you would your neighbor. Offer some useful information without divulging favorite local secrets. When a friend or family member treats another person — any person — harshly or unfairly, step up and tell them to knock it off. That type of regrettable behavior demeans us all.

That’s fine advice, but again, why is it directed only at locals? To go back to the start of the editorial, why didn’t the father and son give the hitchhiker a ride to Kapaa? That would have been acting in the spirit of “ohana and the concept of kokua” that the editorial preaches, and perhaps they would have learned a thing or two about a fellow human being in the process.

If the hitchhiker was drunk, and they didn’t want him in their car, then why not just write it off as the kind of encounter one can expect in bars anywhere, instead of turning it into a personal affront, an indictment on locals?

Or is the real issue that tourists accustomed to privilege in their daily lives and besotted with the fantasy sold as Hawaii are shocked into discomfort when they encounter a down-and-out local whose only form of resistance is an in-your-face refusal to get with the program?


Anonymous said...

The problem is that the "vocal minority" is filling everyone's heads with jealous, "us versus them" thoughts - blaming the tourist industry for the vague ruining of Kauai - while constantly using words like "lavish" when describing vacation rentals - just to pepper the debate with classist sentiments designed to rabble rouse and incite jealous anger.

Whether its from the left or the right, from a local or a haole, HATE IS BAD. The editorial is right. So what if someone has money for a vacation here - or if you don't enough much money to make yourself happy - be nice anyway! Life is too short.

Anonymous said...

Relative to inevitable change happening wherever you happen to live, it's always some form of "us vs them".

The "us" are those wanting to keep things "like they've always been" or "like it was before".

The "them" represent the ever-growing population (making no distinction of economic classes).

When I was growing up 35 miles outside Chicago, I walked home from my last day of grade school through a farmer's field. On the first day of high school, that field was converted to a new high school I attended.

Countless other farmers fields became middle and upper middle class suburban housing developments.

Land along the Fox River my family once owned now holds a McMansion, along with many others replacing simple summer cottages of the 50's and '60's.

So, don't take it personally...everything changes, usually for the worse from the perspective of "the replaced", but not from that of "the replacers".

Trying to hold onto "stability" is a losing hand. I know folks ready to move to Fiji once the Big Island fills up past their comfort level.

Once Fiji fills up...then what?

Anonymous said...

thoughtful comments, the first two (2)

very many americans have available great opportunities for economic self advancement, there are a number of formal and informal support systems for the unlucky, and there are a series of written and unwritten social contracts. it may very well be these items are not at play on kauai to the extent they should be...and if they are not, people are bound to complain and act out some (as is their prerogative i guess)

oh and the part where a "mainland mentality" is supposed to carry a negative connotation is pretty funny


Bob Keller said...

Aloha, (that is what we are talking about, right?)

Anonymous #1 almost got it right. However we can never equate money with happiness. It's an european oxymoron.

Everybody in this world seems to be primed and ready for a fight, no thinking, no reasoning, no problem solving, just opposition.
A perfect example is the healthcare debate.

Back to the subject. Solution. Educate the people, Hawaii has a great set of common sense and spiritual cultural practices. Snapping at people was never tolerated. I think swearing at people was pretty much frowned upon also. However we inherited all these gemstones from the British and Americans, along with Alcohol. Tobbacco, Guns, Money, and Land Ownership.

We are very lucky to have charter schools that are now teaching our up and coming generations the pride and culture we were taught to forget. I've met the kids, what treasures!

One of the major issues we face today, is the continuing education of the older generations (locals and newcomers).

Anonymous #2. You're comment would be fine if we could live on water, but we obviously can't do that. What we end up with is limited supply of residential property, and escalated land values. Residents born and raised here are displaced by outsiders from
elsewhere. They bring their politics that they wear like a badge on their plantation hats.

Solution (a start anyway). Education! When I moved here in 62' (yes I'm a transplant also, I was 9) I knew nothing of the Hawaiian culture, however I made a serious effort to learn as much as I could. It helped that I was adopted by a Hawaiian family and I learned everything I could. It was pretty easy as it is all based on common sense.

We realize not everybody would have this oppotunity but you will be surprised to find out all you have to do is ask. It's really that easy. There are a lot of resourses available, canoe clubs, hula halaus, civic clubs, just to name a few. You need to make the effort and take the initiative, all you have to do is ask. That is one of the most important concepts in Hawaiian culture. Ask before you act. If you're humble and follow the advice, locals will probably become some of the best friends you'll have in your life. If you don't you'll probably just be left disenchanted, writing Anonymous comments to Joans Blog.

By the way, sign your name to your comment, it will give you confidence and credibility


Bob Keller

Anonymous said...

Oh,YAWN, poor us, poor them having to part of a world full of humans acting like humans.

Anonymous said...

i guess the Rock had it right on SNL; no fo'get fo'go home!

Bob Keller said...

Aloha Again

I forgot to mention that Hawaii is not the only place to suffer these social and economic issues. I have been reading a book by Jared Diamond called "Collapse". The whole first chapter is written about the Bitterroot Valley in Montana. They are also suffering some of the very same problems.


Bob Keller

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous #2. You're comment would be fine if we could live on water, but we obviously can't do that."

True, so they live somewhere on the mainland.

It's not just "natives" vs "haoles"...think of the "old timers" in various western ski areas like Vail, etc, that got "pushed out" when these places got popular with the monies masses.

Being "native" has nothing to do with anything. Being of limited economic means has everything to do with everything.

For many, that is a choice. The ones who truly cannot possibly "make something of themselves" are the minority.

Anonymous said...

"oh and the part where a "mainland mentality" is supposed to carry a negative connotation is pretty funny"

That's because you have amainland mentality.

Anonymous said...

"Being "native" has nothing to do with anything. Being of limited economic means has everything to do with everything."

Don't assume that dissatisfied natives are made up entirely of the "have nots". Many of us are well to do and still want you to remember to go home. "Vague ruining" my okole, although the tourist industry isn't entirely to blame. But not to worry, soon all you "replacers" will be lamenting the ruination of the Kauai that you know and love (but not enough to leave).

Anonymous said...

It's not that people want to keep it the same or like it was, it's all about protecting what is sacred and special here. How about good changes? can you name any?
Making a resort out of the north shore is a bad idea, aloha is bound to suffer when the impact on the people who always lived here is so heavy. Be happy, ok, smile as you give them the bird.

Andrew Cooper said...

Locals see the "Mainland Mentality" as being completely negative. But both sides have a little to offer.

In my experience mainlanders bring many good ideas along... less tolerance for political corruption, better habits in regards to trash handling and recycling, and often enough, less tolerance for any form of racism.

The last few years of my living in Hawai'i has been a process of learning to do some things the Hawai'i way, but for others I have decided that the mainland way is better. Learn what to respect, pick and choose which customs are better, understand what is pono.

Anonymous said...

Always fight with the oppressed for the oppressor needs no help.

Bob Keller said...


Exactly my point, if you gander at my second comment you'll see that.

I will bring up my next point again. These are all imported problems.

We live with a host culture. I don't know how you were raised, but I was raised to respect the host, for it is they that have extended their hospitality. I know we coud argue this to death, but humor us. It boils down to --- "When in Rome, do as the Romans do"

Of course you are free to go back if you feel the Hawaiian way of life is to oppressive for you.

I would believe to the contrary though, as the first step is to respond to these blogs (which you have done) and make a commitment to yourself to make tommorrow a betterday than today.
And sign your name!

We really need to get over "dancing with the stars" and work to help each other out.

Volunteering is a great help and helps out all residents. I work with Kokua Kokee which benefits tourists and locals alike.

Like it or not we all bleed red blood.and we need to get along. We live, arguably, in one of the most beautiful places on earth. We need to care (malama) for our island the best way we can, as she will harbor us safely through more trying times ahead.

Please take our suggestions lightly and use them lighly. Humour is our best medicine and the best tool to convey a thought or ideal

mahalo and best Wishes

Bob Keller

Anonymous said...

Sorry but picking up hitch hikers has got nothing to do with "ohana and kokua".

Iʻll be damned if Iʻm picking up a hitch hiker.

Kind a stupid...donʻt know what kind of whackos out there anymore.

And especially the ohana part?? whoa

Ny the way, locals do not stick out their thumbs. If theyʻre walking and someone pulls over, thatʻs how.

Anonymous said...

"Many of us are well to do and still want you to remember to go home."

-- powerful reply. funny too

"How about good changes? can you name any?"

-- yes, easily

it is easy to appreciate the diplomatic spirit of bob keller's comment(s). others can, but automatic deferential obedience or respect to any given host culture should be and is optional. the human animal is very perceptive and basically globally uniform - genuine interactions and goodwill are generally reciprocated...and that is the needed and valuable skill set, in my view

"That's because you have amainland mentality."

-- its a latin american / US / EU hybrid, but w/e, call it as you see fit - now i like the moniker tho


Anonymous said...

I don't subscribe to the "host culture" thing any more than moving to Texas and considering them the "host culture". Sure, it's a different culture, but it's no "host" and I'm no "guest".

Anonymous said...

In my experience mainlanders bring many good ideas along... less tolerance for political corruption,

-yeah, dem guys stateside were rioting in the street with the Iraq debacle (no corruption there, wink wink) or the financial meltdown (it's all good with the bank regulators, eh)

better habits in regards to trash handling and recycling

-then where's that Texas size pile of trash floating in the Pacific from (must be Kauai)

and often enough, less tolerance for any form of racism.

-yeah, like all the hate groups that have become so popular since Obama became president (most of 'em started here, you know)

Joel Guy said...

We really need to a better job connect incoming visitor dollars to local people. Create child care and early education funds for local people, health care and alcohol/substance abuse programs that are easy to enroll in and free... ocean safety and lifeguards with a higher level of medical training... money from the visitor industry to fund resource management like removing invasive plants and monitoring fisheries. This list is easy to brainstorm, it is supporting the political will to make the connection. I love the locals who 'represent'. I dont feel "time lived on island" should transfer to " how much I should be able to tell you what to do".. We are all guest and should walk lightly and with complete respect for the past creating a future that is healthy for my son to have a family in.

Anonymous said...

'Sure, it's a different culture, but it's no "host" and I'm no "guest".'

To the extent that no one invited you or is extending you any hospitality (free of charge), you're right. But please recognize that even the uninvited should have the decency to leave.

Anonymous said...

I (the USA) aren't leaving. Haven't you heard?? The "house" (Hawaii) you thought you owned and hosted guests in was foreclosed a while back and became the property of the USA.

But we'll let you stay. We've even reserved some rooms for you in "the Akaka Suite".

Anonymous said...

This is the self-same attitude white people used to have about their neighborhoods in the bad old days. Blacks were welcome to deliver groceries, do lawn work, clean houses. But if they dared to overstay their welcome and, God forbid, try to make it their home, there was hell to pay.

Everyone expressing this noxious presumption should be ashamed.

Anonymous said...

"Foreclosed"? So that's what you call it. Either way, why stay when you're not welcome? Just to be contrary? Can't you do that back in the US, back in the US, back in the USSR?

Anonymous said...

By "everyone", I assume you include the "nofogetfotogohome" crowd?

Anonymous said...

What's happening to the mainlanders who move here is the same as what happened to blacks who tried to integrate white neighborhoods?

Anonymous said...

I (we) aren't contrary..we're the new reality. You're the ones fighting against it, and losing.

I'm just amused.

Anonymous said...

"We shall overcome....we shall overcome some day..." That day was sometime in the 1970's actually.

Please contribute to the Mainlanders Building Bridges (to get to where you are) Fund.

Anonymous said...

You seem to deny the "reality" that you're not welcome here (except maybe by the realtors who would tell you that you are and you know how truthful they can be). I know, you're amused by the resentment. Here's another reality: this place was a whole lot nicer before you came and you missed it. Maybe in your next life you'll be lucky enough to live in a place where you won't need the US government to watch your back.

Anonymous said...

I'm happy as a clam in this life, owning many acres of prime land overlooking the ocean. I feel very welcomed by houle and hawaiian alike.

Anonymous said...

"I don't subscribe to the "host culture" thing any more than moving to Texas and considering them the "host culture". Sure, it's a different culture, but it's no "host" and I'm no "guest"."

spoken like a true imperialist; greed and selfishness goes along way in your book. don't go crying when da bugga huli and you no can cash your ss checks.

Dawson said...

It ain't the locals. You guys got no idea how many visitors don't visit any more out of being disgusted by the in-your-face 'tude of other visitors and the devouring of the island's rural vibe by the visitor industry.

Kaua'i was a wonderful place to visit in the 70's and 80's, until the mainland-style visitor industry vibe took over in the late 80's to early 90's. With every year the island was more overrun with entitled, pushy, "gimme-mine" visitors and their tourism industry pimps. Every year more vacation rentals popped up like zits, more traffic clogged the roads, more sightseeing helicopters swarmed like noisy gnats, and everywhere more "I'm spending money so kiss my ass" 'tude.

Embrace tourism? You gotta be kidding. Ask the mainlanders who used to visit but don't any more, because they can't stand seeing Kaua'i devoured by tourism.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Dawson! You hit the nail on the head.

Anonymous said...

That's what I like about the Big many times larger than Kauai? If the same thing happens here, it will not be for many decades more.

Lots of room to spread out and live the rural lifestyle. Ah...the quiet rhythms of easy country neighbors closer than 2/10ths of a mile...acreage to isolate us...wide expanse of ocean sights and scuba diving in the USA...

We've learned to be content doing very little, slowly.

Now, THIS is Hawaii for us.

Anonymous said...

"Lots of room to spread out and live the rural lifestyle. Ah...the quiet rhythms of easy country neighbors closer than 2/10ths of a mile...acreage to isolate us...wide expanse of ocean sights and scuba diving in the USA..."

Straight from the realtor's brochure. "Close to schools, shopping and restaurants".

Anonymous said...

Actually, we're not close to any of those, being 40 miles out of "town", no kids and going to town for supplies once/month. No need for restaurants since my wife is a gourmet chef.

Life is good. Looking forward to a couple more decades of it.

Anonymous said...

I (we) aren't contrary..we're the new reality. You're the ones fighting against it, and losing.

Only until the next tsunami ,