As I grew up, I felt connected to Hawai`i despite not always feeling like I fit in. Even though I was born and raised on Oahu and I am of mixed ethnicity, I was often called a Haole because of my light colored skin and non-pigeon accent. Nonetheless, Hawai`i provided me with endless opportunities to learn about other cultures, ways of life, build an appreciation for nature and people. I hiked, went to the beach and grew up working on my Dad’s farm, but I never had as much appreciation for Hawai`i until after I moved away. By age eighteen I was ready for something bigger and felt increasingly trapped on a " rock" or island. Then with each visit home, I realized more and more how incredibly lucky I was to be from such an amazing and magnificent place. I always go to Hawai`i with several lists that include what I want to eat, what I want to do and places I want go to. There is so much to do and see it can be exhausting trying to accomplish all of my vacation goals. That is why I have learned it is important to just go with the flow. No matter how busy I get, reconnecting with those I love is what I value most.
If you love food, you'll love Hawai`i. The food is so ono (delicious) ! I dream of food from Hawai`i all the time. My food list always includes: chicken katsu curry, Korean BBQ, malasadas, haupia, laulau, kalua pig, Thai green curry, poke, dim sum, manapua, rice cake, Zippy's chili, mochi, gau, shrimp chips, apple bananas, mountain apples, star fruit, mango, papaya, pineapple, taro, etc. It's not exactly the healthiest list, but I'm allowed to indulge as long as I work it off, right?
Several dishes in Hawai`i are heavily starch based, high sodium, fatty and have lots of sugar. To stay fit and not put on those "vacation pounds", it’s important to eat in moderation, stay active, eat lots of veggies and drink lots of water. I always prefer to go for a hike or surf than a gym. There are endless opportunities to stay fit and have fun in Hawai`i. I've done rock climbing, surfing, Jiu-Jitsu, hiking, paddle boarding, canoe paddling snorkeling, body boarding, swimming, diving and cliff jumping. And that's not even scratching the surface of things to do.
To some people, re-visiting and photographing the same areas for as long as I have might be boring. However, even knowing the island as well as I do, it never gets old to me. I always see something new each and every time I visit. I’ve always liked to play with light manipulation and Hawai`i is the place to do that. The natural light is amazing. Photos really don't do it justice, but it is rewarding to try and capture. My favorite places for photos are St. Louis Heights, Palolo Valley, and the Wai`anae Coast and North Shore.
Most of all ,I love to go home and reconnect not only with my roots, spirituality and heritage, but with my ohana (family). My ohana isn't a traditional family. It is made up of friends, their family members, extended family siblings, aunties and uncles and cousins. No matter how infrequently we talk or see each other it is as if nothing has changed even if it has been several years! I can be myself and they accept me for me and vice verse. It is nice to know I have such awesome people in my life.
The hardest part of being away from Hawai`i for so long and returning is readjusting to the culture, etiquette and customs. There is a lot of unspoken "protocol" despite the laid back lifestyle. Such as, if you make an offer (do you want a glass of water?) and a person refuses, you need to repeat the offer 3 times to be polite. If you only respond to the first "no", that is considered extremely rude! The long and short of it is to be polite, appreciative, courteous, and respectful, follow the etiquette and go with the flow.
My life in Austin is nonstop. I love what I do and I am a rather compulsive worker. It takes me time to slow down to the speed of the island life and go with the flow. In Austin, I don't normally have time to be lazy and do nothing, but once I'm able to adjust to the speed of the island I am on auto pilot and I feel whole again.
I never leave Hawai`i empty handed. I always leave a little bit wiser and more in tune. The ocean is one of the most cleansing experiences that I know of. The water is clear and refreshing. You can feel the layers of built up stress and "gunk" being swept away with the current. You feel pounds lighter after you get out. Standing on the edge of a ridge covered with rain forest breathing the fresh air is also a powerful experience that revitalizes you. There is beauty everywhere you look. You can't help but feel renewed and inspired. Life moves slower so you see things differently and appreciate so much more.
I tend to have more culture shock coming back to Austin from Hawai`i than the other way around. I guess that goes to show, regardless of where I live, Hawai`i is still my home. Just as it’s hard to go from 100-0 it’s equally as difficult to go from 0-100. I realized on my last trip that I need to achieve a balance of life, fun and work. I felt stronger, wiser and more focused. I know what I want and am going after it. I learned that I have to take care of myself and value my needs. I plan to let go of a lot and make room for the New Year and all of its experiences, adventures and blessings.
Not everyone is cut out for Hawai`i. I think that these people have trouble letting go. They expect things to be like they are on the mainland and never really adjust. Perhaps its cause they are not going with the flow. The aina (land) will either embrace you with open arms or kick your butt off the island. Having a willingness to learn and be open-minded can go a long way. To most, Hawai`i is a healing and sacred place. If you are able to build a connection you will become a better person than when you arrived. Most importantly, respect the ways of the land and people and in turn you will be blessed in many ways and welcomed back to one of the most beautiful places on earth.