Conversations With My Dad

Introduction

The killings of several Asian women in Atlanta really hit home for two reasons. One, I have family in the area and two, my father grew up in Jim Crow Georgia. This senseless killing added to the rise of hate crimes against Asian Americans, blaming them for the corona virus.

The shootings reminded me of a series of conversations I had with my Dad.

I was preparing to work in Maryville, Tennessee in the summer of 1992 under the auspices of the University of Hawaii-Hilo’s Baptist Student Union and the Hawaii Southern Baptist Convention. I was assigned to work in Maryville with a local Southern Baptist church who was interested in establishing cultural exchanges with recently arrived Japanese families. Toyota had just opened a new car factory in Blount County and they were sending their executives and their families to Tennessee.

I have been to the south before. I’ve travelled there as a baby and with my family the summer before on a cross country trip.

But I have never made a solo trip on my own.

I wanted to get a better understanding of what these new families may face when they arrive in the south. Who better to ask than my Dad.

As a Chinese boy growing up in Georgia my Dad and his family were novelties. There weren’t too many Asians in Augusta. My Dad and his siblings were pretty isolated in a white man’s world, much like what these Japanese families would be facing once they got settled in their new country.

I asked my Dad about having friends over, segregated bathrooms, social expectations, and black, white, and Asian friendships. Dad always kept the conversations light hearted, even funny. That was just who he was.

The events in Atlanta and these recent attacks on Asian Americans reminded me of these conversations I had with my Dad. When I heard what had happened I just shook my head in disbelief. I could not believe that although I live in a time where legal segregation has ended, racism against Asian Americans still exists to this day.

I Am

Chinese characters for the word “Asia”.

I Am

I am not a virus

A math or a science whiz

I am not exotic

My body is none of your biz

I am not going to be easy

I am hard to get

I am not going to please you

Don’t you forget

I am not going to conform

To a certain stereotype

I am not slanting my eyes

To add to the hype

I am not allowing

White privilege to dictate

I am not your scapegoat

For you to hate

So here is what I am.

I am a writer

One with a voice

I am going to use it

It is my choice

I am a proud Asian

That’s who I am

I am a banana

Not a madame

I am a woman

Of Asian descent

I am a person

One who is decent

I am an American

On an island home

I am Asian and

I am home

Ugly Tourists

A Mongolian family’s livestock on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, China. In the back are two gers or yurts.

Inner Mongolia

I wrote this series of stories of ugly tourists in Hawaii because this phenomenon of travelers behaving as masters in someone else’s home, is not just a Hawaiian problem.

It’s universal.

As I was writing the last two pieces about Captain Cook and Captain Vancouver, I was constantly reminded of a conversation I had with Kasar, a Mongolian tour guide I met in 2009.

In June of that year I took a train trip to Inner Mongolia, a province of northern China. Inner Mongolia is China’s fourth largest province behind Tibet, Xinjiang, and Qinghai Provinces. On the Chinese side it borders eight provinces. To the north is the independent country of Mongolia. It covers an area of 457,000 square miles with the Gobi Desert in the west, grassland plateau in the center, and mountains in the east. Its population of 25 million people is largely made up of Han Chinese. Only about 20% of the local population are Mongolian.

I went to Inner Mongolia because I wanted to go somewhere where none of my friends had ever been. I found Kasar’s youth hostel, Anda Guesthouse online and was fascinated by some of the tours he offered.

One tour that was offered was that of the Mongolian grassland and the chance to check out a Mongolian yurt called a ger. On the way to the grasslands Kasar pointed out fertile farmlands owned by Chinese.

“You see this here?” he asked, pointing to his left. “All Han Chinese.” He then points out land to our right while driving. “They take the best land, leaving locals nothing.”

A few minutes later we drive by what Kasar mockingly called a “campground” full of mass produced gers.

“Chinese like staying in those campgrounds.”

The tone in his voice was very clear. He hated Han Chinese.

Still, I wanted to know more. I am an American. But I am also ethnically Han.

“So who do you prefer to host?” I asked. “Chinese or foreigners?”

“Oh, foreigners especially westerners,” he replied.

“Why?”

“Chinese make a lot of noise,” Kasar ranted.

Inner Mongolia is sparsely populated. The majority of the population is closely centered around the cities of Hohot, Erdos, and Baotou. The grasslands may have just a herd of sheep with a single herdsman watching over the flock. Otherwise, it is peaceful.

So when a herd of Chinese tourists arrive they disrupt the peace.

Kasar continues.

“They party all night and into the morning. When they start their tour, they just give the guides money and say, ‘Here. Take me to the grasslands.’”

“So they behave like they would at home,” I said.

“Yes,” he replied. “Westerners, however, ask questions. They want to learn about our way of life. That’s why I like westerners.”

It is ironic that Kasar loved hosting westerners in his youth hostel. At the time of my trip I met up and traveled with two other Americans and a Brit who were just as curious as I was about Mongolian culture. One of them, a young man from Florida, wanted to have a wrestling match with a local because he heard that wrestling is huge in Mongolian culture. The other young American, an English teacher based in Beijing, also wanted a duel. As a result, I got to watch two informal matches between my fellow Americans and our Mongolian guides in the arid sand dunes of Erdos.

The Americans lost. But they were very good sportsmen and respectable guests.

COVID-19 has revealed the ugly side of the tourism industry. Nowadays when I go to my favorite beach I find groups of families that are huddled around unmasked. One group of ten masked people is large enough. But when there are several groups of ten on a beach, it gets crowded pretty fast. When there are so many lounging on the beach unmasked and not keeping their distance I wish for more beach shut downs just so that I could have the shoreline to myself and not have to deal with unmasked visitors lounging on the beach. Visitors don’t understand that this I’m-on-vacation mentality is often perceived by locals like me as white privilege or entitlement. When I hear a visitor say “we love Hawaii”, I am tempted to say, “no you don’t. You enjoy it.”

I’m also tempted to say to tourists, “you are in my home.” Think about it. I am a full-time resident of Hawaii who was born and raised here. This is my home. Like any household there are rules both written and unwritten that guests are expected to follow. If I were to travel to your home I’m expected to follow the laws of your state or country. So why do you feel entitled – yes, I am using that word – to break Hawaii’s COVID laws?

Don’t get me wrong. I love it when you come to my home. My book sales also depends on visitors coming to our local farmers markets and I enjoy promoting my books. But when you start breaking laws that we locals have been faithfully obeying since March 2020, that is where I draw the line.

This is not the time to travel not just to Hawaii, but anywhere in the world.

Unfortunately Hawaii’s leaders have decided to open up our state. Airlines have advertised cheap tickets online putting profits over the well-being of Hawaii’s residents.

I also have no control on the choices potential visitors make.

It is your choice. Should you decide to visit Hawaii at this time, all we ask is that you do the following:

  1. Understand our way of life.
  2. Observe our right to be safe in our island home.
  3. Take a local’s advice seriously.
  4. Remember that the needs of Hawaii residents trumps your vacation.
  5. Listen to medical experts and not conspiracy theories.

And most important of all, respect your host’s culture, laws, and history.

That is all I ask.

Mahalo.

The inside of a ger. The portrait is of Chinggis Khan, the Mongolian military and political leader. Every Mongolian family has a portrait of Chinggis Khan in their home.

Ugly Tourists

Waimea

At the age of thirteen, George Vancouver entered the Royal Navy as a “young gentleman”, a future candidate for midshipman which is a low ranking officer. He later served as a midshipman on Captain Cook’s last two voyages on both the Resolution and Discovery, and was asked to collect Cook’s remains at Kealakekua. Not much is known about Vancouver’s thoughts about that fateful voyage. But it would seem that Vancouver learned from his captain’s mistakes.

Before leaving the Hawaiian archipelago in 1779, Cook’s two ships under the command of Captain Charles Clarke, made a stop on Kaua’i where the high chief asked for a lock of young Vancouver’s hair.

Thirteen years later, Vancouver returned to Kaua’i and was reminded of this incident. It turns out that the chief always carried this token with him. This simple gesture of friendship laid down the ground work of Vancouver’s relations with native people.

Upon his return to Kealakekua Bay Vancouver was nervous as to how he would be received. However, the years between Cook’s last visit and Vancouver’s own voyages – he made three of them to Hawaii — other ships were stopping in the islands, including those involved in the fur trade. The novelty of seeing a western ship in Hawaiian waters had already worn off and Hawaiians had become more educated in western ways. For example, when traders and mariners need supplies Hawaiians chiefs would want guns in exchange.

Warfare was a way of life in ancient Hawaii. This worried Vancouver who also noticed a decline in the native population. He didn’t have an inkling that the decline in numbers was linked to imported diseases. He thought the decline was due to the arms trade and the constant warfare which he found distasteful. While Vancouver didn’t have the hindsight we have, the fact that he was concerned about the welfare of ordinary Hawaiians was something no other foreigner had shown. Many of them were troublesome. Hawaiians encountered sea captains who showed distain for their culture and rude seamen who deserted their ships thus spreading mysterious diseases.

Vancouver because a student of Hawaiian politics. He visited each island and met with chiefs and other high ranking officials and built good will between himself and native leaders.

But the leader he had a lasting friendship with was with Kamehameha.

It turns out that Vancouver and Kamehameha met informally on Cook’s ship the Discovery, when Vancouver was a midshipman and Kamehameha accompanied his uncle Kalaniopu’u on this visit. They were reunited through the efforts of Chief Ke’eamoku who convinced Vancouver to trust Kamehameha.

I am an indirect beneficiary of that friendship. These two men had such a great camaraderie that they kept exchanging gifts whenever Vancouver wintered in Hawaii. On several occasions Kamehameha gave the captain the finest feather cloaks. In exchange, Vancouver gave Kamehameha livestock from his ships, including five heads of cattle. As a result, Vancouver inadvertently established the livestock industry on the Big Island. If this had not happened, there would be no Parker Ranch, one of the largest privately owned ranches in the U.S. Parker School would probably have a different mascot and Waimea School would not have a cowboy as its mascot. My hometown of Waimea would certainly be different from what it is today.

Vancouver was hugely instrumental in the negotiations between Britain and Hawaii. Friendly relations and a peaceful Hawaii meant safety for British ships while Kamehameha gained military protection and an alliance from the British. It is due to this alliance that the Hawaiian flag has the Union Jack and one reason why Hawaiian royalty had a strong affinity to Britain through the 19th century.

On each of his three expeditions Vancouver then went on to explore the western coast of North America and thus endearing himself to the native peoples he encountered, just as he did with native Hawaiians. Vancouver’s simple grave was neglected for years until the people of Vancouver, British Columbia, took over its maintenance.

Kawaihae Harbor. Something Captain Vancouver might have seen.

Ugly Tourists

Captain James Cook (1728-1779) *oil on canvas *127 x 101.6 cm *1775-1776

Ugly Tourists

Kealakekua and Captain Cook’s Monument

My next two entries will be about two captains and their approaches in dealing with indigenous populations.

Captain Cook was a British explorer, navigator, and cartographer in the British Royal Navy.

On his first voyage in Many 1768, Cook was commissioned to command a scientific expedition of the Pacific Ocean. Cook and his crew rounded Cape Horn and continued to Tahiti, New Zealand, and Australia. He returned to England via Indonesia and Cape of Good Hope in 1771.

Before starting off on his second expedition in 1772, Cook was promoted to the rank of commander. He was commissioned on another scientific trip, this time under the auspices of the Royal Society. This time, Cook sailed along the west African coast and the Antarctic coast on to New Zealand.

But it’s Cook’s third expedition that concerns the people of Hawaii the most.

On January 1778, Cook made landfall at Waimea Harbor on Kaua’i, where he named the Hawaiian archipelago the Sandwich Islands, after the 4th Earl of Sandwich.

While there, Hawaiians were fascinated with the use of iron on his ships, Resolution and Discovery. Especially with nails. Cook traded nails for his men to have sex, thus spreading diseases Hawaiians had no immunity for.

Cook then continued on to the west coast of North America. He returned to Hawaii in 1779, sailing around the archipelago for eight weeks before landing in Kealakekua Bay. His arrivals coincided with the Makahiki Festival honoring the god Lono. Cook’s clockwise route resembled clockwise processions during these celebrations honoring Lono. Also, Cook’s mast formation on one of his ships, the Resolution, resembled certain artefacts that the Hawaiians used in their worship of their god. As a result, Cook was mistaken for Lono.

Cook and his men stayed in Kealakekua for a month, taking advantage of his hosts’ good will. Just before departing, one of Cook’s men died thus exposing his mortality. Relations then soured.

On February 4th, 1779, Cook departed Hawaii. About a week after departure they encountered a storm which damaged the foremast of the Resolution. Cook was forced to return to Kealakekua for repairs.

Upon his return he was greeted by angry Hawaiians throwing rocks at him and his men. Negotiations broke down when several Hawaiians stole a skiff. Cook attempted to kidnap Chief Kalaniopu’u in a vain attempt to get the skiff back. As he was returning to his ships Cook was clocked on the head with a club and then gutted by a spear. He fell in the waters of Kealakekua Bay.

His men fired back, killing thirty Hawaiians.

Cook’s remains were later brought to shore where he was disemboweled and dried before being given burial rites usually reserved for chiefs and elders. Some of his remains were returned to his crew for burial at sea.

Today there is a monument marking Cook’s demise in Kealakekua. This is one place I have not yet been to. It is a 4,25 miles down a steep rock strewn path and I’m not an avid hiker. The only other option is to kayak or to board a boat. I’m not about to join a group of mask-less visitors because this is not the time to travel.

But it is a special place to all who live here because of its history.

It should also be a lesson to today’s visitors to show respect to your hosts. This is our home. Just like any home has house rules we have ours laws that needs to be honored. Otherwise, don’t expect us to show you any aloha.

However, I did say there are two captains with very different ideas on dealing with indigenous people.

Ugly Tourists

Waimea

I first heard about COVID-19 while listening to a report of a mysterious illness in Wuhan, China. It was December 2019 and I was home in Waimea. Back then it didn’t even have a name. It was reported as a SARS-like coronavirus.

When I heard the word SARS, it brought back memories of my time in China. Back in November of 2002, I heard a rumor of a strange disease circulating in Guangzhou. At the time the Chinese government was busy covering up this disease, writing it off as “rumors”. It wasn’t until the disease crossed the border into Hong Kong that the rest of the world found out what we were dealing with.

When I heard there was another SARS-like virus, I cringed.

Oh no! Not again!

This time the world learned about this new coronavirus from someone in the medical field.

Dr. Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist in Wuhan, came across a report from a fellow doctor, warning hospitals of this new disease. The report had the word SARS circled. Li also came across a patient’s report. This patient had tested positive for the new virus. Dr. Li then went online on WeChat and shared his findings with medical school classmates. Screen shots of his messages were shared widely. Eventually, they got the attention of the Wuhan Public Security Bureau who told him to stop spreading rumors.

But it was already out and that is how the rest of the world learned about what we now know as COVID-19. Sad to say, Dr. Li also fell died of the disease leaving a wife and an unborn child behind.

Yet, I’m glad it took a whistleblowing doctor to tell the world about this disease. Dr. Li was one of the first experts to warn us about the coronavirus.

Eventually more scientists and medical experts were learning about how the virus is spread from person to person.

“Wash your hands,” they would tell us. “Because the virus is spread through commonly touched surfaces.”

“Don’t touch your face because the virus would enter through the eyes, nose, and mouth.”

“Keep your distance from others. In addition to touching common surfaces, the virus could also spread through close contact with infected people.”

That is how Dr. Li got sick.

When I heard of how COVID could be spread, I was reminded of my days as a fourth grader in Waimea School and a cruel game we played.

Jimmy was a kid in my class. Although Jimmy had short hair and wore typical boys’ clothing – shirt and pants – he carried himself to be what we would call nowadays a drag queen. He had an effeminate voice and he walked like a drag queen, swaying his hips with each step he took.

As a result Jimmy was an easy target for our game. We called it Jimmy’s cooties.

The game was simple. If Jimmy touched you or you accidentally touched him, you got his cooties. If you touched something that Jimmy just touched, you got his cooties. The only way you could cure yourself of Jimmy’s cooties was to touch someone else.

These experts’ findings on how COVID is spread reminded me of that game. Never in my imagination that a cruel, game that I played as a child, would be so applicable to this disease.

This January, I heard an interview on NPR between a reporter and a nurse who had just gotten off a long, sixteen-hour shift. The nurse was describing her day to the reporter. This poor woman told listeners what it is like to be the only other person in the room with a dying COVID patient and having to serve as an intermediary between the patient and family members because they are not allowed in.

What really made the nurse and me angry was what she would see on her drive home.

“When you see bars open,” said the reporter, “what is your reaction?”

“Oh,” the nurse exclaimed in exasperation, “when I see bars open and large crowds gather, I just…”

The nurse was at a loss for words. I, as a listener, could imagine her shaking her head.

She struggled to find an answer before resuming her reply.

“You know? They hail us as heroes. But when I see them in large crowds it is a slap in the face. They don’t care. They are not listening to us.”

Instead, people are listening to unfounded claims and conspiracy theories. Some say that the virus is just a flu. Others are calling it a plandemic because they believe China created it in a lab and released it on purpose.

Still others believe that wearing a mask is bad for one’s health because breathing in carbon dioxide can cause asphyxiation. None of these have been proven to be true.

I trust the scientists and medical experts. When they say that a mask is my best protection against the virus I’ll mask up. When they say to stay away from large gatherings I’ll do what I can to keep me, my friends, and my family safe. I take their suggestions seriously because in the end, they are the only ones who know what they are talking about and they are the only ones who can save us from this disease.

Ugly Tourists and Nincompoop Leaders

An illustrated map of Hawaii.

Honoka’a

I have many memories of this small town on the northeast coast of the Big Island. This is Mom’s hometown.

Honoka’a is where I learned what it means to be a part of a large family and that family always comes first.

One of my favorite memories was when I asked my Grandma to help me with a school project.

Grandma made this yummy snack called suman, a traditional Filipino delicacy made from glutinous rice, brown sugar, and coconut milk. Grandma had that ready every time her grandkids came for a visit. She knew her grandchildren like me, would gobble it up in no time. To Grandma, her grandkids came first.

My sixth grade class had a huge school project. Our teachers had planned an international day for us to work on. They asked us to list the countries we were most interested in learning about; USA, China, Philippines, and France to name a few. Those were our group names.

Then we had to choose the country we wanted to join. Some of us chose the country where our families came from. Others chose to join a country we had an interest in.

Once the groups were set, each one had to come up with a recipe to send to publication for a cookbook. We also had to do a presentation about the country we were learning about.

But the most exciting part was we had to bring food that represents that country.

For me it was a no-brainer. I knew what I wanted to bring which is why I joined the Filipino group.

After school ended that day, I called Grandma and told her about our school project.

“Grandma,” I asked. “Can you make suman for my class?”

“Okay,” she replied. “You come pick it up tomorrow, okay?”

“Thank you, Grandma.”

The next day after school was done, we drove to Honoka’a to pick up my suman. Grandma had just made a fresh batch and placed it on a pan lined with banana leaves to cool. As tempting as it was to eat, I had to restrain myself as I sliced the suman into squares and placed them in cupcake liners for easy serving.

The next day was our international day. For our presentation some of my classmates dressed in traditional dress for a short fashion show. Several of the girls dressed in gorgeous dresses with those puffy shoulder sleeves, while the boys wore beautifully embroidered shirts.

I didn’t have access to any traditional clothing. But I did have access to the best tasting suman in the world thanks to my Grandma who thought my education should come first.

Grandma died in May of 2006. I was enrolled in classes at UH-Hilo at the time. I had to ask for time off to attend her service because she was the only grandparent I really ever had.

Grandma came first for me.

I wish I could say the same for our politicians. I can’t imagine any of their grandparents teaching them to put family members last. To me, Hawaii residents like me who live here full time, should be a priority.

Recently I read online from Lieutenant Governor Josh Green’s Facebook page on how Hawaii’s leaders want to ease travel restrictions for visitors coming to Hawaii. I also read that our legislature’s house speaker, Scott Saiki, wants to simplify COVID testing to make it easier for visitors by allowing them to take just one test. He also wants this to be unified across the state to eliminate confusion.

Not eliminate the virus.

Lt. Gov. Green also asked people to hunker down for two weeks to curb the speed of COVID-19. But visitors disregarded that request.

Hawaii is my home. Yet I’m being asked to remain at home while visitors run around in large groups larger than ten without any masks. As a resident of Hawaii who has masked up and who has avoided large crowds, this isn’t the way to treat us. This isn’t the way to treat local families – voters—who have obeyed our COVID laws. Our needs are secondary compared to those visitors who crowd our beaches and parks.

We are being treated as second class citizens in our own home.

I’d like to remind our leaders that without a healthy workforce we won’t be able to accommodate any guests to Hawaii. If airport workers are unavailable to scan QR codes because they have a loved one who is sick, this will damage our aloha spirit. If a visitor is injured while exploring Hawaii and there are not enough first responders because they are responding to a local call, visitors will complain about their experience online.

Hawaii leaders need to put their priorities in order. Hawaii families want schools to open so that kids can learn. Families are also struggling to put food on the table and to keep a roof over their heads. In other words, leaders need to tell executive in the tourism industry to ask visitors to postpone their vacations until everyone is healthy and thriving. This pandemic can make or break someone’s political career and Hawaii’s families will not forget who put their concerns first. After all, visitors don’t get to vote in Hawaii.

But Hawaii residents do.

Ugly Tourists

Hilo

We just did Hawaii w/ 2.5 year old and a 10 month old. Other than tedious it was easy. Happy to answer any questions but definitely worth it.

                                                                                                Travel 101 Miles traveler 1

My response:

I’d prefer visitors not come. I live in Hawaii and we have a history of outsiders such as Captain Cook coming to the islands and leaving all kinds of diseases behind, decimating the native Hawaiian population. The sentiment among locals is “please wait until COVID goes away so that we can take care of our families and keep COVID off our shores.” But unfortunately our Gov. Ige has opened up Hawaii. So if you do decide to travel to Hawaii visit https://travel.hawaii.gov/#/. If you are going island hopping better check each county’s website because our COVID regulations are different for each county. Also, we are adamant on wearing masks. The wearing of masks in public is MANDATORY. No mask. No aloha.

Incidentally, my comment was deleted by Travel 101 Miles. I have no idea why. I did post a second reply reiterating our history with pandemics. But my advice seems to have fallen on deaf ears as there was a second post regarding travel to Hawaii.

For those who have travelled to Hawaii since Oct.15th, please tell me which place you used for testing and how long it took to get your results. I’ve been searching the group but haven’t found the answers I need. Thanks so much!

                                                                                                Travel 101 Miles traveler 2

My response:

I do not understand why mainlanders are so desperate to travel to Hawaii in the middle of a pandemic. I live in Hawaii and we are struggling to get our COVID numbers down. On the Big Island of Hawaii we are reducing our testing because for some reason it is “not sustainable” as our Mayor Kim puts it. You can come. But you are doing so at your own risk. We have a history of outsiders bringing pandemics and nearly wiping out the local population. In this current pandemic we are always encountering visitors who are NOT wearing masks despite it being our law. No mask. No aloha. I’d advise people to wait until we are healthy and doing well. That’s pono (the right thing to do). Unfortunately I cannot control what others do. Should you decide to travel to Hawaii the best site to start with is https://travel.hawaii.gov/#/.

I did get a response from a troll who seemed more than happy to disregard a local’s advice.

You should have thought of that before you decided to live in Hawaii.

                                                                                                Travel 101 Miles troll

My response? Initially I reported this troll to Travel 101 Miles administration. I viewed it as a personal attack. I have no idea what they did with this invisible person.

But I did have a good laugh at this troll’s expense.

Every Gen Xer in Waimea has parents who have made that dangerous trip to Hilo to give birth. It has become a part of local lore of expecting fathers driving their pregnant wives to Hilo Hospital.

On May 16th, 1970, early in the morning I began kicking and punching as a baby-to-be-born at my Mom. My poor Dad had to load clothes, diapers, blankets, baby bottles, his personal items, and his wife’s personal effects before loading a very pregnant wife into our 1969 blue Plymouth. Since Hilo was the most modern hospital on the island Waimea families chose to go there. My Dad was also much more familiar with Hilo Hospital because as a former Peace Corp volunteer he was familiar with their headquarters at the hospital.

After loading all of the family gear and my moaning Mom – and unborn me – into the car, Dad had to step on the gas and fly all the way to Hilo, a good 60 miles from Waimea. A normal trip would take at least an hour. But in those days sugar was still king, and the road from Honoka’a to Hilo had lumbering, diesel-smelling cane trucks. On top of that were the three horseshoe turns between the small towns of Laupahoehoe and Pepeekeo. Try driving 60 miles with a screaming wife and an impatient soon-to-be-born baby in your car. Safety for anyone on the road immediately goes out the window.

Upon arrival Mom was admitted into the maternity ward on the 4th floor of Hilo Hospital. Dad had to wait in the waiting room.

The attending doctor, Dr. Ballerini,(I read his name on my birth certificate years later)ran an ultra sound –or whatever they had those days. Meanwhile I’m punching and kicking my Mom’s womb. According to the scan I was kicking so hard that I was about to exit the womb feet first.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Rufo,” said the doctor. “But your baby isn’t coming out the normal way. We’ll have to perform a cesarean.”

“Okay,” Mom moaned.

Dr. Ballerini and his team placed a mask over Mom’s mouth and nose to sedate her for the procedure before making the incision.

Finally at 8:11 pm on May 16th, 1970 I made my grand entry into the world.

Unfortunately for my Dad he had to make the same harrowing trip two more times. Only these two times he had to make a stop in Honoka’a to drop me and my middle sister off at Grandma’s house.

In those days everything was in Hilo. As a businessman running several businesses, Dad had to often travel to Hilo to get things done. Need a building permit? Go to the Hilo County Office on Aupuni Street. Need building supplies? Go to HPM in Hilo.

We would also accompany Dad on these trips because our growing family needed clothes and shoes. Need new clothes and shoes? Go to Kaiko’o Mall’s JC Penny and Kenny’s Shoe Store.

We’d also have doctor’s appointments in Hilo. In fact, our pediatrician’s office was just up the road from Hilo Hospital. Every time we passed the hospital on Wainuenue Avenue on our way to the clinic, Mom would always remind us where we were born.

“See that?” She would say pointing to the fourth floor of Hilo Hospital. “That is where you were born.”

Nowadays we have the North Hawaii Community Hospital here in Waimea. Waimea families no longer have to make that harrowing journey to Hilo Hospital, now Hilo Medical Center. Fathers no longer have to negotiate their cars around lumbering cane trucks or zig zag through those horseshoe turns. They can safely drive their wives and unborn children to the hospital.

But it is stories like mine that makes me a local. So when I got that comment from that troll disrespecting my feedback, I laughed.

I didn’t have a choice on where I wanted to live, you idiot! I thought to myself. I was born here!

Unfortunately Travel 101 Miles is not the only Facebook site that has desperate tourists looking for a cheap trip to Hawaii and disrespecting a local’s viewpoint. There are other websites, like All Things Hawaii, All Things Oahu, and Going to Hawaii to name a few, that brazenly encourage visitors to break our quarantine laws and get fraudulent negative tests. I know of locals who have visited these questionable websites and have encouraged tourists on those sites to do the right thing like I have done. Yet they were shamed online for being unfriendly to would-be visitors. Visitors seemed to have forgotten they are visiting someone else’s home and they are acting as masters in someone else’s home. We have laws that everyone, both locals and visitors, are expected to follow. We also have unwritten rules that only locals, like me, would know.

In other words, never dis a local’s advice just because it doesn’t fit your travel plans.

For potential visitors who are planning to visit Hawaii, I’m begging you to listen to local know how. Don’t just ignore our knowledge because it may not be what you want to hear. Listen to our concerns on how we feel about visitors travelling to our home during a pandemic. There is a reason why many of us are pissed off at visitors right now. If you would like to avoid any potential conflict with locals, I’d advise you to obey our laws. If you do not, then be prepared to face the consequences because we have already enforced and arrested several rule breakers across the state. On the Big Island, we’ve deported twenty-one members for breaking quarantine and endangering the life of a sea turtle, an endangered species. On Maui, air line agents denied entry to a Utah family because they failed to get their test results from a recognized Safe Travel program. On Oahu we’ve had several high profile cases, including a traveler from Azerbaijan who blatantly broke his quarantine and posted photos of himself, along with his girlfriend, galivanting around the island. On Kaua’i, a Kaua’i couple who were returning home from a trip to the mainland, were arrested because they knowingly flew home positive with the virus.

It is behaviors like these that locals find disgusting. It is a blatant disregard for our way of life.

So if you are desperately wanting to come to my home, the remedy is simple. Wash your hands. Keep your distance from others. Keep your groups to no more than ten people.

And most importantly, wear your mask because it is a statewide law.

If you are only coming because you got a cheap ticket and you are looking for a party where masks are not required, then please stay home and allow the people of Hawaii to heal. That is, what we say in Hawaii, is pono. That is the right thing to do.

Ugly Tourists

Hawaii Volcanos National Park Part Two

2020 has certainly been a trying time for all of us. I have been furloughed so many times from both of my jobs and eventually I lost one of them due to injury. Ironically that lost job was in the tourism industry.

It is also ironic that this year the Big Island is ending 2020 with a volcanic eruption. Back in May of 2018, Kilauea erupted and destroyed homes in Puna, displacing many families along Tutu Pele’s path. Back then visitors were afraid to travel to the Big Island because they felt it wasn’t safe. They thought the entire state was going to explode. They didn’t know that the Big Island is so big that residents on the west side were largely unaffected.

But that was then. This is COVID. Things have changed and certainly not for the better since there are now two new variants of the virus. I have heard on NPR that several European countries have shut down all travel to the U.K. and that Japan has closed its borders for the same reason. Yet U.S. officials have done little other than to require all U.K. travelers to get a negative test before arriving in the U.S. I also think it is a really dumb idea for Hawaii to remain open to travel simply because it is not safe.

Just before Christmas I read a complaint on Facebook about mask holes at Halema’uma’u Crater, Pele’s home. This person had gone to see the eruption at night only to encounter groups of mask-less visitors at the look out. I also heard on HPR, NPR’s Hawaii affiliate, that park rangers were busy handing out citations, including citations for not wearing a mask.

Even Tutu Pele cannot keep us safe from the hordes of mask-less tourists who want to visit her home.

The current eruption brought back memories of when my classmates and I were stranded in the park and feeling very vulnerable.

My second memory of the park took place at the start of my senior year. I had made HPA’s girls doubles tennis team in September of 1987 and we had an away game against Ka’u High School in Pahala on the southeast end of the island. It’s a good four hour trip. In those days we didn’t have the Daniel K. Inouye highway. The shorter and safer route would have been the Kawaihae Road and Mamalahoa Highway (Hwy 11) that passes through Hilo, our county seat. Our trip also took us through portions of the national park both ways.

It was the return trip home that was the most memorable. Our mini school bus had a tire blow out somewhere on Mamalahoa Highway in the middle of the park in the late afternoon. The left back tire had blown out. Our coach, Coach Craig, was driving. He pulled over on the shoulder and inspected the damage while my teammates were freaking out.

“Oh my God!” screamed Chrissy, an HPA boarder. “What was that?”

Alice, another boarder, opened a window on the driver’s side and stuck her head out to see the damage. “Tire blow out, guys!” she yelled.

Immediately several of my teammates rushed to the driver side of the bus to see the blown tire. Then some of them started pacing back and forth in the aisle. Others exited the vehicle and started pacing along the road. Still others kept running in and out of the bus.

But not me. I remember remaining calm. It was cold and temperatures were dropping. We were dressed in our itsy bitsy tennis skirts and polo shirts. Some of us had our tennis sweat shirts with us. But we weren’t prepared for a sudden change in temperature, much less a tire blow out in the middle of nowhere. The warmest and safest place to be was inside the bus where I stayed while the rest of my teammates muddled around.

The only way we could get help was to flag passersby in their vehicles. Coach Craig managed to flag down one lowly driver passing by. In those days cell phones did not exist so we had to depend on others for help.

“We are from HPA,” Coach told the driver. “Could you please call this number?”

The driver promised to call for help once he arrived at the Visitor Center.

It took at least two hours for help to arrive. By then it was nightfall. Coach Craig had turned on the headlights and our emergency lights. My teammates remained agitated. Some were still walking along the road, trying to get the attention of any one who happened to drive by. Others remained on the bus incessantly yakking away.

“How much longer will we have to wait?” asked Chrissy.

“This is so cool!” exclaimed Tammy, another boarder. “We’re being rescued!”

Two squad cars with lights on, pulled over on the shoulder and stopped. One was a police car. The other was a ranger’s vehicle.

“We can take you to Volcano House,” they explained to Craig and Anna, our coaching assistant.

All seven of us and our two coaches packed ourselves into the officer’s and ranger’s cars. Four of my teammates got into the police car while I got sandwiched between the ranger and Jenna, a fellow senior. In the back of the ranger’s vehicle were Coaches Craig and Anna, and junior classmate, Alice.

The ranger’s vehicle had a rifle. I had the unfortunate luck of that thing being stuck between my legs. That’s when I freaked out. I had to gingerly extend my left leg over the butt of the gun in my itsy bitsy tennis skirt. It was uncomfortable. I felt exposed. My body tensed up sitting on the hump where that rifle lay. I remained that way until we reached Volcano House.

Finally! We found shelter and warmth. Pretty soon we would get food.

“Be sure to call your dorm mothers,” Coach Craig told the boarders on the team. To me and Emily, a fellow senior and day student he said, “Call your parents.”

We walked into the gift shop of Volcano House where the cashiers allowed us to use their phone free of charge.

“Mom?” I said. “I’m safe. I’m at Volcano House. I don’t know what time I’ll be home.”

“Okay, Jada,” she replied. “Glad to know you are okay.”

Then we walked into the restaurant where there was a clock on the wall. It was 9 p.m. To keep costs down, Craig and Anna ordered the same dish for all girls; rice, chicken, and fresh vegetables. Staff poured copious amounts of water in our glasses.

Half an hour later with our bellies full we crashed on the lobby couch and sofa in front of the fireplace. We thought our broken down bus would be towed by a tow company based in Hilo and that we would be on our way home soon.

“Unfortunately the tow company that’s coming is in Waimea,” Coach Craig told us.

“What?” whined a grumpy Chrissy.

We were all tired and beat.

“Try to get some sleep, girls,” said Anna. “We’ll wake you up when our ride arrives.”

We tried our best to get comfortable and get some sleep. I lay on the floor as close to the fireplace as I could get. My teammates were sprawled on couches and sofas as guests of Volcano House looked at us; a bunch of cold, tired, high school girls waiting to be rescued.

About an hour and a half later I was awakened by Coach Anna.

“Get up,” she nudged me. “Our ride is here.”

It turns out HPA had sent another bus and driver to get us; hence the long wait. It was 11 p.m. when we boarded the bus. By the time I got home it was around 2 a.m.

And I still had to go to school the next day.

When I got home the garage light along with the downstairs lights of our two story home were on.

My Mom had stayed up until I got home. As soon as I arrived she went to bed, knowing that I was home where I should be.

We are in the middle of this COVID crisis. Infection rates on the Big Island are rising even as I write this. Yet, our elected officials think it is safe for visitors to travel to my island home. To them and to visitors who want to travel to Hawaii in the middle of a pandemic, I say, “A’ole. No!”

Just as I have the right to be safe in my own personal home, I also have the right to be safe in my island home.

Ugly Tourists

My sketch of the Pet Shop Boys cover album Actually
And the actual cover

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Part One

This is the home of Pele, goddess of fire.

I have many memories of visiting this place pre-pandemic. Whenever we have guests from the mainland the first place we’d take them to is the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

But I have two memories that tie me to this place.

Every year, my high school Hawaii Preparatory Academy (HPA), would host a foreign language competition in which contestants would come from all over the Big Island. They would come and compete in languages such as French, Japanese, Latin, and Spanish. They would recite poems or famous speeches in a foreign language. Or they would pick a topic out of a hat and give an impromptu presentation for two minutes.

But in the spring of 1987, my junior year in high school, a dispute broke out between contest organizers and HPA administration. Organizers noted that HPA has always been hosting this event ever since the first contest. HPA was determined to host it. But contest organizers had other plans.

This wasn’t my first time in this contest. I first competed as a Parker School student reciting a poem titled L’eau (Water). I had memorized the entire poem and I was able to recite it with such dramatic flair that my French teacher was so proud of me.

Unfortunately I did not win. I lost out to a classmate who was just as good, if not better than me. It was close.

My second time I had changed schools but I was still taking French. My new French teacher encouraged me and another classmate to enter the extemporaneous category where I had to pick a topic out of a hat and talk about it for two minutes. I also had to answer judges’ questions in French.

As luck would have it we were the only two contestants in the extemporaneous category so I was bound to win something. It was just a matter of the color of the medal. Everyone else chickened out and decided to take the easy route by memorizing poems and speeches. We entered the most challenging category. In the end, my classmate got first place while I got second.

This time I was preparing a speech in Japanese. My teacher, Miss Atkins, had assigned a native speaker and tutor, Megumi, to help with my speech.

During my free time, Megumi corrected my speech. She also helped in memorizing. If I forgot a word or phrase she would give me a cue.

But days before the contest I found out from Miss Atkins that HPA was not hosting the contest that year.

It was moved to Kilauea Military Camp (KMC) in the middle of the national park, a good three hour drive from Waimea, my hometown.

HPA protested the move by pulling their students out of the contest. Nobody was representing HPA.

I didn’t think it was right for my school to totally withdraw its students from the competition just because they didn’t get what they wanted. Students should not have been pawns in this dispute. I also didn’t think it was right for them to deny their students the opportunity to compete against other schools.

Nevertheless I was undeterred. I asked Miss Atkins if I could go.

“You can go,” she said. “But you’d be representing yourself.”

I told my Dad about what had happened. My Dad could see that I was determined to go. I had my speech prepared and I constantly rehearsed it at home.

That Friday night Dad announced to the family that we were going to KMC that we were to leave no later than 7 a.m. the next morning.

I was absolutely thrilled.

The next morning we all got into our green Volkswagen van and made the three hour journey to KMC. The contest started at 10 a.m. so we arrived just in time to sign up.

“What school do you represent?” the woman at the registration table asked me.

I had no idea how to answer that question. I looked around and saw that the other participants had their names and schools on their tags.

“I go to HPA,” I said, struggling to find the right answer. “But I’m the only one from my school.”

The woman then took my application form and temporarily left the table. She went to discuss my situation with the organizers. I had no idea if I would be allowed to participate since I was not competing. It would have been a wasted trip, not to mention a waste of time and effort, if I was not allowed to give my speech.

Finally, an organizer welcomed me and showed me to my seat.

“Unfortunately we can’t have you participate as a contestant,” the organizer explained to me. “Your school did not register you. But we would love to hear your speech.”

“Thank you,” I replied as I took my seat.

I clearly understood that I would not be able to participate as a contestant even before I arrived. I understood I was giving this speech as a matter pride.

My speech was about my favorite band. At the time I was very much into the British pop duo Pet Shop Boys. I was especially attracted to Chris Lowe and his pouty look. I bought teen magazines that had pictures of Chris and his musical partner Neil Tennant. I bought their music, including sheet music, so that I could learn how to play their hits. I drove my family nuts playing West End Girls and What Have I Done to Deserve This both on the piano and on our family cassette player on a daily basis. I even drew their album cover Actually in my sketch book.

I don’t quite remember what exactly I said in my speech. The speech itself was not as important as the experience of getting up in front of a crowd all by myself.

After all the official contestants had presented their pieces the organizers introduced me.

“Jada Rufo is the only student representing her school. Please welcome her.”

I was sitting behind the official contestants. My family and the rest of the audience were behind me. I got up and made my way to the front. I had my speech on a piece of paper. I had memorized as much as I could. But since I was not a contestant I could get away with reading it. Afterall I was doing this as a matter of pride.

I stood in front of the audience as well as the judges. I took a couple breaths before starting.

The speech went off without a hitch. I recited most of it from memory. When I stumbled, I looked at my cheat sheet to recover the rest of my presentation.

After I was done I smiled.

I did it.

The audience enthusiastically applauded my effort as I returned to my seat. As the judges were making their deliberations, one of my fellow participants turned to me and said in English, “I also love the Pet Shop Boys.”

This time I was beaming.

After the competition was over we went next door to the mess hall to celebrate. I was the only HPA student who made the trip with my family. It didn’t matter to me that I didn’t get to compete. What mattered to me the most was that my Dad saw it as a learning experience for me and that my family was willing to tag along for the ride.

I also felt I owed it to Megumi to at least go to KMC. Unfortunately she was not able to make the trip. But this would not have been possible without her tutelage and encouragement.

I don’t know how Miss Atkins found out about my participation in the contest. But the next Monday, at the start of class she made an announcement.

“Jada was the only one from our school who participated in the foreign language contest this past weekend. Give her a hand.”

We are a multicultural society. Here on the Big Island we speak not just English, but Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, da kine Pidgin, and of course Hawaiian. We eat – God forbid – Spam, poke, poi, and pancit. We take our shoes off when entering a house.

When in Rome do as the Romans do, they say. I say when in Hawaii do as the locals do.