Monday, July 24, 2006

Thus Endeth the Epic

Sorry I haven't been posting regularly. Was hella busy working on a project with a deadline for the past week, which I'll blog about in the next day or so. Here's the final chapter of the saga that was Ric and Courtney's Wedding on Oahu (with mom). Don't worry, it's a short one.

So we spent most of what was left of Saturday night packing. I think I was packing until about 2am, just so I wouldn't have to worry about it the next day. Unfortunately, I had bought so much crap that getting everything into my bags became some sort of logic puzzle which confounded me for hours. Eventually though, all the clothes, toiletries, Kona coffee, chocolate macadamia nuts and souvenirs all found a way to co-exist peacefully with each other and I was able to sleep.

Thankfully, checking out of the hotel, checking in the rental car, taking the shuttle to the Honolulu airport, and getting on the plane, all went smoothly. My mom slept pretty much the whole flight back, but I couldn't sleep, so watched the in-flight movie Eight Below (better than I thought it'd be, but still not good), and played a lot of Daxter on PSP and some New Super Mario Bros. on DS. When we got back to the mainland, I was struck (as always) about how brown and grey L.A. is. Everything looks so dead. Thoughts of Agent Smith lecturing Morpheus in the first Matrix movie immediately sprang to mind. You know, where he says that the human race is like a virus that spreads uncontrollably, multiplying until all natural resources are consumed before moving on. Man, looking at all the concrete streets and buildings covering the surface of what was once a beautiful coast, choking the life out of it, makes a person believe that just might be the case. And when I got off the plane, everything smelled like dust. It was weird, I guess after a week in Hawaii my nose lining had become moist due to the humid air and was accustomed to the ubiquitous smell of plumeria. Because of this, breathing in that smoggy, dirty air was not pleasant. It wasn't until a couple of days had passed, that my nose lining hardened again and I was no longer bothered by the dry, dusty smell.

Between being able to hang with Courtney and Ric during their special time, experiencing their wedding-on-the-beach, chilling with mom and her side of the family, and just spending time on the island – it was an awesome trip. Going back to work was seriously hard after that. Took me about a week or two to snap out of being on "Hawaii time" and get back into the groove of things. Hopefully, I'll make it back there in the next year or so. Maybe visit one of the other islands. I'm trying to get to Japan within the next couple of years, so I might have to save pennies and not travel until then. We'll see. Hopefully that trip will be as fun and filled with as many good memories as this one was.

Tune in next time to hear about my adventures in San Diego this past weekend at Comic Con.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Of Ancestors and Ukuleles

Okay, so I realize my recent posts about Hawaii have turned into an epic and have gone on four times longer than the actual trip. You'll be happy to realize then, that this is the penultimate post, chronicling some time I spent with family the day before my return trip to the mainland.

Somehow, during that comedy of errors speakerphone call my mom had with her auntie Betty the day before, they managed to make plans for us all to hang out on Saturday. So on Saturday morning, my mom and I took the bus the three blocks to Ala Moana mall, had breakfast at Zippy's again (spam and eggs, pictured), moseyed outside the restaurant, and stood at our pre-designated pick-up spot. Well, we waited. And waited. After about a half an hour we were beginning to get worried when I chanced to spy auntie Betty coming out of the Zippy's. I called out to her, we all gathered, and she led us to her car. Apparently, she had driven by us a couple of times and didn't recognize the only red/pink haired Asian (my mom) in the mall and her long-haired hapa son (me) either time. How we didn't see her (little Japanese lady in a big car with sunglasses in Hawaii) was a little more understandable.

From the mall, we took the Pali Highway to the Punchbowl National Cemetery where, seeing as how this was a few days after Memorial Day, it was just covered with flowers. Neat sight. We kind of just drove through the grounds, then exited and drove up to the eastern slope of Punchbowl (named so because the shape of the area resembles a punchbowl, due to the extinct volcano at its center), to Makiki Cemetery, where my grandparents are buried. Auntie Betty had cut some roses and Birds of Paradise for us to put in front of the marker. The marker itself was pretty cool (pictured): black marble with carved gold and white English lettering with Japanese characters. It was much fancier than I remember it being when I was a kid (if I even saw it at all), and sat beneath the shade of a tree. Nice. The front read:


and the back read:

Jan. 18, 1902 - Oct. 24, 1983
Jul. 10, 1906 - Jun. 25, 1996
Aug. 20, 1929 - Apr. 7, 1930
May 28, 1915 - Mar. 21, 1944

Now, if I have it right, John was my Mom's dad, Haruko was her stepmom, Reiko was my mom's sister, who died very young, and Irene was my mom's mom, who died when my mom was very young.

While my mom and aunt (great aunt, really, as auntie Betty is my Grandmother's sister) talked and reminisced, I walked around the cemetery and marveled at all the old markers and headstones. Some of them were very old, from the 1800's and earlier. Some were for Hawaiians and Portuguese. Most were for Japanese immigrants, it seemed. I think there were was a pirate or two in there. The Buddhist section (pictured)was the most impressive, easily sporting the biggest and most ornate monuments on the grounds. Very cool. I might have to have something like this when I go.

After we were done paying our respects, we made a quick drive over to Nuuanu Cemetery, where we laid flowers at the marker for (I think) my mom's grandparent's. Here's how the marker read:

Father Ansuke Aug. 7, 1884 - Sept. 27, 1967
Mother Ushi Oct. 5, 1890 - Jan. 4, 1985
Charles Minoru July 13, 1911 - Feb. 1, 1974
Susumu 1921 - Oct. 6, 1923
Hayako 1923 - Oct. 23, 1924
Kimiko Jan 1, 1920 - Nov. 1, 1989

This cemetery (pictured) wasn't as ornate as Makiki, with flat, metal, rectangular markers designating the graves, but it was still beautiful. A large pagoda, in disrepair I hear, was off to the side, and flowers were everywhere, due to Memorial Day.

By this time, it was getting pretty hot, and my aunt whisked us off to her home for lunch. While we were there, my uncle Ken brought us some Mountain Apples he had picked from the neighbor's yard. I'd never had one before, but it was wrinkly and red, kinda sweet, with a peach-like texture inside. Was good, but my mom said it was a bit too ripe and they're usually a lot better. The view from my aunt's house is amazing. It's high up in the mountains and you can see the ocean, Pearl Harbor and pretty much all of Honolulu from the windows in her living room.

After lunch, my aunt took us to visit her brother, uncle Roy (pictured, with mom and auntie Betty), who's staying at a convalescent home, recovering from cancer treatment. He couldn't move around very fast and he didn't say much, but he enjoyed seeing us. My mom brought candy and fruit for him, which he carried around the whole time (pictured). I'm not sure if he remembered me (my mom thinks he did) but it was good seeing him. My mom said he was very athletic in his youth, surfing and running all the time, which is perhaps what is helping in his recovery. Was sad to see him so frail but we're all hoping he recovers 100%. Overall, the place was very clean, with flower and grass-lined walkways with big trees for shade. Oh, and he has a peacock in a large, net cage outside his bungalow.

We left Uncle Roy after about an hour, and my aunt dropped my mom and I off at the Ala Moana mall where we picked up a few last gifts and then took the bus back to our hotel. I took a nap and then got ready to go out for dinner. At around 6pm, my cousin Guy picked my mom and I up in front of the Aqua, with auntie Betty and uncle Ken riding along with. We then motored over to Honolulu for a buffet at "The Willows." Cool place. Most of the tables are out in the open on a wide lawn amidst trees, flowers and waterfalls. One of the tables is on a catamaran floating on the surface of a pond. We were sat on the porch of the "chapel" (pictured). The buffet was good. Mostly consisted of Hawaiian food like lomi lomi salmon, saimin, lau lau, kalua pork, poi, etc. Was all good. We sat, talked, ate and drank for hours. I got multiple mosquito bites during this time, but didn't notice them until the next morning.

Check this out: while we were all eating and talking, the subject of uncle Roy came up and my mom reminisced about when she was a little girl and uncle Roy taught her to play the ukulele. She mentioned how she had tried (unsuccessfully) to track down uncle Roy's ukes to find the ones he had taught her with, but feared they were lost, as Hawaiians have a way of lending things that never get returned. At this, my uncle Ken perked up and said when he and my cousin Todd were cleaning out uncle Roy's apartment (after he had come down with cancer), they had found a couple old ukuleles which were now sitting, unused, in my uncle Roy's basement. My mom was very excited by this, and after dinner, Guy took us back up to my aunt and uncle's to check out the ukuleles. We didn't have much time for my mom to look over them extensively, as Guy had to get back home, but uncle Ken gave one of the ukes to my mom, thinking uncle Roy would wish for her to have it. We said our goodbyes, then Guy whisked us down from the hills overlooking Honolulu back to Waikiki. On the way, my mom looked excitedly over the uke. It wasn't exactly the one she remembered, but it was very old so might possibly be one of the ones she practiced on during her youth. It was dark in the car so she closed the case and decided to wait to look at it more when we got back to the hotel.

After about a twenty minute drive we were back in our hotel room. My mom gingerly put the ukulele on the bed and undid the snaps. Slowly, she opened the case and inspected the old instrument. I was plugging in my laptop, turning it on when I heard her say, "Wow, this is a Martin." Apparently, a Martin is a brand of ukulele much revered by musicians and collectors, some being quite rare and expensive. I continued fiddling with the computer, trying to find a wireless internet connection, when I heard her whisper, "Oh, my God" and then she quietly sat down on the bed. I looked up to see her holding a slim music book for beginning ukulele players which had been stashed at the bottom on the case. She was looking at the back of the book, where lyrics for a song (I can't remember the name) had been carefully transcribed in fading pencil. I asked what was up and she said, pointing to the book, "That's my writing."

Needless to say, she was shocked and elated, and was pretty much walking on clouds until we got back to L.A. the next day. She had been wanting to get some sort of token of her uncle Roy's for so long, and everything had aligned for her to get exactly what she wanted, and more. Had she not decided to come to Ric and Court's wedding with me, had she not mentioned uncle Roy's ukes during dinner, had uncle Ken not cleaned out Roy's apartment earlier, had uncle Ken given her a different uke, had anything gone differently, she might not have had this symbol of her time, 60+ years ago (!), with her uncle, when he taught her how to play ukulele.

Sometimes when things go so right, when things could have just gone wrong, or okay, or pretty good – it gives me hope that this universe might not be just a collection of random occurrences after all.