Our first evening back in the U.S. - Carol at Waikiki (128 KB)

Sunday, January 25, 5:30 PM. Wyndham Safari Resort, room 1309, Orlando, FL (attending Lotusphere). 60 degrees & sunny (I've got the patio door open).

  • Breakfast at Denny's
  • Sunset at the beach at Waikiki our first day
  • Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay (twice)
  • Talking to a professor of Japanese history about my great grandfather Takaichi Saiki
  • Seeing Great-uncle (Alexis) Teddy Lum
  • Virginia Lum's grave

Honolulu was the first stop we did NOT have rooming prearranged, and we also had to pick up a car upon arrival. Both were easily taken care of. Our next task was to have a good typical American breakfast -- hence the Skillet Scramble at Denny's. The $20 we spent was more than almost any other meal we had in Turkey, Africa, or Asia. But it was worth it. In Hawai'i I had the toughest all trip in making the time shift (7 hours). We took the redeye from Bangkok, then I made the mistake of taking a three hour afternoon nap after we arrived in Honolulu. It took me a full week to adjust. After that, the 5 hour change to Boston was easy.

My previous trips to Hawai'i were in 1960, as a toddler (a month, while Dad was job hunting); in 1969, with parents and siblings (two weeks, previous to Dad's second tour in Vietnam); in 1975, by myself (where I learned a little about Grandpa's demons); and 1992, with Carol (to see Grandpa before he died). All were to see family in Hilo, though I spent a week with Grandma at Waikiki in 1975. This time, we stayed on O'ahu. In 1975, as a teenager raised in Suburbia, Waikiki's skyscrapers seemed intimidating and forbiddingly urban. 22 years later, Waikiki seemed, though not welcoming, more like a small city, almost cozy. It's not such a bad place as touristlands go, and is certainly where the nationals (U.S., in this case) go.

Dad left Hilo at 20. "It's like small town America anywhere," he once told me. "Except that you can't get in the car and drive to the big city (Honolulu in this case) for the evening or the day. You have to take a slow boat or an expensive plane." We didn't see his family much, due to a combination of distance, modest means, and (as I later learned) problematic relationships. But when we went to Hawai'i, it was to see family - my grandparents, and grandmother's family (she and her mother, and their mothers before them for a thousand years) were from the Big Island. Grandpa was born on Kaua'i. His mother (until her death in '84 at 95) and siblings all lived in Honolulu. I'd had only the one meeting with some of them in 1975 (including great-grandma), and that thanks to Grandma.

Like our move to Portland, my genealogical research last year was rekindled by a strengthened interest in family. Through that I became more mindful of my lack of contacts to Dad's family (Dad and I haven't spoken for several years, but that's another story). I wanted to be in Hawai'i at Thanksgiving, hoping to spend it with family. My planning for that, however, had fallen through the cracks. I hoped to establish some direct links, and had done so with one great-aunt (Eva). Unfortunately, she was on the Mainland visiting.

Grandpa was the second of seven children. His elder sister, Frances, a younger sister (Eva), and two brothers (Anselm & Teddy) are still living. Frances is not in good shape, so I chose not to visit her on this trip. I called Eva's daughter Patricia to arrange a meeting. She said she'd get back to me and did not. I called Anselm to arrange a visit. I'd talked to him earlier in the year to discuss his family, and we'd had a friendly conversation. But this time, he became aware of my name change (the family name is Lum; I added Forest in 1984, translating it from the Cantonese at my first marriage). He decided I wasn't family, and didn't want anything to do with me. As my father has done a similar thing with me, that's a sore spot. Speechless, I hung up the phone and cried. But I know that problematic father-son relationships run deep in my family. My grandfather (Henry, Sr.) went to his grave unreconciled with his son (Henry, Jr.), as did great-grandfather (Wah Lum). And as Wah arrived from China (1896) as a cabin boy in his teens and never went back or brought his father over, there are at least four generations of bad blood relations.

Our last full day there, I screwed up enough courage to call on Teddy, the 'baby' of the family (only 70). I expected another rebuff, but we had a nice friendly 90 minute chat, and I promised to contact him before my next visit. He told me where his parents (my great-grandparents) were buried. I was unable to find Wah, but I found Virginia in the Diamond Head cemetery. So the family aspect of the visit wasn't a complete bust, but not quite what I'd hoped for.

It was wonderful to have gone through customs & immigration for the last time. Being in a clean, functional English-speaking country, eating our own food was ecstatic. Our hotel suite had a kitchenette. Our second morning I made eggs scrambled w/ diced bacon & onions and rice, a dish known in the family as Lum Special. Mmm mmm mmm!

Jerry Wolper, a friend of mine from earliest MIT days (1976), met us in Honolulu. I picked him up at the airport the evening we got there (which is why I took the nap). His 40th birthday was Thanksgiving. He had lived in Pittsburgh since 1986. He wouldn't have come to see us in Boston for his birthday, nor to Hawai'i without us, but the combination was too much for him to resist. Having been a regular visitor of ours these last 11 years, and having known him my entire adult life (assuming that I'm an adult now), he's practically family.

Our short list of planned tourist destinations included snorkeling. Jerry hadn't swum since I met him, but was game to try it. After a brief adjustment, he was finning about in comfort. We only stayed an hour that first day, but Jerry was as excited about "swimming with the fishes," as he said, as ever I've seen him. We returned for an encore his last day in Hawai'i. The visibility wasn't as good, nor the crowd as sparse, as my trip to the British Virgin Islands last winter. The coral is being pounded to death by the volume of human traffic. But the fish are fed by people, and came RIGHT up to us. Though I think the feeding is a bad practice, it's hard not to be thrilled by such close looks at such beautiful fish, in such numbers. And hey, we were swimming in the ocean in late Fall - on Thanksgiving! It was paradisiacal.

We went to Sea Life Park (underwhelming), the USS Arizona Memorial (like the Gandhi Museum in Madurai, India, oddly moving. It's intended to foster quiet reflection, and works surprisingly well), Iolani Palace (to see where McGarrett's office was; RIP Jack Lord), and Nu'uanu Pali (socked in by rain & clouds). Thanksgiving Dinner was at Jolly Roger's hotel restaurant at Waikiki: not highly recommended for Thanksgiving. We went to the Bishop Museum, which was a good comprehensive look at the history and prehistory of Hawai'i and Polynesia. The signage and lighting were much better than any we'd seen since the British Museum. We had a lovely walk at Manoa Falls, and I took a drive up around the Mt. Tantalus Loop. We had a fine lunch at Sam Choy's restaurant, and played some minigolf. Our last two evenings we ate Hawai'ian food (Yes!) at the Aloha Poi Bowl. Good poi is so hard to come by. Our last full day we drove around the eastern half of O'ahu up to Waiamea and saw some surfing (a big contest was underway). We saw some beautiful shoreline and beaches, and some spectacular surf. We also saw some modest rural homes, poor by American standards, that we didn't see in Honolulu yet still seemed expansive compared to most of what we'd seen in the previous four months. My family had always disparaged O'ahu, like Kona, as being (among other things) haole, but it seemed great to us (but then, we're haoles; the hapa haole of me is the much larger hapa).

At the Japanese Heritage Gallery, Jerry and I spent an hour reviewing the exhibits, then were invited out back to chat with a visiting professor of Japanese history, on sabbatical. He found a book listing Grandma Lum's father, Takaichi Saiki, as having been held on Sand Island (just offshore from Honolulu) from December 8, 1941 to March 20, 1942 -- at which time he was shipped to the Mainland for the duration of the war. At my request, the professor wrote out the Japanese characters for Saiki's name, and noted that the first name could be read Ruichi as well as Takaichi - the latter an unusual combination of Chinese and Japanese renders of the characters. He also said that there is a (town? precinct?) of Saiki just east of Hiroshima (where Takaichi was born) and that Saiki could also be pronounced Saeki. All in all, it was a wonderful, serendipitous meeting.

Honolulu was a restful, rejuvenative stop. It was more of a vacation than a travel stop. Though it was not cheap, I think that our annual Florida trips will be replaced by Hawai'i trips. I had that "Now why are we getting on a plane to go somewhere cold?" feeling typical of winter vacations. But it also held much personal meaning. I think we'll be back again in much less than five years.