I considered using a title about reverse culture shock or other sub-themes, but this is what's up, moving to Honolulu. It's a staged move, because my kids will start school here now, and I'll work out the year, in part remotely, in part back in Bangkok. If finding a suitable position doesn't work out maybe I'll roll back the whole plan, but I feel like this has to go through.
Given that context a lot of what I might write about would be struggle on multiple levels, how the last 10 days have went, what it's like to start up relocation and new schooling mostly from scratch. Or concerns about employment, and whatever else is a work in progress, although that concern really stands out. Getting specialized data center company quality assurance / ISO support work to transfer to another country is really problematic. I'll talk about culture issues here instead; it's more interesting, and sounds less like someone going on about problems. Then a little on what already worked out; that's not so bad.
For initial context my wife and I met here in grad school, and married here, within that two year window. That first year was really rough for me, all the adjustments, and workload, working and going to school in an academic program that wasn't a great fit, but I loved it here the second year.
Hawaii is a really magical place. In general I'm not on that page, describing mystical spiritual experiences, but in some places you just naturally feel it, like in Sedona, AZ, Canyonlands national park in Utah, or in Siem Reap, Cambodia temples. Lots of Thai temples have a great energy. Or maybe we just imagine such a thing, brought up by stories, and reinforced by running themes and aesthetics? Here in Honolulu that feeling is muted a bit by crowds of people and the urban setting, but it's still there. If you can get out just a little and tune it in the experience is really amazing. I felt blessed to spend that time here, and in a sense it wasn't enough for my wife.
We're here for the kids to go to an American school, not on the mainland instead because she feels more comfortable here, and thought that they would too. They've always had to deal with being mixed race and nationality in Bangkok, which isn't seen so negatively, but they are different, and here they fit in. I'm quite sure that it's safer here, with less emphasis on political divides and seemingly artificial conflicts, which lead to real impact, so I'm also ok with that. Just a bit anxious about getting the details to work out.
This focuses on what I see as changes here, since it's too much to really describe the continuum of Hawaiian local cultures, but I'll add a little on that theme range first. On the one extreme more local and native people live out a completely different lifestyle and perspective; it's like the difference between the melting pot in US cities and more traditional rural cultures, before radical conservative biases made those place breeding grounds for bad ideas.
A local family here more or less took in my wife, which is why our kids have Hawaiian names, and share a middle name, that family name. I can't do justice to describing their perspective, beyond saying that anyone could meet them and love them, so it's nothing exotic or difficult to approach. They're closer to Asian perspective than mainland American, which only made sense to me after years of living in Thailand. At first I thought it was about rice preference, warm weather, and appearances, but it's not at all, it's about perspective toward family and social roles, valuing connections more, and even accepting limitations that come with accepting such roles. They're less focused on themselves, more on where they fit in relation to others, including respect for a local natural environment.
it has been amazing to have local family here
I was in grad school in Honolulu, so I knew next to nothing about all that, about local culture. A friend joked that we didn't really live in Hawaii, but that we could see it from our school, and it felt a little like that. Even with frequent outings to the beach; in a sense we weren't really immersed in any local culture, even transplant or tourism oriented culture.
Changes in Honolulu local culture
So what changed here, since that grad school experience 15 years ago? As superficial differences go there are more homeless people. It means little to me, in relation to being frightened of them, because I never really feared them before. It definitely throws off the idealistic appearance, seeing someone sleep on the ground everywhere you go, or very disheveled looking people using the bus beside you. I feel sympathy for them instead of fear; what they go through I can't imagine. But then in cycling through countless Youtube video channel themes I ended up watching a few dozen personal stories from homeless people in LA, so I guess I feel let in on ways that can come up, and sort of remain in effect.
Drug addiction and mental health issues are the primary themes, in those particular videos, at least. People start out partying or use drugs as a crutch to deal with trauma, or mental illness, and it keeps going downhill from there. In a strange sense I don't blame them. I was essentially addicted to weed at one point, before it became legal, and I get it how transition from a social and sustainable habit can lead to the exact opposite. Luckily my addiction wasn't on the order of opioids and meth in terms of typical impact.
Young people look different; I suppose that always keeps happening. As a late 80s kid I could completely relate to the 90s, and the 2000s didn't seem so different, maybe just some extra piercings and such here or there, or that hipster aesthetic theme. Tattoos are really common now, but beyond such minor differences one thing stands out the most: the trend for young women to have large butts. It's one thing in a music video or Instagram post and another to see lots of young women walking around who are relatively disproportionate, in relation to primary body shape forms. How do they do that? Squats, surgery, I guess it doesn't matter. That's Waikiki though; surely local Hawaiians aren't looking to Instagram to decide how to change their appearance, whether they're local in the sense of native, or of whatever mixed background instead.
Everything else seems kind of similar to how I remember it. I changed, or rather my life context did, more than who I feel like I am internally. I'm a father now, and that role and set of responsibilities defines what I'm doing, or need to do next, at any given time. It can weigh on me, especially in higher stress times, like during this transition. But I've raised my kids to try to take things lightly, to see the good in difficulty, and notice the potential fun in every set of circumstances, and especially to not take themselves too seriously. Keo tries, but he has frequent melt-downs here. He misses the cat; she really was the glue that held the parts of his world together. Kalani is so strong and balanced that I'm worried about her bottling up parts of what she feels, but I think she just passes through challenges as if they're nothing much. She doesn't overthink things, and stress about what might happen, waiting to directly face issues when they actually happen. Then she acts. I'll provide an example to clarify that.
I've been talking to my son about what difficulties he might face, and how transition will go, to not be too nervous, and worry if some people don't like him. As a mixed-race Asian he should be fine, but he sounds like a mainland American, his accent, which is going to give some classmates pause. Two aunts were also warning him about bullying, a subject we keep talking about. In discussing that topic related to Kalani they came to the exact same conclusion I did independently about her: she won't be bullied, because if anything she will be the bully. Or rather the one stepping in when anyone is being treated unfairly, and setting things right. She's so small but she has an inner power about her. And a unique physicality; no kid her size should step up to challenge her, for their own sake. At one point I was worried about her being a victim and taught her how to throw a punch, and later it seemed like maybe I shouldn't have, because she can really dig into the body practicing it on me.
They both know not to fight. We were just joking that Keoni's intro to Hawaii might be getting a swirlie from his super-sized Hawaiian classmates, but I made sure to be clear that I think nothing like that will really come up. Hawaiians are great, until you give them a unreasonable degree of reason to show you their darker side. Misunderstandings could come up, from visiting an off-limits local beach or whatever, but even then they would shoo you rather than acting hastily. One guy I knew here did get dropped by a giant islander at a party, who one-punched every white guy on his way out of a Big Island gathering, but that kind of thing is an exception. In two years of living here I crossed paths with two local people who seemed to resent me being white; not so bad. Both only strongly implied it; even that scope, disliking me related to race and cultural background, they were nice about.
So to me Honolulu and Hawaii is still great, I'm just overly caught up in my own conditions at this point. That would happen anywhere, less than two weeks in.
Running has been nice to help establish continuity, but I've only done that twice so far. Of course swimming in the ocean has went even better. We just bought a second boogie board today; we'll check that out soon.
we swam out to that flag once, 230 yards or so out, but didn't see the turtles there yet
It helps most that the people I care for most moved here with me. I think that's why Kalani feels so stable; in her eyes the background changed but the rest didn't. The cats we left with a sitter are the exception, especially Myra; we all miss her dearly.
Maybe this tangent won't exactly integrate with the other themes, but one neighbor is cool here, so nice. And a bit unconventional, but he wouldn't work as well as a person without some of that. It was comforting experiencing meeting him early on across a few levels, as a good sign, an indication of local support, and starting into a sense of community. I never really felt that in Thailand, the entire time. I felt at-ease and in-place but the context couldn't have been clearer that I wasn't one of them, and never would be.
About that friendly neighbor Kalani once commented "he has a good life," and I think that sums it up, and how perceptive she really is. Who reads people, based on fragments of impressions, as an 8 year old? She does. And related to him a few words here and there really brought across how welcoming he is, and how his own life experience covers some cool scope. He invited Kalani down to do some resin based painting; that was really what triggered that comment.
American food experiences
I'll keep this part short, but a couple of unusual experiences stand out. Living in Thailand has been great for access to inexpensive, healthy food; I've been living on fresh fruits and vegetables for 15 years. Here those would be quite expensive, and preparation time could easily be a significant problem, at least for cooking the vegetables. The US produces and sells a broad range of very inexpensive snack and desert items, and we've been living on many of those for nearly two weeks. It started with Ben and Jerry's ice cream, pop tarts, and a tub of cookie dough, and Goldfish crackers, which we do have in Thailand.
Even fast food is expensive in comparison with the low cost of these relatively empty calories, which come in delicious forms. $60 for a fast food meal doesn't seem like much, for a family of 5, but in Thailand we never tended to spend the equivalent (2000 baht) on much healthier restaurant meals. Cost of living works out like; it's normal.
It would be difficult and expensive to return to my Thai diet standard here. On a tight budget I just couldn't. The kids will have school meals, hopefully healthy versions, to fill part of that gap. I'll have to be careful about retaining some balance, or I could change body weight over a period of months instead of years. Keo must have put on a couple of pounds in the past week, although at his last health check for school it seemed that he hadn't yet.
School update: Kalani's first day
Kalani went to school on Friday, in a local school so close you can see it from our balcony. She said that all the kids were really friendly, and a couple of the girls are already her friends. We met one the next day, when I'm editing this, part of a Japanese family that hasn't been here so long. There is a Thai kid in her class but she's not talked to him yet; that'll come, but it won't be necessary for it to serve as a social tie, to compensate for organic connections not coming quickly. I suppose that Japanese family could be our friends here too; that's how that went in the past, with one Japanese class-mate's parents one of the nicest people I knew in Bangkok.
It could be more challenging for Keo. Being 13 is different; freshmen in high school have a lot of social issues to balance, without factoring in being a foreigner, or new to a local culture. Or representing a less well-regarded outside culture, if they interpret him as a mainlander, which of course he's not, having only visited the continental US a few times.
A few more brutal errand days have brought it all that much closer to narrowed down to only getting a job yet to do. We have wifi, re-activated an old credit union account, and I have an appointment to renew my license next week. I'll meet a solitary online tea contact here towards the end of next week.
Given the transition and introspection themes I should be able to close this on a catchy life-lesson theme, right? Not so much, but maybe a little. It makes all the more sense to me why people don't do this sort of thing in the second half of their life, like we are doing. Maybe as a retirement theme, but that's really something else. We're shopping at thrift shops, weighing out where the dollars are going, even walking a good bit for transportation. This post skipped a main sub-theme related to moving under absurd conditions, packing things people just wouldn't pack, taking two night-flights to keep that expense moderate while also scheduling it last minute, adjusting for when our apartment was available. The first day we moved here we moved 20+ bags and boxes into an empty apartment to discuss lease terms; the landlord just kept saying "this isn't how this normally goes." We sleep on the floor; we own less chairs than we have family members.
This isn't a sob story about what I suffer through, to be clear; in fact it's the opposite. It's a challenge but also a privilege to struggle in this way. And I don't regret that my kids have to endure it. One of the main things that shapes and builds up children is providing them with challenges that they can overcome, and this is a huge set of those. That's the life-lesson, I guess. People would be crazy to take it to this extreme, but we aren't at the far practical limit yet. I'm not doing this alone and unsupported; I owe my company, and one person in particular, a huge debt of gratitude for making this possible.
I hope to look back on the fantastic things my kids accomplish and see this one crazy fork in the road as a big part of what enabled that. Or if they go on to do very mundane things, and struggle themselves, that's fine, and I'll keep supporting them. I'm just as Asian as I am a part of mainland American culture, and we don't write off family members so easily, or embrace our own independence and space by distancing ourselves from others. Like they said in Lilo and Stitch, Ohana means family, and family means that no one gets left behind. I hope that the magic here enables me to do amazing things myself, and I'll mention it if it works out like that, but probably will focus more on how my kids are doing, which also describes my life in general.
The story in pictures
a Thai uncle back in Bangkok passed on since we've been here; much love to him
family saw us off at the airport; that was a nice start
an insane amount of luggage
a rough two day set of flights, here in Tokyo
so nice, but a little rough edged still
Keo's school, with some of Honolulu in the background
the errands take a toll
all of Honolulu has a nice look, not just the beaches or parks
at Keo's school