Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Last Hawaiʻi Research Adventure

Hawaiʻi Research Adventure: Days 32-36

The View from Koko Head, looking east towards Molokaʻi

After driving through Waiʻanae on Day 30, I took a break on Day 31 (Sunday), but then hit the road again one last time, with Constance (my friend's car), to explore one last nook of Oʻahu. Day 32 was Labor Day, so the libraries and archives were all closed. I had been to the Windward Coast, the Leeward Coast, and the North Shore. What was left, then, was to see the southeast corner of Oʻahu, that place between Waikīkī and Kailua, an area that some call Hawaiʻi Kai (named for some nasty-fancy development there), but what I call Koko Head, titled after the large crater that away that is even taller than the more famous Diamond Head!

So I drove out in the morning down the interstate[!] highway past Waikīkī until the highway ended and became a smaller road hugging the coast. In Hawaiʻi Kai I stopped at some yuppy-yuppy coffee shop and sat amongst an almost all-white clientele (keep in mind that white people make up only 20% of Hawaiʻi's population) sipping their lattes, reading their newspapers, and talking about their kids in college back on the mainland. (Yawn.) I was dirty and smelly and felt wonderfully out of place. Had a coffee and an acai bowl. And then hit the road to continue on to Koko Head.

Turns out there is actually a Koko head and a Koko crater. I was interested in the crater. On the way we passed a beach that was empty but the parking lot was simply overflowing with haole and Asian tourists. It's a beautiful beach, but I quickly wanted to get away from the crowds of people.

Beach near Koko Crater

So I kept on driving, eventually arriving mauka (inland) a bit, at the Koko Crater Botanical Garden. The place was basically empty. I wandered slowly and methodically for a few hours through the botanical gardens, especially the Hawaiʻi and Pacific sections, hoping to see plants that were historically important in the nineteenth century, the time period that I study.
A grove of trees indigenous to Hawaiʻi. I forget what they are called, but I remember reading that they have suffered from some disease and are struggling. The wall of the crater, which reaches over 1,000 feet high, is seen in the background. The botanical gardens lie in the bed of this crater.
Naio, or bastard sandalwood. After years of searching for real sandalwood (ʻiliahi) on my trips to Hawaiʻi, it was nice to at least find naio, if not ʻiliahi, in the botanical garden. It is speculated that the first shipment of "sandalwood" from Hawaiʻi to China in the early 1790s was actually naio. The Hong merchants of Guangzhou were not having it, and the onset of Hawaiʻi-China trade was set back a few decades at least partly because of that mishap, perhaps. Certainly naio ended up on ships bound for Guangzhou, and the Cantonese were never too happy about it.

 Flowers of the naio, or bastard sandalwood, plant. Koko Crater Botanical Garden.

After wandering the botanical garden for a few hours, I got back in Constance and drove all the way back to Waikīkī. Why? Well, because it was my last free day in Hawaiʻi for perhaps a very long time, and as much as I dislike Waikīkī, I figured that I deserved a day to relax there. So I went to Kapiʻolani Park, one of the most beautiful beach parks in all of Hawaiʻi. It was crowded, but still relaxing due to the presence of majestic old trees and lots of birds flying around. I grabbed some sushi and brought it to the park for a picnic lunch. Then I laid in the grass and read a book. Finally I took a short dip in the ocean and then I walked to a nearby pub and had a beer! Why not? :)

So that would have been it. My afternoon in Waikīkī. But... I did decide to do something educational, too. I went to the Waikīkī Aquarium

View at the Waikīkī Aquarium

I am not sure what I was hoping to learn at the Aquarium. I feel like I have been to so many between here and California. But it was fun. I wouldn't say that the Waikīkī institution is anything special. But it is decent.
A jellyfish at the Waikīkī Aquarium
A Hawaiian monk seal in captivity, Waikīkī Aquarium

I guess aquariums are really just zoos for aquatic animals. And I never go to zoos, because I am ethically opposed to the idea of zoos. So why go to an aquarium? Well, when I witnessed the sad scene above, of a Hawaiian monk seal in captivity, forced to do tricks and go "on parade" for visiting tourists, I decided that I had to leave. And maybe I will never go back. When I was at Kaʻena Point on the other side of the island two days earlier, there were signs everywhere warning that this was a critical Hawaiian monk seal habitat. If I had seen a seal with my binoculars, I would have been intrigued and filled with a sense of awe and wonder. Seeing a seal in a cage in Waikīkī, however, did not make me feel awe and wonder, except perhaps regarding our unique capacity to dominate over all other species on this Earth. There was a great piece in the New York Times magazine earlier this year about the complex politics of Hawaiian monk seal conservation. I highly recommend reading it. 

And there you have it. The end of my Hawaiʻi Research Adventure. On Days 33-35 I just did more research and especially a lot of writing and editing. I spent almost all my time in the Hamilton Library at the University of Hawaiʻi. Then, on Friday, Day 36, I had to drive Constance to the airport to pick up her rightful owner and hand her back. That evening I got a ride to the airport with both of them and caught a red-eye flight to New York City. That was in early September.

It is now mid-October and I still haven't gone through all my research notes from this adventure. I am just now posting up photographs and trying to reminder all the micro-narratives of my trip. As for the dissertation, I believe that my Hawaiʻi research is done, and if I never return back to Hawaiʻi before finishing my dissertation, I think that that will be okay. I will go back to California in a few weeks to continue the adventure over there, so stay tuned. It will be, perhaps, my last dissertation research trip. That's because the big goal now is just writing and editing the darn thing. Writing up those chapters and editing the ones I've already got is taking up a lot of my time right now, and will continue to throughout the year.

Besides going to California in November, there are no other major trips planned on the horizon. Perhaps that is a good thing. If not earlier, you will next hear from me in Berkeley, California!

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