The Patchwork of Life

Aloha!

When people start writing to ask, “Are your okay?” I know it’s time to blog again.

Interesting question… are you okay? Having lost my mother, I have to say it’s hard to realize I will never again pick up the phone and have her be on the other end. She was 77 years old. That would’ve seemed old at one time in my life, but this was a woman who still went to water aerobics three times a week, who went to lunch and the movies with friends every single Friday of her life, no matter what. In fact, three of us went to the movies the evening of my stepfather’s funeral…nothing like a good comedy to ease a transition. Mom was all about enjoying life. (Which begs the question, where are all the good comedies? But that is another post.)

I want to write about the concept of chogak po. I am reading the book “Honolulu” by author Alan Brennert. (I don’t know how this one escaped me; it was published in 2009 and was the winner of “Elle’s” Lettres 2009 Grand Prix for Fiction.) It’s about a Korean woman who travels to Hawaii as a “picture bride” in 1914, but she does not find the life she has been promised, and instead must make her own way in a strange land. Chogak po is the Korean word for patchwork cloth, cobbled together from leftover scraps of material. They have an abstract beauty, but the protagonist asks her mother why she does not make more elegant creations, because she is capable. The mother replies, “When we are young we think life will be like a su po: one fabric, one weave, one grand design. But in truth, life turns out to be more like the patchwork cloth–bits and pieces, odds and ends–people, places, things we never expected, never wanted, perhaps. There is harmony in this, too, and beauty.”

I am trying to see harmony and beauty in my life, at a time when so many things I never saw coming and never wanted to deal with are expected of me. It has been four months since my mother passed away, and I am still wading through the paperwork and making daily phone calls in connection with her business affairs. Who knew?

One bright spot is my friend, Suzanne, who went through this a year before I did, and has been my mentor and guide. There was a time in my life when I was ahead of all of my friends in doing the important things such as buying a house, starting a business, etc. and they were constantly relying on me to guide them through the intricacies of those things. I used to think, “When is it my turn? When do I get someone to explain things to me?” I am just so glad that when it has come down to important decisions such as the timing on when to sell my mom’s house, I have had Suzanne to say, “Take your time…don’t let anyone push you or hurry you. As Executor, you are in control.”

Moving to Maui is much the same as that patchwork Korean cloth. Everyone thinks life here is going to be perfect (it’s Paradise, right?) and they have a grand design in mind when they come. But in truth, it turns out to be full of things no one can understand until they have fully lived here…not just part-timed it, or vacationed here. Vacationing in Maui means hanging out with other tourists and doing tourist things. Living here means reality: understanding pidgin and the local ways. Accepting that everything moves at a glacial speed.

Some things just can’t be fully understood until we’ve lived them ourselves.

A hui hou! Thanks for stopping by…If you’d like to subscribe to this blog, please click the Follow button on the homepage.
Aloha, Jamaica

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Have You Laughed Today?

Aloha!

Maui is a pretty loose place. I’m always amused when I’m out and about and notice how feral-like many Maui children are. They haven’t been groomed within inch of their lives, unlike the little mainland boy I saw at Ha’iilimaile General Store the other night. He was about six years old, pasty-skinned, like he never stepped outdoors. Blonde hair parted with military precision; slicked down. Wearing khaki shorts and a plaid button-down shirt, with gleaming white tennis shoes. He looked like someone sat on him a lot.

Then there are the Maui kids: their hair sticking up and out, like it hasn’t been brushed in a week. They wear bright, mismatched clothes, and are tanned and healthy- looking. Usually they sport some interesting choice of footwear, like zebra-print rubber boots with shorts. Surely to grow up to be iconoclasts, all. Another thing about Maui kids: they laugh a lot, and don’t seem to pitch fits like I hear the kids do when I’m on the mainland. It leads me to believe that mainland kids spend way too much time indoors, and Maui kids are pretty much allowed to run wild, so they’re just calmer by nature.

Hearing lots of laughter was one of the things I noticed most when I first moved to Maui. At the beach, in restaurants, standing on street corners. Locals are a raucous bunch. I was in an office building yesterday and all the female workers were just cackling loudly, maybe over some bawdy joke. No one sushed them or reminded them they were in a place of business. Maui children running wild grow up to be Maui office workers. And they laugh a lot. Even in bad times.

One of my favorite things about working at the hotel all those years was hearing the laughter from the Front Desk people. The Concierge desk sat further out in the lobby, so I wasn’t really part of the Front Desk. But I could still hear them tell stories, share what they had for dinner the night before, and always, there was laughter.

The other evening, after a long day, I stopped at IHOP in Kahului and put in a to-go order. I had about a fifteen minute wait (should have just eaten there) and while I waited, a local family came in. More and more of them, till they filled the waiting area with ten people, and more of their party was still to arrive. Watching them all together, laughing, telling stories in their melodic pidgin and cutting up, I had a twinge of loneliness–of missing my family on the mainland, the choice that all of us who move an ocean away must  live with.

It turns out this family had just come from a surprise engagment party. They had all gathered, knowing the young man was going to propose to The One. Except, she didn’t show up. She was always running late. They waited and waited. Finally, she arrived. In pidgin the groom-to-be now related, “While we was all dhere waiting, I got to tinking…instead of engagement ring, mebbe shouda got her one watch!” They all roared, and I couldn’t help joining in.

Laughter: it’s good for the soul.

Thought for the day: Live a balanced life–learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work everyday some. —Robert Fulghum

A hui hou! If you’d like to subscribe to this blog, please click the Follow button on the Home page. Mahalo for stopping by!

Aloha, Jamaica

Mahalos

Aloha All,

In Hawaii people speak pidgin (well, at least the ones who grew up here) and it’s a kind of shorthand English, a mashup of languages constructed during the reign of sugar plantation days when workers were brought from Japan and the Phillipines and no one could communicate with each other.

So most people know that “Mahalo” means thank you. But “Mahalos” is pidgin, it’s like the shaka sign of thank yous. It shows you’re local and you know what you’re talking about, i.e. “Mahalos, man.” I know this because Mike grew up here and it is truly like living with a foreigner to have a girl from the midwest and a haole boy from Hawaii living in the same house. This man would eat fish three times a day. I’m a good cook, and it will never matter how great my French cooking skills become, that man is gonna want fish, preferably on the grill…or raw.

I remember the first time he came home with a big ahi tuna he’d caught it off the boat. He threw it , still flopping, down on the patio and I watched him carve that thing up so fast I thought I hope I never get on the wrong side of him, because he has some serious knife skills. I was to find out he has some serious survival skills, period. Like he could have been the original “Survivor” but without the ego or attitude.

As far as the pidgin, when Mike was in the fire department, the firemen used to tease him that as a haole boy he was more Hawaiian than they were. That was the highest compliment they could give.

I got to watch the pidgin in action when we built our house. Mike would send me down to Kahului for a plumbing part (I was the “Runner”–that was my official title and I took it very seriously!) or a pile of wood or whatever.Now you’ve gotta realize I’m Swedish-Irish with blondish hair and blue-green eyes. And I would gamely go into the plumbing supply store and try to get waited on. And I waited. And I waited. And I would be routinely ignored by the guys in there and come home without the part, no matter how politely I asked.

Mike would be quite aggravated that I hadn’t accomplished this simple mission. So we would jump in the truck together, drive back down the hill and go to the same place. He would speak pidgin. And in two minutes he’d have his plumbing part. Like magic.

Anybody out there had a similar experience? Because my friend in Kula looks pretty much like me, except she was a model so she’s much taller and stunning (okay, maybe she doesn’t look like me) and she had all the same problems when they were building their house. No pidgin, no part.

I write this to say “Mahalos” to all of you who have written to tell me how much you’re enjoying the blog. That rocks, to know that the time I put in is worth it. I hope to bring a little bit of Hawaii to you all as often as I can. But on that note, it might be a short while before I can blog again. Those of you who follow the blog know that I was gone from Maui for five months last year because my stepdad was dying of cancer and I went to California to care for him. Well, now my mom just had major surgery so I’m back on a plane to CA tomorrow to care for her. Once I know Mom is good, I’ll be back at this, I promise.

So Mahalos and Aloha for now. See you real soon! If you’d like to subscribe to this blog, please click the “Follow” button on the right.

Jamaica