Back in 2009, when I was still employed but the writing was on the wall, I got it into my head that I wanted a nice camera, the kind where you could change the lenses depending on your mood, to zoom in on a distant hummingbird or assume the ocular perspective of a fish. I had no particular goal attached to this desire but that did not stop me and I soon came home with a gleaming new Nikon that had more controls and components than C-3PO, and which other than being pressed into service that year to take photos of Goblin Foo in front of Mt. Rushmore and Niagara Falls was shoved into a closet and later stolen by a poltergeist. Believe it or not, it is difficult for me to tell you about this. I have–we all have–been through so much since then that the capability of buying something expensive on a whim now seems a distant and shameful. So when I planned this trip to Hawaii, built largely around a Vacation Club purchase from the same era so that it did not require an outlay of cash, I thought it would be a good opportunity to resurrect the Nikon and settle my guilt on this matter. And after wresting it from the clutches of the ghost and getting a refresher course in its use from my friend Amanda, I took it to Kalani on the Big Island of Hawaii and left it in its forlorn bag for a week. That just did not seem to be the land of lugging around a big camera or any sort of unnatural equipment, although there was a core group who smuggled their laptops down to the cafe on a regular basis to compete in the Hunger Games of Internet access.
Since arriving on Oahu, I have gradually begun to take the Nikon out and get used to its function. I have never been trained as a photographer, although I have a degree in design and understand good visual composition, and I have read up on the Rule of Thirds and other basic tips. Today, I decided to wander around the resort and play with some basic shots incorporating depth of field, which was more difficult than I thought it would be. Disney is actually famous for an experience design that incorporates a visual foreground, middle area, and background–this is how they lure consumers to the distant corners of their amusement parks–but down among the lush foliage of the hotel courtyard, the twisting paths and an endless procession of families in bathing suits did not quite lend themselves as fodder to my amateur eye.
Later, back at the room, the day devolved into the ambitionless sort I enjoy the most on vacation. I lollygagged, dilly-dallied, and frittered away the afternoon by editing photos, reading novels, and watching the ocean and clouds from the balcony. The lawn below, usually an out-of-the-way corner, bloomed to life at prescribed intervals with congregations of small children and life-sized cartoon characters, taking photographs and participating in activities such as Musical Surfboards. One of the hotel’s outdoor venues has an album of Disney music on rotation, with strains of “When You Wish Upon a Star,” “Colors of the Wind,” “Under the Sea,” or the ever-present “It’s a Small World” drifting up at all hours. Outside, the world was warm, pleasant, regimented; accessible enough to participate in if I wanted to, inconsequential enough to avoid if not.
After dinner, Rob and I descended back to the courtyard for what I had suggested be a drink or dessert, and actually turned out to be both. Nearby, children whose parents didn’t love them frolicked through the pools in the chilly night air, and a bedraggled storyteller enthralled his audience around a gas-powered fire pit. I did not bring my camera because I discovered its annoying tendency to leave its aperture open for several seconds in dim lighting, and I was not in the mood for capturing shapeless blurs and streaks of light. Instead, Rob and I discussed the Disney corporation and my fervent hope that the employees who had been so kind and cheerful around me in this hotel were actually happy in their jobs, and well-paid. They seemed happy, and they made me happy, and I did not want the atmosphere of beatitude to be based on a lie. Rob’s conclusion was that there is a certain mythos of higher purpose in some branches of the company, but at the end of the day it is a corporation like any other, and maybe the hotel employees are just happy to have jobs at all. I gave the bartender an extra large tip for my Superfruit Margarita and thought about this for the rest of the evening. I’m not stupid. I know how the world works and am daily horrified by economic injustices. But sometimes, I just want the illusion to be real.
There is a stretch of highway between Ko Olina and Honolulu that seems eternally congested for no discernible reason. Today, we braved this again so we could visit the Chinatown section of the capital city, an excursion that would never have occurred to me, but Rob is one for scouring travel forums for unique activities and even seems to have some radar for discerning which self-appointed connoisseurs have the reliable opinions. In any case, I have been to Chinatowns across North America, and I thought it would be interesting to see one that was the closest to Actual China, the medicine of which I have based my latest career around.
Chinatown in Honolulu is architecturally similar to the Old West, with late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century buildings that resemble the saloons and shops of that dusty epoch. It does not seem particularly geared toward tourism, although there are a few small shops of tchotchkes, and we went into one antique store that played versions of “Aloha Oe” on an unceasing loop. After meandering a bit, we eventually ate lunch in a pho shop, so I suppose we were more accurately in “Pan-Asiantown.” I did not make a special study of this, but it seems that this quadrant of Honolulu was constructed in discreet eras. After the Old West buildings of Pan-Asiantown, we passed through a neighborhood that could have been lifted from the nineteen fifties and eventually came to the colonial structures of Iolani Palace and its environs. More fascinating to me than the architecture were the palace grounds, which contained some of the most spectacular trees I have ever seen, including a banyan that seemed as if it could be a thousand years old. Afterward, we entered a Ross Dress for Less store so I could buy a pair of shorts and Rob could look for some sandals. Let me tell you, you know you are in a special kind of place when there are signs saying “Aloha” and “Mahalo” in the Ross Dress for Less.
Even though I do not eat pork, one of the things I had wanted to do in Hawaii was attend a luau, just for the traditional entertainment, and although I could not be moved to research this agenda item in any way that would make it Actionable, I was happily surprised to discover that Aulani twice a week stages a Hawaiian-themed show on the lawn directly below our room. Tonight was the night for this, and Rob and I ate dinner on the balcony in anticipation of the hula dancers and ukulele players, who arrived as advertised in a graceful pageant that was marred only by their invitation to the children in the audience to come up to the stage and bang on coconut shells during one rhythmic number. Unfortunately, the traditional show ended abruptly at a point I thought should be the middle, the beat of the music changed wildly, and out popped Chip, Dale, Stitch, Goofy, and Mickey and Minnie Mouse; the previously soft lights of the stage began to flash and pulse in time to the disco beat, and suddenly the lawn erupted in a Disney dance party, which I found both completely unexpected and utterly interminable. I suppose this is the sort of thing that one has to put up with in a place like this, but I really would have thought Stitch would have better sense than to endorse these shenanigans.