Forget Waldo ... where’s Hawaii?
I have a pet peeve. Actually, it's not a pet, it's a free-range peeve. A feral peeve. A wild peeve that irritates me more than fingernails scraping across the back of a sunburned baby. It's when people refer to Hawaii as being in the South Seas. I know why it happens: 1) People are idiots; 2) Geography is no longer taught in schools; 3) Hawaii is a mythical place for most mainlanders, a suburb of Tonga or one of those other "weird" South Pacific islands.
Right now some people reading this think I have lost my mind. Hawaii isn't in the South Seas or the South Pacific? No, geniuses. It's NORTH of the equator. (Note to those who haven't taken geography: The equator is that hypothetical line that divides Earth into two equal halves: north and south. Look at a globe sometime. That's the green and blue round thing over in the corner of the classroom. Or maybe not.)
The Hawaiian Islands are stretched out between latitude 18 degrees and 29 degrees north. That means Hawaii is in the North Seas, not the South Seas.
But the misconception persists, probably because we have so many coconut trees. Coconut trees belong in the South Pacific, not the North Pacific. You don't see many coconut trees in, say, the Aleutian Islands, for instance. (The Aleutian Islands are located ... never mind.)
The most recent famous person to goof up on where Hawaii is was Gordon Elliot, host of the TV show "Follow That Food." The food he was following was Stilton cheese. And he managed to follow it all the way to the -- cue screaming baby -- "South Seas!" where he curiously found Hawaii. (Why anyone would want to follow a moldy, smelly cheese around the world is another matter.)
As a native of Australia, Elliot should have known better. I mean, Australia definitely is the South Seas, and Hawaii's nowhere to be seen. But Elliot found Stilton cheese in Hawaii, tasted it in a moldy, smelly soup and apparently found it the best Stilton cheese in the South Pacific.
You could forgive regular people and food TV hosts for not knowing where Hawaii is, but you'd think that academics would be a little more swift. Wrong.
Minnesota's Bemidji State University was offering a special travel course featuring "the highest sea-cliffs in the world, the most active volcano on the planet, the largest mountain on Earth ... all found in one South Seas locale: Hawaii." We can only hope the students actually get here for the class instead of ending up hanging around Krakatoa or Gordon Elliot's house.
You might even forgive a Minnesota university for not knowing where Hawaii is because, well, it's Minnesota. The only person to actually ever find his way out of Minnesota was Garrison Keillor. But how do you explain a Hawaii educational institution not knowing where it is?
Hilo's Institute for Cultural Ecology (OK, I'm using the term "educational institution" loosely here) offered a course called "Semester in the South Seas." In its pitch to attract students, its Web site proclaimed, "By the end of the course participants will have gained a comprehensive understanding of Hawaii's complex environmental and cultural reality." Hopefully that reality would include learning that Hawaii is not in the South Seas.
Just about every vacation and travel site on the Internet lumps Hawaii in with all the islands and nations of the South Seas and the South Pacific. (Those darn coconut trees!) But many businesses in Hawaii appear to be suffering from the same geographic dyslexia.
Two dozen businesses on Oahu are named "South Pacific" something-or-other, and nearly 20 businesses claim "South Seas" in their names. Strangely, many of those seem to be car and motorcycle dealerships.
Mark Ely, general manager of South Seas BMW, didn't know how the company's owner came to choose the name some 25 years ago. But he was surprised to find out that Hawaii isn't actually in the South Seas.
"I guess we're in the Equator Seas," he said, getting points for knowing we are actually pretty close to the equator, though north of it. And he got extra points for adding, "Then the only time people in Hawaii are in the South Seas is when they are on my (sales) floor." If he gets his hands on some Stilton cheese, Gordon Elliot might show up.
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