Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Monday, January 10, 2000

A book about Hawaii
that’s a must-read

THERE'S an inherent jadedness in many adults who were born and raised in the islands. Let's face it, we go to Pearl Harbor or a commercial luau only when an out-of-towner comes to call.

Those who toiled at the cannery during summer probably still retch at the sight and smell of pineapple. And who has time to go the beach?

Once, while at the University of Missouri for a month-long journalism fellowship program, the other members dreamily asked, "So is it true that Hawaii is paradise?" To the chagrin of the HVCB, I shrugged and answered, "I guess."

It's not that the locals aren't appreciative. We're just immune.

So when dreamy-eyed tour groups gush about the beautiful and friendly locale, those who pay taxes here merely humor them and go about our business.

This is why I rarely read books, watch movies or follow TV shows about Hawaii. The experience is often so hokey, it's painful. (Yeah, right, as if our city lifeguards really look like the "Baywatch" babes.)

Thus, I was pleasantly surprised by the newest offering from the Travelers' Tales Guides, "Hawaii: True Stories of the Island Spirit" (San Francisco, 1999, $17.95).

Edited by the husband-and-wife team of Rick and Marcie Carroll, the Windward residents spent three years reading and reviewing more than 300 essays about our island home.

The four dozen that made the cut were written by famous folks like Maxine Hong Kingston and Paul Theroux, as well as island scribes including kumu hula Lei-Ann Stender Durant and Nyla Fujii-Babb, a Salt Lake librarian.

If you live or have lived in Hawaii, love Hawaii or have ever wanted to visit, and especially if you wish to see this place through the eyes of those who unabashedly appreciate it, this guide is a must-read. My favorites include:

Bullet "The Tropic of Spam" by food critic and cookbook author Robb Walsh, who examines the quirky island delicacy and why it remains so popular.
Bullet "Pretending to be Rich" by newspaper travel editor John Flinn, still in awe of his $4,000-a-night stay at the Mauna Lani Bay Bungalows, complete with personal butler service.
Bullet "Honolulu Mamas" by documentary author Robert Strauss, who braved the task of taking his wife, his mother and his mother-in-law all on a first-time trip to Oahu.
Bullet "Sail of a Lifetime" by former Hawaii resident Linda Kephart Flynn, who described the romantic way Mike Flynn asked her to marry him while he was on his 21-foot Newport sloop and she was noshing at a harbor-front restaurant.

THE softcover book concludes with handy travel information, with true-to-life tips like, "No topless maidens will meet you in canoes with flower lei...Nobody thinks you look funny wearing a lei...There are no diamonds on Diamond Head...Nobody thinks 'I Got Lei-d in Hawaii' T-shirts are funny anymore."

Memo to Rick: Mahalo for the review copy. But, no, I cannot mention that you and Marcie are having a downtown book-signing at Bestsellers from 12:30-1:30 p.m. on Thursday.

Sheesh, I'm not going to shamelessly huckster your new book for you!

Not when this entertaining, enlightening anthology will sell itself. It's a joy.

Even inherently jaded life-long Hawaii residents like me will eat it up. We might even give pineapple another chance. At the beach.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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