Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Travel Notes: Orthodontists, Golden Week and a Part of Town Called Kaimuki

Last week the Waikiki hotels were running at near capacity, thanks to a convention of orthodontists and a horde of visitors from Japan. The doctors were easily recognized by the wads of money they’d collected from parents falling out of their pockets and their perfect smiles.

The visitors from Japan were celebrating “Golden Week,” an annual conjunction of holidays that allows more extended travel.  Last year Golden Week wasn’t golden for hotels and merchants because the Japanese stayed home out of respect for Fukushima disaster victims.

In the last few weeks I’ve been a tourist in Brussels and in Baltmore. In Honolulu I tried to put my eye and mind in the same traveler framework when walking around where I grew up.

That’s hard to do in a place like Waikiki which has been redeveloped and fashioned in a way that —save for its incredible beach and water — retains little history or sense of local culture that might draw the eye with any interest.

The ‘visitor from another planet’ exercise is easier in a local neighborhood like Kaimuki, a ‘locals only’ area not be design but more by default because the neighborhood isn’t anchored by any major stores or shopping mall. The marquee of the old Queen Theatre still stands above the closed theater on busy Waialae Avenue. I am fascinated by an old neon sign announcing the past glory of the Vanity Beauty Salon.

The area isn’t depressed, it isn’t gentrified. Small storefronts: a bank branch, Cosmo Prof Salon, Okata Bento (closed with a happy face and the ‘n’ missing), Asuka Restaurant (New Style “Japanese” NABE + SHABUSHABU Coming Soon!), Aloha Crepes, Kaimuki Camera, Saigon’s Vietnamese Restaurant (Grand Opening), and Toys n Joys (in the old Ben Franklin storefont). Upstairs from the BBQ CafĂ©, the Himalayan Restaurant. And more restaurants because people here eat a lot.

Not Brussels, not Baltimore, not Bellingham. Real Honolulu, real businesses, real people.

--Mike Sato

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