July 2010, at the US Embassy in the Philippines.
Visa Officer: So, you’re moving to Hawai’i to do a PhD? How long?
Me: 5 years. Hopefully less.
I felt dread. I was moving, ALONE, to a place I’d never been to before and where I knew no one. It took all the courage in me not to tell the officer to reject my application for an F-1 Visa. But I knew that if I wanted to finish my PhD, I had to get it outside the Philippines. I had with me an acceptance letter and a funding source for at least 2 years. I had to do this.
Unbeknownst to me, Hawai’i would turn out to be one of the best experiences I’d have (and will probably ever have) in my life. I found a place among friends. I called myself kama’aina, of the land. I had a state ID, I wore slippahs and shorts to school, and I loved my beach dresses. I enjoyed mai tai and I was addicted to lava flow. I would walk 40 minutes to the beach, swim for 20 minutes, watch the sunset and walk back home. I’m not a big coffee drinker, but I thoroughly enjoy drinking Kona coffee. I crave for poke, laulau, and malasadas. I cannot remember a time I was happier than the years I’d spent on island. Now, almost 7 years since I first stepped foot on the island of O’ahu and almost 2 years since I went off island to take a postdoctoral researcher position in Denmark, I cannot help but yearn for the life I used to have. True, the island was LITERALLY in the middle of nowhere and it took 6 hours to fly to California; O’ahu was so small you could drive around it in half a day; and there were no cheap, no frills flights to other islands, but when you had almost everything that you needed, so what? I could stare at the ridges of the Ko’olau Range for the rest of my life and never get over how breathtaking it is, especially when it rains and the ridges become small waterfalls. *insert happy sigh here*
So, from someone who has spent the happiest 5 years of her life on the island of O’ahu, in the state of Hawai’i, here are the top 5 things I miss about the life I used to have. If you ever find yourself on island, remember these 5 things:
Hawai’i is not called the Rainbow State for nothing. Unless you’re cooped up in your room the entire time, it’s impossible to not see a rainbow (or a double rainbow). I saw a triple rainbow in Hawai’i a couple of times in Hawaii. I used to think that triple rainbows were such a wonderful, miraculous thing until a friend told me that every time you see a rainbow, there are actually an infinite number of rainbows there. I still think they are wonderful and miraculous, but I’ve accepted the tripleness as a fact. I no longer open my mouth wide enough for a fly to go in. But oh, rainbows make the most dreary of views rather amazing.
4. Sea, Sun and Sand
Who can deny the call of the sea? I know I cannot. 7 years ago, I thought the beaches of Hawai’i wouldn’t be so interesting to me since I came from a country with 7,107 islands. (NB: In the Philippines, you pay to access a nicely kept beach). There are white sand beaches, pitch black sand beaches, green sand beaches, red sand beaches, and beaches in areas that that used to be volcanic craters. The view can be breathtaking. When the surf is good, people surf. When the waters are calm, people take out their paddle boards. There are sunset dinner cruises, pirate ship cruise adventures, and submarine adventures. I enjoyed snorkeling and scuba diving, ogling at those large, delicious looking fishes. I loved lying on the beach under the afternoon sun, and feeling the sand between my toes. The best sunsets I’d ever seen I saw in Hawai’i. On Friday nights, I enjoyed the beach fireworks from behind the coconut trees.
I’d never met so many people from so many different backgrounds until I lived in Hawai’i. In the graduate students’ dormitory where I lived in, I cooked and shared food with, conversed with, and kept in touch with individuals from over 100 different countries. It’s funny how, after staying on an island in the middle of nowhere, I can now say that I have a friend in EVERY country in Asia, North America, South America, and in many countries outside Asia. I like how welcoming Hawai’i is of individuals with different backgrounds. I am amazed at how individuals are culturally interested and sensitive. I like that I can just be myself in Hawai’i.
Because Hawai’i is so culturally diverse, the food choices are also very diverse. I might enjoy a locomoco for breakfast, a dimsum for brunch, a bibimbap for for lunch, sushi and shave ice for midday snack, and a pho for dinner. *Yes, I eat a lot. Don’t judge!* The most preferred way of spending time with friends is over food, with a potluck, where every person brings a cuisine his or her country specializes in. My taste buds were happy in Hawai’i, and my heart was content.
2. Mountains and Hiking
There are two mountain ranges in O’ahu: the Wai’anae Range to the west and the Ko’olau Range to the east. They are equally picturesque; although if I were to be perfectly honest, I would say I find the Ko’olau Range the more breathtaking of the two. In fact, one of my favorite past times in O’ahu was driving through the Pali and enjoying the view of the Ko’olau.
I also enjoyed “conquering mountains”, which came as a surprise to me because I was never really fond of hiking when I was in the Philippines. It was too hot, I didn’t have the proper outfit, and large proportion of the population was obsessed with getting paler. But in Hawai’i, I didn’t care. I liked that I was getting exercise while being one with nature, and enjoying it. I was getting darker, but I no longer cared. I loved hiking. I especially loved rainforests hikes, which either took me up on mountain tops or to some hidden waterfall with a swimming hole.
And, of course, Aloha. Aloha is what makes Hawaii the best place to live in on the planet (my opinion). I miss the friendliness and the welcomeness. I miss the sense of belonging. I miss the community. I miss the spirit of Hawai’i: island life, friendly, courteous, respectful, compassionate, affectionate. I miss the hula and the Hawaiian chants. I miss hearing Hawaiian words being spoken and sung.
So friends, when you’re on island, please remember me. And send some aloha my way. I am thinking of you, and of Hawai’i, always.
March 19, 2017 | Copenhagen, Denmark