Back from Happy Hawaii


Synchronized phoning, coming soon to a summer Olympics near you…

Trivia note: Swedish supergroup Abba’s “Why did it have to be me” was originally titled (and lyricized) as “Happy Hawaii”. But those of you who also secretly bought the 4-CD ABBA box set without admitting it to your friends, already knew that! :)

We recently returned from Hawaii where we met up with most of Aya’s family. And wow, if their plan was to leave Japan behind, was that ever a bad choice. There was so much Japanese signage in the tourist-area stores, that I felt like a Chinese tourist in Richmond! At one of the local mall’s food courts, one of the store’s signs was in Japanese only; their menus were Japanese with English subtitles!

While Japanese tourism to Hawaii has probably passed its peak, I imagine the Korean wave has years to go before it crests. The hotel’s cable TV included both a Japanese and a Korean channel, and some menus and information cards featured both languages.

It’s nice that Koreans are finally getting their day in the sun. For centuries, they had the luckless misfortune of being caught between two regional powers (China and Japan) who fought over who had the right to occupy the land and slaughter locals.

In this sense, they’re the Armenians of the far east, whom the Romans and Persians fought over for, like, relatively forever. And while Koreans may bemoan that Psy is their culture’s most famous countryman, the Armenians have it worse: they’re stuck with Kim Kardashian.

Much of this relates to the cultural “soft power” countries enjoy when they’re surging economically; when you’re successful, people want to learn more about you. When you’re stagnant, you’re less interesting.

I do wonder if Korean influence in Asia and the world will prove more pervasive than Japanese influence – after all, their ancestors never invaded China, Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and others, herding young women into service as military prostitutes.

Given Japan’s damning nonchalance about its recent history, and pan-Asian worries about looming Chinese aggression, Koreans could benefit as the culture everyone accepts as one of the harmless “good guys”. Kind of the same way that Canadians have enjoyed a good international reputation until recently, in part because we’ve never been strong enough to interfere in other countries’ affairs.

Getting there: less than half the fun

This trip was the first time we’d flown anywhere after driving down to Bellingham airport. (My part in this arrangement consisted of a contentedly obedient “yes, dear”. :) )

And the gods of the Great Formerly-White North made their displeasure known.

So: it trip was also the first time the TSA opened my luggage. Apparently, the several jars of maple syrup and strawberry-rhubarb jam Aya’s mom asked us to bring, looked suspicious. Happily, I packed extra-innocuous reading material – The Foundations of Buddhism – as a precaution. No way would I ever bring Islam: a short history across the border!

Happily, the agents I dealt with were genteel professionals. (That’s “genteel”, as in high-status, not “gentle”, which would imply a much different kind of inspection…)

On Public Displays of Affection

On the topic of high-status, military service personnel were among the groups with advance boarding privileges. (Though, given that they had to board at the same time as families with young children, it may be less of a perk than it seems!)

By and large, public displays of affection for the military leave me uncomfortable – they’re social customs too ripe for abuse. (But hey, that may just be my Japanese and German heritage speaking!)

I can understand the reasoning that soldiers should be recognized because they risk their lives for their fellow citizens. But then, so do police officers and firefighters. And doctors save lives using equipment manufactured by technicians and designed by engineers, based on discoveries by scientists, most of them being educated by public-school teachers.

(Many specialized medical devices continue to be manufactured in first-world countries. The benefits of having one’s researchers and engineers on-site or nearby, outweigh the higher labour costs; and product volumes tend to be low, by mass manufacturing standards.)

And that begs the question of where to draw the line. Sure, everyone in the world is connected by five to six degrees of separation – but in all likelihood, every job can be quickly connected to a lifesaving one, as well.

While the Honolulu Zoo had special discount pricing for the military, their perks were milder than the ones at San Diego’s Sea World. There, they asked U.S. military personnel to stand up for a round of applause, before the killer whale show started. It was as unnerving as the infamous “Daimler” chant must’ve been to high-ranking German executives years ago, when they visited Ballard!

For those who weren’t there: Ballard’s gregarious American co-CEO had decided that it would be a neat idea to greet our automotive partners by having all employees stand in the lobby in their company sweatshirts – which were black – clapping and chanting our automotive partner’s name, in unison, at the top of our lungs. It was a scene worthy of The Office.

Some genes are inherited through the mother

Now, for reasons unclear and unknown, Aya is quick to point a finger at me whenever she sees Leo picks his nose. I figure it’s a “woman thing”. ;)

One day, while we chilled in our hotel room – betcha never thought you’d see me use that word eh? — I saw Leo’s maternal cousin pick his own nose. Hit by a bolt of scientific insight, I turned proudly to my beloved wife and explained that:

a) since Leo and his cousin both pick their noses; and

b) they are related through their mothers, who are sisters; therefore

c) the nose-picking gene in inherited through the mother; and thus

d) I’m blameless if he picks his nose on occasion.

Faced with this irresistible logic, she … well, she somehow resisted it. Again, must be a woman thing!!  :)

And some concluding miscellany

Long-time readers might remember that I’d keep a “Prius count” whenever travelling in Japan. Well, Leo and I counted twenty-seven articulated buses roaming the Honolulu streets. (I like to think Aya “married up” in nerdiness. ;) )

Oh, and the beaches were nice, too!

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