IMR: 1998: October: 03 -- Saturday, 11:19 p.m.
Our Apartment, Makiki, Hawai`i

Although I don't know how we did it, Jen and I managed to get out of bed this morning, packed up Katie and three baskets of laundry, and arrived at mom's in Mililani before 9 a.m.

I wrestled with the washing machine, Jen and Katie played, and mom hemmed up a couple of pairs of dress slacks that I bought last week in order to meet the minimum wardrobe requirements of my new, primary employer. I whined incessantly about how my waist size had inched past my inseam within the last year, and about how expensive pants are.

(Until very recently, I never bought my own clothes because my grandmother kept buying stuff for my brother and I. Sure, Sears fashion isn't too cool, but it's hard to argue with free.)

We toiled in a state of low-level panic, eager to get everything done and head into town early enough to enjoy the day's main adventure: taking a tour of the Hawai`i Convention Center. We were hurrying because mom had to disappear early to help chaperone the band geeks at Kalani's homecoming game against Kaimuki tonight.

We were repeatedly distracted, however, by Katie. She was finally, finally crawling forward. It wasn't quite crawling — she'd push up on all fours as high as she could and just flop forward onto her chest — but we were still thrilled. We had her flopping all over the floor, chasing toys we kept moving away from her, until she got grumpy and refused to do it anymore.

Ultimately we left for town with a load left in the dryer, shouting to a bleary-eyed Todd that we'd be back later to retreive it.

[ Convention Center ]As we drove past the center, we saw buses parked in front and dozens of people streaming in and out of its towering glass facade. Even though I wasn't able to find a single mention of the "open house" in the newspaper this morning, it certainly looked like word had gotten around.

Miraculously, despite warnings from a friend of mom's about paying an arm and a leg to park in one of the commercial lots, we found a street space less than a block away. Of course, it was on Kona Street, behind the bars and strip clubs along Kapi`olani Boulevard that will no doubt be squeezed out in the coming years as the area is "revitalized." We pumped six quarters into the meter, netting us 90 minutes to wander.

[ Lobby ]We were greeted at the door by several smiling volunteers passing out informational flyers. Stepping inside, we could immediately smell the center's $350 million price tag.

The much-touted "Hawaiian sense of place" with which it was designed seemed to be primarily represented by the towering steel "palm trees," which — along with the decorative sails on the roof — are the center's "trademark" features.

How the extraordinary quantity of glass was supposed to be Hawaiian escaped me. Perhaps simply because were closer to the elements? Anyway, even though huge glass walls aren't too wise given our susceptibility to hurricanes, it was impressive. Practical or not, I'm a sucker for 'distinctive' architecture, which is unfortunately rare in this town.

Original art by local artists and scattered indigenous plants put the finishing touches on this 1.1 million square foot masterpiece.

All of this, of course, we could have absorbed from the outside, so we quickly set off to nose around. We decided against following the stream of people we'd entered with, and instead turned down a hall and hopped into an elevator. We started our tour from the top.

[ Rooftop Garden ]We were blinded by the sun as we stepped out onto the "Rooftop Garden," an area that's arguably more infamous than the center itself because of an ongoing neighborhood board dispute as to whether beer or live bands are welcome there.

I was amazed at how large it was ("1.2 acres" boasted the flyer). It was easy to forget, walking across the curiously painted courtyard, that you were several stories off the ground. Along the Ewa edge was a thick but narrow garden, filled with plants native to Hawai`i. We walked through it, trying to name them. I found more than a few plants that I remembered having in our backyard when I was a kid.

[ Ala Wai ]Mom was especially eager to see the view of the Ala Wai Canal, which she'd apparently heard a lot about. And it was nice, affording a good view of the canal, Waikiki, and the far-off mountains. You could also see the terraced steps leading down from the center below.

"You know, the canal doesn't look so disgusting from up here," mom said.

Indeed, the developers had clearly gone through a lot of trouble to make the notorious canal look decent. The "Ala Wai Promenade" (as it was indicated on the map) featured a wide sidewalk, lots of plants, and not a shopping cart or wandering drunk to be seen.

The top floor was also home to the "grand ballroom," named for King Kalakaua and appropriately immense. There, not only were people taking pictures of the murals on the wall, but also of the carpet, which featured a Hawaiian quilt pattern. The tour sign boasted that the kitchen in back could serve up 10,000 plates an hour.

We took in the snazzy reflecting pool and the small waterfalls tucked here and there, then headed down a floor to the meeting room level.

[ Meeting Rooms ] The center's offerings in this area were more modest. There were 47 rooms in all, most the size of a large classroom, and two small theaters. The meeting rooms along the outside had huge windows, lending them an unusual level of brightness (most hotel meeting rooms I'd seen were lit worse than caves).

Down one hall, we passed three rooms named for major valleys in Honolulu: Makiki, Manoa and Palolo. Jen quipped, "I don't expect the Palolo room to be anyone's first choice." There were also glass display cases showing off more art.

Curiously, while some of the rooms had names and numbers, others just had numbers. (Mom theorized that they were being saved to take the names of future late politicians.) And all the rooms that could be divided were given 'A' and 'B' designations.

"You know, Room 316A and 303B don't sound very Hawaiian," I said. "They should at least give them Hawaiian numbers — `ekahi, `elua, `ekolu."

"Oh, right," mom said, laughing. "Can you see someone from Maine trying to ask directions?"

She had a point.

Finally we were on the ground floor again. We walked through a pair of giant doors into the center's pride and joy — a 200,000-square-foot exhibition hall, appropriately named for King Kamehameha.

Even though the ceiling was too low to accomodate the Miss Universe pageant earlier this year (a fact that led to quite a bit of griping), it's still nothing to sneeze at. I think it could easily be the single largest enclosed space in the state.

On one end there was a pair of steel doors that were large enough to allow the biggest tractor trailer to drive right in. The floor was dotted with several panels that covered a swiss-army array of utilities, from electricity to compressed air to telephone and cable service. Unlike the ballroom (or the rest of the center, for that matter), however, the hall seemed unusually dark.

"You know," I said, "if the convention business doesn't pan out, they could always turn this into a roller rink."

After mom and I took a quick spin on the hundred-foot escalators, we decided to head out. We got back to the car with 3 minutes to spare.

We did find a few things to complain about. The small signage, the limited number of elevators, the pithy amount of parking (800 stalls), and the unusually frank statue sitting out in front (can you say "butt floss," boys and girls?). But overall, I found I had less reservations about the place than I did before today.

I hope, though, that locals will eventually have as easy access to use it as big mainland organizations (maybe they do, but I've yet to see "1801 Kalakaua Avenue" in a local event ad). The Neal Blaisdell Arena is decent, but now with this thing in town, it's almost a crime that our expos and fairs are still held there.

Besides, we might need a nice ballroom one day.

As Jen joked, "Should we book now for Katie's reception?"

Tomorrow we're going to check out the Native American Powwow at Thomas Square. If anything, it'll help Jen get in touch with her "indigenous side." (Lord knows she hears more than enough about my own process of "cultural rediscovery.") Maybe someone can help her figure out, once and for all, whether she's Ottowa or Cherokee.

I figure we'll expand our palate and make lunch of whatever they'll be selling. Though to be honest, I have no idea what qualifies as "Native American cuisine."

Earlier tonight, I asked in ignorance, "You suppose they'll serve buffalo?"

"And where are they going to get buffalo?" Jen said.

"True," I replied. "Um... How about buffalo wings?"

Her answer came in the form of a flying pillow.

Speaking of cultural awareness...

Sometimes I wonder if our society is moving forward at all.

I'm a Star Trek fan... or at least was one. Since I was in intermediate school. Of course, it wasn't until I was a bit older that I came to appreciate some of the little things the cheesy, crayon-colored original series accomplished.

Like how big a deal it was when Kirk and Uhura kissed — the first interracial smooch in television history. Or how remarkable it was to have an Asian male, Sulu, in a legitimate role.

I realized the latter when, while watching reruns of "Murder She Wrote" with my mother one day, George Takei stumbled on as a janitor.

Even though "Murder She Wrote" was a product of the 80s instead of the 60s, here was this capable actor — capable of reciting Shakespeare with great flair — reduced to playing a clumsy, awkward, squinting and slouching "Chinaman," replete with the lisping, broken English accent.

"Oh, yesss meeseesss Fletchah! Verrry goot!"

I was probably only 15 at the time. But I felt so ashamed for him.

But that was ten years ago. Clearly we're more enlightened now, right?

This past weekend, I was half-watching TV at mom's. The moderately entertaining drama "Morning Edition" was on. And who else but George Takei appears on screen.

He was playing a convenience store clerk. And he still had the accent.

"You no undahstand," he hissed. "That man have no honah!"

Even his son's character — supposedly a nissei-equivalent, born and raised in America — regressed into broken English now and then.


© Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: · Created: 3 October 1998 · Last Modified: 5 October 1998