Tuesday, December 2, 2014

About “Hawaii Nei”

Like “The Yellow Skirt,” “Hawaii Nei” could use a little explaining in order for it to make sense to the general reader. If you’re from Hawaii, I’d be interested to hear your impression of the story without my gloss.
First, I think the subject matter needs addressing. Hawaii has a big problem with homelessness. Part of the problem is the cost of living. There are actually public beaches on all corners of the island where you’ll find people have set up tents with TVs and little stoves, and they park their cars next to their tents and just live there. On the leeward side of the island, there used to be what seemed to me like a homeless army, with hundreds of tents and people. Then there are the homeless that crowd Waikiki and bother tourists, the state’s main revenue generator. Non-homeless people of course don’t like this and bother the legislature to pass a law to stop the homeless from living in whatever particular spot they live in, then the police come, scatter the homeless, but then they have to go somewhere so they find a loophole in the law and set up a tent in a new spot. For a while, they occupied a spot on Beretania Street as it enters Kalihi. Then they had a line of tents at Thomas Square. I don’t know where they are now, because it changes so much. But, on top of the local homeless problem, there have been reports that other states actually give their homeless a one-way plane ticket to Hawaii. You can imagine the results—overfilled and poorly cared-for shelters, elevated tax burdens on regular people that just live and work there, and a lot of the time there are fights between the homeless where one of them kills the other. This issue is something that, when representing Hawaii in writing, should be tackled somehow, so I tried to do it in this story.
This leads me to the title of the story, which by now you may have guessed is ironic. The phrase “Hawaii Nei” is kind of like the phrase “America the Beautiful.” It’s meant to invoke a feeling of pride in your country, and I am of the opinion that Hawaii is its own country. There is a notable dichotomy between what you’ll see if you drive out to Yokohama Bay or look over the cliffs at Portlock, and the scary stuff I’ve shown in the story about homeless and drug culture (I will write another story about drug culture in the future, although there are stories, such as Alexei Melnick’s Tweakerville which have dealt with the this already). It was my intent to make people who have seen how impossibly beautiful Hawaii is, particularly those people who live there, to think about what happens when you place these two realities side-by-side. I’m sure this is something that Hawaii State natives think about regularly, but I then added a third element to the story.
One of my thoughts when I pass all the homeless every single day is that, I wonder what they’re like on the inside? I finished reading Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha not long before I started writing this story and there was one image from the book that kind of haunts me, and that’s the final scene where essentially the entire universe orbits Siddharta’s mind, and it’s almost as if he’s in this weird whirlwind of humanity. With this image stuck in my head and my constant confrontations with the homeless, I asked myself if one of the homeless here could be Buddha, and if so, what would that person’s story be like? This provided me with the plot of “Hawaii Nei,” which is Kanoa’s quest for meaning in his existence on the island. But of course, there is a more positive underlying theme. I don’t want to say too much about the story because I think it’s better for readers to bring their own personal experiences to this conversation that I’m starting by telling the story, but I do want to finish by reiterating that, to me, Hawaii is paradise, and it is my home. Hawaii Nei.

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