Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Where East meets West

The western world doesn’t get more East than this methinks as I pull the blinds open to pre-dawn dark. I want to see this city that will waken me with strange sounds and sirens. I want to watch its phases: streets illuminated in tidy rows of yellow light that fade with dawn, the freeway and its steady stream of bright beams, early morning cloudbursts watering the valleys, the afternoon sun that bakes this tropical land into a sweatbox, the golden glow of a sun, harnessed by warrior god Maui, sinking slowly into the Pacific to its last - green - beam, and nocturnal rains that bathe from the isle the soot of man’s machines. I want to watch it all, feel every nuance, every thick breath, every sight and every sound, every scent, drinking it in as if I were parched, for I am.
 Stuttering headlights wind their way down Alewa Heights, high beams interrupted by homes and vegetation. The  river’s edge is dotted in golden puddles, street lamps reflecting off the dark swath that snakes through Chinatown. A half-moon too, shimmers silver on its surface as it slithers silently south - to the sea. 
Before the Shinto temple and its giant gong facing the river, local denizens gather in twilight for tai chi. From my cat’s perch on the 29th floor, their shadowy figures move slowly, rhythmically, silently.
At the edge of Honolulu harbor, marine diesel exhaust permeates the air with an unpleasant scent that wafts through Chinatown, competing with sandalwood incense. An occasional boat wails long and low as it pulls from the dock. Cruise ships will leave later, their marine horn blasts reaching far across the island to echo off the Pali. The fish market is open and I am home. 
Back home in the islands, in the middle of the sea.

The open market will spring to life. Fresh greens and fruits displayed in crates, or cardboard boxes, or from a tarp on the ground tended by a tiny Tutu (grandmother) squatting over her goods, swatting at flies with a palm frond.
I lace my running shoes and head toward the water. The smell of char-siu (red, sweet pork) and huli-huli (roasted) chicken rises with the steam off the asphalt. Chinatown is teeming with shoppers eating steaming bowls of jook, the ubiquitous rice porridge known throughout Asia as congee. Square, gray and white, faux marble tabletops wrapped in aluminum with matching chairs, clutter small cafés. Waitresses, always uniformed in black and white, scurry and call out in sharp, chopped Cantonese. The chatter and clatter of Chinatown competes with the cacophony of tropical birds in the coco palms overhead.
After my run, I too will eat a steaming bowl of jook - out of ritual as much as desire. Its white, thick paste reminds me of my roots and informs who I am as much as any learning. In Asia, rice is life. In Chinatown, rice is tradition.

The sooty sidewalks of Chinatown are uneven with lifts and chinks; the pavement wet with rain. I am careful with my footing, traversing its streets to the sea. Deserted are the small, seedy bars crowded with empty tables, chairs, and barstools. Their doors are thrown open for cleaning and fumigation, their doorways hosed of urine. I turn left at the harbor and pass a fishing supply store. Inside, its windows are stacked ¾ high with cardboard boxes that seal a baseball-sized hole to the outside. Narrow, dim, and I fear, rat-infested alleyways house rickety staircases wending up.
Ahead, a man crosses Nimitz Hwy, my final barrier to the sea. I sprint to make the light, catching him as he steps upon the opposite curb.
“Tanks braddah!” I said as I slowed and jogged past.
He jumped aside then smiled through missing teeth. “Eh seestah, you wen scare me,” he laughed.
“Sorry brah.”
“Eh!” he called as I out distanced him, “Hauoli Makahiki Hou!”
“Hauoli Makahiki Hou to you!” I turned, yelled, and waved, before spinning and sprinting toward Aloha Tower.

1 comment:

  1. What a delightful read. Loved the pics, too. How do you get the pictures side-by-side in the blog? I have a heck of a time rearranging after I insert one.