So….. I have some pretty big news. My husband and I just got orders to relocate from Hawaii to San Diego, California in August. Yep, you heard that right. I’m leaving Hawaii.
San Diego is one of my favorite U.S. cities and will definitely be a great place to live. But at the same time, I become very emotional at the thought of leaving Hawaii and the “HI life”. Due to all of this, lately I have been doing a lot of reflecting about the two and a half years I have spent here.
Moving to Hawaii has been an amazing experience and will always remain as one of the best decisions I have ever made. Here I found and married the love of my life, traveled throughout Asia to places like Japan (not once, but twice), Korea, China, and Indonesia, learned the meaning of aloha, volunteered, got to island hop to places like Big Island and Moloka’i; and most of all, learned many lessons. Along the way, I fell in love with myself in the process. I even got to witness an epic surf competition. So yes, I guess you could say Hawaii has been good to me, and will always be near and dear to my heart. This has been a priceless experience that has made me who I am today and left quite an imprint on my soul.
At the same time, Hawaii faces its share of problems. Homelessness is HUGE here. The cost of housing is completely unaffordable for most local families. Overdevelopment plagues the island of Oahu. Public transportation is virtually non-existent and traffic is horrific, yet attempts to build a rail system have been a failure thus far. The environment is at risk due to pollution and rising sea levels. This is just to name a few. It’s been a true eye opener for me to realize that nothing in life is perfect, even paradise.
Looking back, sometimes I am surprised at how different the reality of HI life actually is compared to my expectations before I moved here. There were a LOT of things that were new to me or that I did not realize until I actually called this home. Since people from the mainland generally know very little about Hawaii, they tend to think life is all rainbows and sunshine here. So it may surprise you just like it surprised me to learn many of these things about how it actually is to live here…
Here are the things that surprised me about living in Hawaii:
The history. The US does not do a very good job at all in teaching people on the mainland about Hawaiian history. The little I did know was very biased and did not prepare me for the chilling truth I came to learn once I moved here.
Hawaii was its own country, the Kingdom of Hawaii, until it was illegally occupied by the US in 1893 and annexed five years later. It later became a state in 1959, but all of this was against the will of most Native peoples, who have faced an enormous amount of oppression and exploitation, very similar to the plight of Native American tribes on the US mainland. Many agree that the 90% drop in their population from murder and foreign diseases brought to the islands by Westerners is enough to constitute a genocide. The eradication of the Native Hawaiian gene pool was furthered by much interbreeding of the population with a huge influx of immigrants from Japan, China, the Philippines, Korea, Puerto Rico, and Portugal (which make up a majority of the population today). People were encouraged to procreate with other races or ethnicities, and it was frowned upon to produce pureblood Hawaiian offspring. The result is that today, pure Native Hawaiians make up only 6% of the population and are generally very rare to encounter. If you count the people who are mixed with Native Hawaiian ancestry, you can bump the number to a whopping 20% of the state population.
Those that survived lost much of their heritage since they were forbidden to speak their language, practice their religion, or even maintain cultural staples that we love and cherish today, such as hula dancing. While these things were later seen as a lucrative opportunity to bring in tourism and cash in on Hawaiian culture, at the time Native Hawaiians had to fight to preserve these cultural treasures and pass them onto future generations.
A lot of people believe Hawaiians, much like other oppressed peopled, are stuck on the past and need to let it go and move on. I could not possibly disagree more, because this dark history has many continued effects, including an undeniable tension that lingers to this day.
It has been pretty devastating for me to learn these things from museums, books, and my Native Hawaiian friends providing personal accounts from their families. At the same time, I am truly in awe of the resiliency of the Hawaiian people to persevere despite all of the struggles they’ve faced. The Hawaiian population is now said to be on the rise and kanaka maoli (Native Hawaiians) are very much celebrated these days, which is a joy to witness.
People look like me. For the 27 years I lived in Maryland, I cannot tell you how many times people asked me where I am from or if I am Hawaiian. It was usually multiple times a day. Although the DC area is very diverse, it has nothing on Hawaii. Here, everyone is mixed and exotic looking. In fact, white people are the minority. It’s a very different demographic. Since my background is mostly Asian and Hispanic ancestry, plus I am covered in tattoos, I definitely fit in here and look like a local. In fact, I have had local people argue with me when I tell them I am not from here. I take this as a huge compliment. Plus, blending in certainly has its perks. When I first moved here, I was tickled to finally see girls who look like me and could pass for my sister. I was totally not used to that at all.
Most locals don’t care for outsiders. Yes, there is plenty of aloha and the economy is driven off of tourism, so visitors are very much accepted and welcomed. But as mentioned above, Native Hawaiian people have had so much taken from them that they try to hold on the little they have left. Many of them have strong feelings about separating from being a US state, stopping the constant development that destroys their sacred land, and reducing the military presence on the island of Oahu, which significantly shoots up the cost of living. Generally they are peaceful in their views but as I mentioned, the tension can be uncomfortable. I have heard many stories of misdirected anger resulting in hostility and violent incidents, even in recent times.
Personally, I have found it pretty hard to make friends with locals and fit in with the culture. They generally seem to stick to their own and while I may blend in physically, I am still an outsider regardless. I totally understand why though. I hate to say it but the truth is, this is because of the way tourists and those who move here tend to act. I have observed how they have such a sense of entitlement and no respect for the land, history or culture. Therefore, local people have grown weary of this over time, and I cannot say that I blame them. A very enlightening moment for me was when I was talking to two local police officers at my job. One said, “Wow, we thought you were one of us. You don’t act like them.” I knew exactly what they meant, and it all began to make sense to me at that moment.
Some people don’t like it here. As amazing as this experience has been for me, I have spoken to many people who have very different perspectives. Many people claim they get “island fever” and cannot stay here too long. Others, especially military service members, do not like being here because they are so far from home or because they feel unwelcomed by the local people. Meanwhile, many locals elect to flee Hawaii for life on the mainland due to better cost of living and job opportunities. While it may be paradise for most, it’s not for everyone.
Having visitors can take its toll on you. When I first moved here, I was SO excited to have friends and family come visit and stay with me. However, I now feel a bit differently about it. Each time I have a visitor, I spend a lot of money, use a lot of my leave at work, and stress out about making sure their vacation is perfect and that they’ve seen all the amazing things this island has to offer. During visits, I abandon my routine in order to be a good host and give them my undivided attention. Afterwards, I’m utterly exhausted from all the activities we’ve crammed in and I usually need some time to recover and rest. I understand that this is self-inflicted but I can’t help but feel obligated to make sure my people maximize their time here and enjoy as much as possible.
While I enjoy playing tour guide and spending time with those I love, I began to realize how depleting this has been for me over time. I have spent more than 4 weeks’ worth of my vacation time on visitors, which has left me severely limited when I want to take my own vacations or need time off. I have spent thousands of dollars too, but that is another story. While it’s definitely worth it to make others’ dreams of visiting Hawaii come true, it adds up for the host. I just never realized how living in a tourist destination and having visitors would actually have such disadvantages.
I think what most don’t realize is that people who live in paradise are not on a permanent vacation. We have demanding jobs and many responsibilities just like anyone else, like doing laundry, taking care of our pets, appointments to run to, etc. We also need to take breaks and change the scenery by traveling elsewhere sometimes too. I am thrilled when I can accommodate visitors, but there are limits and sometimes you have to put your own needs and priorities first. I had to remind myself that I did not move here for others, I moved here to live my life. It may sound selfish, but it’s a simple self-love and self-care concept that living in Hawaii has forced me to learn and embrace over time.
People can’t drive here. I know that everyone tends to think the area they’re from has the worst drivers, but I am here to assure you that Hawaii takes the cake. There is a saying here that you’ll see or hear often, and that is “Drive with Aloha”. It means to take it slow and drive with compassion for others. It is indeed a very lovely concept. However, it is simply taken too far. They drive SLOW here. I’m talking 30-40 MPH on the highway at times. They will stop in the middle of the road and cause an accident just to let someone over. Which brings me to my next point… For a place with very seldom inclement weather, there is an unbelievable amount of accidents here. Last year, my car was totaled by someone who ran a red light and it’s a miracle I was not seriously injured or killed. Then there was one time where two of my coworkers got hit by the same car (it hit one and bounced into the other). Aside from being dangerous, this lack of driving skills also causes excessive traffic for no reason. The design of merge lanes on highways and plethora of bottlenecks do not help this situation. Plus, for some unknown reason, the slowest drivers insist on driving in the far left lane. Overall, Oahu and its roads are simply not able to accommodate 1 million people who all seem to suck at driving.
How busy I would be. I thought I would move here to slow down and live the island life. My life in Maryland was always jam-packed with plans and social engagements, and I figured there would not be much going on in Hawaii so it would be a nice change to do nothing and live like a beach bum. Boy, was I wrong. When I first moved here, I didn’t know anyone or have a clue what was going on so I all I did was hang on beaches by myself and relax. But that only lasted a couple months. Since then, I have become a social butterfly and a busy bee with endless plans just like before. Oahu is a happening place with festivals, concerts, and events nonstop. Sometimes, there is so much going on in one particular weekend that I have to choose between several things I really want to do. It’s much less busy on the other islands, but I have come to realize that Oahu is very much like any other big city with plenty to do all the time.
Island time is REAL. Everything really does take forever here. No one is a hurry at all. Construction projects that may normally take a few months on the mainland take years here. Therefore, it takes forever to modernize anything. At least Oahu is somewhat faster because other island have even slower paces. It’s nice in some ways that things are more relaxed, but when you’re from the mainland, sometimes things just need to get done and it’s hard to understand the lack of urgency people have here.
Volcanic fog aka “vog”. I never even knew this existed. I always thought Hawaii would have great air quality. However, due to volcanic activity that the wind blows over here from the Big Island, there is often a lot of haziness in the air that can make it hard to breathe, causes allergy symptoms, and can even reduce visibility. Some days there is none at all and other days have been unbearable.
The isolation. You kind of feel like you’re in your own little world over here. When a big news event occurs, you hear about it so much later. That is because of the 5-6 hour time difference from the east coast (depending on the time of year), which makes communication very difficult. By the time I wake up, people on the east coast are already almost finished their work days. By the time I get off work and actually have time to talk to my folks, they’re already asleep. When I moved here, I swore up and down that I would keep in contact with my friends in family. I remember saying, “Don’t worry! We will Facetime!” I had no idea how hard that would be. There is a very limited window to talk on weekdays and on weekends, everyone is busy. This has led to a lot of my closest relationships becoming distant. It’s nice to have Facebook to keep up with everyone and stay in touch, but besides that, the only person I speak to regularly is my mother. Even my best friends and I rarely get to talk and have begun to drift apart. I thought I could somehow remain close with everyone, but in reality, I moved and everyone else moved on. It really hurt to realize and accept that when I first moved here. It felt like everyone forgot about me and to be honest, I got kind of depressed. But as I learned, that is just a part of moving away and it’s even worse when you move this far away.
When it comes to travel, it’s not like I can just hop on a plane and be anywhere fast. It takes a full day of travel to go most places including travel time, layovers, and the time difference, not to mention a flight that will cost at least $800. It’s easy to forget that I live on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean or that this is the most isolated island chain on the planet. But sometimes it hits you hard how far away you are and how disconnected you are from the rest of the country.
“Sun guilt” is a real thing. When it’s nasty outside, everyone wants to be inside and warm. Well in Hawaii, “nasty weather” is a foreign concept. Almost every single day is perfect. So you actually feel this heavy sense of guilt if you’re not outside enjoying the weather and the ocean. My mindset is still programmed to believe that good weather is limited, like it is on the east coast when you get a few mild weeks a year in the spring and fall. The rest of the time is either too cold or too hot. So on those nice days, everyone is outside doing something. That is balanced out with plenty of time to rest and hibernate in the AC or the heat during other months. In Hawaii, you always want to be outside and active. It’s unheard of to spend the weekend cooped up inside when there’s endless hikes and water activities and festivals and barbecues. Even when sometimes I really need a chill weekend to do nothing, I will always force myself to go out and do something because I know my time here is limited.
The excitement of living here wears off. When I first moved here, I was just so happy to be here. I would gladly pay for overpriced meals, groceries, and rent. I would sit in my car smiling uncontrollably while sitting in traffic. I would ask myself, “How could anyone not love it here? How could anyone get tired of this?” But after two and a half years, I can report that this initial excitement or “honeymoon phase” eventually wears off. The traffic, crowds and cost of living can really drain you. I just don’t see how anyone can get ahead financially here unless they’re well off. It’s impossible to save money when the cost of housing and food is so high.
On top of this, there are things I truly miss on the mainland. Chick-fil-a, taking road trips, fruit and vegetables lasting longer than a couple days, and seeing my best friend more than once a year, to name a few. Do not get me wrong, I love living here and I wish I could stay here long-term, because I definitely would. But the truth is that while living in Hawaii, I cannot accomplish my financial goals or travel as much as I want to, and these are major aspects of where I am in life right now.
While I am listing mostly negative aspects, please don’t get me wrong. I can still say with total honesty that the pros outweigh the cons. Hawaii is one of the greatest places to live in the world and one of the coolest experiences you can possibly have. There is nowhere else where you’ll see barefoot surfers stopping traffic to lug their surfboard across the street, while reggae music blasts, people line up for shave ice, and everyone throws up a shaka to spread love. There is nothing like the people and culture here, or being able to enjoy some of the finest beaches on earth whenever you want. This has been a true joy and pleasure to call home.
I will miss it for the rest of my life. In fact, I am sure that when I depart in a few weeks, I will probably cry a whole lot. I am leaving behind friends that turned into family, a fantastic job with the DoD, gorgeous mountains and beaches that have soothed my soul, and the dream life I have created and manifested for myself.
But as much as I love Hawaii and appreciate how great it’s been for me, I am finally finding peace knowing that it’s time to leave. There is so much to look forward to. San Diego is a beautiful and fabulous city with perfect weather. I have an awesome new job awaiting me. My husband, my Chihuahua and I are looking forward to moving into a lovely new home that accommodates us a lot more than the tiny shoebox we currently inhabit. We can’t wait to go on road trips all over the west coast and see family more often. Plus, I will still be close enough to visit my Hawaii whenever the urge strikes.
The only thing I am not looking forward to is having to wear real clothes and shoes again, instead of maxi dresses and flip flops every day (even to work). But overall, I am excited for what’s to come and to begin this new chapter in life. It is TRULY bittersweet.
So from the bottom of my heart, thank you Hawaii. Thank you for teaching me so much, especially about myself. Thank you for introducing me to the love of my life and to so many lifelong friends. Thank you for allowing me to enjoy your breathtaking beaches and hikes, island hop, and see some of the most jaw dropping views in the world. Thank you for connecting me to the aina (land) in a way I never knew was possible, and giving me a whole new appreciation for and relationship with Mother Nature. Thank you for sharing your powerful mana (energy) that has been so healing. Thank you for preserving your culture so that it can be treasured by the world as it should be. Thank you for welcoming me and so many others and showing us aloha despite all that has been done to your people. I promise to always spread the aloha spirit and live pono (righteous) wherever life takes me. Living here and experiencing this island has been an honor and a blessing I will never forget. A hui hou (until we meet again).