Published: April 13th 2010April 12th 2010
(Day 738 on the road)
"The Face of the Nation - US Customs and Border Protection". Or so the posters proclaimed all over Honolulu airport. If the grossly overweight immigration officer that treated me like a terrorist and never smiled once during her long and annoying questions ("Ah, so you don't have a job then, do you?") is the face of the American nation - well, I just can't wait to see the rest of it. The nation I mean, not the woman.
But less than four hours later I would see another face of the country in the form of a disgruntled police officer when I was issued a fine of an astonishing $130 for, and I still can't believe this, crossing the street in a place where there was no traffic light or pedestrian crossing. "To make the roads safer", as the cop explained to me. Incidentally, it is perfectly legal to ride a 200 horsepower motorbike without a helmet. Weird. In the movies they can blow up an entire city block in the movies and simply walk away afterwards. Evidently I can't even cross the street without nearly getting arrested. Mahalo, and welcome to the United States
When I said these exact same words to the cop after he had handed me the ticket he actually took his sunglasses off and threatened me with arrest. He had threatened me twice before when I tried to explain to him that I honestly didn't know that you were not allowed to cross the street (lots and lots of people were doing it everywhere), and that it was different than ignoring a red light. But it was to no avail. In the very end I asked him what would happen if I didn't pay, and he said the case would be referred to Interpol. At least I got a great laugh out of the whole thing - can you imagine Interpol chasing the big time criminal Ben around Central America because he jaywalked in the United States? Good one.
I should mention that the original version of this blog entry contained another few paragraphs on my feelings of certain US politics (ongoing erosion of privacy and civil rights in the name of national security, holding of suspected criminals indefinitely without trial, environmental policy etc), but as I said before let's not turns this into a political
blog and take it easy. I wrote the first part of this entry on the evening I received the ticket - it is amazing how much a single bad experience influences my thinking and writing. Mental note: Need to become more detached!
So let me focus on the bright side of things and tell you that Oahu, Hawaii's main island and where Honolulu is on, is simply gorgeous! took an immediate liking to the place, and despite the huge number of tourists in Honolulu and especially famous Waikiki beach (eight million tourists visit Hawaii annually) there was a great feel to it. The atmosphere is vibrant, international, and trendy. The beach is clean (so much nicer than Fiji, where I was rather disappointed), the water is warm, and the people are super-friendly and relaxed. The one thing that seemed a bit odd where the sheer numbers of Asians.
Arriving at the airport I had initially thought the pilot had somehow got it wrong and flown us to Tokyo - all I could see where Japanese people. In fact, there were seven consecutive flights from Narita (Tokyo) arriving within 15 minutes of each other, and the entire arrival board
was made up of flights from Japan except for two (mine from Fiji and one from Sydney). Later I learned that a whopping 22% of Hawaii's population of 1.3 million is Japanese and the total Asian population is almost 40%, with only 30% being white and 10% being Pacific Islanders.
But it wasn't before long that I was sure I was in the US: American flags wherever I looked (in case tourists like me forgot where they were I guess), huge shopping malls, fast-food chains, smiling and friendly people all around saying "hi" on the streets, lots of super-fit and beautiful people, also lots of obese people, people driving absolutely massive cars, an army recruiting office in the shopping centre. And of course police everywhere - and if you didn't see them you could sure hear their sirens all the time. It is not an exaggeration to say that I have seen and heard more police here in a day than I have in the last six months altogether, and I find that somewhat unsettling. Are there just a lot more of them around than in other countries (prevention through visibility), or is the crime rate here significantly higher
than in, say, New Zealand or Australia, where you hardly ever see police, let alone see them racing down the street with their sirens blasting a few times every day?
During the flight over from Fiji I had crossed the international date line, a weird thing that I can claim to only semi-comprehend. I left Fiji at 2100h on April 9th, and after an eight hour flight I arrived at 0700h in Hawaii, but still on April 9th. So, in effect, I was living the same day twice. It was even weirder when we made a short stopover in Apia, Samoa: The flight had been only one hour, but we arrived a full 23h earlier as the international date line runs right in between Fiji and Samoa (this is the place people come to greet the New Year twice in a day). Imagine though if the date line ran through the middle of, say, Europe - how much daily confusion that would cause, for instance if your neighbour was always living a full day in the future so to speak (and still couldn't tell you today's lottery numbers).
As for Hawaii, I only have two weeks in the
island group and only two and a half days of that in Oahu, so I was rushing things a bit to see as much as possible. Whilst you can certainly spend a lot more time here and really explore, I feel that I have seen some of the main highlights, including Waikiki Beach, the adjacent hill of Diamond Head that offers splendid views of Honolulu, and some of the surf beaches on the north shore during a day of hitch-hiking around the island, part of it with a soldier who has just come back from a twelve-months posting in Iraq.
Pearl Harbor was closed unfortunately for renovation, so on my last day I went out to spectacular Hanauma Bay, a sheltered bay about an hour's drive east of Honolulu, famous for its good snorkeling conditions. Other than the typical Hawaiian beaches with its huge waves that are great for surfing, Hanauma Bay has only small waves and decent visibility. Whilst the number of fishes wasn't overwhelming, their size surly were; some of them were at least a metre long and the very first one I saw scarred me considerably. After that it was great however, and I spent a long time in the water.
The next and final stop for me was Kailua Beach, consistently ranked the top beach in the United States; one local woman I talked to had even called it the most beautiful place in the world. Well, whilst that was certainly an exaggeration, I do have to admit that it was amazingly beautiful. The waves were too strong to allow for snorkeling, but even from the shore I repeatedly spotted turtles in the water as they came up for air. Lying on the beautiful palm-fringed beach, reading my book and looking at the turtles and surfers - how better to spend an afternoon on Hawaii?
Next stop: Maui (Hawaii, USA). Also have a look at my pictures at http://pictures.beiske.com