Aloha, and welcome to the United States - not (Oahu, Hawaii, USA)

United States' flag
North America » United States » Hawaii » Oahu
April 12th 2010
Published: April 13th 2010
Edit Blog Post

(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 of America!

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).

To view my photos, have a look at And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon (and most other online book shops).


13th April 2010

Hi Ben, Viel Spass auf Maui, da ist es viel schoener als auf Oahu. Wir waren letzten November auf Hawaii (Oahu, Kaui, Maui and Big Island) und ich fand alle Inseln schoener als Oahu. Du musst unbedingt die Wanderung durch den Haleakala Krater machen, da ist es wie in einer anderen Welt! Ich hoffe Du hast noch einen Stop auf Big Island eingeplant? Schau Dir auf alle Faelle die fliessende Lava and und lass Dich nicht von den Absperrungen aufhalten, man kann da schon etwas naeher rangehen! Viele Gruesse, ich bin immer fleissig am Lesen! Claudia
13th April 2010

Welcome to the USA
Ben- sorry your first American impressions were not the best. It sounds like you have recovered. I'm sure the good will out weigh the bad but a sad weigh to start. We know you have no plans to travel to Pittsburgh, PA but if you change your mind we would love to show you around and take you out for dinner. If you get to DC we might join you and buy you dinner depending on the weekend you make it there. It is a lovely city. You might like our capitol city and its only 4 hours from us. Take care and hopefully no more idiot cops will pass your path.
13th April 2010

$130 for crossing the road its seems they're using European tourists to fund their stimulus package:D But on the bright side it is extremely beautiful
13th April 2010

Hawai'i is not exactly the good ole USA
I lived in Hawai'i for many years before finally moving back to the mainland. Believe me, Hawai'i is much more laid back, friendly and tolerant than some of the places in the mainland, unless you're a dorky Barney Haole tourist looking type, of course, which you might very well look like to many locals, especially the local constabulary. My advice? Don't look so touristy, or so Haole for that matter, 'cause you're surely to get ripped off. Aloha and Mahalo for all the money you're going to spend in the islands and help pump up the local economy.
13th April 2010

Like, welcome to the USA! Here's hoping that you find less rude police officers and fewer fatties on the mainland! I hope you're off to California next as we've been having wonderful weather lately.
13th April 2010

Welkom to erm, like, the USA!
Hi there! Let me start by warning you: the US love catching criminals and your guilty untill proven innocent (1 in 100 is in jail whereas in holland this # is 1 in 1000). That's what I learned in that 4 month period. Jaywalking, hitchhiking is not done. Being sarcastic will not make the situation any better. Their gun is an extention of sth else and they love abusing their power. Having said that, do enjoy america! it is definitely worth it and I truly like the Americans. They're so amazingly friendly, dont just focus on their overly friendly tone... ;) Its a challenge I know! I love their nature and it is all accessible, you do not overpay, and people genuinly friendly. Keep on living your dream!ciao!
13th April 2010

J-walking ticket
I lived in Hawaii for many years. Unfortunately, I got a J-walking ticket too. I told the cop I refused to pay, and still have not paid 2 years later. They will send the ticket to collections (which means that it will go on your US credit report). Don't worry about it mate.... it's a silly ticket that the police can't arrest you for not paying. Fortunately, the other islands are NOT as strict.
13th April 2010

love to go...
makes me feel like traveling to Hawaii...! though it might be too many Japanese there(as I'm Japanese)
14th April 2010

Jay Walking
I my slef have had four of those rotten tickets. all in LA in the 70ties. They even went out of thier way to nearly run me over just to prove what could happen and I was in the crosswalk but running the red don't walk sign. In NYC you can get away with it but not crossing in the middle of the street.
14th April 2010

Jay Walking
Look on the back of your ticket. Does it say anything about contesting your ticket? If so call the number or go to the muncipul court house of that city and check out how to contest your ticket. Any court in the usa is a riot. Halariously funny some times. When I get a ticket I always contest it just so I can go and see the lunatics that are driving on our streets. Most of the time the judge will break your ticket down to a lesser charge or a no point ticket. Then some times those no point tickets cost more then the orignal ticket. Out here (( N.J. )) they go by a point system. Each violation has different points. Once you get one point your insurance is notified and they can raise your insurance rate. I hope you have a safe journey. The US is the biggest crime nation in the world I think. Nation wide there is are murders every day, and loads of violent crimes daily. My husbands 1st hour in USA, NYC back in the 70ties, he had a gun to his head and being robbed and just at tha t instant a cop drove by so the robber ran with out getting any money...Then at one point he was nealy put in jail on an army post in Texas, in Seattle he was drinking a beer at a grey hound station and was nearly put in jail there, he was only 18 then. Drinking age is 21 every where. Insane country
14th April 2010

It’s the LAW
Let’s try the one that says “The United States cannot lawfully engage in military action abroad without the approval of the United Nations Security Council”. Let’s start with that one.
15th April 2010

Hopefully It Will Get Better
It doesn't sound like you had the best first impression of America, which unfortunately, can happen in any country depending on your individual experiences. I know many people have commented similarly about this, but I did want to offer up my personal "I'm sorry." Not sure where you are heading next, but if you find yourself in San Diego, feel free to email me and hopefully we can undo your first impression with some good ole American hospitality.
15th April 2010

Lighten Up!
Please lighten up a bit and don't be so immediately judgemental that you rush to stereotyping an entire country by an admittedly stupid incident. Isn't that exactly what so many non-Americans accuse them of doing? I have lived in and out of the US for many years and have now come to believe that is is hard to make generalizations about both the country and its people. It is just too big and diverse. If only 10% of Americans do something good or bad, then that means 30 million people are doing it. I lived in Germany for many years and hated having to register (anmelden) with the police when I came there as a student and every time I moved (abmelden) only to have to register again (anmelden) at my new location. If you enter any Western country looking scruffy and/or said you were just an itinerant traveller with no job and no departure ticket, you would get the same treatment indicating suspicion of your intentions -- whether you would try to work or try to stay. That is no different here in Canada or the US or in Western Europe. I've seen travellers asked for proof of funds, where they are staying and proof of a departure ticket in more countries than I can imagine. I'll leave you with one thought from an incident with a German girl who was visiting me in the States. We were in a swank neighbourhood pub and she said she was impressed by how it looked and how the people looked and were acting. But she also said she was disappointed that she had heard the city had a sizeable black population, yet she looked around here there in the pub and did not see any black people. She was from Munich, where I had also lived, and I reminded here that Munich had a sizeable Turkish population, but that every time we went to a small exclusive pub or restaurant, I looked around and never saw a sizeable, if any, Turkish person there. Just remember it is good to see the shortcomings in ourselves, our own culture, society and country, as well as looking for them in others.
17th April 2010

Another interesting and finely-balanced blog Ben. Never thought Hawaii was somewhere I'd ever want to go to but this has provided a re-think. It's ironic that so many Japanese live in Hawaii considering that it was their unprovoked and devastating attack on the US Naval Base there in December 1941 that brought both countries into war with each other. Lastly, please ignore the 'lighten-up' comment written by the conveniently "anonymous" person who deemed it necessary to be so sanctimonious. I think you'e been amazingly calm-headed about being punched with such a financial penalty for merely walking across a street in car-dominant America (which came first - the combustion engine or the human?) Also well done on bravely approving that misplaced comment for inclusion too!
20th April 2010

Welcome to the US of A
Ben, I hope you are going to Maiu and Kuai. Rent a car in Maui and drive to Hana. Nothing beats road to Hana in Maui for sheer island paradise beauty. If you get a chance pick up a copy of Maui Revealed. This book details all the trails to water falls,coves,dive site and beaches that only locals and travelers in the know get a chance to explore. Hawaii is a wonderful place but it's not representative of the US. Sorry about your experience with the cop. Happy travels! Garret
23rd April 2010

Aloha, and welcome to the United States - not
Lots of interesting comments on this one...sounds like you had quite the mixed experience in Hawaii. Before you start judging the US based on your experience in Hawaii - you have to remember that Hawaii is one of America's biggest international tourism destinations, and Waikiki is ground zero. But unlike other places in the US that's a major travel destination (LA, NY, SF, etc.), there's nothing else really going on in Hawaii's economy - which means that basically everyone who lives there has to deal with tourists all the time, so you end up being treated less as a person and more as a caricature. That includes the folks in customs, the police, and some of the locals. Just read the earlier comment from the self-described long-time Hawaii resident that recommended that you act less like a 'haole' (a derogatory term for white people) as a way to improve your experience there. As if you could do something about that! (or that you should even have to do something about that). I'm assuming he had good intentions with that comment, but that's just an example of what happens when folks deal with tourists on a daily basis for years on end... It doesn't excuse but hopefully explains your experience there. To tie it back to some of your prior experiences - remember some of the bad apples you ran into in NZ? Imagine if NZ had Hawaii's level of tourism, not just since they filmed LOTR, but for the last hundred years. So enjoy the beautiful islands, and don't let the bad experiences detract you from your trip. As for those edited comments about US politics - well, just remember it's a big country - and for every US policy you disagree with, there's probably a 100,000,000 Americans that agree with you (most recent policies have only had 60% or less popular support, which leaves a 100M+ dissenters on any topic) . My point? The US, and how it acts, is going to be very different than how most individual think about things. It doesn't mean you shouldn't talk about it or express your thoughts, but don't let it take away from your trip and your interactions with the locals. Cheers...
17th September 2010

Jaywalking Ticket Appeal
I read your blog on jaywalking with great interest as I had a similar experience. Need a little help here if you don't mind. When you sent in your appeal, did you check Option 2 - I deny committing or Option 3 - I admit committing but wish to explain mitigating circumstances? Would really appreciate your response. Thanks in advance.
17th April 2011

How dare they.
Holy shit, you got a ticket because you broke the law. Those evil Americans. Seriously, I always see condescending dicks like you lecture Americans because you claim that we think can go overseas and just do whatever the hell we want; the "Arrogant American" stereotype. Well it seems you are guilty of having that attitude. "I'm a foreigner, don't ticket me for breaking the law".
23rd April 2013

I hear ya
Just a short comment but I'm visiting the Hawaiin islands at the moment and although they paint the islands as being laid back I have never felt like such a criminal as I have here. I'm a law abiding Scottish citizen yet it seems yo not alowed to do so many things. Like crossing the street. They barely do 25mph where we are. Civil liberties are being eroded across the US which we just travelled across but none more so than here.

Tot: 0.434s; Tpl: 0.023s; cc: 37; qc: 197; dbt: 0.0503s; 1; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.9mb