Take Me Home Tonight

I don’t try to hide my unhappiness about having lived for so long in Washington state. The sky is almost always gray, it is wet for 3/4ths of the year, and the days seem bitterly short during the winter. Sometimes it’s down right depressing. It’s a sharp contrast from the always sunny and warm Hawaii. But those aren’t the real reasons why I was unhappy there.

My family moved from Hawaii to Washington when I was 10. All of my friends, teachers, and family were very supportive, telling me how exciting it was to be moving to the mainland, so it didn’t seem too bad at first.

We arrived at Sea-Tac International Airport at night. Though it was dark, I could see endless trees. I’d never seen so many trees in my life, and this isn’t some rural forest area either, it’s a heavily populated metro. The cold air was actually exciting. It brought an entirely different feeling than the always-warm weather of Hawaii.

That winter it snowed early, and a lot. Snow, to a kid who grew up in Hawaii, is like Christmas. We built snowmen that were bigger than us, and had epic snowball fights. I guess we were spoiled, because it doesn’t usually snow that much around the Puget Sound. That was a winter to remember.

Summer was fun. It actually gets hotter there than it does in Hawaii, and there are sometimes long, sunny, dry spells that can almost make you forget all the rain that Seattle is known for. We have a little creek running through our backyard with willow, apple, and maple trees lining the sides. Our house is two stories, and we have a large patio overlooking our backyard. So during the summer, when I was little, I would take one of my action-figures – the bravest of them all – attach a plastic bag parachute to his back, and throw him off the patio as far as I could. Sometimes he’d land in the creek, and sometimes he’d land on the other side. Sometimes his parachute failed to deploy properly and I would rush downstairs to provide emergency aid. And sometimes the parachute fell off completely.

But the most amazing thing about Washington was autumn. Fall in the Pacific Northwest isn’t always pretty, since it tends to rain a lot. But during late September and early October there will be a few days where the sun will be shining through a cloudless blue sky, the weather turns cold and crisp; cold enough to clearly signal the end of summer, but not too cold to be uncomfortable, and you’ll see rows and rows of trees with leaves painted in brown, orange, yellow, and red. I’ve seen it so many times now, but every year I’m still amazed when the leaves change colors. It gives me a nostalgic feeling as if, should I let my imagination run wild, I might just fall into a different world. Like something from Beauty and the Beast. It makes me think that something incredible might just happen. Not that incredible things can’t happen on any other day, but it seems like the stage is set for something strangely wonderful to occur on days like these. I know it’s just my imagination, but that’s what imaginations are for after all: creating exciting things out of the ordinary.

Anyway, I’d say these autumn days are about as perfect as there could ever be. Hawaii has good days throughout the year, whereas Washington’s are few and far between. But honestly no day in Hawaii can really match Washington’s best.

There are some fun things to do in Washington that you can’t do in Hawaii. There are major league sports teams, which is a huge upgrade from Hawaii’s collegiate teams. There are amusement parks and fairs, bigger and better than any in Hawaii. Around Halloween you can go to pumpkin patches and pick your own pumpkins. Around Christmas you can go to tree farms deep into the rural areas to pick and cut your own perfect Christmas tree, fresher than any Christmas tree in Hawaii. During the spring if you go to the valleys you can see endless fields of tulips in any color you could ask for, looking like it came straight out of a Dutch painting. During the summer you can drive almost anywhere and pass fruit vendors selling fresh cherries and apricots. And of course, any time of year, there’s the majestic snow-domed Mt. Rainer, standing high and proud, overlooking the entire Seattle area.

So no, I don’t dislike everything about Seattle. In fact, there’s a lot to like.

When we first moved to Washington we lived in an apartment in a quaint town called Issaquah. We stayed there for nine months while my parents looked for a house to buy. I liked the school there, I made lots of friends, and I enjoyed it.

But that summer they found the house they wanted, and it happened to be in a different city, so once again I had to leave everything I knew. This time I was really mad. “You can do it to me once, but you can’t do it to me again! Not now.” That was my way of thinking. I was so stubborn, for the first few months, in protest, I actually tried not to make friends at our new home, hoping against hope that they would somehow change their mind and buy a house back in Issaquah, or better yet, go back to Hawaii.

The rest of my family had a much easier time adjusting to the Pacific Northwest. They like it so much now I’m fairly certain none of them will ever return permanently to Hawaii. I got used to Washington, but subconsciously I always thought of it as just a temporary home. We took most of our things with us when we moved. But I left my heart in Hawaii.

After I graduated high school I returned to Hawaii by myself. While I was happy to be back in the place I grew up, I was unhappy, because I had dreams that I was chasing, and I didn’t really know how to go about it. So after a year I returned to Seattle planning on staying there for a few months while I worked to get one of my dreams off the ground.

For various reasons, I was there for four years, and not because I wanted to be. Every day I was there I thought about Hawaii, and looked forward to the day I would return.

People would say, “You’re from Hawaii!? How nice that must be!”

When people think of Hawaii they think of the crystal clear blue water, the white sandy beaches, the sun and sunsets, scenic Diamond Head, things like that. But they don’t really understand what it is about Hawaii that means something to me. Sometimes the ordinary things are what I love best.

– The red dirt found everywhere, formed from hundreds of thousands of years of lava flow, the high-ridge mountains cascading down both sides of the island, and the unique blend of trees and plants and things that you can’t really find elsewhere.

– The way rain clouds gather around the Ko’olau’s, creating a sublime effect where part of the island is sunny, and part is dark.

– The empty grass fields of central Oahu. The simple, old-town feel of the North Shore.

– The way coconut trees stand high and sway in the breeze in the early evening skies, bringing a sense of peacefulness and familiarity no matter how caught up in things I might be.

– The early morning calls of birds that are sometimes annoying, but just wouldn’t be the same if they weren’t there.

– The way people take their time when they drive places. The way drivers let each other go even if they have the right-of-way, something that would confuse the heck out of people if you tried it on the mainland. The way drivers thank each other to the extent that can’t be found on the mainland.

– The way shorts and slippers are considered acceptable attire pretty much anywhere. The way girls don’t need special occasions to wear flowers in their hair.

– The way local businesses make sure they take good care of their customers. The way non-local business are forced to cater to the local population, more so than I’ve seen in any other state, because if they didn’t, they would lose significant business. Businesses signs that stand in front of their store may fade easily in the hot Hawaiian sun, but their character doesn’t.

– The way schools are built so that even when you’re in a classroom, you kinda feel as if you’re still outdoors. It’s a stark contrast from schools on the mainland.

– The way people hug instead of handshake. The way shakas are acceptable alternatives to waving.

– The way people speak a mixture of many different languages, yet pretty much everyone knows what everyone else is saying.

– The way locals pronounce words (for example: “today” = “taday,”) in a pretty, almost sing-song tone.

– The way people have parties and expect a variety of good food, instead of the usual haole style of hamburgers, chips, and watermelon. When I was growing up in Hawaii, after every baseball game our team would have a huge potluck with pretty much any kind of food you could ask for: rice, fried chicken, beef teriyaki, noodles, mac salad, manapua, andagi, ect. Guess what I got after baseball games in Washington? A fruit roll up and a Caprisun. (But enough about the food. That’s a subject for it’s own time.)

– The way some people from Hawaii will see me when I’m on the mainland, and without me having said a word to them, they instantly know where I’m from, saying, “Eh, you from Hawaii?” I ask them how they knew, and they say, “You just look like it.”

– The general attitude of the people here that is aloof, but happy, and caring.

– The overall people and culture of the islands, a mixture of so many different cultures, it’s impossible to find anywhere else. Hawaii has a unique character all to itself.

Not everyone raised in Hawaii is so happy to be here. If you ask them why they want to leave (or why they left), most will tell you, “It’s too small.”

I don’t blame them for wanting to see new places. You can not drive endlessly like you can on the mainland. But on the mainland you can come to one town and find that it’s pretty much the same as any other. It’s a suburban sprawl.

When you have endless areas to explore, like on the mainland, you can always keep going. Tired of one area? Go on to the next.

You can’t do that in Hawaii. Each island may be small, but it is crammed full of such a wide array of people and culture that I think you could spend a lifetime getting to know them, and still find something new. The towns and neighborhoods are small, but each has it’s own unique traits.

It’s easy to get bored of an area after you’ve seen whatever there is to be seen, and done whatever there is to be done. That’s what happens when you look with just your eyes. But if you take the time to get to know the people and cultures around you – not just passively, but really getting to know them – you will never be bored.

As I heard one local Hawaiian say, most people who live in Hawaii are not of Native Hawaiian descent, but we are all Hawaiian.

A lot of mainlanders who move to Hawaii have trouble adjusting. I can see why. The culture is significantly different. On the mainland people tend to keep to themselves more. In Hawaii, if you do that, people will recognize you as a mainlander, not a true Hawaiian, no matter how long you may have lived here. But they will always be ready to welcome you with open arms whenever you decide to open up.

It’s the Spirit of Aloha, the meaning of Ohana. If you don’t know what those words mean, you can look them up, or ask someone. But knowing their definition is not the same as knowing what they really mean. You can live in Hawaii all your life and never know their true meaning. It’s a sense of family, a sense of belonging. It’s caring about people who may be complete strangers, because everyone here is connected in some way since we are all Hawaiian. It’s like when you’re on a flight back to Hawaii, and as the plane begins its descent into Honolulu International Airport the stewardess says over the intercom, “And for you returning residents, welcome home.” Little things like that that make you feel forever tied to the islands, no matter how long you may have been away.

Not everything about Hawaii is so glamorous. It is crowded. The traffic is terrible. The crime rate is high. There are lots of homeless. Drugs are prevalent. (It’s quite likely that some of your happy-go-lucky neighbors are happy because they’re growing drugs.) The education system is out of date. Businesses are slowly being overrun by rich mainlanders who are buying out locally owned businesses. Everything here is expensive.

Maybe Hawaii isn’t really all that great a place to live. But it is great for me.

After four years passed in Washington, I still didn’t really achieve the things I set out to do. I accomplished a lot, but not everything. My plan was not to return to Hawaii until I had accomplished what I wanted. But things were going downhill for me over there and I figured a visit to Hawaii would do me good. It was just supposed to be a visit, just for a week or so. But the moment I got here I realized that I was here to stay.

There were some things in Washington that I know I could have handled better. Yeah, I missed Hawaii. Yeah, being stuck in Seattle for years when I thought it would only be a few months was unexpected and difficult. Yeah, maybe some things didn’t go my way. Even after having come back to Hawaii, for months I was still bitter and cynical. It’s taken some time for me to get over that. But I could have had a better attitude. It wasn’t Washington that made me unhappy, and it wasn’t even anything that happened there. It was just me.

Washington is a great state, and I’m proud to have it as a secondary home. However, I will try to avoid visiting during the winter.

I will have to travel a lot in order to achieve my dreams. To live an easy life in a quiet town might be nice, but it isn’t in the cards for me. I was meant to see the world, the good and the bad, the beauty and the suffering, and I was meant to do something about it.

I may be away for months, even years at a time. But no matter how long I may be gone, no matter what awe-inspiring places I might see, no matter what amazing people I may meet, Hawaii, first and foremost, will always be home.


I’m Rob Kajiwara. Wherever I am, I’m always at home. Thanks for reading.




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