Tuesday, June 27, 2006


For most of the last two weeks, I was on vacation in Hawaii. Speciifically, Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Oahu.
As far as I can tell, Hawaii is the closest thing to paradise on this Earth. What an absolutely gorgeous place. I love trees, and palm trees are one of my favorites. This particular tree was one I found at Weimea beach on the north shore. We spent most of a day there on our tour. The afternoon sun is hot, and I found a small moving spot in the shade of this tree. This flower is just one of thousands that line the walkways and sidewalks everywhere. Flowers and flowering trees are literally everywhere. There are of course many thousands of palm trees in Hawaii, and unbelievable Monkey-Pod trees with their perfect canopies that look like they've been trimmed. And just about any tree that wasn't a coconut palm or a Monkey-Pod or a Banyan tree, was some kind of flowering tree with beautiful blossoms. There was one type of tree that showed startling orange-colored blossoms. It is the African Tulip tree. The tour guide pointed them out as we drove past. She said the flowers are beautiful but they are filled with water and the water stinks like a skunk. As children, they used to chase each other and squirt each other with the stinky water. I could just picture that.
Just take a look at this awesome Banyan tree. This is on the front lawn of the Honolulu Zoo which is also right at Waikiki and within a 15 minute walk of our hotel. Unfortunately, it was closed on the day we went there.
I actually climbed to the very top of the mountain(actually, it's a volcano) you see here. This is diamondhead, and at the very top is a tiny little observation station. I climbed to that point (which was a bit of exercise, I can tell you!) and then took pictures all around including back down toward the city. You are looking at Honolulu, and right in the middle is Waikiki Beach including the place from which I took the above picture. So both pictures include the place each other was taken from.
Honolulu is, of course a large city - 10th largest in the US, and it has it's expected share of slums and dirt, etc.but even the older buildings with peeling paint and cracks in the walls just look charming in a setting as beautiful as Hawaii.
The mountains and beaches and the shining crystal seas. The warm temperatures, but cooling breezes - all conspired to make me fall in love with the place. We stayed at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani Hotel, right at Waikiki Beach, and yet it wasn't as expensive as I would have thought. About $155 per night. That's less than a hotel room in San Francisco. This is a picture of it. It's a bit dated, and the rooms are not the most lavish I've seen. It's probably only a small notch above a Holiday Inn - but the location cannot be beat. It is in the prime spot right on Waikiki Beach road, right at the edge of all the shopping and the open beach. It was perfect for walking around and seeing everything. ABC stores are everywhere and cheap. They have most of the essentials you might need. Like a 7-11 store but also sells hats and t-shirts and towels, etc. More than a convenience store. Meals in the area were not outrageously expensive - Perry's has a buffet all day long for only $6.95 per person. And the International Marketplace is right beside the hotel and has all the tourist junk you could ever want, from 8 t-shirts for $20, to strings of pearls for $15.
And the beach is amazing. White sand between green grass with beautiful palm trees and a cool blue ocean with surfers riding in the waves.
It's almost a child's picture of paradise. This sunset below was taken looking west from Waikiki beach just as the sun was going down on the other side of the distant mountains that divide the windward side of the island of Oahu from the leeward side. Honolulu is on the leeward side - the south side - which is drier. The tradewinds come from the northeast and drop most of their rain on the northern, windward side of the island, so it is always cloudier there, but also the vegetation is much more lush.
We had a lot of activites while there from climbing diamondhead volcano, to visiting and performing at Pearl Harbor, visiting the sunken USS Arizona, visiting the USS Bowfin Submarine, snorkelling, a large luau, and going to see a real Hawaiian Chief and his men in full traditional Hawaiian dress, giving lessons on how to open coconuts, showing us how to get coconut meat out of the coconut, how to start fire with two sticks of wood, and also cracking jokes all along. In fact, I'd say his little show there is primarily a comedy act. When he started fire by rubbing one stick against another log, I asked asked him what kind of wood he was using. He looked at me and in a straight face said, "firewood". He had terrific - perfect - comedic timing. Then there was swimming in the ocean at Weimea beach - the international surfing capitol, and catamaran rides, etc. And of course, shopping. Lots of activities to keep us busy for 8 days.
The Hawaiian people I saw and met were always so friendly and happy, it seems. They do not resent visitors at all, but rather, they understand that tourism is their largest industry (a Marriott timeshare salesman in Orlando once told me that Orlando is the second biggest tourist destination in the world after Hawaii), so this is what fuels their economy more than any other industry.
I understand that jobs are harder to come by in Hawaii moreso than elsewhere in the US. They say that you are welcome to come live there, but please bring your own job with you. In amongst the flashy new buildings going up, much of the city I saw was a little old and a bit run-down looking - like many tropical places I've seen. It may be a slower work pace, but I think it may also be weather. I can picture a lot of water damage when they have tropical storms come through.

Another observation about Hawaiian people: I didn't see any wearing glasses other than sunglasses. It seems to me that a much larger percentage of caucasians wear glasses or contacts. When I looked at the Hawaiians, however, I never actually saw even one person wearing eyeglasses for vision. I'm sure some must - but the percentage must be very small compared to us, because I never saw any - and I was looking for them. Our guide, cousin K-How, did have a pair hanging around her neck one day, but she never wore them. They must have been for reading. So I wonder, is it something to do with diet? or a relaxed lifestyle? or less studying of books in school? Or is it simply that in the genetic code of the Hawaiian/Polynesian race of people, they just naturally have superior vision?

Overall, the people seem happy and comfortable, and extremely friendly. If New Yorkers are tense and rigid and driven, and the mid-westerners are calmer and more relaxed, and Californians are much more relaxed, then, continuing west to Hawaii, the people there are absolutely relaxed. No worries at all. The favorite sayings are "Aloha" (Meaning, "Hello" "Goodbye" and "I love you", and a general warm friendly accepting spirit), and "Hang loose" meaning to take it easy and enjoy yourself.

I was warmed by the constant references to 'family' among the Hawaiian people. Our tour guides were "Cousin Jonelle" and "Cousin K-How", and everyone they referred to was cousin-this or cousin-that. Also, Jonelle called us her "Ohana" which means family. She gave us a sense that she was taking care of us, and helping, guiding us, and speaking for us on our behalf to her other cousins. Here is a picture of Jonelle explaining about the beach sand and where it came from. As she explained, the sandy beach of Waikiki is not native to Hawaii. Originally that was all swampland. This sand was all imported from Australia. This picture was taken when we visited a small island that used to be used for filming "Fantasy Island" TV series years ago Starring Ricardo Montalban.

I asked Jonelle about Koa wood, because I have two guitars made of Hawaiian Koa and I'd like some more Koa so I could try my hand at making another one. Her eyes went very large and she said, "You actually have GUITARS made of solid Koa wood????". She was astounded. She rushed to mention it to K-How, and then to the person running the beach facility. I called up my blog articles with pictures of my Koa guitar and bass and show them to her on my blackberry. They were all in awe - more than impressed. They talk about Koa wood with reverence. It is very rare now on the islands, and the few pieces that are made from it are VERY expensive - usually displayed behind glass. (as you can see with this small jewelry box). I told her that I have named all my guitars, and that I named my Koa bass and guitar, "Thunder" and "Lightning" respectively. Her mouth fell open and she explained that this was a very spiritual thing. In the earliest times of her people, the thunder and lightning were the music of the Gods. For me to have guitars made of solid Koa wood, and to have named them Thunder and Lightning was too much of a coincidence, and she and I both got goosebumps. She gave me the Hawaiian names for Thunder and Lightning as Kau ila. for Thunder and Hekili for Lightning. Below is a picture of my guitar and bass. The color is actually the same on both, but this picture was put together from two other pictures and the lighting was different, so it makes the color look different here.

While there, I became interested in Hawaiian Music, so I wanted to buy a ukelele. I bought one of the cheap little tourist ones for $12, but then I realized that these are not much more than just a cheap wall decoration. They don't stay in tune and are not really playable. I wanted a REAL ukelele. A professional ukelele. So I asked cousin K-How, and she told me that if I went on Sunday to Aloha stadium, there was a huge flea market there, and that a special luthier that makes high-end ukeleles has a shop there and if I found him, I might buy one from him.
So I made a plan on Sunday to seek that man out. I found a shuttle bus that would take me out to the stadium (the 'rust bowl' as it's called by the locals) I got out there and found a HUGE flea market that covered the entire stadium parking lot all the way round the stadium in a giant circle. I walked around it and eventually found the place. I went inside and looked. He did have some beautiful ukes in there. Some sopranos, some concerts, some tenors. And in a variety of different woods. He even had a small soprano uke made of Koa - but it was $1500! Pricey indeed! Especially for a flea market! I picked out a beautiful one made entirely of African Zebrawood. It's a high-contrast, strong-grained hardwood with a nice resonant tone. Even a plunky little ukelele sounds nice and has some resonance with this tonewood. Later, in the airport on my way home, I took it out of it's case to make sure it was surviving the trip while strapped to my back. A young Hawaiian man sitting in the next isle saw it and came over to ask if he could look at it closer and play it. I handed it to him and he seemed to really appreciate it. (an understatement) He asked where I got it and how much I paid for it. I told him about the luthier and his little shop and told him the price. The luthier was asking $180, but I had negotiated the price down to $140 including the case. He was almost speechless. He seemed to think I got an excellent deal. (again - an understatement). I think he wanted to cancel his flight, leave the airport and go straight to that flea market and get one just like it, and then rebook his flight for another day.
It is shown here in the picture along with the cheap uke, and also a hand drum I bought there as well. I like the sound and feel of this drum.

So, coming home, I have photos, and memories, but I also have some musical instruments so that I may now add those island flavors into my music. When I begin recording again in August, I fully intend to write some new music with these elements in it.


At 6/28/2006 3:13 AM, Anonymous RONW said...

"coconut" trees....never....palm trees (local lessons 101). Koa wood is not as extremely rare as everybody makes it out to be. Not that it's common either like douglas fir. It's more that the show grain (curly koa) is only found on few parts of the tree, and matching the limited premium stock can make larger items like, for instance, furniture look piecemeal.

At 6/28/2006 10:25 PM, Blogger beachcomber said...

Aloha, Val!
Actually, I'm glad you got started! Thought your blog was both beautiful as well as interesting! Came across it searching for what folks have to say about Hawaii beaches for directions to consider on my own website. I'm the Hawaii rep for a publisher in Dallas so it was even more interesting coming across your blog!

Warmest aloha,

At 6/29/2006 2:49 PM, Blogger Val Serrie said...

Ron: Thanks for the correction. I guess there are several types of Palm tree, so coconut tree is the term. Got it.

Well thank you, sir. You are a rep for a publisher? If you look further down in my blog you will see that I wrote a book and just had it published as of May 30th.
It's called The Handbook of Everyday Wisdom, and it's on Amazon.com, Barnes & Nobles.com, Borders.com, WalMart.com, etc. But I don't know if it's selling. I haven't done any book-signings yet. Maybe I should have tried a different publisher? Which publisher do you work for here in Dallas?


At 6/29/2006 8:58 PM, Blogger beachcomber said...

I rep for Taylor Publishing Co. on Mockingbird Lane. We're a yearbook publisher but also do a good number of fine books which sounds like what you've done!

I'll try to look for your book the next time in B&N or Borders. Do want to congratulate you on having published! My hat's off to anyone who goes hardcopy!!

Much aloha,

At 7/09/2006 5:02 PM, Anonymous RobertG said...

To see what is possible on the humble, four-string ukulele, check out this video of a young virtuoso:


At 7/11/2006 2:31 AM, Blogger Val Serrie said...

Wow Robert!
That is some really incredibly inspiring ukelele playing! That makes me want to do a uke tune right away! And it also makes me want to do a cover version of 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' as well.
Both of which will wait until I have finished my current project which is getting the band ready for a live performance next month.
Thanks so much, RobertG!

At 8/01/2006 11:27 PM, Anonymous Paige T. said...

Hi Val!It's Paige from EJ's forum.
I just had to let you know that my husband and I were in Oahu about 10 yrs.ago.We stayed at the Mirimar,also close to the beach and the Marketplace.I have a lot of snapshots that resemble yours,including the tree outside the zoo.I love your collection of instruments-very gorgeous!We bought a small box made out of koa wood.We enjoyed many of the same things you did.The tour,luau,Arizona,etc.The pork at the luau was the best I have ever eaten in my life!We felt genuine sadness to leave the island when it was time to return stateside.Someday I hope to visit again.Thanks for sharing your experience and pictures!


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