Oahu: Open Espionage in Honolulu
The two most obvious facts of Hawaii are the huge sluttish pleasure of its Nipponized beachfront hotels and, in great contrast, its rugged landscape of craggy volcanoes and its coastal headland, where lava has been pounded by heavy surf into black spikes. Hawaii is smooth, but it can also be rough. I went intending to sample this fearful beauty. On my first swim in Hawaii, on the north shore of Oahu, off a gorgeous beach, I was yanked by the undertow, carried past the surf zone, and swept into a strong current almost a mile from my towel. I swam hard upstream for an hour and finally struggled ashore on sharp rocks, where I was lacerated and shaken. Was this outing a mistake? I wondered whether I should leave because of that, but people said this happened to newcommers all the time.
Soon after, I was introduced to a dignified old man at a party. he began to tell me about a book he had written, and then he asked me my name and what I did for a living.
He was not hard of hearing, simply logical - there were so many waiters and so few writers. Never mind. As time passed, I felt I might stay there for the rest of my life.
Probably the best view of Honolulu is from the top of the city's mountainous backdrop, Aiea Heights. We have Takeo Yoshikawa's word on that. He was one of the spookiest and most important of history's phantoms and was part of the plot to destroy Hawaii. it was in Aiea, in what were the cane fields (now mostly bungalows), that Yoshikawa, a Japanese spy, watched the movements of ships in pearl Harbor and, in general, gaped at the life of the friendly city. No one suspected this man of engaging in open espionage - Honolulu was, and is, a city where Japanese are in the majority. Yoshikawa was twenty-nine. some days he disguised himself in cane-butter's cloths. On other days he wore a suit and worked under a false name at the Japanese Consulate - as prettily housed today on the Pali Highway as it was in 1941, looking just as it did when the imposters inside supplied information for Admiral Yamamoto's master plan of bombardment. "If you want the tiger's cubs," the admiral was fond of saying, "you must go into the tiger's lair."
Yoshikawa arrived from Japan in March 1941, and prowling Aiea spied assiduously on the city and harbor for eight months. He was still on the job the day the planes were strafing and the bombs were falling and ships sinking, and the first of the 2,403 people were dying from Japanese bombs. When he had scoped out the strategic locations, Yoshikawa had noted that the ships were generally moored in Pearl Harbor on the weekends, and the planes were parked at Hickam Field then too. From his tootling around the north shore of the island in a borrowed 1937 Ford, Yoshikawa was pleased to see that North Oahu was very lightly defended - a safe direction for the kamikazes. Admiral Yamamoto had worried about balloons - barrage balloons that would impede attacks by fighter planes. No balloons, Yoshikawa reported, and less than a day before the Sunday morning bombing of Pearl Harbor, Yoshikawa cabled from the consulate: there are limits to the balloon defense of Pearl Harbor. I image that in all probability there is considerable opportunity left to take advantage for a surprise attack ...
Fifty years later, I went to the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor to pay my respects. This area of Pearl is a national park. everyone watches the short documentary beforehand, which describes the events of the morning of 7 December 1941. It is not a flag-waving film and is the more moving for its cruel factuality. After that sobering experience, the visitors are ferried into the harbor to the memorial itself, which is a white shrine-lie structure built over the rusty bulk of the sunken battleship in which 1,200 Americans lost their lives when a Japanese bomb scored a direct hit on the Arizona's number two turret. Research is so detailed on the attack that the bombardier's name is known. It was Noboru Kanai, who, like the others in the attack force, wore a white cloth around his head reading Hissho, "Certain Victory."
Looking out from the spymaster's vantage point, the heights of Aiea, after arriving in Honolulu from the Western Pacific - from the far corners of the Polynesian triangle, from travel in small simple islands - I was overwhelmed by the city's prosperity and its modern face. It is the most visible city in the Pacific.
You can take in the whole busy panorama of Honolulu by glancing from right to left, beginning at Waianae and Pearl Harbor - the cranes and ships. Hickam's planes painted in green camouflage, Downtown with its banks and skyscrapers, and Chinatown's meaner streets, where the less-motivated prostitutes tend to linger, the scarcity of open space, its heavy traffic, the Bishop Museum, the suburbs on the slopes of its volcanoes, bungalows magnetized to old lava flows and in green drenched valleys, the high-rise hotels like goofy dentures and the surf breaking on the reef at Waikiki, the streets of Korean bars and strip clubs, Punchbowl volcano, and the pretty parks, the green cliffs and peaks that enclose the city, a prospect of the sea, and at last Diamond Head which, a vast and Sphinx-like sentinel, can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. After Diamond Head, your eye is traveling to windward, towards the far side of the island.
Where are the pedestrians? Outside of the seaside honky-tonk of Waikiki (less than a mile long), few people walk Honolulu, a city of drivers, is dense with private cars, and with two-and three-car families. Even the poorest in Honolulu, the recently arrived Pacific islanders - Samoans, Tongans, people from Christmas Island and Yap - have at least one vehicle, usually a new four-wheel pick-u truck. In fact, the pick-up truck seems part of the personality of these islanders, just as an expensive, usually European car is an aspect of their personality of Honolulu's affluent families. It is a point of ride among Filipinos to buy a truck as soon as the down-payment can be scraped together. The middle class drives Japanese cars, the military buys American. No one walks.
One of the paradoxes of Hawaii, yet one of its most American features, is that it quickly - recently - become a car culture. Why is this a paradox? Because, part from the beaches and shopping mall, all within a small radius, there is nowhere to drive - no hinterland, no open road. A car is regarded as a necessity not simple because a bus passenger is stigmatized as one of the sadder and more poverty-stricken citizens but, more than that, a car in Honolulu is the badge of one's class. I think the car is the key thing. In such a hot city, where nearly everyone, rich and poor, dresses identically, clothes cannot possibly be a status symbol. The semiotic of Honolulu, its signs and symbols, are complex and highly colored; the city in particular and Hawaii in general has more class divisions and more subtle aspects of social difference than I have ever seen before. The local idiom is crammed with who's-who designations and signifiers: malihini (newcomer), kama'aina (old-timer), pake (Chinese), katonk (mainland Japanese: it is an onomatopoetic word, the sound a Japanese head makes when it is struck by a hard object), kachink (mainland Chinese, same definition), huk-huk (Filipino; also "Flip"and momong), "moke" or blalah (young tough), tita ("sister," moke's girlfriend, popolo )black person - sometimes the word is playfully inverted as olopop), and all the gradations of haole (Caucasian) - new haole, old haole, hapahaole (half-haole). The Portuguese (of whom there are many in Hawaii) are not regarded as haoles, but rather are universally known as "Portugees." A Latin or a Jew in this society of fine racial distinctions is not seen as Caucasian. There is no colloquialism for a Hawaiian person, though "part-Hawaiian" or variations of hapa are the usual descriptions since so few are full-blooded. There are peasants, and there are aristocrats and royals - that they were overthrown and pensioned-off is a meaningless quibble, for the fact is that Hawaiian ex-royalty, some of it hapahaole, are still among the wealthiest people in the islands.
With all these divisions, you would expect trouble, but Honolulu does not have the conflicts usually associated with strict class-ridden societies. Even the ritual "Kill-a-Haole Day," popularized at some of Honolulu's public high schools, is merely a macabre (and toothless) prank rather than a piece of racial vindictiveness meant to inspire terror in whites. In the sense that many races work harmoniously together, with only the softest undertones - the murmurs of racial memory, and that the races also habitually intermarry, producing startlingly good-looking offspring - Honolulu may be the most successful multiracial culture in the world. At least, I have not seen another to rival it. One of the proofs of its success is that people in Honolulu are contemptuous rather than envious and resentful about the clubs (the Outrigger Canoe Club, the Pacific club) which until recently did not admit orientals, or the banks that discriminated against certain races in giving loans.
And oddly, in a city of many races, there are seldom racial jokes in circulation. The few I heard were almost imcomprehensible. They were never about orientals or Hawaiians, or even islanders, nearly always the joke-victim was a Portuguese or Filipino.
Filipino jokes are almost entirely concerned with the Filiino reputation for eating dogs.
There is a certain slang idiom, loosely based on Hawaiian Pidgin, which conveys a heavy humor and is almost exclusively concerned with eating, drinking beer, being fat, being lazy, being slow-witted, surfing, playing loud music, taunting tourists and owning a four-wheel-drive vehicle. This is purely local and almost untranslatable. It is a manner of speaking, not joking, but joshing, and only mokes engage in it. Like English cockneys, who in temperament and lingo they greatly resemble, mokes are at the bottom of the social ladder, but have such a well-defined place in society that they are proud of it. Some are islanders, some are Hawaiians, some are a complex racial mix, but they are all dark and chubby, and they are ambiguously regarded as both cuddly and lethal. Mokes constitute a fraternity and even greet each other "Brah" (brother). They are self-mocking, and they ham it up in their baseball caps and T-shirts, crowding the beaches like the Tons-of-fun, but anyone foolish enough to laugh at them, or even to make sustained eye contact, is quickly in danger.
The so-called mokes, when gainfully employed, work as mechanics or manual laborers, but no matter what the job there is a race in Honolulu which has monopolized it. Tongans are tree-cutters and yard workers, though the more detailed landscaping is done by Filipinos, who are also field workers - accounting for most of the pineapple-pickers. Agriculture was formerly an occupation of rural Japanese. Samoans wash cars. Doctors and lawyers are Chinese and Japanese. A surprising number of haoles are engaged in real estate. Yet class distinctions, unlike job descriptions, are not strictly racial but rather economic and, in Honolulu, always geographic.
"We were involved in product transitions," someone told me at a party, explaining why business was had. "We descoped the high end of our line."
It seemed to me that people in Honolulu talked business most of the time. business or golf. They rose early - though no matter how earl they got u they never managed to beat the freeway traffic, which was dense even at six in the morning; they worked hard, they hustled, they went home and hid - privacy being something that is greatly desired in Honolulu. Each class has its own turf, from the low-income areas of Kalihi, and Makaha in Waianae, and the middle-and upper-class serenity of Manoa and Nu'uanu, to the super-rich in Waialae-Kahala. All of Hawaii's beaches are public, yet each class sticks pretty much to its own shoreline. some of the most beautiful beaches in the islands are found on the Waianae stretch of coast, but they tend to be avoided because of the intense territoriality of the locals. Hoales are cheerfully tormented and sometimes attached in Waianae. And each class sticks to its own sorts, ranging from surfing to golf, and to its own depravities - the poor using "ice," crystal methamphetamine (pohaku in moke slang), the middle-class youth smoking pot (pakalolo, "crazy smoke"), the wealthy snorting cocaine. There is no crack and, indeed, no perceived drug problem. Gambling is illegal, and so naturally is very common in a clandestine way, but the preferred games also have class associations - cards for Chinese, cockfights for Filipinos, dice for Japanese, trips to Las Vegas for those who can afford it, and so forth.
The exclusivity is also the case with the military, who exist in their tens of thousands in and around Honolulu, on bases and in married quarters. Soldiers are known to locals as "jar-heads." They constitute a sub-class and they keep to themselves. They don't want trouble. They know they are lucky to have been posted here. They swim at their own beaches, shop at the PX, attend their own churches and schools. Unlike other cities which have bases nearby, there is little casual fighting between soldiers and locals. The military is known only by its violent crimes - a rape, stabbing, a shooting, typically a young jar-head from Schofield Barracks or Fort Shelter committing an offense against a local woman. Violent crime is always reported in detail in the daily paper, because in this basically humane and gentle society it is still considered extraordinary. Handguns are outlawed on the islands. Not many rifles are privately owned. There is no capital punishment. The population's predominantly oriental cast means that it is not a confrontational society. It is not a horn-honking society, either - anyone leaning on a horn is immediately seen as an ignorant newcomer or a tourist. Drivers are polite. It is essentially Christian, and not a litigious society. In a patient way, scores are settled over the long term. Revenge is a dish best eaten cold, might be a Honolulu motto. The Chinese who were blackballed at the Outrigger Canoe Club started their own golf club, Waialae, and now haoles are lining ui to join this exclusive club.
Once in a great while there is a meaningful murder or suicide in Honolulu: everyone seems to understand. Oh, he had gambling debt, someone will say, or She was involved on a really bad scandal. Anyway, these are islands. People are intensely visible and nothing is forgotten. The person you are rude to today might be your golf partner tomorrow. In the absence of satirical magazines or good newspapers or investigative reporting, there is the island standby of gossip, and in Honolulu rumors travel with great rapidity. Middle-class Honolulu society is law-abiding, churchgoing, and rather sanctimonious - in fact everything but racialistic. A family that has married completely within its own race is the exception, not the rule. Anyway, the Honolulu bourgeoisie is not a racial group but an economic entity, and in spite of its ethnic sentiments, it is Christian and has much in common with the aspirations of mainstream America. There is a strong sense of family, and an even stronger sense of the extended family. Within the bourgeoisie, old Japanese are bumpkins (but friendly), new Japanese are jovially regarded as uptight (and shrewd), Chinese as niggardly (and independent), Filipinos as self-serving (but hard-working). Portuguese as excitable (but buffoons). but in Honolulu race is not an indication of class.
The clearest and most concise indicator of your class in Honolulu is your high school, because until very recently this was the highest educational level you were likely to have attained.
"You find out who someone is in Honolulu by asking them where they went to school," a local woman told me.
And it's true. It is the key question in any introduction.
"Never mind college," she went on. "Once you know their high school you know everything. Where they live. How much they make. Their politics. Their outlook, their expectations. If they went to Farrington they're mokes. If they went to Sr Louis they're bourgeois Catholics. If they went to Radford they're probably military or new haole. If they went to Roosevelt, they're mainstream. And at the top is Punahou." Punahou students are seen as Hawaii's achievers. The school is highly regarded academically and, founded in 1841, was the first high school to be established west of the Mississippi. It produces community leaders, but it also produces obnoxious prep-school pushies, smug and preening and forever gloatingly recalling their schooldays. Like many of Honolulu's institutions, Punahou has its roots in the Protestant missions. There is something pervasively old-world in Honolulu, which Punahou - with its colors of buff and blue and its tribalism and its cultivated silliness - seems to epitomize.
This is undiluted New England anglophilia; Yankee missionaries had a profound influence on the islands - on the class structure, the culture, even the architecture of wooden white frame and shingled houses. In Honolulu, and in Hawaii in general, anglophilia amounts at times to anglomania. The Union Jack boxed-in on the Hawaiian state flag is an ominous sign of this, and at times Hawaii seems more like the Sandwich Islands of yore than the fiftieth state. It is a fact that the upper class - old family, Republican, mainly hoale - resisted statehood and saw it as a slippery slope. Nearly everyone else agrees that it was statehood that brought racial equality to the islands. Well-heeled Hawaii, with its garden parties and its snobberies, its cultural affectations, is deeply anglophile (and still resentful of statehood). This ought to make a new haole a sure bet for fitting in, but Hawaii's complexities do not insure that. The word haole - which means "of another breath (or air)" - carries wit it many ambiguous associations and qualities, and because of that it is an enigmatic word, describing an unknown quantity, with a suggestion of someone who is "not one of us." I seldom heard this word without imagining it written as it is spoken, like an angry complainer: howlie.
And there are the tourists, but they come and go, and apart from people working in the tourist industry, no one takes much notice of them. There are six million tourists a year, each one staying on average eight and a half days. Two million are Japanese, and many of those are in the marriage package - room, white limo, nondenominational service, champagne - at $10,000 a pop. Every so often a new bride leaps to her death from an upper floor of a luxury hotel. These arranged marriages, local people mutter, as a Shinto priest hurries upstairs to exorcise the ghosts in the room with chants and howls and incense. The room is soon reoccupied. Tourism is the largest industry and the mainstay of the entire state. but tourists, even without realising it, are also territorial. They keep to Waikiki. Except for the beach, the hotel, the luau, the pineapple tour, they do not stray far afield. They are undemanding, they are generally smiled upon, they are seldom ridiculed, they are hardly ever mentioned, except by people who are paid to look after them. It is acknowledged that they have brought prosperity to the state. A local person who kept away from Waikiki could form the impression that tourists do not exist. In no sense do they enter the life of Honolulu, which is not a city really but a highly complex small town. Main Street running into Polynesia, America-by-the-Sea, the splash of surf at the shore, Lonely Hula Hands, the roar and monotony of traffic, and inland the eternal snapping sound of the Weedwacker.
But tourist Honolulu and town Honolulu not only coexist; each makes the other possible - sometimes in unexpected ways. One night, I went to the "Don Ho & Friends Polynesian Extravaganza" at the Hilton Hawaiian village - a profusion of leis, muumuus, fruity drinks, white shoes and sunburned noses - and don came on singing Tiny Bubbles (in da wine) in his bored and growiling way.
He was applauded. Shuffling peevishly, he said, "I am so sick of that song, God, I hate that song. I gotta sing it every night!" Then he sang an encore.
Don Ho is a permanent fixture at the hotel and has been for twenty years. But even his churlishness did not dampen the ardor of the audience. There were dancers, there were more Hawaiian songs, including Pearly Shells (in da ocean), the Hawaiian Wedding Song (the singer accompanied herself using deaf and dumb signs), and a young male singer, a local fellow, joined Don in singing I'll Remember You (long after dis endless summer is gone). A week later I went to Aida, well staged by the Hawaii Opera Theater, with an imported soprano and tenor. The baritone was Les Cabalas, the man who had sung with don Ho & Friends. And since the opera is mainly by subscription, no tourists could have known that the colorful Hawaiian local guy in the ugly shirt with Don Ho was moonlighting, such a powerful voice and a strong presence, as Amneris in a Verdi opera.
Eventually I unpacked my boat and paddled out from Kailua on the windward side of Oahu. Kailua, over the volcanic ridge from Honolulu is famous for being residential, middle-class and military, mainly hoale. It is a safe haven of one-storey bungalows, and it is filled with loitering US army kids - brats on bikes. It has one of Hawaii's most pleasant beaches and, in addition, several picturesque islands a few miles offshore, but is part of the great sweep of coast, which takes in three bays and is contained by two magnificent headlands. Even when the tradewinds are strong the surf is tolerable for a small craft, and I happily paddled out from Kailua, past Lanikai, to the Moluluas ("Two Islands"). They are a pair of rocky paks standing in the lagoon, near the reef, on a ledge of coral. I saw an endangered green sea turtle as soon as I was half a mile offshore, and of course it was brown - the "green" crept into their name when they were still being eaten, because their fat was green. The windward sides of the Mokuluas were being beaten by surf, but on the lee shore, waves were breaking more gently on a small sandy beach. I saw other kayakers for the first time in the whole of my trip through Oceania. They were surfing their boats through the waves behind the Mokuluas, they were skidding down the swell between the two islands, they were fighting the chop nearer the reef. I had never felt safer.
I waited for the lull between waves and landed on the small beach of the north island. Signs at the edge of the sand explained that this was a sanctuary for seabirds, ground-nesting shearwaters, and that it was forbidden to venture up the slope of the hill. The reason was obvious - the birds had dug nesting holes all over the slope and were compactly occupying them. Because it was such a small island, visitors and birds coexisted uneasily. There were a few picnickers - one from a kayak, half a dozen from a motor-boat. Every so often a startled shearwater would take off, mutter ka-kuk, and fly swiftly away. This island was a microcosm of Hawaii. It was lovely, it was lush, it was heavily visited, it was threatened, it seemed doomed. Everything had been fine until recently, but then great numbers of people began going to the Mokuluas on weekends. I paddled here half a dozen times, and I noticed that on weekdays there were birds sitting quietly all over the island; on Saturdays and Sundays there were no birds, and there was sometimes litter and the remains of fires - although both were expressly forbidden. Camping is also forbidden . but because the island is so pretty - just like Oahu, you might say - people tend to break the rules.
It's seventy-eight degrees in paradise, the disc-jockeys say in Honolulu, without a trace of irony.
It often seemed to me that calling the Hawaiian Islands paradise was not an exaggeration, though saying it out loud, advertising it, seemed to be tempting fate. They are the most beautiful, and the most threatened, of any islands in the Pacific. Their volcanic mountains are as picturesque as those in Tahiti, their bays as lovely as the ones in Vava'u, the black cliffs of the Marquesas are no more dramatic than those on Molokai and Kauai. The climate is perfect. And they are highly developed, with great hospitals and schools and social services and stores. but modernity has its price. There is beach erosion. There is pollution. There is a constant threat of water shortage or contamination. The traffic problem seems at times overwhelming. Oahu is overbuilt and so expensive that young people leave, unable to believe that they will ever be able to afford to buy even the simplest house. Maui is overdeveloped - spoiled, same people say - with more hotels than it will ever need. The little island Lanai is losing its pineapple industry. Niihau is an ecological catastrophe, according to environmentalists. The Big Island is wrestling with the issue of development. There is still hoe on Kauai, under an enlightened mayor who made campaign promises to limit hotel development and to put islanders' interests first.
The Hawaiian Islands are the most remote - the farthest from any mainland - on earth, and this remoteness made their living things unique. Hawaii's only land mammal was a small bat, and in its waters the monk seal. both precariously still exist. The islands' birds and plants, which existed nowhere else, have not been so lucky. The impact of humans on Hawaii was catastrophic - Hawaii has lost more indigenous species of birds and plants, driven more creatures into extinction, than any other single place on the planet. The tragedy of the oceanic islands lies in their uniqueness, the irreplaceability of the species they have developed by the slow process of the ages," Rachel Carson wrote in The Sea Around Us, thirty years ago. "In a reasonable world, men would have treated these islands as procious possessions, as natural museums filled with beautiful and curious works of creation, valuable beyond price, because nowhere in the world are they duplicated." It would have been difficult even with foresight to preserve these fragile ecosystems, but who could have ;predicted the destruction that followed? for some of the smaller Hawaiian islands, Doomsday happened quite a while ago - the islands of Lanai and Niihau, for example, do not even physically resemble the islands they once were, having been plowed, planted, over-grazed, and generally blighted, the haunt of immigrant animals and restless humans. The once-pretty uninhabited (and sacred to Hawaiians) island of Kahoolawe, just off Maui, has for fifty years been a target for bombing practice by the US military; although bombing has now ended the island is off limits because of the danger of unexploded bombs lying all over. One end of Johnston Island in the Hawaiian chain is a depot for toxic waste, the other end is radioactive because of a nuclear accident.
Most people go to Waikiki. One in ten of them is a victim of crime, according to a statistic released by the Honolulu Police Department. The sidewalks in Waikiki are heaving with prostitutes and their pimps. In the middle of Waikiki, smack on the beach, is the ugliest and most pointless American army installation imaginable - Fort DeRussy, an eyesore the Defence Department refuses to remove. Much of the sand on Waikiki is trucked in from elsewhere and dumped. Dangerously high bacteria levels exist t the eastern end of Waikiki, near the zoo, because of monkey shit being flushed directly into the sea. Three of America's billionaires, and numerous millionaires, live in Honolulu, but even the wealthiest people have to contend with Honolulu's plagues - rats and cockroaches. No house is free of them - you hear the rats squeaking and quarreling just below the windows, or sometimes nimbly flashing up the trunk of a tree- - and it is one of the realities of Honolulu life that once a month Rat Patrol will visit and set out bait and remove corpses. Pest control is one of Honolulu's growth industries and, because of the fastidious nature of the city's inhabitant, includes exterminating unwanted birds and bees. Now and then, in the belief that the artist Christo is at work in Hawaii, tourists excitedly point to a large house, or a church or a tall building entirely swaddled in a billowing blue tent - these dwellings under great soft buntings are among the strangest sights on the island. but no, they are not the wrapped-up creations of Christo, it is only the fumigator at work, his last desperate measure, zipping up and tenting the house in order to kill every live thing.
The same fastidiousness extends to the city's attitude towards strip clubs and prostitutes. In the Narcotics and Vice Division of the Honolulu Police Department there is something called Morals Detail. Essentially, this is a posse of undercover policemen, who work at night either in Chinatown or in the streets around Waikiki, the male cops hoping to be propositioned by hookers, the female cops hoping to be importuned by a so-called john. There is no law against loitering, and under the city's new "John Law" a person cannot be arrested unless a deal has been made - but both the man and the woman can be collared. It all sounded very strict to me until one night I went to Waikiki and examined the matter first-hand. Except for a glimpse I had had of whores preying at passing cars from the sidewalks of King's Cross in Sydney, and Meestah Boll, you wanna gull? at night in the Trobriands, this was my first experience of vice in Oceania. Kuhio Avenue was busy in the early evening, but towards midnight there were about equal numbers of tourists, prostitutes and policemen, each category in an unmistakable uniform, whether it was an aloha shirt, a tight skirt and high heels, or a blue suit. And here and there, up and down the avenue, all three were sharing the same slab of sidewalk.
Even without the tight skirts the prostitutes would have been highly visible. There is something in their alertness, the way their gaze travels from man to man, and their over-busy walk. "They walk like they're not going anywhere," Bill said. "That's what Lieutenant Lum told me."
I had arranged to meet Bill in Waikiki. He was writing an article about prostitution for Honolulu magazine and had interviewed a woman who had been arrested for soliciting. He had gone to her trial ($100 for the first offense, $500 for the second). He knew about an older woman, a Baptist preacher they called "The Condom Lady," who had made it her mission to hand out five contraceptives to the street-walkers. He had made friends with some of the people on Morals Detail. We watched the prostitutes, who usually seemed to travel in twos, strutting and twitching like herons. They took no notice of us, we were invisible to them, and every now and then they would stiffen and make a beeline for the men behind us. Japanese, On Koa Street, where many girls lurked, a pair of girls pushed past us and pounced on two Japanese, and if you happened to be of a sensitive turn of mind you could find something awfully depressing about the girls ignoring us in favor of two callow sauntering youths in baggy shorts and T-shirts. After a while, Bill spoke with a girl in a tiny orange skirt, but it was a brief conversation. The girl hurried away from him.
The pimps were much in evidence. The beeper was only one point of identification. Pimps were also stylishly dressed, and they carried leather handbags in which, you gathered, a lot of money was stuffed. Most of the pimps were young black men who walked with a kind of menacing confidence.
"When I started, I wanted this to be a real upbeat American story about free enterprise," Bill said. "But it's depressing. These imps meet girls in Canada or wherever and say they love them. The typical girl is a runaway. She's been sexually abused as a child. The pimp says he loves her. They come to Honolulu. Then after a week he puts her on the street. It's exploitation, coercion, abuse and disappointment. I'm real unhappy about that."
In the absence of a heavy mob in Honolulu, rackets like gabling and prostitution are a free-for-all. The Japanese mob, the Takuza, are involved in other long-term investments, like real estate and building contracts. This leaves vice somewhat unorganized and even amateurish, and the pimps are very obvious dudes - all olopos are, in Honolulu - as though they rather like playing the role of superfly, bobbing between the pair of whores they are currently running. A pale girl, standing by a lighted doorway, handed us a bilingual (English-Japanese) leaflet reading Foxy Lady! Girls! Girls! Girls! and invited us upstairs.
We went to Chinatown, in a corner of Downtown; what had seemed amateurish and depressing in Waikiki looked dirty and dangerous here. "That there's a safe bar," a prostitute called out to us, pointing to a doorway. She accurately saw that we were simply passing through. "The rest of them are bad." There were no cars. Lining the streets were ragged, muttering men and bad-tempered women. The only people smiling were the mahus, obvious transvestites, who regard Hotel Street and Mauna Kea Street in Chinatown as their natural habitat. They walk the streets, not going anywhere, waiting for a passing car to pick them up; - and they might well be politicians or tycoons living their secret lives. Many scandalous stories originate in Honolulu's Chinatown - and that includes Maugham's story of Sadie Thompson, who began her career here and ended up in Samoa.
"This was going to e a great story," Bill said, surveying the dereliction of Chinatown. "Maybe even funny. but it's not. A whole got stabbed to death in that parking lot last week by a soldier. It's depressing. On another night, still in search of Honolulu, I went to clubs and I remembered what bill had said of the hookers - you expect hilarity, you look around, you end up depressed. There are Japanese clubs, very sedate, where each patron keeps a bottle of Chivas Regal with his name on it behind the bar, the carry-over of a practice common in Japan. At these clubs, which are no more than dimly lit rooms, neatly dressed Japanese hostesses join rowdy Japanese men and smile and act submissive while the men, becoming drunker, grope them. It is all chilly and sexless and overpriced, but the massive number of new Japanese have made it a booming business. so much for the Club Tomo, and Mugen, and the others.
Apart from the Club Mirage, which was empty - perhaps this name was a deliberate joke? - the other clubs were a little livelier. club Cheri had one named girl doing kneebends on a table. In club Top-Gun three overdressed Japanese men screamed songs into a karaoke mike in front of a television set, and in Club Hachi Hachi one man was doing that. In the butterfly Lounge young soldiers heckled a fattish dancer, and in Exotic Nights and Club Turtle asked dusky girls posed on a small state for sweaty men in baseball hats, who were encouraged to buy beer at five dollars a bottle.
Saigon Passion had a successful theme the last days of the Vietnam War. It was soldiers from Schofield and Vietnamese hostesses, dressed casually, in jeans and T-shirts, and lots of army memorabilia. It was one of the few clubs that held my attention, because the music and the faces made it seem such an atmosphere time warp. A young girl sat with me - Ruby, from Saigon, lived with her mother in Waipahu, about twenty or so. I began asking her questions until finally she fell silent. Then I prodded her.
"No. Of course not. I'm not a policeman."
"I think you undercover."
"Why do you think so?"
I went to the Carnation Lounge, to the Misty H Lounge, Kita Lounge, Les Girls, Club rose and Club Femme Nue. There were twenty within a three-block area. some were run by Vietnamese women, most were run by Korean women - because of this, their generic name in Honolulu was "Korean bars."
At one time they had been famous for the tricks women performed in them - one club was put on the map because a woman in it picked up coins with the skillful manipulation of her vulva, another boasted a woman who inserted a cigar between her labia and puffed it (men crowded near to see the tip of the cigar brighten), and that same woman could play a clarinet in a similar way.
there was a club where a woman stood behind a transparent shower curtain while men groped her (introducing another sort of club in Honolulu, the "feelie bar"), and there was one on Keeaumoku (known as "Korea-Moku," because of the nationality of the proprietors) where an agile woman came on stage, leaned back, parted her legs, and expelled ping-pong balls from the depths of her vagina cavern - and the balls, still warm and damp, were fought over and clutched by grateful men. This last example of conjuring had been popular at a club called the Stop-Light, but the place had since changed hands, it was now called the Rock-Za, and in its way it was typical: loud music, expensive drinks, naked girls. The bouncer, John - an enormous Samoan from Pago Pago - said it was a gold mine. It was his job to prevent patrons from touching girls.
"They get one warning, and the next time out they go," John said. But he was ambivalent about the honor of the performers. He said the girls were spoiled and overpaid. Now and then a Japanese tour bus would stop and sixty or eighty tourists would pile into the bar - aged men, old crones, couples, honeymooners - and they would sit, have a few expensive drinks, and would marvel at the big white women displaying themselves stark naked at very close range. Men - all sorts - sat on low stools, with their elbows on a twenty-foot table. The young women, posturing more than dancing, struck poses and squatted. I sat a while, watching everything. And what seemed at first like a fantasy realized, a centrefold coming to life, turned into a raucous gynecology class, in which proximity was everything. There was a certain amount of comedy in that. People say, You have to see this, and they think you'll see exactly what they do. I went, trying to be open-minded, but my reaction to these clubs (after I had a little time to reflect on it) was quite different. The clubs were so ritualized I came to see them as temples in a pagan rite, in which the women were priestesses, like the women in ancient Babylon who whored in the temple of the goddess Ishtar.
There was something undeniably strange and solemn and even somewhat religious in the fervor of the men who sat like intense votaries waiting for a woman to come near. The man's patience, the woman's confident movements, edging nearer and nearer on the altar-like table, squatting, opening her legs very wide, her thighs enclosing the man's heard, and the man staring hard in the frenzy of concentration as though a mystery were being revealed to him that he must memorize. It was public, and yet highly personal - only the chosen man could see clearly. There was as much veneration in this man's goggling at a woman's everted private parts as you would find in most church services. The man slipped a dollar or more into the woman's garter, and she lingered, and the man stared straight on, serious and unsmiling in his own private vision. From this sort of ardent behavior, it was a very short step to the Hindu worship of lingams and yonis, or to the cultism of the Komari, the vulvas carved in stone all over Rapa Nui.
Still, it was easy to forget in the flux of Honolulu that I was in Oceania. Sometimes Oahu seemed an offshore island of America, sometimes of Asia. Yet it was the only real crossroads in the Pacific, the junction of every air route, and in man senses the heart of Polynesia. This was noticeable in trivial ways - when Disney World in Florida looked for performers for their "Polynesian Luau Revue" ("One-year contracts with relocation will be offered ..."), they auditioned in Honolulu; whenever a serious piece of Pacific scholarship was undertaken, it was invariably under the auspices of the Bishop Museum of the University of Hawaii or the East-West Center, or more significantly the Mormon church, passionate about converting the whole of Polynesia to Mormonism, and which had its Pacific headquarters, as well as its banks, on Oahu. Whenever I inquired about an archeological ruin in Polynesia I was told that it had been catalogued, or studied, or excavated, or written about by one man, Professor Yosihiko Sinoto, the Senior Anthropologist at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu and one of the world's authorities on the Eastern Pacific cultures. Ask Sinoto, was the reply I got to most of my Polynesia questions.
The professor was diminutive but muscular, and from his strong accent and his bearing obviously not local. Clearly an academic, but with the restlessness and vigor of someone used to working outdoors, he inhabited a small, cluttered office at the back of the museum. On the walls of his office were charts and photos of sites, stacks of files and artifacts - bone fish-hooks, stone implements. I went to see him one afternoon, simply to put my Ask Sinoto questions to him. He said he had been to the Marquesas recently and we chatted about the ludicrous necessity of having to drink imported mineral water on these islands of waterfalls and fresh-water lakes.
"It is the case all over French Polynesia," Professor Sinoto said. "I was working on a dig in Huahine. While I was there, the mayor of Huahine got a grant of money. He used this money to passive one road, he built a television station, he put street lights in the town. but he did not spend any money at all to provide drinking-water. Can you imagine?" I asked him about the great number of bouldery ruins I had seen in the Marquesas.
"Every valley in the Marquesas is full of sites," the professor said. "yet when the first surface-survey was done in 1918-19 they thought there was nothing left - no wooden implements, nothing but stones. They thought that the weather was so hot and the climate so difficult and dam that only stone structures could survive ... Real excavations were carried out by Robert Suggs in 1956 and '57. I disagreed with his conclusions. I went with Thor Heyerdahl's group in 1963."
Professor Sinoto was hypothesizing a voyage that went in the opposite direction from that of the Kon-Tiki.
This tallied with my amateur observations: the graceful huts of Savaii, the nobles and commoners of Tonga, the egg fields of Savo, the cross-faced tribes and muddy buttocks of the island of Tanna.
"But I remember Atiu," the professor said, speaking of a small island in the Cook group, not far from Aitutaki, where I had paddled. "I was working there and as recently as 1984. Aiu was totally traditional. Everything was intact. I returned for several years, and then in 1989 the culture was gone. It was finished, just like that. How did it happen so quickly? You know what caused it? The video. I don't know why the government doesn't regulate videos. They are terrible. Rape. War. Violence. Drinking. They give bad ideas to young people, and they destroyed the culture in Atiu which had lasted for over a thousand years."
Then he began to talk about his dig in Huahine, how he had worked on the lovely island for twenty years - the uniqueness of the place, with aquaculture in the lagoon, and farming beyond it, and the chiefs living along the shoreline. He had uncovered thirty-five sites behind the lagoon, one of the richest archeological finds in Polynesia.
He let this sink in. We sat among the artifacts in front of a great chart with arrows showing the ancient migration routes in Oceania.
Professor Sinoto said, "Everyone is looking for playgrounds in the Pacific."
An extract of the text from THE HAPPY ISLES OF OCEANIA by Paul Theroux, published in London by Hamish Hamilton, 1992.
Images courtesy Jane Resture
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