In Search of the Aloha Smile: Oahu
By Anne Z. Cooke
The sun sets through the palms
Waikiki Beach, Oahu
As an honorary Hawaiian (self-appointed) and an Obama supporter, this is my chance to put the two subjects into the same story, where they assuredly belong. Though Obama acknowledges his family and ancestry in his autobiography, "Dreams From My Father," it was
As a frequent visitor to
Before the last presidential campaign, travelers rarely bothered to tour
Some tours are more expansive, with stops at historic sites, including the Arizona Memorial at
Chances are you'll see the school where Obama went to kindergarten. Hanging with his classmates Obama would have developed global tastes, for everything from scrambled eggs and spaghetti, to plate lunches, spam musubi, malasadas and hulihuli chicken. His classmates' parents and grandparents would have been all or part Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Samoan, ethnic Hawaiian, Filipino, Portuguese, and assorted European-stock haoles (white). Was pidgin (slang English) a common denominator for these kids? I wish I knew.
"Do you think people are as color-blind as they seem?" I asked
"Just about everyone here has inherited what I call potluck," she said. "We're proud of our individual heritage, of course. But we're Hawaiian first and foremast. That's where we get our identity, our sense of who we are. I happened to catch Oprah when her guests, African Americans mostly, were talking about how it mattered if you were more brown, or less brown, or almost white. It really surprised me. I didn't know that on the mainland, people thought about color like that."
To learn more about Obama, tours are a good way to start. But they're only half the story. The rest evolves as you explore the island -- in the spirit of research, of course. First, venture away from the safety of your hotel pool and make friends with the world's largest ocean. Float on the swells. Kick up your feet. Duck your head under and embrace the waves.
Next, rent a car; you'll need it to wander the byways. Don't waste time on commercial attractions, like the submarine rides and the booze cruises. And pass up national-franchise fast-food joints in favor of local eateries run and patronized by kama'ainas (local Hawaiians).
Go native, and sample that most revered of all Hawaiian fast foods, the plate lunch. A treat when an expert makes it (and a dog otherwise), it's one of the islands' basic food groups. With years of experience under his belt, Obama likes the
I like the barbecue chicken plate lunch, with macaroni salad and rice; the plate is
My favorite lunch item is saimin, served at one of
If you're staying in a Waikiki Beach hotel, walk southeast along the sand toward
The Park, a great swath of grass named for Queen Kapiolani, is
Ask your concierge for a schedule, bring a beach towel, food-to-go (and your favorite libation) and join the party. Obama picnicked here with his grandparents and most recently, with his own children -- and the Secret Service.
Most visitors to
Another safe beach is at
Stop at Sandy Beach, now with a new parking lot, to see where Obama still bodysurfs when he comes home. Don't get into the water, however. One of the island's most treacherous beaches, Sandy regularly chews up novices.
For the best luau and hula performances, pass up the crowded and impersonal buffet dinners staged by big hotels and look instead for a community event, often hosted by churches and charity groups. Visitors are always welcome.
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(c) 2009 Anne Z. Cooke Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.
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