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Susan Page

Hawaii: Like A Bowl Of Saimin

In an unfortunate miscommunication, my good friend Lau, who owns the landscaping business we use, thought that I wanted him and his crew to work July 4 at our house. A mixture of Tongan, Fijian and British, he came here as a young man from New Zealand bringing with him a nature so happy, the birds must wish they could mimic his laugh.

But his usually smiling face was crestfallen as he wrestled with my misunderstood request. His attempt at diplomacy came out as a spontaneous patriotic testimony: “Susan, oh, we cannot … on that day, that’s a family day, that’s the birth of our country, the Fourth of July. I cannot ask my guys to … it’s un-American, nobody works on that day. That’s America’s day, we have to celebrate.”

Well said, my friend. You remind me of why I love this country and why I love Hawaii.

One of the main reasons I moved to Hawaii back in 1968 (the first time, then permanently in 1983) is that where else in the USA, aside from New York City and San Francisco perhaps, can you get such an ono immigrant flavor – like the saimin at Shiro’s – a little bit of everything. With people here from all across the world, you’d think this place would be one crazy confusion of cultural clashes and the kind of gang crime that pockmarks cities like L.A., Newark, Long Beach and Oakland.

It is no small miracle that all of us – noodles, Spam, carrots, shoyu, ginger, green cabbage, bok choy, mushrooms, green onions, green peas, shrimp and eggs (I think I’m an egg) – simmer smoothly side by side with no escape from each other but the deep blue ocean or an airplane out.

I guess you either like saimin or you prefer cream of potato.

I came from a cream of potato place, where most people looked alike and have the same sort of history. That is, except for the Mexican illegals, who swam across the Rio Grande to work on the Texas ranches and farms that surrounded me in my white town.

I don’t think that many people branch out from the safety of their own soup, except maybe to visit. I remember when I decided as a young widow with two children to move back to Hawaii after living in Dallas for two years. I mentioned it to a few people and their faces turned confused. “Why on earth would you want to move to Hawaii (Hawaiya)? We love to visit Maui (Mawee), but …” Their voices trailed off as if there was no use talking to someone who was moving to a foreign country and could no longer speak the language of Texas.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Texas. I was even Miss Texas. My roots there are a pretty tangled, extended genetic system of people I adore. But we each have to find our own soup recipe, and mine has a lot of different ingredients seasoned heavily with people whom I often don’t understand but find fascinating.

It’s possible that too many ingredients of foreigners – both Mainland and other kind – moving here could one day bring the soup pot past the boiling point. But, like my friend Lau, most people here seem to have found a way of embracing the American ideal of freedom and the Hawaiian ideal of Aloha as the final dash of salt to the most delicious recipe on earth. susanpagecoffee@gmail.com

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