Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Greetings from Kauai

I’m sitting on the patio of our condo in Kaipu, on the island of Kauai. The palm trees are rustling, the sky is one of those dark, velvety tones that Cook’s artists struggled so mightily to accurately record, and the evening is filled with the sounds of frolicking in the hot tub, post-dinner adolescent antics, and televisions.

Still, it is Hawaii, and it is a vacation.

Koipu is on the southern side of the island, which is said to be the drier and less developed side (and if both are true, I wonder what the north looks like). Kauai is one of the westernmost of the Hawaiian islands, and I think one of the less-traveled; if you want to know more, go to a library or do a Google search. This is my first time in Hawaii in almost exactly 31 years: I changed planes here once on my way to Japan in 1972. It’s my first vacation on a tropical island since Tobago a dozen years ago. Come to think of it, I’m here to celebrate a major wedding anniversary (not one of my own), and I was in Tobago for a wedding. So there’s some weird synchronicity.

For reasons I can’t divine, before I came here I imagined staying in a thatched hut on the beachGaugain in Tahiti, with kids and sunscreen thrown in. Of course, the island is about as undeveloped as Singapore. We’re staying at a place named, I am not making this up, Suite Paradise. I shake my heads writing the words. Despite the highly questionable name, it’s actually a very nice place: a collection of two- and three-story condos, with your basic over-lush tropical landscaping. It reminds me, alternately, of Summit County, Colorado, where my folks have a condo, and a laid-back, more luxurious version of Stanford faculty housing.

Though what little I’ve seen of the architecture on the island has been an exercise in dj vu all over again. There’s the expected Modern Resort Development kind of stuff, the sort of mass-produced luxury that’s trowled onto hotel chains that cater mainly to business travelers. There are lots of Typical American houses, often raised a couple feet off the ground, presumably because of flooding danger. But then you turn a corner and see something that could be out of some small town in Nevadaa general store that should have a horse tied up in front of it, a commercial building that a Wells Fargo stagecoach might park in front of. And then we also passed a pagoda.

Most of the people here seem to be families. Clearly we’re smack in the middle of a serious target market.

We’re about a five minute walk from the water, though there’s also a swimming pool and hot tub just outside our building. The latter reminds me of my summer exchange to Japan, the first day of which consisted of 24 hours of traveling on planes, airport shuttles, trains, buses, etc., and culminated with dinner at Denny’s. 5000 miles for a club sandwich and a Diet Coke felt alternately anticlimactic and surreal, just as a swimming pool in view of a warm-water beach seems kind of odd. But the kids like it.

Speaking of which, Elizabeth declares that she misses her home (she’s a sensitive sort), and Daniel managed not to notice the three-hour time difference for a log time, then crashed hard and is snoring in his Pack-and-Play. They were both really great on the flight over. Daniel was exceptionally laid-back a flyer, given he’s 18 months old and spent a lot of the flight stuck in his car seat.

As someone who lives in the Bay Area (and hardly ever goes a day without declaring his great luck and intention to by buried there, though preferably not by a collapsed building), it felt slightly absurd to take a vacation to Hawaii. I mean, the Bay Area is about as beautiful as it gets, so why leave? Well, Mr. Science has observed the local flora and fauna, and come to the following conclusion: Kauai is a lot more lush than Menlo Park. We’ve got our share of palm trees and so forth, but this place is EXPLODING with growing green things. The main reason is that it gets a lot more rain, which we Californians don’t get that much of, a fact that we’re rudely reminded of every few years.

Of course, this is a typical reaction to tropical islands. Driving in from the airport, I couldn’t help but wonder what a young sailor from Ireland or Cornwall, maybe the youngest of a family of hardscrabble farmers, who’d spent the last two years living with fifty other people on a ship roughly the size of a large mobile home, eating salt pork and biscuits, must have thought when he reached the Pacific islands. It must have been pretty overwhelming, the Enlightenment version of shock and awe.

I plan to see Cook’s monuments before I go, and have the vague thought that I should go to the local library and look up Cook’s entries about his landings here.

It’s just about 8:30 local time, and I’m ready for bed. More anon.

1 Comment

  1. Hi, the reason I’m writing to you I hope you don’t find it too silly. I was just wondering how you got your middle name, “Soojung-Kim”…that’s all.

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