Journalist for Life

We know Hawaii — but then, we really don’t

HONOLULU — It is one of the most famous vacation destinations in the world.

Conventioneers wearing name badges gulp down mai tais at the nightly luaus. Tourists with colored tour-company stickers on their shirts giggle as they try the hula. Pro and amateur surfers paddle their boards into its legendary waves.

Frail veterans of World War II make the long journey, across the distance and back in time, to view the inspiring memorials at Pearl Harbor and to pay respects at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

It is also the most popular destination for Japanese honeymooners.

Hawaii seems to have been in our minds for so long that we may think we know it, even if we have never been there.

After all, scenes of Honolulu were shown in nickelodeons in 1898; we heard Arthur Godfrey broadcast his radio show from Waikiki in the late 1940s; we have viewed the islands as background in at least 17 TV series – including the new re-make of the beloved Hawaii Five-0 series.

Performers from Perry Como to Brittany Spears have televised concerts from there, although it was Elvis whose broadcast had the largest audience — an estimated 1-billion, worldwide..

But even if you have visited, you cannot know all of Hawaii. Island after island holds secrets that only the locals know.

To learn about them, you need to talk to the kama’aina (kah-ma-EYE-na), residents who are native-born. Read an insider’s guidebook such as Maverick Guide to Hawaii, which former Oahu resident Bob Bone has updated about 20 times since he wrote it in 1976. Or Hawaii Trivia by kama’aina Ed. Cassidy.

Of course, people have to work for a living in Hawaii, but many islanders see tourists as something more than walking dollar signs. Hawaiians typically are open and friendly. They may even treat a visitor as a friend they haven’t made.

You may often hear references to ohana (oh-HAH-nah) — family — because the extended family and reverence for elders is still a guiding concept there.

And islanders know they live in a special place. They often joke about being “on Hawaiian time,” which doesn’t refer to a time zone but rather means taking a moment to watch the dolphins play offshore, or to enjoy the frequent rainbows.

Every desk clerk has learned to greet guests with the ubiquitous aloha. As with all those images gleaned from watching movies and TV shows, we mainlanders may think we know what aloha means: both hello and goodbye. But it is more than that.

The word comes from the Hawaiian alo, which means to come face to face, and ha, the breath of life. So aloha also can signify a greeting of affection or kindness. Bumper stickers implore you to “Live Aloha.”

That spirit of aloha is something you will not gain from looking at postcards or movies. Visit the islands to enjoy a different state – of place and of mind.

For More Information

The government’s official tourism site, brimming with enticing images, information and help, is

End Bag, the new book from Bob Jenkins, collects his best stories from 19 years as travel editor. Available now on View a sample at Read more about End Bag here.

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