8 Things You Might Not Know About Life in Hawaii

When I went home for Christmas, one of the first things my parents asked was “what has surprised you the most about living in Hawaii?” I didn’t have a great answer then other than “the speed limit is 35 miles per hour on the highway and people follow it.”

Well, I’ve had 10 months to marinate on an answer, and now I think I’ve finally got some ideas, big and small. I hope this will allow you to see the surprising details of what it’s really like living in small town Oahu!

  1. There’s not a ton of wildlife here.

We’re in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Has anyone thought recently about just how far away Hawaii is from literally everywhere else in the world? Check it out:

We really out here. (Source: https://oliverandamandaineurope.com/2015/04/08/by-wind-water-or-wing-to-hawaii/)

Needless to say, it’d be a difficult trek for our animal friends to make. Which leaves us with these stunning creatures:

Mmmmm. Dinner!

When my principal and I stopped at McDonald’s on the first drive from the airport to campus, I saw at least 10 chickens in the parking lot and asked “so the nuggets are going to be super fresh?” I’m pretty sure McDonald’s doesn’t serve local chickens, but there ARE a ton of these guys here on the island.

I’ve seen nene (ducks), mongoose (scary-looking squirrels) and a couple of WILD HOGS (one on our campus!), but as far as wild mammals, that’s pretty much the list.

2. But the creepy crawlies are very creepy.

Like the cane spiders that will crawl out of your sink drain while you’re washing your hands. Speaking from experience here. They’re not poisonous, but they’re big and scary and for sure going to meet the bottom of my flip flop.

We also have centipedes, which are poisonous and unfortunately have a hard body casing that makes them difficult to kill. They for sure would have survived if that North Korean missile had actually been heading for Oahu. Nevertheless, in one of the opening faculty meetings, my assistant principal held up a foot-long dead centipede on a piece of paper towel and said “If you see one of these, kill it right away.”

And cockroaches are just a fact of life.

In other words, always keep a flip flop handy.

3. Geckos are guardians.

Who knew this list would be all about animals?? I promise we’ll get to other stuff soon. Geckos live in our homes here. The 6th grade boarding boys at school call them “guardians” because they eat the gross insects and mosquitoes. I have learned to love the the guardians, even though they poop on the walls and make a loud chirping noise that has definitely thrown me off my game while teaching.

4. Aloha doesn’t just mean hello and goodbye.

Fridays are Aloha Fridays, which means it’s time to bust out your Hawaiian shirt or most outrageous muumuu! My workplace might not be representative of all of Hawaii because we already have a more casual culture, but most people here make an effort to don their aloha apparel on Fridays. (In general, the dress code is wayyyyy more relaxed than in Minnesota. I have worn Birkenstocks to work every day here.)

I wear this little number every Friday.

Another place you’ll experience more aloha is on the roads. I live out in the country, where it is very much the norm to stop traffic to allow other cars to pull in ahead of you. When this happens, the car pulling in will often throw a shaka out the window to thank the person who stopped for them.

Spread aloha, not germs.

It’s a cool system. This doesn’t hold up quite as much in the city, where cars drive just as fast as they do in Minneapolis, but driving up here in Hau’ula is a pretty relaxed experience.

5. Outdoor recreation is on a new level of intense.

When I moved to Hawaii, my step-mom Kathy gave me three pieces of advice, one of which was “stay away from edges.” At the time, I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I learned quickly that outdoor recreation is a different beast in Hawaii.

Many of the hiking trails here are officially “illegal,” but you’d never know it based on how many people still go there. In fact, one of the most iconic trails, “Stairway to Heaven,” has a guard stationed to stop hikers. Like that’s going to stop anyone!

I learned how different the scale of difficulty was when we took the kids hiking one of the first weekends. My colleague, who has lived on the island for many years, took us to a trail she deemed “easy.” It was entirely uphill. I hiked the entire thing way behind everyone else with one of our boarders, pretending I was taking it slow just to help him. Secretly I was panting the whole way up.

Some locals RUN UP THIS TRAIL (an abandoned set of railroad tracks up the peak of a mountain) for their daily exercise. It took my friend and me 3 hours to go up and down.

Jellyfish stings are common here. Everyone has had their ass handed to them in the waves. Kathy was right–stay away from edges, and if someone tells you a hike “isn’t that bad,” assume they’re underselling it.

6. It rains a lot during the rainy season.

It’s absolutely gorgeous now, but from November-March, Hau’ula (and the whole windward side of Oahu) gets a ton of rain. Most days, it passes through quickly and the weather can go from flash-flooding to sunny in 2 minutes. However, there were days-long stretches where it rained constantly. That’s how we get such remarkable rainbows!

Seeing a waterspout in real life was exhilarating.

7. The good news–you can drive to a sunnier location!

While the windward side gets pounded with rain, it stays pretty sunny and dry on the leeward, or west side, of the island. And since it only takes an hour and a half to drive to the western tip of the island from where I live, it’s not unreasonable to seek out sunnier skies when it’s too gloomy here.

Yokohama Beach on the West Side.

8. There are truly no bars where I live.

Aside from Turtle Bay resort, which is 15 minutes up the road from our campus, there are no bars unless you drive the hour south to Kailua or Honolulu. Our campus is next to the town of Laie, where the majority of residents are members of the LDS church. So this year, I traded in thirsty Thursdays for Thursdays at the ice cream shop. It’s a wholesome life!

Before all the students left campus, this meant I had a very healthy sleep schedule, as we’d usually disband weekend festivities after we returned from a dinner out. We also found new ways to have fun–game nights, taking a bottle of wine to the beach, picking coconuts, bonfires. Nights out dancing are a rare occasion! It’s a huge difference from living in rural Minnesota, where dive bars were a common weekend gathering place.

Coconut hunting on Valentine’s Day.
Dancing the night away at Cuckoo Coconuts in Waikiki. Nights out were a rare occasion this year.

There you have it! I hope this gave you a drive-by, “realer” look at my life in this beautiful place.

Have you ever been to Hawaii? I’d love to hear if these ring true for your experience too.

The Truth Comes Out

“So… what made you pick Korea?”

South Korea, right?”

“I hope you like kimchi.”

Overall, my loved ones did not quite match my excitement about accepting a job to teach English in South Korea. And I can’t say that I blamed them. Korea hardly calls to mind ideas that put Americans at ease–the DMZ, Kim Jong-un, nuclear missiles hovering just miles above our heads. Not to mention raccoon cafes! (You know, coffee shops where you can play with raccoons?) Once my loved ones adjusted to the idea of me hopping on a 13 hour flight that took me THAT MUCH CLOSER TO ISIS and rabies, they got excited, too.

Fast-forward four months to July 5, one month before I’m scheduled to leave, and my visa falls through. In an amazing display of the stereotypical rigidity I had secretly associated with Korea, Korean immigration rejected it: no exceptions, no grandfathering in. Nothing I could do.

Brace yourself for whiplash, because one week later, I accepted a position teaching English at a small private school on Oahu.

Of course, I went straight back to my loved ones and told them the news about Hawaii, practically foaming at the mouth as I did it. This time, my excitement found its match:

“HAWAII! I’m visiting!”

“I’m looking at flights right now!”

“That’s my favorite place in the world! I can’t wait to visit!”

My sister, who feels uneasy about traveling on airplanes and flat out told me there was no way she would make the flight to Korea, responded to the news with, “Hey, I’ll come visit you there!” When I called my State Farm agent to ask what I should do with my car insurance, she practically bought a surf board and invited herself to come stay with me. Even my doctor chimed in positively on the change in plans: “Korea would be interesting, but Hawaii… I think that’ll be better,” he remarked as he removed the stitches from my butt cheek.

Wow. So even my doctor was harboring secret doubts about Korea. GOOD TO KNOW!

Not a single person asked me what made me pick Hawaii. It’s pretty obvious. Beaches? Sun? No polar vortex? Mountains? Tropical paradise? While South Korea calls to mind images of crowded cities and high rises, the word “Hawaii” itself blooms with images of a yellow Jeep sailing and winding on a coastal highway, taking its time to reach the perfect surf point at sunset. Frankly, if a person had asked “what made you pick Hawaii?” I would have grabbed them and high-tailed it to the nearest therapist.

All this to say, I felt excited for Korea. Throughout the months, I learned about the culture, and found out that while crowded skylines were no anomaly, neither were beaches and warm people. It would have been a big adventure, the biggest of my life. Maybe it will still happen some day. But Hawaii is an adventure, too. I can’t wait to have so many visitors.