Friday, April 9, 2010

Hang loose

When I first met our shuttle bus driver, I liked him immediately. As he looked over the two dozen people waiting to board his bus for a ride to the rental cars, he said "You all leave your luggage here on the curb and board the bus. I'll take care of the luggage." We all obeyed, and then watched in amazement as he literally ran back and forth between the bus and the curb, picking up the heavy suitcases two at a time, deftly packing them in the bus luggage rack like a master tetris player. Sweat was pouring off his shaved head and muscular arms, but that didn't slow him down; he packed all the luggage in only a minute or two. When he deftly placed the last bag on the rack, I couldn't resist clapping and yelling "Bravo!" He didn't hear my cheer, though, because he was busy jumping into the driver's seat, where he boomed into the PA system: "Aloha! Welcome to the Big island!"

I liked him even more when another driver was courteous to him along the drive, and he reacted by flashing a big smile and a big "hang loose" hand gesture. When he dropped me off, I gave him a tip and said "You rock!" and he seemed surprised and grateful that I had noticed.

I like Hawaiians. I hope some of their good-natured ways rub off on me.

A little later that day, I was amused to see this "Hawaiian Rule" on a bench outside a gift shop, which does seem to accurately capture the culture: "Speak softly and wear a loud shirt".

"People liked to take Hawaiian men with them on voyages", another wonderful Hawaiian, Danny Akaka, Jr., told me as he took me on a historical tour, "because they work hard, they'll eat anything, they get along with everyone, and they adapt to any conditions." That's why there's a town in Washington State, Kalama, named after a was settled by the many Hawaiians recruited by the Hudson Bay Company back in the 1800's. Proving just how adaptable Hawaiians were, there's even a town in Utah's barren west desert, called Iosepa, that was settled by Hawaiian Mormon converts.

Another of my favorite Hawaiians, who embodied the "hang loose" spirit was "Uncle" Danny, the guide on the fabulous waterfall tour I took with Hawaii Forest & Trail. Here's a photo of the two of us, happily displaying the hang loose sign, on the overlook above the Pololu Valley.

Danny isn't my uncle, of course, but that's one of the beautiful things about the Hawaiian culture...everyone is your uncle or auntie!

We had two energetic young boys on the tour with us, who liked to use their walking sticks as light sabers, and Uncle Danny was great with them. One of the boys had taken surfing lessons, so Danny told him all about the 5 surf boards that he owned, and how he loves to go surfing for free every afternoon.

One of the boys studied martial arts, and so Danny told us about his sixth degree black belt he held in Taekwondo. Danny is also a guitar player, showing us his short fingernails on his left hand, for pressing on the frets, and his longer fingernails on his right hand, for strumming and picking. He explained that "ukelele" is a Hawaiian word that literally translated means "jumping fleas" because when it was first introduced (it's a cross between a mandolin and a guitar), the way the player's hands would jump around the frets reminded people of fleas jumping around. To pronounce it correctly in Hawaiian, you say "ew-kelele" instead of "you-kelele".

I liked hearing about his hobbies, and seeing what a rich and diverse life he had. I lived with a wonderful Hawaiian roommate for about 7 years, and she was the same way...she knew how to enjoy life, surrounding herself with beauty and with many hobbies that gave her joy. I'd like to be more like that.

"Take your time. There's no rush" Danny would say if we got behind the group as we hiked through the luscious forest on our way to see gorgeous falls, like this one:

Danny liked to philosophize as we hiked along. "You can never see too many waterfalls", he told us "just like you can never see too many sunsets." He told us about rich people he had met who were so harried and rushed, they couldn't enjoy life, and about poor people he knew who were happy, because they knew how to relax and enjoy life's beauties and little pleasures.

When we came upon the ruins of an early Hawaiian village, he told us about how the people would pick fruit and catch seafood in the morning, and would then spend the afternoons enjoying themselves--surfing, exploring, hunting and the like. "What more could you want from life?", he said, but then explained that when the English missionaries came, they disapproved of all the fun, calling it laziness.

He told us about Hawaii's multi-cultural nature, and how people learned long ago that mixed-race marriages produced beautiful babies. He was proud of being part Hawaiian, part Portuguese, part Chinese, and part Spanish. He talked about Barak Obama (or "Barry the Bomber" as he was known in his high-school basketball star days) and how he isn't black...he's both black and white and so fit in perfectly with Hawaiian multi-racial culture. He told us about President Obama surfing while on vacation in Hawaii, and joked that the secret service agents who had never surfed before were really the ones in danger as they tried to protect the president, since Obama, being a local boy, was clearly good at surfing!

I loved all the details Danny noticed and pointed out to us, such as this plant that withers in self-defense when touched:

He picked guava for us to eat, which wasn't quite ripe, so it tasted like one of those "sweet and sour" candies:

I had to smile when he pointed out all the little guava trees growing everywhere. The cows like to eat the guava too, and the seeds pass right through their systems, resulting in little guava trees growing all over the place. The caretakers must dig them up like weeds so the entire farm doesn't become a big guava grove.

Danny cut a piece of sugarcane, and gave us some to chew on, which was just slightly, pleasantly sweet. It was a little like chewing on a flavored toothpick.

Danny explained how the kukui nut (which those brown or black shiny nut leis are made of), has wonderful oils that kept his 90-year-old grandma's skin looking young:

He showed us six or seven different waterfalls, and gave us the opportunity to swim at one of them. Here I am, just getting ready to swim in the cold pool at the base of this waterfall.

"If you go right under the falls, it will give you a massage" he told me, and so I did. The waterfall was spring fed, so the water was cold, but also very refreshing. If you plan to do this sometime, be sure to take along a pair of goggles, so you can enjoy it even more without water splashing into your eyes.

One thing that surprised me was that out of the seven people on the tour, only three of us swam. I wasn't sure why a person would pay the money to go on a waterfall tour, without taking advantage of the opportunity to swim, but people do it all the time, I guess. Danny liked me, because I was open to swimming and having new experiences. "You've gone native!" he said to me as I climbed out of the pool at the base of the waterfall. Since being open to new experiences is not a natural part of my personality, but is instead something I choose to cultivate and work towards, Danny's words meant a lot to me.

Towards the end of the trip, when Tracy and I were driving down a narrow road to the remote southern-most point of the United States, one of the other drivers gave me a big "hang loose" gesture when I moved off the road so he could pass. I remembered the bus driver, Uncle Danny, and Danny Akaka with fondness, and remembered to give the "hang loose" gesture and a big smile to anyone who was courteous to me too. Sharing the love made me happy, and made me hopeful that perhaps a little of the happy, relaxed, life-loving hang-loose Hawaiian spirit did indeed rub off on me.

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