Hawaii

Since everyone keeps asking me for Hawaii recommendations…

Food:

Some Hawaiian classics include kalua pig (shredded pork rubbed with sea salt and slow-cooked in an underground pit), lau lau (meat steamed inside taro leaves), and lomi-lomi salmon (fresh tomato and salmon salad, with Maui onions).

The poke trend is finally slowing down in New York, but that’s only because it was never real poke. Poke was invented in Hawaii and is completely different from the glorified salad found at fast-casual poke shops on the mainland. The raw fish (usually tuna, octopus, or salmon) should be marinating in sauce (usually soy sauce, salt, green onions, and seaweed) all day and served in a plastic tub, sold by weight. The most satisfying day you can possibly have in Hawaii is going to Foodland, ordering a tub of poke from the fish counter, and eating it on the beach on a hot day.

Malasadas are originally from Portugal, but when Portuguese immigrants came to Hawaii in the 1870s to work on plantations, they brought these fried balls of dough covered in sugar, and they became an integral part of Hawaiian cuisine. Pipeline Bakeshop is the best place for them.

Shave ice is smoother than the shaved ice you find on the mainland. Waiola is my favorite. You can also add ice cream, azuki beans, and other toppings.

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Honolulu has the best Japanese food outside of Japan, so obviously there are too many Japanese restaurants to list, but here are some of my favorites. For sushi, go to Mitch’s Sushi (Obama’s favorite!), Kin Chan, or Imanas Tei. For onigiri (triangular musubis), head over to Mana Bu’s early and bring a few to the beach. Try Izakaya Gazen for tofu, Marukami Udon for udon, Inaba for tempura and soba, and Nisshodo Candy Store for some of the best chi chi dango mochi of your life.

Brunch: Plumeria Beach House at the Kahala Hotel (get the breakfast buffet)

Dim sum: Jade Dynasty (try the snow mountain buns — they’re just like the ones from Tim Ho Wan, but don’t make a fuss about them)

Korean BBQ: Yakiniku Don-Day (sit in the outside section)

Special occasions: Alan Wong or Senia

Ice cream: Bubbies — best mochi ice cream you’ll ever have!

Coffee: Island Vintage

Cookies: The Cookie Corner (so much better than Levain!)

Late-night dinner: Zippy’s (get a ZipPac at any of the locations around the island, like a local)

Coco puffs: Liliha Bakery is a diner, but everyone comes for the Coco Puffs, made of choux pastry, chocolate pudding, and chantilly with sugar.

Beaches:

North Shore: Where all the famous surfing competitions take place. The North Shore all the way on the other side of the island, so make a day out of it — explore the touristy but charming town of Haleʻiwa, pick up a sandwich at Storto’s and eat it on the beach, and stop by Matsumoto for shave ice after.

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Sandy’s: Obama’s favorite beach! If you’re not a strong swimmer, it can be pretty dangerous out here, but of course that’s why people take pride in it.

Makapu’u: Named after the Makapu’u lighthouse on the cliff beside it, this beach is right next to Sandy’s

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View of Makapu’u Beach below

Lanikai: Best beach for photos! The sand is super soft, the waters are calm, and the two islands out in the ocean were just made for the ‘gram.

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Hanauma Bay: This is one of the most touristy beaches in Hawaii (you have to pay and watch a safety video before entering), but there’s a reason why — it’s a protected marine life conservation area, so you can actually snorkel with fish. It’s also gorgeous.

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Hikes:

Maunawili Falls: This is a very lush trail, so make sure to wear bug spray, waterproof clothes, and shoes with traction. At the end of the hike is a waterfall, so you can reward yourself  by taking a swim and jumping off cliffs if you’re feeling brave. Bring a change of clothes (or water bottle to wash yourself off) before you return to your car; you will get muddy!

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Koko Head: This is basically a Stairmaster, but the views of Honolulu are worth it the steep staircase.

Diamond Head: Yes, this is extremely touristy and you actually have to pay to enter, but come before sunrise and you’ll understand why.

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Mariner’s Ridge: I forget if this one is still “officially” closed, but you know what? Just hike it. The views of both Honolulu and the Windward Side are worth it. This is a fairly easy hike.

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Other activities:

Ala Moana: As someone who hates malls, I love Ala Moana. It’s the largest open-air mall in the world, and, while it does have chains, it also has some specialty shops and restaurants that you can only find in Hawaii, and sometimes there are cultural events and performances that occur here.

Hotel hopping in Waikiki: One of my favorite pastimes. I always make sure to stop by the Moana Surfrider (the oldest hotel in Hawaii), Royal Hawaiian (the pink hotel), and Halekulani (probably the classiest hotel in Waikiki).

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ʻIolani Palace: Did you know that Hawaii was once a kingdom? We actually have a fascinating history (I’m surprised movies aren’t constantly made about it), and Hawaii is still the only place in the country with a royal palace. You can tour ʻIolani Palace and understand why many Hawaiians still want sovereignty.

Skydiving: Honestly, skydiving anywhere else seems like a waste. It’s hard to top the views of the coastline.

Sea Life Park: It’s like a toned-down Sea World.

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Drive along the eastern coast for some of the most stunning views of your life. Just be careful!

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Bautista Ramil Professional Wedding Photos

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An obligatory lei surrounding the invitation to our travel-themed wedding in Hawaii
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My bridesmaids and I got ready in my hotel room at the Kahala Hotel. How’s that for a wedding morning view?

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It never made sense to me why bridesmaids should wear the same dress, when they  might look their best in different things. I’m all about celebrating diversity — plus, I trust my girls’ tastes — so my only instruction to them was to find a long blue dress. I was absolutely in awe with what they brought back.

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Meanwhile, the guys got ready at my parents’ house a few minutes away from the Kahala Hotel

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Our photographer took advantage of my parents’ coconut tree in the front yard.
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Anthony joined me at our hotel for the first-look photos. No peeking around the corner!

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After our first-look photos, we moved to our wedding venue in downtown Honolulu

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The best part of getting married in downtown Honolulu is that you can walk over to the historic Iolani Palace for extra photos.

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Both of our dresses are from Saja, a wonderful little designer boutique in Tribeca

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Setting up the courtyard for our ceremony

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I love that he got to walk down the aisle with his parents, too.
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My adorable cousin walks down the aisle with a “I came for the cake” sign,” very appropriate for our food-themed ceremony

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My brother read us an excerpt about marriage from a feminist writer
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Anthony’s sister read us a quote about love from one of our favorite movies.

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Instead of unity candles or sand ceremonies, Anthony and I represented our union with food that symbolized us — I’m a macaron, and he’s a Ritz cracker.
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Feeding me a Ritz cracker

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Signing our marriage license
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For a seating chart, Anthony used a world map, since each table was themed after a city that we’ve visited together.
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Find your seat!
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My cousin provided us with a live band during our cocktail hour
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It’s not a wedding without a photo booth!
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My aunt baked us four beautiful cakes. Here’s our cake toppers that I ordered from Etsy! They look like us!

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Semi-naked cakes are my favorite.
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To match our travel theme, our favors were little suitcase tins filled with Hawaiian macadamia nuts
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Each table was themed after a city that we’ve visited together. On each table was a book and four pictures that we took in that city.
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Setting up the courtyard for our dinner reception

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Our dinner buffet included Hawaiian food like macadamia-nut mahi mahi and kalua pig.

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Anthony’s cousin danced a beautiful hula to my favorite Hawaiian song

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My Maid-of-Honor’s speech made me cry, of course.
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The Best Man’s speech made me cry, too!
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We played the Shoe Game, but with rubbah slippahs — a nice Hawaiian touch.
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Our first dance was to KCi & Jojo’s “All My Life”

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It’s not a true Filipino wedding unless you have the Money Dance!
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It looked like a music video

 

 

Tokyo

Some cities make me feel at home immediately, as if I could move to them next year and be completely content. I felt that way the first time I visited New York many years ago, as well as when I visited Milan last summer. I felt that same way when Anthony and I arrived in Tokyo, the first stop on our honeymoon around Asia.

After landing at Narita, we exchanged our vouchers for 7-day Japan Rail passes, which are a must for anyone planning to visit multiple cities in Japan. The passes were created to boost tourism in the country, so only international tourists are allowed to buy these. In fact, when we visited some family friends in Tokyo, they excitedly asked to see what our JR passes looked like since they’ve never been able to purchase them. After receiving our passes, Anthony and I hopped onto the next Narita Express train (N’EX, for short) and enjoyed the comfortable one-hour ride into Tokyo.

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Riding the N’EX into Tokyo

We got off at Shinjuku Station, the world’s busiest transportation hub, servicing 3.6 million commuters a day. The clean, spacious station has 36 platforms, elegant shops, and 12 different train lines. We tried not to compare it to New York’s drab Penn Station, with its fast-food chains and homeless people sleeping in every corner.

Our hotel, Shinjuku Granbell Hotel, was a leisurely walk from the station. My goal is to always find hotels that match whatever city I’m visiting, so this sleek boutique hotel, located in the heart of a vibrant neighborhood of neon lights, was perfect for Tokyo. Our room was small — as we expected (and even hoped for) — but was designed efficiently so that the size didn’t bother us.

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Our little hotel room at the Shinjuku Granbell Hotel

One of my favorite things about our hotel was that the front desk provided an entire shelf of their personal neighborhood recommendations. Since ramen is a Tokyo specialty, we vowed to eat ramen every night we were there. For our first dinner, we walked a few blocks to Mensho Taketora Honten, a small ramen shop known for its tsukemen (dipping noodles). You know we’re New Yorkers because when we got there, the line outside didn’t phase us at all; in fact, if a restaurant has no wait at prime dinner time, it can’t be that good, right? So, we waited, and it turned out that the line moved quickly, and the restaurant handed out menus and took orders from waiting customers so that our meal would be ready just shortly after being seated. Japanese efficiency!

We were pleased when we were led to bar seats at a counter, where we could watch the ramen being made by hand. The proper way to eat ramen is to eat it as quickly as possible, since noodles only last for a few minutes after they’re added to the hot broth before becoming overcooked and mushy. If you’re a slow eater like me, the best thing you can do is order tsukemen so that the noodles are served separately from the soup. I ordered the ura tsukemen and dipped my fresh noodles into a bowl of thick, spicy broth with roast pork. Before our meal, we were given an oshibori (a hot, damp cloth towel used to wipe hands before and during the meal), which is customary in restaurants around Japan and China. The restaurant also served us complimentary deep-fried noodles before our ramen arrived. These were delicious!

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Ura tsukemen

The next morning was pleasant and cool, so we roamed around our neighborhood for breakfast and stumbled into Matsuya, a cheap Japanese chain established in the ’60s, with over 833 restaurants scattered throughout the country. Once you are familiar with Matsuya’s bright circle logo, you’ll notice Matsuyas everywhere. There’s no need to talk to a single person inside, as vending machines flank the entrances. Just choose the pictures of food you want and pay at the vending machine, then sit down at the counter and put your ticket order on the table. A few minutes later, your meal will be placed in front of you. This place is perfect for tourists who can’t speak Japanese! Compared to the grilled salmon, refreshing tofu, and pickled vegetables that Japanese workers can eat at Matsuya, the greasy breakfast foods that American workers gorge on before they rush off to work seem so pitiful.

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All of this was about $4.50!

We continued our walk to Meiji Jingu, a Shinto shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken. On the way, we noticed that almost all businessmen wear white shirts (reminiscent of Paris, where everyone wears only neutral colors — no bright colors allowed!), and there are designated smoking areas around Tokyo. These smoking areas are brilliant! New York needs these desperately, so all those smokers can huddle around and get lung cancer together without affecting my life. Meiji Jingu was first built in 1915 and is located in a 170-acre evergreen forest. The 120,000 trees were donated by people from all parts of Japan when the shrine was established.

We left the serene shrine for Shibuya Crossing, located in a popular shopping district. Shibuya Crossing is often compared to Times Square and is one of the most iconic spots in Tokyo. However, considering it’s “the most crowded intersection in the world,” it didn’t feel much worse than midtown Manhattan on a weekday. (Thanks, New York, for making the rest of world feel kind of underwhelming.) In fact, I’m certain that the only reason Shibuya Crossing is technically more crowded than New York’s intersections is because people in Tokyo don’t jaywalk. In such an efficient, fast-paced city full of pedestrians, it was surprising to us that they don’t jaywalk like New Yorkers (come on, Tokyo, you have my permission!). We went to the famous Starbucks right in the middle of the crossing for the best view. As someone who normally opposes Starbucks, I have to admit that in Japan and the Philippines, this sugary-drink corporation sure has a monopoly on good views.

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Shibuya Crossing

Most of Shibuya was a bit too commercial for me, but soon we stumbled into Harajuku, still part of Shibuya but filled with smaller, more independent boutiques. Some streets were quaint, with surf shops and quirky cafes, while other streets were wide with designer stores and reminded me of Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki. Appropriately, we found an Island Vintage (my favorite coffee shop in Hawaii) and an Eggs ‘n Things (a breakfast eatery from Waikiki)! Throughout our time in Japan, we couldn’t help but notice how much Japan seriously loves Hawaii — specifically, Honolulu. Japanese tourists have always been a crucial part of my childhood, so it was fun to see their obsession with my city even in their own country.

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Island Vintage Coffee and a very happy Hawaiian

On the way back to our hotel, we caught the subway for the first time, and that’s when I once again realized how utterly disappointing America is. Tokyo’s subways are spotless and so easy to use. Signs on the platform say what the previous and the next stations are. Each station is numbered, and so is each exit as you leave the station — this is very convenient for tourists who can’t read Japanese. There are lines painted in the stations, urging pedestrians to walk to their left, and more lines are painted on the platforms, urging commuters to stand in line to enter the train while leaving enough room for commuters exiting the train. On the train, multilingual electronic signs tell you what car you’re in. It must be so frustrating for Japanese tourists who are used to Tokyo’s subway system to come to the U.S. and have to deal with New York’s convoluted one.

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We’re in car 2 on the subway to Ikebukuro

We met my dad’s friend Takahiro and his young daughter Asuka at our hotel before going to his home in Nerima, just a 20-minute train ride from us. It was lovely to walk through his neighborhood, filled with quiet streets and groups of schoolchildren, wearing adorable uniforms that almost made me miss my 13 years of embarrassing Sailor Moon outfits. Takahiro’s wife Reiko welcomed us when we arrived at their house. I have so many memories of Takahiro and Reiko visiting my family in Hawaii throughout my life; it was really nice to see them in Japan for a change.

Reiko and Takahiro treated us to a feast for lunch. We started with a sausage plate, moved on to a sushi (we got to make so many hand rolls!), continued to some Osaka-style okonomiyaki, and concluded with chilled azuki jelly and green tea. That sushi bar was one of my favorite experiences in Tokyo. We’d place a large sheet of nori in our left palm, fill it with a small scoop of rice, place a slab of sashimi in top, and roll everything into a cone before dipping it into our wasabi-shoyu mixture. I got very good at putting in the right ratios and carefully rolling everything. I think my new goal in life should be to have monthly sushi parties with my friends.

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So much sashimi!

Anthony’s favorite neighborhood was Asakusa, which started out as an entertainment district for rice traders with disposable income who could enjoy theaters and geisha houses. Asakusa really reminded me of Montmartre in Paris, not only because Asakusa’s geisha past is equivalent to Montmartre’s cabaret past, but because both neighborhoods are now extremely touristy due to their historic charm. We visited the architecturally- stunning Asakusa Tourism & Culture Center, an 8-story building designed to look like a stack of small houses with sloping roofs rising horizontally. The top floor has a small cafe and free observation deck, offering a panoramic view of the city. Then we went to Nakamise Dori, a long shopping street that leads to Sensoji Temple and contains tons of shops selling local snacks and souvenirs. Many of these shops have been run by the same family for generations.

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Asakusa Tourism & Cultural Center
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Nakamise Dori

We woke up early the next morning, but not early enough to watch the 5 am fish auction at Tsukiji Fish Market. Regardless, we got there before the huge crowds did and were able to leisurely wander around, trying not to eat everything in sight. Sushi for breakfast at Tsukiji is a must. There are a bunch of restaurant options, and any of them will have better sushi than anything you’ve had in the U.S. — even if you’ve grown up in Honolulu, and even if you’ve been to some of the fanciest sushi restaurants in New York.

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Tsukiji Fish Market isn’t just great for fish; you can get fresh tamago on a stick!

Most Americans don’t eat sushi properly. Just like with ramen, the only place you should be eating sushi is at the sushi bar, right in front of the chef. The quality of the fish declines exponentially the longer it sits on your plate, so you want to minimize the amount of time between the sushi chef and your mouth. Use your hands to pick up your sushi, not chopsticks; chopsticks will ruin the perfect form of your sushi made by the chef. At the very best sushi restaurants, the chef will have already put whatever shoyu or wasabi is appropriate on each piece, so you shouldn’t be dipping anything yourself. However, at mid-range places, you might still have to add your own shoyu and wasabi; when this is the case, do not dip your sushi rice side-down because it will fall apart and leave bits of rice in your little sauce bowl. Tilt it, fish side-down, and dip only enough to put a hint of sauce on it. Place it fish side-down on your tongue as well, so you taste the full flavor of the fish. Eat the sushi piece in one bite; breaking it is very rude to the chef, who spent time making the perfect piece for you. Don’t forget to eat ginger between each sushi piece to cleanse your palette.

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Sushi at Tsukiji Fish Market

After stuffing ourselves with as much sushi as possible, we made our way to Akihabara, the electronics and anime neighborhood of Tokyo. The electronics shops are west of the Akihabara Station, while most of the anime shops and maid cafes are to the north. We started with the electronics side and ended up at Yodobashi, an impressive chain store with everything from rice cookers to shoes to food courts. Yodobashi even has a theme song: a lively cover of The Battle Hymn of the Republic. The best part was Yodobashi’s massage chair area. There were about twenty massage chairs just waiting to be tried, and these were the most elaborate massage chairs I’d ever seen. A staff member walked around to make sure no one stayed too long, but we were able to spend about half an hour there — it was like getting a free couple’s massage!

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Taking advantage of Yodobashi’s massage chair section

Eventually we felt guilty and had to move on to other things. We left Yodobashi and walked toward the anime section of Akihabara. It was a stark contrast. In this part of town, cosplayers lined the streets, handed out advertisements, and posed for photos. We found refuge in a honey toast cafe and explored quirky shops that sell those crazy Japanese inventions like umbrellas that you can strap onto your shoulder and inflatable phone holders for the bath tub.

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We learned how to eat honey toast properly: Cut it into nine vertical slices, then spread the toppings onto each slice
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An umbrella that converts into a seat!

Animal cafes are huge in Tokyo, especially since pets are not always possible in such tight living spaces with strict rental agreements. Americans get excited over cat cafes, but Japan has had much more interesting ones for years — hedgehog cafes, rabbit cafes, snake cafes (yikes!), etc. The hedgehog cafe was booked, and a rabbit cafe didn’t sound that intriguing since I used to own a rabbit, so we agreed on an owl cafe called Ikefukuro, in the bustling neighborhood of Ikebukuro. (Yes, the cafe’s name is a play on words since “fukuro” means owl.) The neighborhood of Ikebukuro reminds me of Greenwich Village — previously home to struggling artists but now a hot spot for shopping and dining.  We had to make an appointment, and for less than 20 bucks we got to spend an hour interacting with a bunch of owls stationed around the cafe. Some owls were “in training,” which means they are still acclimating to humans and are not ready to be handled yet. Others were able to perch on our fingers or shoulders (depending on their size), and one was even free to roam around the cafe. Anthony was brave enough to handle a couple of owls, but I turned out to be terrified by them! I tried, but every time I got too close to one, I freaked out. Must be the sharp beaks. Maybe the rabbit cafe would have been more my speed.

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So comfortable with the owls
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Meanwhile, I’m terrified

For our last dinner in Tokyo, we made sure to have ramen again — this time from a restaurant known for its shrimp broth — and finished the evening at our hotel’s rooftop bar, where we toasted the night with Japanese whiskey and sparkling sake.

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Wear bibs, especially when eating shrimp broth ramen

We had one last day in Tokyo before we needed to catch the shinkansen to Kyoto, so we ventured to Roppongi, a neighborhood known for its night club scene, expat residents, and expensive high-rise complexes called Roppongi Hills. The extravagant but sterile environment really reminded me of Singapore. We went to the Mori Art Museum, a contemporary art museum located on the 53rd floor of the Roppongi Hills complex. We saw a huge installation of paraphernalia from Studio Ghibli, the animation film studio best known for Miyazaki’s films. Eight of Studio Ghibli’s films are among the 15 highest-grossing anime films made in Japan, such as Spirited Away. After the museum, we went up to the Tokyo City View observation deck for stunning 360-degree views of the city.

13728941_10209439583563071_3079457329935852592_nIt’s funny to see Tokyo from above. You can tell Japan peaked in the ’80s because most of the buildings still seem to be from that era. However dated, I was in love with the city. Tokyo is like a large Honolulu, a dignified New York, and snippets of Paris, all in one. I could easily see myself living in some of the neighborhoods we had explored (e.g., Harajuku, Ikebukuro), and yet there were still so many that we had left untouched. We’ll be back, Tokyo. Until then, konnichiwa, Kyoto!

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Tips for future travelers:

  1. When in doubt, bow. In Japan, people bow when saying hello and goodbye, when starting and ending a meeting, when thanking and apologizing… The list goes on. To be safe, we just bowed whenever we were greeted at every restaurant, store, and hotel. I’m sure we didn’t follow all the strict rules of this intricate cultural gesture, but since we reeked of American tourist anyway, I think most locals appreciated that we attempted to be as respectful as we could.
  2. My only complaint with Tokyo’s subway system is that it’s divided into two companies: the Tokyo Metro and the Toei Subway. If you don’t want to deal with the headache of figuring out which subway line is owned by which company before each ride, just purchase a ticket that covers both. Here’s a very useful site on how to use the metro.
  3. In Japan, a public restroom may have a high-tech, electronic Toto toilet in one stall, and then a simple squat toilet in the very next stall — what a juxtaposition, right? If you don’t want to use the squat toilet, check the other stalls; it’s very possible there will be a Toto toilet in one of them.
  4. If you’re going to multiple cities in Japan, Tokyo is a great city to start your trip. Almost everyone we met in Tokyo was fluent in English. Not all cities are as English-friendly, so start in Tokyo to get your bearings and practice your Japanese at leisure before heading to the other cities.

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The Bautista Ramil Wedding (Wedding Advice Pt. 5)

 

I think Anthony and I always figured our wedding would be great, but we didn’t realize how life-changing it was going to be for so many people. Our families welcomed new family members, our friends made new friends, and our love for each other felt more supported than ever. Our wedding wasn’t just a day-long event; it was a Hawaiian vacation with loved ones from around the world, some of whom we hadn’t seen in years. It’s been almost a month since the wedding, yet guests have still been telling us how much fun they had and how much they miss Hawaii.

We arrived in Honolulu on Wednesday afternoon, just four days before the wedding. We crammed in every last errand we needed to do in those first 24 hours (e.g., getting our marriage license and buying random food props for our ceremony) so that we were ready to start the festivities as soon as possible.

On Thursday, we organized a small hike up Diamond Head for those who had arrived early. We led our friends across the zigzagging paths, through tunnels, and up staircases until we finally reached the top and were rewarded with stunning views of Honolulu. After the hike, we rewarded some hungry hikers to Waiola Shave Ice, the best shave ice on the island. We taught them why “shave ice” different from shaved ice and snow cones, how to properly order one, and what the best toppings are.

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Diamond Head may be extremely touristy, but it does offer a 360-degree view of the mountains, city, and Pacific Ocean.
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Cheers!

That evening, Anthony and I had dinner at my parents’ house with two of my mom’s siblings and their families from Iowa and Idaho. It had been five years since I last saw both families, and I hadn’t realized how much I missed all of them. I used to babysit Brandon, the youngest of my cousins, and now he was going to be our ring bearer. Making this even more meaningful, I had been the flower girl at his parents’ wedding decades ago!

On Friday, Anthony and I roamed around Waikiki with Anthony’s groomsman James. It was my first time to really get to know him, and I could easily see why he has always been one of Anthony’s best friends. We ate udon for breakfast, got some tips for our honeymoon since James used to live in Japan, and sipped Kona coffee on the rocking chairs at Moana Surfrider (my favorite spot in Waikiki) before Anthony and I returned to my house to finally see all my bridesmaids.

Oh, my bridesmaids… I could write a whole blog post about how much I love these women. Three of them (Isobel, Mariah, and Carolyn) had flown in from New York, Boston, and Seattle for the wedding, and the other (Lauren) was an absolutely perfect Hawaiian host to them. For those of you who don’t have the privilege of knowing Lauren, she is the most charming person you’ll ever meet. It was no surprise that by the time I met up with my bridesmaids that day, they were already good friends despite having just met each other.

My bridesmaids and I made our way to Makapu’u Beach for the Welcome Gathering. The waves were rough that day, but when we weren’t struggling to swim, we were eating spam musubi and wasabi chips. Anthony and his groomsmen remained at Makapu’u while my bridesmaids and I left early to start my bachelorette party.

You can really tell how well your friends know you by how they plan your bachelorette party. The first thing we did? An epic photo shoot, of course. We changed into proper bachelorette party attire and took silly photos overlooking the windy coastline. I will cherish these photos forever.

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My loves

Then we made our way to the Modern Honolulu, a chic hotel in Waikiki, perfect for a girls’ night out. After we got settled, Isobel and Mariah distracted me with some poolside tanning, while my other two bridesmaids fixed up our hotel room. When I returned to the room, Lauren and Carolyn had set up games, decorations, and booze throughout our room. Those next couple of hours, drinking champagne while playing adorably kinky word games and lingerie scavenger hunts in our room, were the perfect bonding experience, and knowing that my four best friends from different spheres of my life had Skyped and emailed for the past few months to organize everything warmed my heart.

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Welcome drinks

For my bachelorette dinner, we went to Morimoto Waikiki, the Iron Chef-owned restaurant that I used to frequent when I still lived in Hawaii. We shared two 8-course omakase meals and a few entrées — more than enough food for five slender women. After dinner, we met up with some of my other friends at the bar downstairs, went dancing at Addiction, and sobered up (or fell asleep, in Isobel’s case) at a 24-hour diner.

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Drunk dancing with strangers

The next morning, we did yoga by the pool and ate at a new organic restaurant called Goofy Cafe & Dine. It was a wonderful way to conclude my bachelorette party.

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Kalua pig eggs benedict on taro muffins with sweet potatoes
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Good morning from Waikiki!

After breakfast we rushed to the wedding venue for rehearsal. The officiant, the DJ, the venue contact, and our families were all there on time — quite an accomplishment! We ran through the ceremony twice and worked out the kinks. However, I still felt nervous. The speeches we wanted our siblings to read at the ceremony didn’t sound right anymore. What if Anthony dropped my ring as he moved it from my right hand to my left hand? What if I messed up during our vows? After rehearsal, we met with our DJ to discuss the reception timeline, which still needed a lot of work. By that point, the stress that had started to build inside me almost became overbearing. We should have had a rehearsal for our reception, too! It was hard for me to enjoy the rehearsal lunch, even though the 8-course Chinese banquet that my parents hosted at Mandalay was incredible as always.

Best cure for a stressed-out mind? Staying at the Kahala Hotel. After rehearsal lunch, Anthony and I checked into our hotel, the hotel of my dreams. The Kahala Hotel has played such a significant role in my life — my family and I have celebrated numerous special events here, I used to sneak in with my friends to conduct amateur photo shoots; and I grew up just a few minutes away, so I always felt like it was mine. When we got to our room, all the stress I felt earlier melted away. Anthony and I didn’t even consider leaving our room until dinner that night.

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Tropical vibes
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Complimentary champagne and chocolate strawberries!

That night, my parents hosted an epic Hawaiian feast at their house for our pre-wedding dinner. There was poke, kalua pig, lau lau, lomi lomi salmon, haupia, and too many other things, but to top it off, they also served a huge chocolate mousse pyramid from JJ French Bistro, my favorite pâtisserie in Hawaii. The dinner was such an ideal way to introduce some of our guests to more Hawaiian food. The night was also full of productivity. Our Best Man and Maid-of-Honor perfected their speeches together, and an assembly line of friends helped us organize the table decorations.

On the morning of the wedding, I woke up early and refreshed, still in bliss that we were staying at the Kahala Hotel. One of my bridesmaids, who was staying at the hotel as well, is also an early-riser, so Anthony and I picked up some free coffee in the lower lobby and met her on one of the peninsulas on the hotel’s beach. The sun was just rising, and a few fishermen were out in the water. The skies were overcast, which should have made me nervous, but I was too happy to care. An hour later, the rest of the bridesmaids met me in my hotel room, ready to get the big day started. We changed into our matching robes, opened a bottle of champagne, and inhaled our Zippy’s breakfasts before the hair & makeup artists arrived.

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Overcast Hawaiian skies
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Wedding prep
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The finishing touches

Our wedding photographers were Anthony’s Uncle Scott and Auntie Jen from Seattle, and it was such a pleasure working with a couple full of so much love. Auntie Jen photographed the five of us at the hotel, while Uncle Scott photographed Anthony and his groomsmen getting ready at my parents’ house. Later, Anthony returned to the hotel for our first-look photos, which began in a bright hallway, climaxed on the beach, and ended in the lobby before we headed to the venue.

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Taking advantage of the Kahala Hotel’s stunning lobby

When we got to our wedding venue, almost everything was already taken of, thanks to our friends and families. We were able to complete our wedding party and family photos well before the ceremony. Cafe Julia is a fantastic venue for photos, and we were able to use the historic Iolani Palace as another backdrop since it’s just across the street. The only issue we had was some miscommunication with my florist, who was completely MIA. But unlike the previous day, I couldn’t care less. It was too late to fix anything at that point, and flowers were never much of a priority to me. (But, don’t worry, turns out she had already dropped them off.)

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The ceremony went perfectly. I loved that it was egalitarian — Anthony walked down the aisle with his parents, just as a bride would, and I walked down with both of my parents instead of with just my dad. I loved that it was secular — my dad’s friend, Judge Nakasone, was our wonderful officiant; and there was nothing even remotely religious about the ceremony. Most of all, I loved that it felt so personal. Our siblings performed readings that we had selected earlier — mine was by a feminist writer, and Anthony’s was from a movie. And instead of conventional unity candles and sand ceremonies, our union was symbolized by the sharing of food that represented us — I dramatically opened up a Ladurée box and fed Anthony a macaron, while Anthony, equally dramatically, opened up a sleeve of Ritz crackers and fed me one, causing our guests to chuckle.

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Instead of bearing rings, my cousin walked down the aisle with an “I came for the cake” sign, continuing our food theme at the ceremony

While staff set up the outdoor courtyard for our dinner reception, guests were ushered to the open bar and served spring rolls and dim sum during the cocktail hour. My cousin provided a live band, led by the extremely talented Amanda Frazier, and it was a huge hit. The photo booth, which I had found last-minute after our original photo booth company cancelled on us, exceeded my expectations. Anthony and I were able to meet with each guest individually, which meant we didn’t have to roam around during our reception and could instead enjoy the program.

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Love my cousins!

Our wedding reception wasn’t perfect, but I think it was as perfect as it could have been, considering we planned it from the other side of the country. People loved the authentic Hawaiian food served for dinner, but it rained for a minutes so our guests had to run into the hall while staff set up some umbrellas. Fortunately it only rained when most people had already finished eating, and the rain stopped as quickly as it had started. Our travel theme was able to manifest itself in the seating chart map and table decorations, but we had to shut down our slideshow of travel photos due to the rain.

Our DJ did an incredible job with the dance party, lights, and shoe game, but he told some awkward jokes throughout the program and played sappy love songs during dinner that almost put Anthony to sleep. (Celine Dion and that song from the Lion King were played; those were definitely not our choices!)

The four — yes, four! — wedding cakes that my Auntie Becky baked for us were gorgeous and exactly what I had hoped for, but Anthony’s cake topper broke and his head comically rolled off every so often. Bad omen?

Nevertheless, there were so many good vibes from all our guests, and everything — from the untimely rain to our DJ’s odd jokes — made our wedding seem more genuine, more Hawaiian, and thus more charming. It was an emotional night — at least two of our guests cried over our Father-Daughter dance; both the Best Man’s and the Maid-of-Honor’s speeches brought me to tears; and even a groomsman cried of happiness (I won’t name any names). One of the best moments of the wedding was when my cousin Kawena and Anthony’s cousin Jordan finally met. For the past four years, we’ve been wanting them to meet. As soon as they did, they were like long-lost brothers and even competed in a dance-off on the dance floor. The Ramils and the Bautistas may seem like very different families, but the fact that they both have a Kawena/Jordan in the family means those differences are superfluous.

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Each table was decorated with a book and photos of us in a city that we’ve visited together

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Desserts

The DJ had us conclude the night with our guests holding hands in a huge circle, surrounding us as we slow-danced to IZ’s “Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World”. It was completely cheesy and something I would never choose to do, but somehow it worked. We were all slick with sweat from dancing, and yet it was a beautiful opportunity to face each of our guests and relish their love.

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Sweaty dancing

The following morning, some of our guests met us for breakfast at our hotel, and I can’t recommend doing this enough. A morning-after brunch is a great way to contemplate the events of last night, and to linger in the sentiment of such a momentous day. It was also an excuse to share with our guests another one of my childhood haunts, the Plumeria Beach House, a beachfront restaurant offering an amazing Hawaiian buffet. After brunch, we said good-bye to our family and friends and headed to the airport for our honeymoon.

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Final meal with my bridesmaids

So, to answer my first wedding post, is it possible to plan a semi-destination wedding without hiring a wedding planner and day-of coordinator? Yes, but only if you have family and friends to help you immensely. Much of the fluidity of our wedding is owed to my parents and Maid-of-Honor. My parents housed six relatives and two bridesmaids in their home, transported my friends around the island, and hosted a rehearsal lunch and pre-wedding dinner. I cannot imagine how overwhelmed they must have felt during this time, yet they seemed to do all of this effortlessly.

Meanwhile, Lauren went above and beyond the typical Maid-of-Honor duties. Chauffeur, welcome bag deliverer, therapist, printer, coordinator … the list of roles Lauren took on is endless. She prepared whatever I needed before we even arrived in Hawaii, and she meticulously kept track of everything while I was there so I could enjoy my wedding. I may never know what I’ve done to deserve such a friend.

Anthony was able to meet more of my family than ever before — not just at the wedding, but at the various gatherings that took place in those few days before Sunday. Anthony’s family, though they have been to Hawaii before, were able to experience it through my family’s eyes by trying our favorite restaurants and spending time on our side of the island (they usually don’t spend much time in Honolulu). Our parents finally met each other (yes, they hadn’t met until two days before the wedding!), and their strong marriages continue to be a role model for us.

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Tips for future weddings:

  1. Make everything meaningful. A wedding might be the most personal party you’ll ever throw, so make it feel like your own. Our family members were key to so many aspects of the wedding. All the locations of our wedding festivities were significant to us. Our ceremony was food-themed, while our reception was travel-themed, as our love for food and travel defines us. Since all guests are there to celebrate you — not a national event, not some random cause that you’re helping out with — inundate them with as much of you as possible.
  2. Don’t do a destination wedding unless you are prepared for all the shipping costs. We shipped so many boxes to my parents (thanks again, Mom and Dad!) for the wedding. We didn’t keep track of how much we spent, but if money is a real issue, you may want to reconsider how much you plan to ship.
  3. Don’t choose your bridesmaids too early. Since Anthony and I had a two-year engagement, and I am excessively-organized, I selected some of my bridesmaids way too early. Over those two years, I made quite a few changes, and it wasn’t until just six months before the wedding that I finally had my perfect group of girls. Situations change, friendships change — it’s no one’s fault. But don’t waste emotions choosing the wrong people too early.
  4. While I don’t regret going straight to our honeymoon the day after the wedding, I wasn’t able to do as much travel research as I usually do for our vacations. Unlike our Europe trip last summer, our honeymoon in Asia wasn’t impeccably planned because I had spent so much time and energy planning our wedding. If you don’t think you can prep for your honeymoon sufficiently, give yourself a week or two after your wedding before jetting off.
  5. If you are inviting a lot of older guests, don’t force them to RSVP online. Many of our older guests are internet-savvy and breezed through our wedding website, but others had some trouble. To avoid confusion, just include a paper RSVP card with their invitation. It’s worth the few extra dollars.
  6. If possible, rehearse your wedding reception with your DJ/emcee. Our ceremony was perfect because we ran through it twice the day before. If we had also run through the reception program with our DJ, we would’ve worked out the kinks beforehand.

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Five Thousand Miles Away (Wedding Advice Pt. 4)

Have you ever wondered why people go through the hassle of planning a destination wedding? Sure, some couples want an embarrassingly intimate ceremony, while others opt to combine it with their honeymoon. But I think the real seduction of the destination wedding is that it’s an excuse to travel, and have all your loved ones travel with you. Although almost all of Anthony’s family and friends live in California, and my folks are scattered around the world, a wedding in Hawaii made the most sense for us. The main reasons are because we met there and have relatives on Oahu — but also, who doesn’t want their wedding in Hawaii?

Without the internet, we probably would have given up the entire idea and instead forced everyone to fly out to New York, which is notoriously the most expensive city to have a wedding. However, planning our wedding 5,000 miles away hasn’t been too difficult — no more difficult than any other wedding, I imagine, so anyone interested in tying the knot at some random exotic place should go for it.

Most of the planning can be easily done online (read my previous post for all of that), but a few things do require being at the destination, and one week in Hawaii was all I had. That week was probably the most productive I’ve ever been in Hawaii, aside from that winter break of 2010 during which I had to conduct all my fieldwork for my sociology thesis.

The most important thing I did was visit the wedding venue. Though I had been to Cafe Julia a handful of times as a child, it was my first time seeing it through “wedding eyes”. The estate really is stunning, with Mediterranean architecture and open-air courtyards. I was relieved to confirm to Anthony that we had definitely made the right decision about the venue. My friend and I had fun planning potential photo ops around the estate and in the surrounding area of downtown Honolulu.

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View from the top floor
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Where the ceremony will take place, sans high school reunion banner
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Where our cocktail hour will take place while the reception is set up in the outdoor courtyard

My parents, brother, and Maid of Honor attended the menu tasting with me. I hadn’t realize how crucial a menu tasting was until the five of us ended up preferring some dishes that I hadn’t expected us to choose. (So, folks, definitely have a menu tasting.) We tried kalua pig, furikake-crusted salmon, macadamia nut-crusted chicken, fried noodles, roasted vegetables, garlic mashed potatoes, and three kinds of salads. After stuffing ourselves with delicious local food, we voted and finalized the buffet menu. If only politics was that easy.

The other appointment I had was a meeting at a coffee shop with my DJ. The meeting was somewhat unnecessary, since we’ve been able to communicate online, but it was still nice to put a face to his words and reaffirm that our personalities mesh well, which is crucial for a DJ.

Unfortunately, my hair and makeup artist was out of town that week, so I couldn’t schedule a trial session. (Dear guests, if my face looks horrendous at the wedding, you’ll know why.)

Besides appointments, I had a few purchases to make in Hawaii. Before my trip, we made sure to size Anthony’s finger so I could find the perfect ring for him. Since we had already discussed what he wanted, it was a simple purchase. I also helped my Maid of Honor find her bridesmaid dress. I didn’t have an exact idea of what I wanted any of my girls to wear, so it was nice to finally start somewhere.

As for the rest of my wedding-related tasks, they were really excuses for me to have fun: I ate lunch at the restaurant at which my bachelorette party dinner will take place (Morimoto). I had afternoon tea at the hotel at which Anthony and I will be staying (Kahala Hotel). And I went to a couple of beaches to decide which one will be the location of our welcome party. Hard work, I know.

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A preview of the food at my bachelorette party
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Lobby of our hotel
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One of the beaches

As a future bride, I’ve felt an inexplicable pressure to feel stressed out. I must not be trying hard enough if I’m not freaking out — otherwise, why else do people spend thousands of dollars on wedding planners? Yet I’ve enjoyed so much of this planning process, and having a destination wedding has allowed me to partake in something I love doing even more: traveling to beautiful places.

Regardless of where your wedding is, enjoy the mundane aspects of the entire process. See it all as just an excuse to travel to Hawaii or Mauritius or Positano, to meet new people, to see old faces, to spend more money on yourself than society has ever given you an excuse to… It’s just a party, and your favorite people will be flying from all over the world to attend it. That in itself is worth celebrating.

Five months to go!

“You’re from Hawaii? Why Would You Ever Leave?!”

If you read my post from two years ago, you know that all it took was one trip for Anthony and me to decide that we wanted to eventually move back to my hometown. After living in New York for almost four years, I’ve gotten used to East Coasters asking me, “You’re from Hawaii? Why would you ever leave?!” I’d been asked that question during college as well, but in New York, Hawaii is even more of a distant, exotic paradise, and everyone seems to want to trade places with me. Our plan is still to return to Hawaii — but most likely in the distant future (i.e., three or four years) as opposed to the near future (i.e., one or two years).

The thing is, I love New York.

I love the diversity here, and that’s saying a lot from someone who grew up in Hawaii. At work, I sit by a Chinese, an Italian, and a Jamaican, while my train is usually a mix of Russians, blacks, Hasidic Jews, hipsters, and — more recently — French tourists. You can find every type of cuisine and hear more languages than anywhere else.

I love that I can watch a trend start in New York and then spread to other lesser cities a few months later.

I love our subway system, which runs 24 hours a day and covers such an expansive area. I even love my commute every morning, during which there is absolutely no seat on the Q train, so I spend those 45-minutes standing — half awake, half asleep — in the corner. Sometimes, if I’m feeling perky, I’ll read a book. New Yorkers are probably the most well-read people in the country, and we have our subways (with no internet connection, for some reason) to thank for that.

I love that I’ve been here long enough to see restaurants come and go. Nothing is stagnant in this city, and though I’ve had to witness some of my favorites disappear, I’ve accepted that it’s part of the circle of life and certainly beats being stuck with the same sub-par restaurants forever.

I love that, even though most of my friends don’t live in New York, I’ve been able to see nearly all of them just because everyone visits New York at some point.

I love New York women. New York women are ambitious, always speak their mind, multitask productively, can dress impeccably for every season, and know when to put on their bitch face to ward off the cat-callers.

I love that I can walk (and jaywalk!) twenty blocks and not even notice, whereas walking one block in the suburbs seems agonizing.

I love that everyone is a foodie here. I even gave up my restaurant blog when I started living in New York because, honestly, I can’t compete with 8 million people.

I love the old architecture all over the city. I still find it breathtaking to walk through the Flatiron District or Soho and notice all the details put into structures centuries ago. On the west side of the country, things are more cheaply-made, constructed at a time when mass production became the norm.

I love New York pizza, from the trendy Neapolitan-style found at every mid-range eatery now, to the dollar slices that are exponentially better than anything you can find in the rest of America. Like gelato in Italy, you don’t have to do research to find a good pizzeria in New York; you can just stumble into the corner shop — and that is what makes New York pizza so great.

I love being able to recognize so many places in movies and TV shows — and not just touristy places on Manhattan. My street in Brooklyn, just like every street in this city, has been filmed numerous times since we’ve lived here.

I love how talented some of the subway performers are. If they were in any other city, they’d be huge, but in New York, they’re just nameless buskers.

I love that, even though all New Yorkers think they’re the most important person in the world, in times of need, there’s something that bonds us together. I’ve experienced countless instances of the beauty and humanity of New Yorkers — because in the end, we’re all just trying to survive in this crazy city together.

I can go on and on about the things that make New York amazing, but most importantly, I love the life that Anthony and I have built together here. Being so far away from our family and many of our closest friends, we’ve been able to define ourselves and learn about each other more deeply than we would have if we had been surrounded by familiarity.

I love our little Brooklyn apartment, with its clanging heaters and no view, but with shelves full of worn books and cherished DVDs. Our kitchen is tiny yet surprisingly efficient and stuffed with appliances that prove how much we love to cook. On our walls hang historical maps of New York City, and on our fridge are magnets from various countries that we’ve explored together.

I love that we still find fascinating, quirky things to do in this city, even though we seem to have already explored it more than most New Yorkers. (I blame my obsessive research tendencies and Anthony’s ability to appreciate everything.)

I love that we wake up at the same time, even though I don’t technically have to be up for another hour, and always eat breakfast together. The more I see how other couples interact, the more I can’t help but appreciate our own relationship. It’s in the little things — the way in which we meet each other after work every day so we can catch the train home together; the way in which we communicate openly and respectfully, even when it’s hard for me; and the way in which we split household chores evenly (a man cleaning as much as the woman?! Imagine that!).

I recently visited Hawaii by myself. Though it was beautiful as always, it didn’t feel right. The main reason is because Anthony wasn’t with me — after all, it’s not the location but who you’re with that really makes a place your home. However, another reason is because I’m not ready for paradise yet, and I know I’d have been miserable if I had stayed in Hawaii.

Honolulu is certainly the best place to raise a family (New Yorkers can attest to that), and Anthony and I are excited that we’ll be able to raise ours there. We can’t wait to take our future kids to pristine beaches and stunning hikes every weekend, to feed them the best Asian food in the country, and to expose them to so many cultural opportunities that only a city like Honolulu can offer. However, I’m only 26, and neither of us is ready to start a family yet — especially when we belong in New York right now.

A hui hou, Hawaii. We’ll be back, just when we’re old (i.e., in our thirties).

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One of my favorite things to do in New York: picnicking in Central Park with my love

 

Defined by Our Family Traditions

It’s been four years since I last went home for Christmas, which probably explains why I’m so excited for next week. For the last three years, I’ve spent the holidays either with Anthony’s loving family in California, on a random trip to Toronto, or in New York when my parents decided to visit me instead. All three years had been fun, of course, but nothing beats going home. I imagine most of us feel that way. Despite the tragic commercialization of the season, this time of year gets two things right: a desire to be with family, and an appreciation (or at least toleration) of whatever quirky, incomprehensible traditions your family does.

Hosting Parties

My family used to host a Christmas party at our house each year. I would go all out for these parties — I’d play a series of Christmas songs on our Bösendorfer grand piano (I always saved “The Christmas Song” for last because it pulled the most heartstrings); I’d print out the lyrics and create little booklets for each guest so they could carol along with me; and I’d provide themed games and prizes (paid for by my parents, of course). Looking back on it, I must have looked so silly — a little precocious child, taking over a party of amused adults from my dad’s university. Our guests would spread out throughout the house, settling in the kitchen (for those who liked to watch my parents cook), living room, patio (for those who wanted to play pool), dining room, and TV room (for the less sociable guests). The enjoyment of our guests was always such a satisfying achievement to me, and my love for hosting parties has persisted.

The Nutcracker

I’ve performed in The Nutcracker just a handful of times, but almost any year that I wasn’t in it, I would watch it — either Ballet Hawaii‘s version at Blaisdell Concert Hall, or NYCB‘s version at Lincoln Center. Christmas never really felt complete until I saw the Snowflakes chaine-ing across the stage, as white paper “snowflakes” fell from the ceiling. The Nutcracker was one of the few times my company would hire professionals from around the world to play the really difficult roles (e.g., Cavalier, Sugar Plum Fairy), so students like me actually had the chance to perform with (and geek out over) ballet legends. I think all of us had a childhood crush on Joaquin de Luz, so when I saw him perform in Swan Lake a few months ago, I could feel the 14-year-old in me dying of happiness.

The Nutcracker is often looked down upon in the ballet world; it can be appreciated by people who don’t normally watch ballets, and there are enough easy roles that can be performed by nonprofessional dancers. Regardless, my ears still perk up every time I hear “March of the Toy Soldiers” and “Waltz of the Flowers”, even when they’re playing awkwardly at Duane Reade.

Camping by the Tree

The tree of choice for my family was usually a six-foot Noble Fir. We’d dedicate a few days to decorate the tree, each night bringing out a couple of storage bins filled with ornaments collected over the years. Some years, we even set up a tent by the tree and slept in the living room together while Christmas music filled the vaulted ceilings. It was our version of camping. I don’t know which one of my parents came up with this crazy idea (probably my dad), but I ended up writing about this experience for my college application essays. (Admissions Office of Reed College, did you find this endearing??)

Baking Gingerbread Cookies

It’s my job to help bake gingerbread cookies. We use a recipe from an old, disintegrating cookie cookbook that my parents have had for ages. These are still the best gingerbread cookies I’ve ever had — soft, chewy, full of spices, and exponentially better than those store-bought or pre-made dough versions. Baking these cookies takes the whole evening. It involves sifting flour, using a KitchenAid mixer, rolling out the dough onto a huge marble slab, and refrigerating balls of leftover dough to be used for another batch. Even our icing was made from scratch, using meringue powder, water, and confectioner’s sugar. The best part, of course, was decorating the cookies. Our cookie cutter collection has expanded over time, and our containers of decorations are a sight in themselves: sprinkles in every color imaginable, gum drops, mini M&Ms, sour belts, etc. My friends would look forward to when I’d bring cookies for them on the last day of school before winter break.

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Ready for decorating!

Analyzing the Neighborhood

My family always dedicated a night to Honolulu City Lights, a month-long event that features elaborate Hawaiian Christmas decorations all over Downtown Honolulu, but what I enjoyed even more was walking around my own neighborhood with my dog Smoothie. Christmas decorations are a great way to learn about class hierarchy. I grew up in a neighborhood in which residents tend to be either upper-middle class or disgustingly rich. If you’re like my family, your house probably has subtle (or not-so-subtle) decorations that you’ve amassed from department stores over the years. We have glowing Winnie the Pooh and Tigger statues standing around a spiral Christmas tree in our rock garden, all of which are linked up to a timer so that the lights turn on automatically when it’s dark outside.

But then there are the other homes in our neighborhood that remain completely dark and devoid of Christmas decorations. These are not the mere million-dollar houses that I’m used to; these are the mansions that cost tens of millions and function as vacation homes to the elite who have their parties in Kahala and hire valet parking for their guests — much different from the wholesome parties my family throws! Growing up, I’ve seen families forced to move out, while speculators swoop in and knock down the older homes in favor of ostentatious estates that will be visited a few times a year.

Oh wait, we were talking about Christmas traditions…

Christmas Eve Dinner

Our big dinner was on Christmas Eve, and my parents usually cooked something like paella or grilled shrimp and honey-glazed ham. I’d spend the afternoon making a menu for our dinner, using any construction paper, snowflake stickers, glitter, and stamps I could find in my bedroom. I still make menus for every special meal, even when it’s just Anthony and me.

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One of our Christmas dinners (and my menu on the right)

Opening Our Presents

On Christmas morning, my brother and I would wake up — usually earlier than on any other day, of course. We were allowed to check our stockings, which hung by the oven because Hawaiians don’t have chimneys, but we weren’t allowed to touch our gifts under the tree until after breakfast. When I was younger, Christmas breakfast was probably the fastest meal I ate all year. When I got older, however, I would try to play it cool by taking my time and pretending that I wasn’t looking forward to opening presents that much. When we finally got to open our presents, the four of us would take turns, and one person (usually my mom or me) would write down where each gift came from so it would be easy to write thank-you cards later.

The traditions we grow up with define the type of person we become. My traditions explain why I know all the words to more Christmas songs than I care to admit, why I really want a KitchenAid mixer even though our tiny kitchen in Brooklyn doesn’t have the counter space for it, and why there is a collection of menus on our fridge — a great way to document exactly which wine we liked that one Thanksgiving, by the way.

Appreciate the random traditions your family does. Anthony and I have already created some of our own Christmas traditions since moving to New York: afternoon tea (this year we’re trying the one at the Mandarin Oriental), buying one symbolic ornament a year for our tabletop tree, and gift shopping at the holiday pop-up market in Union Square. It will be interesting to see which traditions from our families and from our time in New York will live on when we start our own family down the line.

May you all be stuffed with good food, warm memories, and traditions (old and new) this season!

Competent People Don’t Need Wedding Planners (Wedding Advice Pt. 1)

I’m taking a quick break from blogging about our Euro Trip because I’m in the midst of something just as exciting: WEDDING PLANNING. (Don’t you hate it when life gets in the way of nostalgia?) With less than ten months until July 2016, the countdown to the big day has begun, and it finally feels real.

Despite how daunting this wedding is — a destination wedding in Hawaii for over a hundred people, on a very limited budget — I’m enjoying every minute of planning. It helps that I’m probably the most organized person you know. A once-in-a-lifetime party is just another excuse for me to hyper-plan.

I’m not hiring a wedding planner because I’m one of those strange people who actually enjoys doing extensive research. I also know my tastes and Anthony’s preferences well. For those who are like me and stubbornly refuse to spend money on someone who pretty much does what any competent person can do, here’s some wedding advice I can give so far:

As soon as you decide on your wedding date, look for possible venues. I quickly learned that my childhood dream of getting married at The Kahala Hotel would be unfeasible — mostly because the cost of a ballroom at the Kahala is more than our entire wedding budget, but also because we’d have to select all our vendors from their list. As a compromise, we decided to just stay at the Kahala for a couple of nights and have our wedding elsewhere. Inconveniently, I couldn’t bear the thought of getting married at any other hotel, so we had to get creative.

When people think of Hawaiian weddings, most envision beaches. No one actually does this except tourists and those who invite, like, ten people to the ceremony. Since we’re expecting a large crowd, a beach wedding was not an option. I’ve seen weddings in lush gardens (my parents got married at the Moanalua Botanical Garden) and quaint ranches, but, honestly, I’m not a nature person. I grew up in Honolulu, a fairly cosmopolitan city, and have lived in New York for the past few years. It wouldn’t really be me (or Anthony) to have our wedding surrounded by secluded mountains, or with horses and chickens roaming around. Plus, mosquitoes love Anthony; who wants to get bug bites at a wedding?

After deciding against an art museum and an aquarium, we chose Laniākea, a historical building in the middle of downtown Honolulu, designed by renowned architect Julia Morgan (she designed the Hearst Castle in California!). Though I was a bit turned off that Laniākea houses a chapter of the YWCA, I couldn’t help but fall in love with it more and more. The venue is lovely, with a large Mediterranean-style courtyard and open-air hallways. Plus, it’s quite fitting for us to support an organization known for social change and women’s rights.

Ask the venue every question you can think of before deciding. There are so many questions you should be asking. How many people can it accommodate? How does catering work? Does it provide audio visual equipment? When does the event have to end? Does it allow live performances, sparklers, etc.? Where can the wedding party get ready before the photos? Who cleans up at the end? I flooded our venue’s inbox with questions. Don’t feel bad about it. This is their job. Plus, it’s a good sign when they get back to you quickly. You don’t want to work with someone who is flaky.

Read every single review you can find about the venue and see if other events had good experiences there. The venue is one of the most important aspects of your wedding, so you want to make sure it’s right for you. When you’re completely sure about your decision, the venue will probably have you sign a contract and turn in a deposit. It’s beneficial to reserve early because the venue may raise their fees.

Our venue requires us to cater through them. I don’t mind because I won’t have to worry about finding a caterer, and we’re pretty excited about the menu. It’ll be a small buffet consisting of local Hawaiian food, as well as some hors d’oeuvres during cocktail hour. While sit-down dinners feel more lavish, they’re tricky because you have to cater to dietary restrictions. Plus, I like the idea of our guests getting up and mingling with others at the buffet.

For a while, we assumed we weren’t going to hire a DJ. We could just make a playlist and have my brother be our DJ by pressing “play” on my iPod. Eventually, we changed our minds after remembering the recent weddings we’ve attended. Good DJs and emcees can make the wedding. They feel out the crowd, play the perfect song at the right moment, and can entertain a variety of guests. After perusing Wedding Wire, I found a DJ who had amazing reviews and fit our budget. Wedding Wire is a great resource for weddings. It works like Yelp but has way more information involving any wedding-related vendors. I only consider vendors that have gotten mostly 5-star reviews on Wedding Wire. Using this tactic, I’ve been able to hire our DJ, hair and makeup artist, photo booth company, and florist.

Figure out which aspects of your wedding you really care about. Unless you have an unlimited budget (lucky you!), you’re going to have to pick and choose what is worth spending more money on. We think a DJ is really important, so we are willing to spend a bit on that. Since we don’t care about flowers at all (when was the last time you actually remembered which floral arrangement was at the center of your table?), we are unwilling to spend the going rate of wedding florists. Many florists told me they could not work with my budget, and that was fine. Fortunately, I finally found one florist who was willing to create some gorgeous bouquets that won’t cost too much. Don’t cave in and pay for anything you don’t want to. In the end, businesses care more about maintaining good ratings, so it’s in their best interest to work with you.

As for keeping everything organized, I use Google Documents obsessively. I have a Wedding Timeline, Wedding Budget, Wedding Day Timeline, Guest List, Centerpiece Ideas, and various documents comparing different vendors. It’s handy to have all this information on hand and ready to edit. Plus, it’s easy to share Google Documents with other people, such as parents and bridesmaids.

It’s only September, so we’ll see how this goes. Who knows? Maybe I’ll completely regret not hiring a wedding planner in a few months. 289 days to go…

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Wedding planning on the beach. Who says this has to be stressful?

Is Maturity Just Realizing that Your Childhood Dream was Wrong?

Years ago, my dad told me something along the lines of “Those who’ve had good lives tend to end up where they’re from.” At the time, I was in the midst of my decade-long obsession with New York, so I brushed his words of wisdom aside and didn’t think about it again until recently.

About a month ago, I visited Hawaii. I don’t mean to be dramatic, but this week-long trip changed my life–and Anthony’s.

Since moving to New York almost two years ago, this was my second time to visit Hawaii, and Anthony’s very first since he moved east with me. Our trip was filled with beautiful beaches and hikes, fantastic food, reconnecting with old friends, and, most importantly, spending time with my family. It was a perfect vacation–and yet, it wasn’t a vacation. This had been my former life, and being there again, as usual, made me feel as though I’d never left. The only difference was that I had now been living in my dream city with an awesome boyfriend and a new appreciation for my hometown.

During the end of our trip, I hesitantly implied to Anthony that it would be so much easier to raise our future family here. He laughed and said, “I’ve been trying to hint at that this whole time!” The fact that both of us had come to this realization relieved me–and excited me. Are we really considering moving back to Hawaii? Am I really considering leaving New York, the place I’ve been obsessed with for most of my life?

On the plane ride back home, I contemplated our decision and why we had come to it. Our experience in New York has been great, but we are inevitably changing, and as we grow older, our priorities shift. They must.

The week after our trip, Anthony proposed. We were at one of my favorite parks on Manhattan, lounging on the grass after a luau-themed brunch in Soho. I cried, of course, and said “yes” between joyful sobs. His proposal–and my acceptance–wasn’t a surprise. It shouldn’t be, as we had long known that we would eventually get married. Besides, who proposes when they aren’t completely sure of the answer anymore? Perhaps the only significant changes that have occurred due to our engagement so far are: 1) I wear a stunning black Tahitian pearl ring, 2) Our families and friends feel old, and 3) We can finally fantasize about our future family without feeling like we’re jumping the gun too much.

This third fact leads to the suspiciously impeccable timing of our decision to move back to Hawaii to start raising a family. So, why, exactly, am I planning to ditch my dream city for the place that I had been so ready to leave when I was a teenager?

The main reason is that my family lives in Hawaii. I still don’t know any other family that remains so culturally and intellectually stimulated, cooks as well as they do, and dedicates such a large portion of their lives to the underrepresented. Anthony also has some relatives on the island, which works out perfectly. I don’t know how anyone raises children in a country of abominable maternity leave policies without help from family. I’ve read dozens of scandals concerning nannies, so my ability to entrust anyone besides relatives with handling my children has depleted.

When I think about those I know who have grown up in New York, they attended the best schools and are currently doing fairly well–yet, they are almost always heavily-medicated and come from divorced or separated families. That lifestyle may work for others, but I do not want to raise my family that way. Since life in general is easier in Hawaii, raising children the way I want to raise them (i.e., attending the right schools, participating in extracurricular activities, constantly going to various cultural institutions) does not seem so out of reach. I really don’t have the time or energy to make sure my child gets into the perfect preschool that will dictate whether or not they end up in a high school with metal detectors.

People seem happier and healthier in Hawaii. It must be the sun, picture-perfect scenery, and mild climate. I didn’t know that depression–the mental illness for which one can be clinically diagnosed–actually existed until I moved to the Mainland for college. Sometimes when I’m on a subway in New York, I look around and wonder why everyone isn’t crazy. New York’s environment is conducive to going insane.

On a more superficial end, and it may just be my imagination, but people seem more attractive in Hawaii, too. I don’t know if it’s all the racial mixing, natural tans, yearlong access to free outdoor activities, or the fact that Asian influences make everything look better. New York may be the land of supermodels and well-dressed professionals, but Hawaii has naturally beautiful people.

Sure, New York has tons of cultural events like Hawaii, but everything is hyped-up. You have to compete with 8 million people for anything worthwhile. When we were in Hawaii last month, my parents took us to an Okinawan festival. The event was at a college campus a few minutes from our house, so we drove over about fifteen minutes before the event and were able to spread out on the grass with a perfect view of some of the most interesting dance performances I’ve ever seen. This is typical of the events my parents took me to growing up, and it wasn’t until I moved elsewhere that I realized what a privilege this was. In New York, if an event is actually free, there are hour-long lines, and you can forget about being able to leisurely park yourself on the grass with an ideal view. If you don’t want to be treated like cattle in New York, you have to pay big bucks or know the right people.

Also, I don’t know if it’s because Hawaii takes pride in its “Aloha Spirit,” or if Hawaiians just treat me better, but people somehow seem much nicer in Hawaii–and that feeling makes such a difference in a society in which trusting others is crucial for survival.

Of course, not everyone has had the same experiences I have had in Hawaii, and I completely understand why many leave the islands. If, perhaps, my parents hadn’t exposed me to so many great things, or I had grown up in a different neighborhood, I probably would feel very differently. Each experience we have defines who we are and who we want to become.

There are definitely many reasons I’ll miss New York. The best thing about this city, hands down, is its public transportation. This is the factor that always seduces me into never leaving the city. I hate driving and am absolutely terrible at parking; I have dented/scraped my mom’s car far too many times. Even though other American cities boast decent public transportation systems (e.g., D.C., San Francisco, Boston), none of them comes even close to the efficiency and scope of New York’s subway system. New Yorkers who complain about MTA have clearly never had to depend on the public transportation systems anywhere else. I also love walking. I walk a lot regardless of where I live, but New York is the only place in which I feel at home walking everywhere. People in other states only walk to exercise or to get their dogs to poop.

Another thing I’ll really miss is the abundance of boutique fitness programs. I currently get my exercise fix at two places throughout the week: 305 Fitness and Alvin Ailey, both of which will probably never exist in Hawaii for a while. 305 Fitness is a dance-cardio workout that involves strobe lights, a live DJ, and highly-energetic instructors. Alvin Ailey is a progressive dance school at which I can select from an array of classes such as Afro-Cuban, adult intermediate ballet, and Horton. The workouts at both places are tough and inspiring, and I will be very sad to leave them.

In the end, Anthony and I will probably be in New York for at least three more years, as it will take Anthony that long to complete the process of professional certification. After that, we’ll see how we’re feeling. A family won’t be happening for a long time, so right now all we can do is enjoy New York to the fullest. Anthony and I followed a dream, and we’ve succeeded. He is finishing up grad school at the best school in the entire state, and I have a salaried job that gives me freedom, respects my interests and skills, and, most importantly, can support both Anthony and me. New York is perfect for twenty-somethings, and I pity other people my age that live anywhere else in the country.

With my (now) fiancé by my side, I know I’ll be happy in either place. We’ll see where life takes us.

Hawaiians or New Yorkers?
Hawaiians or New Yorkers?

Scheduled Nostalgia: What I Will Miss About Hawaii…

*This list excludes people (and dogs) because I’d rather not tear up as I type this list. Plus, those are a given.

  • Local food (of course the first thing on my list would be food.) I’m getting hungry just thinking about all the kalua pig, lau lau, ahi poke, Portuguese sausage, malasadas, and spam musubi I’m leaving behind.
  • Rice being the default starch served with every meal
  • Breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean from anywhere you are
  • Japanese tourists. Sure, Japanese visit New York, too, but in Hawaii, they’re a thing. They’re the best-dressed people (the only well-dressed people, actually) in Hawaii and are the reason why we have designer stores that no one else can afford and amazing Japanese food in every neighborhood. They’re the reason why Gaku and Sasabune are on the same block; our standards for Japanese food are that high.
  • Walking from my house to the beach alone at night, sometimes with a bottle of port, to clear my mind
  • My electric toothbrush. My mom and I share chargers, so I’m not allowed to take my toothbrush with me. Back to the primitive way, I guess.
  • town Restaurant
  • Tradewinds. I am absolutely terrified of New York summers. The hottest Hawaii gets is the low 90s, and we have constant tropical breezes that distinguish us from any other muggy island close to the equator. For the first time, I’ll have to consider getting air condition.
  • Seeing this trailer before every movie at the theater:
  • Being able to easily send non-locals macadamia nuts, Kona coffee, and Big Island cookies
  • Hotel hopping. This has been one of my favorite hobbies growing up, and while New York obviously has hotels, I’ve always felt like certain hotels — the Kahala, Moana, and the Royal Hawaiian — were somehow mine.
  • Longs Drugs. So much better than Duane Reade.
  • My 6′ cherry wood Bosndorfer grand piano. Even though I hardly ever play the piano now, those few times that I did play this past year were perfectly fulfilling. I refuse to play on anything less, so I highly doubt I’ll be playing anything anytime soon.
  • The Kahala Hotel. This hotel deserves its own bullet, as I practically grew up here. Walkable distance from my house, this hotel is the location of many special occasions throughout my life, e.g. high school graduation party, Mother’s Days, ballet and piano recital completion celebrations. I will have to claim another hotel in New York.
  • Beachside brunching (let’s not pretend New York has beaches)
  • Waikiki. While growing up, I used to walk around Waikiki for fun because it reminded me of New York (tall-ish buildings with lots of people), but now I’ll miss it because it has two things that New York lacks: warm, crystal clear waters and happy people. Oh, happy people…
  • Laid-back culture. I am not a laid-back person, and one of the things I love about New York is its fast pace and efficiency, but I know that there will be times when I’ll miss the easy going nature of people running on “Hawaii time.”
  • Zippy’s. Of course New York has 24-hour restaurants everywhere, but there’s something really endearing about Zippy’s, a relatively clean, family-friendly 24-hour chain serving local food, found in almost every neighborhood on Oahu.
My last irrelevant photo of Hawaii. Waikiki with two of my best friends, August 2007
My last irrelevant photo of Hawaii. Waikiki with two of my best friends, August 2007