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May 2012,

Strange. Is the one word I’d use to describe Moloka’i, the friendly island. People were certainly friendly and embracing, in the way that only island people can be. But there is something else, hard to put my finger on.

Moloka'i, sunset, Lanai, Hawai'i, Alii beach

sunset over Lanai

At first I thought it was because of how local the place is, with Native Hawaiians accounting for more than 60% of the population and so few visitors (barely 200 a day on average, while nearby Mau’i is 3 times bigger and gets 35 time the number of tourists). I was walking along a beach park in Kaunakakai when I came upon a hula group practicing to the tune of Wahine Ilikea. (I never saw any hula practice at the beach on other islands). People talked about when to go out for an outrigger paddling session and where to go for the best shells at the moment and what they had found recently – Every single person I met was excited to discuss shells! In island-style, locals identify strongly with the area they’re from and live in (east/windward, west/leeward, north shore, south shore, and central). It’s even more extreme in Moloka’i and borderline incomprehensible given how small the island is. This lady in Kaunakakai told me how generations of her family have lived in central Moloka’i and how much she loves it there and she couldn’t remember the last time she went all the way to the east end. All the way to the east end! It’s 25 miles and 40 minutes down the road. I didn’t know how to respond.

Moloka'i shells

A Moloka’i obsession?

I was picked up by: a local Hawaiian who works in the helicopter patrol (looking for marijuana farms) who drove me all the way to Halawa valley; a mixed Brazilian-American who works for the county TV station and has the most adorable 4-year-old boy, whose neighbor is a famous fishing spear maker; another local Hawaiian, this time a medical kahuna, who took me in his home and convinced me to change my flight back to Oahu to a few days later so that he could talk more traditional Hawaiian medicine stuff with me, who fed me delicious pink Moloka’i mangoes that grew thick in his garden and gave me lomi-lomi massage every morning and once drove me up in the middle of the mountain where I got another lomi-lomi. Maybe this is why Moloka’i was so strange to me.

It is worth noting here that world over, Moloka’i is famous for the leper colony founded by Father Damien. In Hawa’i, the island was (is?) renowned for its powerful kahunas, or priests, sought after by kings from other islands in matters of spirits and sorcery. Many believe this explains the distinct mana of the land.

Halawa valley, East End, Moloka'i

Halawa valley, East End

Halawa valley, East End, Moloka'i

Kalaupapa, Moloka'i, leper colony, Father Damien

Kalaupapa, the most scenic leper colony in the world

leper colony, Kalaupapa, Molokai, Hawaii, Father Damien

fish pond, Moloka'i, Hawaii

ancient fish pond on south shore

The people that I remembered most fondly were the 2 brothers that let me camp near them for safety on a desolate west end beach. When I told the younger one, still a teenager, that I’m from Vietnam, he asked: “oh, there are lots of scooters there and you all go crazy on the road right?” I was taken aback; I didn’t expect anyone on Moloka’i to know anything about contemporary Vietnam, let alone the traffic. Turned out he talked with a girl from Singapore on the internet who sent him youtube videos of southeast asian countries. Vive the internet! The older brother was living off the land; he caught some fish to grill and share with me. The teenager came to spend the summer with his brother, away from all the troubles at school where he had difficulty fitting in. There’s lots of love on these islands, and lots of broken homes. Their hearts are right, and I hope they have found, or will find, their way and their place.

West End trail and beaches:

West End trail, Moloka'i

West End beach, Moloka'i, Hawaii

West End beach, Moloka'i, Hawaii


I had a pretty hectic couple of days when I first got to the Bay Area.

I flew from San Diego to San Francisco, accompanied by Duong. We took the BART, SF’s subway system, from the airport to Oakland, waited an hour at the subway station, took a cab in the end that cost $70 to go to Trang’s uncle’s place, 2.7 miles (4.5 kms) away. We thought we’d stay there but then decided to spend that night in SF instead, paid for two dorm beds in a hostel last-minute and ended up sleeping together in only one. Read the rest of this entry »

That’s my graduation advice.
I left Wes at 10 a.m. this morning and am staying in New York for a couple of days. I arrived in the city and went out for lunch with Ivy and Keith at a Mexican restaurant. It’s a small cosy place, red and blue alternating on the walls and on the tables. The man working at the burrito bar, who I assumed owns the place, suddenly started singing. I couldn’t make out what language he was singing in, but his voice was surprisingly good. He reached all the high notes, while still having the male raspiness. When he came to our table with the food, I told him how much I liked his voice. He asked if I was a singer. I laughed, assuring him that it’s one of the things that I could never do: I’m terrible with pitch and always sing out of tune. He later came back to the table and asked me: What do you want to do in life? I was struck that someone would ask me that question just a few hours after I left college, but I didn’t want to take it very serious so I just laughed again and replied: definitely not singing. The man, still looking at me in the eyes, said: That’s ok, but look deep into yourself and ask what you really want to be, and let it be. And you can only be good at it with lots of practice, it takes hard work, but let it be, be yourself. You know the Beatles’ song? Let it be. Don’t read the Bible, read the Beatles.
Thank you for your words of wisdom.

So far the internship in Mexico is the best after-graduation option for me: the job seems stimulating, the commitment is not long, and I get paid, not much, but enough to get by on a budget. Normally I’d jump up at the chance to go anywhere, and I’ve started the paperwork – and it might not go through – but I’m actually not that thrilled this time.

This is my second bout of travel guilt. I distinctly remember the first one. I was in Hawai’i; I had hardly started traveling back then, but I was at the high of my idealist militancy, and I felt like I should have gone home and got myself integrated in some kind of social movement, started building network, etc. instead of bumming around. All of this was weighing down my mind until I met an old hobo from Cali on a bus ride in the Big Island. I confided in him and he gave me his words of wisdom: it’s ok – you’re going to places and meeting people and learning; it will enrich you as a person and you will be more of help to others later in life.
His assurance has helped me got through the past few years with few moments of doubt. I’ve constantly told myself: I’m young, I want to see the world, I want to learn from other people. And it’s true. I owe so much to the relationships that I’ve built and/or kept while being away from home: old friends that stay with me, new ones that I’ve made, strangers that take me in, feed me, look out for me. They encourage, inspire, essentially shape me into who I am. I’ve learned tremendously.
But at this moment, I really don’t know if I can use the same “excuse” to justify spending 5 months in Mexico City, doing something that I’m interested in but not as a career. I just feel like once I graduate, I should head-dive right into the chosen path, learning more skills in either a social service or a policy setting. But maybe 5 months is not terribly long, summer will come and I’ll head home? Maybe I can afford some procrastination?

Feb 2008

I was strolling on the beach when i heard some distant music. The sound became more distinct as i approached a seaside porch, where sat two musicians: one in his mid-20s (really cute) and the other middle-aged. They saw me but continued to play. The music was good so i decided to stay, sitting down on one of the steps in front of them. They sang in English, but when they stopped to discuss something, it was in German. I don’t remember who initiated the conversation but after a short while, i joined them at the table for a glass of beer. The place was painted in blue [i later found out that it was called the Blue Bar] and some Japanese was written on one of the pillars: ii desu ne.

An older woman came out with another guy. She owned that place. She came here more than two decades ago. It was apparently after the 60 era, when Formentera, together with its more buzzing neighbor island Ibiza, was a hippy paradise, but it has held on to its charm as such to hippy minded folks. Her son, the young guy, was born on the island and had spent most of his time there. The older guy was his uncle, a full time musician in Germany who came here with his buddy just to play music and write some rhythm during the low season.

I arrived at the port, ready to go back to Ibiza. The ship was waiting to depart. But the sun was shining, the sky blue; it had been gray for the past 2 days. I took a deep breath: No, i don’t want to leave; i’ll stay. Maybe things will change with the weather.

I went back to town looking for a hotel. One night in a boathouse was more than enough. I was directed to the town square and was turning left and right when a man stopped by my side and asked in English: You look like you need some help. I turned. He was middle-aged, nothing extraordinary, almost without impression: Yes, i’m looking for a hotel. I was told there’s one nearby. – Follow me, i know one.

He led me to a smallish restaurant. 20 euros for a night. Not expensive, but i wasn’t sure about spending it; maybe i’d leave before the evening, so i said i’d think about it and come back later.

The stranger, as we were walking out, turned and said: If you want, you can stay at my place. It’s small, but we can arrange something. He must have taken my hesitance for unwillingness to pay.

I looked at him. From the conversation on our way to the hotel, i learned that he was a doctor from Argentina, working at a local hospital. People had seen us together, they had greeted him. I didn’t felt unsafe. If you don’t mind, I’d really appreciate it, I replied.

The man, Augusto, was divorced, had 2 daughters in Argentina, and lived by himself here. There were a few moments when i felt odd about it, just me and him in his place; i’d be sleeping in the kitchen cum living room, next to his bedroom. I tried to calm myself down by asking about his daughters, who were my age: are they students or are they working? do they visit you?

Augusto was kind. He had time off that afternoon and took me sightseeing around the island. One advantage of driving a car [or having someone drive you] is that you can easily access so many places. Here is the lighthouse at the southernmost tip of the island, Cap de Barbaria


And here’s the view from the highest point, on the east side, la Mola


Later in the evening, he took me out to a bar/restaurant with lots of construction-type guys watching soccer game who looked at me quizzically when i entered. We had some delicious tapas and when i offered to pay, he refused. He picked up the tab because, in his words, i needed the money more than he did.

The next day, when he dropped me off at the port and i was thanking him for having been so kind, he simply said: No, thank you for having trust in me.
a network that is active in many different parts of the world. You offer things that you know, have been sitting in that corner for a little too long and can look for things from old clothes to bikes to TVs.
It’s really sweet, kinda like the PODs we used to have at Wes.
And even more so for someone like me who moved here to Grenoble for only 6 months with a suitcase and a backpack. I couldn’t bring everything-that-i-might-need-to-use-once with me. With freecycle, i can borrow stuff, leaving them here again when i leave.

Earlier this semester, i looked for a pair of mountain boots to go hiking and got it from this girl called Violaine. I went up to her apartment to pick the shoes up, and OMG, she lives in a penthouse with 2 huge windows: one looks over the central square down town, typical European style with cobblestoned streets lined with red brick roofed cafes and restaurants, really pretty; and the other has a beautiful, untarnished view of the mountain. I was awed.

Moving forward 3 months, i realized that i’d be leaving Grenoble soon and i didn’t have that many photos of the city. I shot Violaine an email asking if i could come over to her place with my camera one day and she said: sure why not; she was out of town often back then but one of her flatmates could open the door for me. However the weather’s been pretty crappy and the only day when the sun sneaked out, no one was home when I called. I let her know that and today, she replied to tell me that she’d be home this Sunday, and that she could also leave me the keys under the doormat if i wanted to drop by when nobody was around. Serious, WTF? We’ve met once, for like, i don’t know, 10, maybe 15 minutes.
People need to stop being so fucking amazing.