"Surreal Waikiki"

"Surreal Waikiki" Opinion Section / Reading

Go to the following website, read the article, then answer the questions.

Surreal Waikiki by John Borthwick

The article has also been reproduced on the bottom of this page for your convenience.

 Reading Response II: Questions for Opinion Section (remember that your Summary and Opinion is an open-format response in that you can choose to answer the questions or write an opinion essay encompassing all or most of them). As always, it's best to use TEXT-BASED EXAMPLES WHEN DOING YOUR READING-RESPONSES.

I. Borthwick asserts that Waikiki has become a "mutating empire." In what ways, based on Borthwick's assertions, has Waikiki mutated? In what ways, based on your own journeys throughout Waikiki, has Waikiki been altered over the years? What are the primary conflicts that occur in Waikiki (past and present? culture vs. culture?) Are these conflicts resolved? Are they resolvable?

II. Borthwick focuses on several negative aspects of Waikiki, such as the loss of historical sites, and the failed / fake sense of Native Hawaiian culture that pervades the city. As you reread the text, which is the MOST NEGATIVE aspect that Borthwick describes and why is it the MOST NEGATIVE to you? What is the MOST NEGATIVE aspect of Waikiki that Borthwick DOES NOT DESCRIBE?

III. What are some positive aspects of Waikiki that Borthwick mentions? What makes these aspects positive in nature? What are some aspects of the city that you know of from personal experience? Why are these cool to you?

IV. Borthwick's writing style is characterized by his use of _______________. Fill in the blank, then explain. In general, what writing techniques does he employ, and what makes these effective or not effective?

V. In visiting Waikiki, Borthwick claims that it's important to "Just let Waikiki wash over you." What is being washed over you as a visitor? Why is Borthwick's metaphor about allowing Waikiki to wash over you effective/not-effective?

VI. Borthwick discusses several Oahu landmarks outside of Waikiki: Bishop Museum, Ala Moana Mall, and the statue of Duke Kahanamoku. Do you agree or disagree with the author's assessments of these landmarks? Would you amend (correct) his assessments / debate him on his claims? Why?

Extra-credit: Borthwick describes the Royal Hawaiian Hotel as a "cochineal-pink seraglio." What is he suggesting with this description? Is his description fair? Is it a good description?

 Surreal Waikiki

by John Borthwick


Surreal Waikiki
by John Borthwick

If the spectacle of surfer girls, and boys, with Oriental features and bleached-blond manes seems bizarre, so are many things here, including even the provenance of Waikiki's hallowed, narrow sands.

By Waikiki's circus sands the remnants of a surf aristocracy - a statue of Duke Kahanamoku and the cochineal-pink seraglio of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel - gaze wistfully over a mutating empire.
Honolulu Lulu "Queen of the Surfer Girls" has been displaced by Yokohama Yoko, princess of peroxide. If the spectacle of surfer girls, and boys, with Oriental features and bleached-blond manes seems bizarre, so are many things here, including even the provenance of Waikiki's hallowed, narrow sands. According to that impeccably unreliable source, urban legend, Waikiki's waning strand needs to be replenished from time to time and sand has been shipped in from everywhere including distant Australia.

True or false? And does Waikiki really mean "Ginza-by-Sea" (or, as linguists suggest, "spouting water")? No point here, beside these lines of glittering swell, banyan trees and bag people, in debating what's real and what is not. Just let Waikiki wash over you.

Manic-repressive Christian missionaries late last century almost succeeded in stamping out surfboard riding, Hawaii's sport of kings. Ever since, visiting writers have decried the demise of Honolulu and its adjacent royal beach at Waikiki. Well they may, considering the condominiums that rise like concrete tsunamis behind the fabled seafront. Yesteryear's springs of spouting water have been replaced by a Mondo Condo of accommodation that ranges from five-star fabulous to no-star, no-worries backpacker flats.

For the visitor focussed on the present, not the past, Waikiki can still raise a surrealist's smile: massive Hawaiian beach boys on massive malibu boards dance like ninjas across those lines of bluebird surf; the sunsets - as best observed from Dukes Bar at the Waikiki Outrigger Hotel - still melt like cocktail syrup across the skyline; and then there are the one-off remarks, so often uttered by haoles (Caucasians) from "the Main," mainland USA.

"Is this the island of Waikiki?" asks a conference delegate from Utah. A Beavis boy from the plains emerges from his first dip in an ocean, hollering, "I got sand in my pockets! Hey, I got sand in muh butt-crack!"

Boogie-board days are followed by boogey nights of sorts at the Hard Rock Cafe, Planet Hollywood or Coconut Willy's Bar. Your dining choices range from the culinary panache of Jean-Marie Josselin's A Pacific Cafe (in the Ward Centre) through Sam Choy's memorable Sino-Hawaiian treats to grazing in the tracks of Jimmy Buffett at the Cheeseburger in Paradise cafe ("...heaven on earth with an onion slice/not too particular, not too precise").

With an US$18 day ticket, I join a tourist shuttle called the Waikiki Trolley, naively thinking it to be a service that does the rounds of scenic and historic attractions. Perhaps it does, but all the attractions seem to be shopping centres. Trawling the malls in this streetcar named Compulsion, I notice a glum mood settling over my fellow passengers. Even the most determined of these hunter-gatherers from Osaka and Taipei have lost heart for the ceaseless spending expected of them in lieu of ever glimpsing Hawaii.

The driver of our shopping cart senses this collapse in our will to splurge. As we approach a must-do cultural site called Ross "Dress For Less", he urges us, without irony, to: "Get off at the next stop, folks - discover Hawaii!"

I discover Hawaii in a display case in the elegant old Bishop Museum. This fine repository of culture - from the first Marquesan arrivals of some 1500 years ago, through to the polyglot immigrant cultures that today make up Hawaii's rainbow complexion - briefly restores my faith in authenticity.

Later, having negotiated the shoals of Ala Moana Mall (vaunted as the largest shopping centre in the world - but for Edmonton's counter-claim), I find a half-moon beach of empty golden sands and protected waters. I ask the bronzed, son-of-Baywatch lifeguard the name of this slice of serenity. Assessing me as a potential Beavis about to do unspeakable things with his sands, he sighs, "Magic Island". This may be an artificial beach (created through coastal reclamation), but Magic Island is a respite from "natural" Waikiki's flotsam of canoes, catamarans and haoles on hire boards.

Perhaps I'm too harsh on Waikiki. Can six million visitors a year be wrong? The shopping's great. They still haven't mined Diamond Head. There are no billboards. The sea is a swizzle of azure waters and sugar-plumed waves. As for the throng, if you can't beat them, why not join them? I take my surfboard and paddle out with the Hawaiians of all ages and races who fling themselves shoreward at the break known as Kuhio Park Beach.

There's more to Oahu than Waikiki. I hit the road, hire a car and head north on the Kamehameha Highway for a circuit of the island. Shucking off the traffic jams of Honolulu - now said to be the 11th largest city in the USA - I'm soon amid the North Shore's rural hamlets and lush hills. Among the major tourist attractions here is the Dole Plantation, boasting the "largest maze in the world" and the Polynesian Cultural Centre, a spectacular, missionary-run, Pacific Islands theme park - "Mormonesia", so to speak.

In winter's big surf season (November-January), visitors can catch the action when the big surf at Haleiwa, Pipeline and Sunset Beach begins to pump. Watch out for the Waimea Bay shorebreak, a vicious, vertical whirlpool in which the occasional tourist - or suicidal body-boarder - is flung towards annihilation like a lost sock in a spin dryer.

Meanwhile, back at right royal Waikiki, Duke Paoa Kahanamoku (1890-1968), the Hawaiian who introduced surfboard riding to the world, stands facing the stretch limos and $19.95 Aloha shirts of beachfront Kalakaua Avenue. When his bronze statue was erected, there were dark murmurings about why the great man had been planted with his back to the sea, a singularly inappropriate position for a noble Hawaiian waterman? The answer seems symbolic - photo-opportunism. The Duke was turned around so that his heirs apparent, these Gidgets from Ginza and sand-challenged flatlanders, might frame themselves before him and his once-regal beach for a flashlit slice of surreal authenticity.