Date Archives June 2015

The Polynesian Cultural Center in Oahu


polynesian cultural center


ice cream from a boat

tahitian dancers

polynesian cultural center phone

Man, I just don’t know about this place. I just don’t know. Every guidebook recommends visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center, that their luau is the best and most traditional, that it’s the Disneyland of Hawaii, that it’s wholesome, educational, and delightful. And on some level, it is that place–you can buy ice cream from a boat, you can be quadruple lei’d and spend an afternoon in the sun sniffing the fragrant flowers festooned about your person, you can try poi and pork cooked in an imu, you can consume drinks out of both a pineapple and a coconut (and spend more than a few minutes playing Monty Python and annoying everyone around you), you can see traditional crafting techniques, there’s a pretty high-production value show, and everyone who works there is almost creepily nice and calls you “family”.

But on the other hand, the Polynesian Cultural Center is like a weird human zoo, where you just have to be sort of vaguely brown to play at being a villager showing off “your” traditions (I saw one guy play a member of at least three cultures). It gets even more squicky when you consider that this place is run by the mormons–not only do you get a “look how savage these people were before we civilized them” vibe, but also, it’s the fault of missionaries that hula dancing was driven underground and almost lost altogether, so it’s pretty damn ironic that now they have the “most authentic” dances. None of this is more clear than in the after-dinner show “Ha: Breath of Life” which tells the story of one man’s life, birth to death, but switches what Pacific island he’s from throughout the show: even if it wasn’t intentional, the message is clear that they believe all of these cultures and peoples are interchangeable.

Ultimately, I have been waffling back and forth about how I feel about this place for more than a month. I really enjoyed seeing all of the different dances and outfits and trying a bunch of different Hawaiian food (‘enjoy’ might be a bit of a stretch when it comes to poi) and clipclopping around with a coconut like an asshole in public was fun, but at the same time, giving money to this place is fostering the same community that’s been helping to erase these cultures from history, and I can’t help but think that in that sense, the price of my enjoyment here was too steep.

Spotted on the Roadside: Mmmm, macamadamias

“Free macadamias? I’m going to eat macadamia nuts until I barf!” I announced to my long-suffering husband. Or at least I was going to do my damndest to try. Look, they had an entire bin of free raw macadamias and the only rule was that you couldn’t fill a bag to take home. As it turns out, eating macadamia nuts until you hurl macadamia marzipan is a lot more difficult when you have to crack them open yourself, owing to each nut having not one, but two shells that have to be removed. My hands went numb from the impact of smashing them with the provided rock after only opening a few nuts.

The only other request was that guests not feed the chickens and other birds that were milling around the stumps, looking for macadamia scraps, which was almost impossible to avoid since occasionally we’d underestimate our own strength, Hulk out, and send bits of macadamia flying everywhere. And there was that one time that my rock failed to smash the nut, instead sending it flying off the stump to strike a nearby chicken in the neck. Let that be a lesson to the rest of you…nuts.



Spotted on Kamehameha Hwy in Kaneohe, HI

Waialua Sugar Mill Oahu

Before we arrived, our airbnb host thoughtfully provided us with a huge list of things to see, do, and eat in the area, right down to what we should order (his off-menu “Andy salad”, for example). One of the things he said we absolutely should not miss is the old Waialua sugar mill because their shave ice is made with natural fruit syrups instead of artificial flavorings, which he said makes it “the best on the island”. Having just delighted in the garlicky burn of Giovanni’s shrimp, we were in need of some cool refreshment, and so we set out on our shave ice journey. “Let’s get some deliciousness!” I announced as we neared the parking lot. “…From this dump!”

old sugar mill waialua

Because, let’s be real, this rusty warehouse doesn’t scream culinary delight. You’d not guess it to look at the building, but Island X/Waialua Coffee and Cacao Mill is actually owned by Dole, which I suppose makes sense–they get all of the people who are like “Fuck yeah, Dole!” with the Dole Plantation, and all of the people who are like “Fuck giant agribuisnesses!” with the more nondescript Island X. Their method of gift shop stuffing is the same, however, as you can buy nearly any tourist tchotchke you can dream of inside, with the possible exception of a tiny monkey in an aloha shirt. I say possible exception because it may well have been there, I just missed it.

As we walked in, the staff announced they’d be doing a coffee and chocolate tour momentarily out back, so I dutifully made my way outside. In this short tour, the staffer explained a bit how chocolate is grown (which is something you may remember from Chocolate Week last year). Hawaii is just barely inside the cacao belt which makes it a viable place to grow the crop commercially, unlike the sad indoor Charlie Brown Theo cacao tree. It was cool to see a mature tree in bloom, as well as growing pods, and before the tour was over, we had another opportunity to try a piece of horrible alien worm baby. Basically no one in the tour group was down with putting a piece of cacao fruit in their mouth until I cajoled them into it–it’s not that the fruit is delightful, but I do think tasting it gives you a better perspective on how much work it actually takes to turn this seed into chocolate, and there aren’t many places you can try the fruit otherwise.

cacao flowers small pods

cacao pods tree

discarded cacao pods

drying cacao beans

Afterward, we got to try as many coffee and chocolate samples as we wanted, though the chocolate was doled out by the molecule. The coffee was self-serve, and while it was too warm out for me to want much coffee, I did try a few and settled on the Waialua peaberry, as I promised my favorite baristas that I’d bring them back some coffee. Just a small bag each, as I was concerned things would get weird between us if I brought back something larger, like I was trying to buy their friendship or hoping for some kind of under the counter payback.

waialua coffee

waialua coffee bags

natural shave ice

After the coffee tasting, it was time for the hyped natural shave ice. I already knew the joy that came from eating brightly colored ice cold artificially flavored sugar water, so my body was ready for what was sure to be the transcendent natural shave ice experience. I got mango with coconut sauce, Jason got taro, and we were both equally disappointed. Each one took a damn year to make and between the length of time it took to make them and the year it took to pay for them (they have a sign saying that they accept cards but you have to go wait in a different line and then she only charged us for one so we had to wait more), they were like crusted-over shitty flavorless slushies. I’ll take a still-frozen artificially flavored and colored shave ice any day over this natural business.

  paint gum statue thing   But we did get to see this thing. Whatever it is.