It all started with a book.
In a book review I never published, I gushed over Gaellen Quinn's "The Last Aloha," explaining how its a story worth reading for everyone. Whether we're American or not, "The Last Aloha" sheds light on a forgotten history and origin story that helps us recognize the importance of cultural & religious respect, and forgiveness.
This book completely broke me down. I was on the edge of losing hope in humanity while having a growing hatred of stereotypical white Christian males that felt the need to conquer "inferior" cultures. (Granted, this was also after reading Bartholemé De Las Casas' 1542 "A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies," and learning about what really went down when the Spanish colonized the Americas.) It was because of "The Last Aloha" and its continued exploration of the term 'Aloha' and the Aloha Spirit, in conjunction with the strength of Queen Lili'uokalani and her people, that I felt more at peace than I had in a really long time.
Thus sparked an interest in a culture that would, honestly, change my life.
In this PBS Hawai'i panel discussion, Danny Kaleikini, Hawai'i's Ambassador of Aloha and legendary Hawaiian musician, describes the Aloha Spirit in such a comforting way that you can't help but yearn for that kind of peace and connection with others. He says,
"Aloha is the breath of life and love that we share with one another, and it begins with you. It starts with you first. Aloha is so important to the people of Hawai'i. Because of aloha, we make connections around the world. But most important, number one, Akua — Almighty God."
The Aloha Spirit is almost palpable to me. I constantly feel an energy radiating from Hawai'i. I feel respect for the deep sense of honor Hawaiians feel towards their culture — especially after reading James Michener's "Hawaii."
A native Hawaiian living in Honolulu once told me, "when you live in paradise, why would you want to live anywhere else?" At first, I was apprehensive towards her closed-mindedness, but now I get it. I know I am not a Hawaiian and I probably have no idea what I'm talking about, which is why I want to move to Hawaii and experience it for myself.
Some nights, I'd watch 4K videos on YouTube covering some of the main Hawaiian Islands — Oahu, The Big Island, Maui, Kauai, and Moloka'i. I started to think back to when I learned to dance Hulu in high school, and even went to Oahu on a school trip and got a taste of Hawaiian Hulu culture. I went on Google Maps and tried to decide which Oahu neighborhood I wanted to live in. I even rewatched "Lilo and Stitch" — my favorite movie growing up — just to keep myself in this Hawaiian love bubble. And yes, watching Disney's "Moana" and its celebration of Polynesian culture got me all kinds of messed up.
Adjacent to my yearning of moving to Hawai'i, I've had to grapple with many lifestyle questions I didn't think I needed to answer yet.
Can I live simply and frugally? Hawai'i is the most expensive state in America, which I can already see simply from its geographical location and the amounts of basic goods — like food and gas — that needs to be imported to the island. When considering which island I would want to live on, I've had to ask myself whether I was truly the type to live humbly and out of a duffle bag, or whether I am better suited for the big city hustle.
Not only is Hawai'i's cost of living comparable to that of San Francisco and New York City, but the relatively relaxed culture and comparably lower salary than that from the mainland make living comfortably more of a fantasy than a reality. (Of course, cost of living and household income statistics would differ depending on which island you're on.) And knowing I will probably never find myself in the finance, medical, or technology fields — I know the big bucks aren't going to be rolling in.
And how long can I handle being away from my family? Hawai'i is the most isolated population center on Earth, where the closest land mass (California) is over 2,400 miles away. With my parents probably retiring in Singapore (thy homeland), and international airfare to and from Hawai'i being extremely expensive, can I stand to be so far from my family?
Ultimately — what kind of person am I?
Maybe this would probably make for a better article if I wrote it as a 40-something-year-old, who had already settled into a career and lifestyle, looking back at my life thus far. I don't know if I'll ever truly regret any life choice, but I currently want to move to Hawai'i so badly that I have a feeling I just might regret it if I never make it there.
At the end of the day, if my priorities change and I don't feel as strongly about moving to Hawai'i as I currently do, I will be completely okay. Moving to Hawai'i isn't my only dream. I also dream of being able to financially provide for my parents as they get older. I dream of surrounding myself with a community that supports me. I dream of being in a line of work where I'm doing something I love.
If I don't move to Hawai'i, I don't see it as giving up a dream. I see it as evolving, seeing the world through a different lens, and doing what's best for me. Still, my obsession with Hawaiian history and culture has filled me with so much love, spiritual peace, and pride for another culture, and is something I cannot let myself forget.