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Dear Mum:
We've just spent three wonderful weeks in Honolulu. The instant we landed we were bombarded with a babble of instructions on how to get to customs, how to fill in forms, which queue to join, and were ushered on our way by pretty Hawaiian girls with bright red floral shirts, tight slacks and tighter lips, who constantly harried and worried the mob like contestants in a sped-up version of sheepdog trials.
We finally slipped through the gate and half expected customs to stamp our papers with our score for the effort. We asked the customs officer for a porter and how much we should tip him.
He said, "Two dollars will be plenty," and laughed.
We gave the porter two dollars and he took our bags through the double doors and to a taxi ... a total distance of ten feet. No wonder the customs officer laughed.
The reply to any sign of gratitude brings the automatic response, "You're welcome." We heard of a German tourist who spent a week here. Just as he was leaving he said to one of the locals, "There's one thing that's been puzzling me all the time during my visit. How do you pronounce the name of these beautiful islands? Is it Hawaii or is it Havaii?"
"Oh, that's simple," said the native. "It's Havaii."
"Thanks very much," said the German.
And the native automatically replied, "You're velcome."
On fabled Waikiki Beach the sun is already hot at 7:30 in the morning and its worshippers are spread out on the sands opening up their bodies in devotion. Huge 40-foot catamarans glide slowly and inexorably through the gentle surf and up onto the beach. One, garishly orange-colored, announces its arrival by the constant blaring of an electric multi-noted horn. It is completely outshone a few minutes later by a simple white catamaran with a crewman in the bow. He raises a conch shell to his lips and blows a pure sound of two simple notes, rising, falling, as the boat slides gracefully onto the sand.
Helen and I spent most of our first day in the luxurious kingsize bed in a suite in the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Only because we were very tired, Mum. It is one of the oldest hotels in Hawaii, built in the 1920s. It is three stories high with ornate masonry decorations and quaint towers popping up all over it. It is painted a rather endearing shocking-pink color.
Until recently it was the highest and most imposing building on Waikiki. But a building boom by Japanese investors in the last ten years has changed all that. Giant luxury skyscraper hotels are now clustered around it, simple-minded towers of glass and steel, hiding it from sight and literally edging it into the sea.
The word is that this one piece of individuality is going to be demolished by its Japanese owner in favor of reinforced concrete progress. As a sort of civilian Pearl Harbor attack on the visual environment. If you can't bomb them out, buy them out.
Later we went to hear the Del Courtney Big Band in the hotel's Monarch Room. Lots and lots of happy elderly and rich American tourists in floral shirts and leis were happily dancing, or rather twitching, to the music. One, looking like a mummified Stravinsky, asked a bleached blonde preserved by the miracle of plastic for a dance. He tapped out a rheumatic softshoe shuffle in front of her as encouragement.
She declined, giggling to her friends after he'd gone, "He's looking for someone for later on, as well." He found her too, we noticed.
The wrinkled rich were amazingly well-preserved ... no doubt they paid for it. They had bright brown polished complexions and wonderful hairdos. Their eyes glittered in the Hawaiian sunset. Only their paunches gave them away, that and the tiny scars where their faces had been nipped and tucked.
At the International Market opposite the hotel, a trinket trap for tourists, they have a stall where you can choose your own oyster for the pearl that it always contains. It beats the miracles at Lourdes.
A little ten-year-old boy with "David" stenciled on the back of his blue t-shirt hung about in front of the stall watching the girls as they milked the crowd. When one of them paused in her sales pitch he asked her, "Don't you ever get bored?"
She looked down her nose at him.
"No, I never have," she said with finality.
He persisted. "But it's definitely a possibility?"
She cut him dead. It was his first lesson that the truth is no way to win a lady's heart.
Back at the Royal Hawaiian we ordered two ham and cheese sandwiches from room service and a pot of tea. The price? ... $17.50. Plus tip, of course.
But if you're cunning, you can do very well. We had a free tea one Friday night on the front lawn of a luxury hotel when they were dishing it up for a small party of guests ... bacon wrapped round tiny salami sausages or water chestnuts, rice wrapped in vine leaves around salmon and red capsicum in concentric circles like Swiss cake. Shrimps fired in mouth-watering batter. Camembert cheese. Pineapple. Mushrooms filled with coconut. ... All to the serenade of a Hawaiian quartet swaying softly in grass skirts underneath the palm trees.
And we discovered just the thing for your section, Mum. Plastic grass, just like the real thing, with individual blades naturally curled over and exactly the right height so that you don't think the lawn needs mowing just yet. That'd save you a lot of trouble, although it's not as pleasant to walk on in bare feet.
We've been to a couple of shows, a few movies (which'll no doubt get to New Zealand in a few year's time and to Blenheim not at all) and a nude beach ... we saw some interesting sights there, I can tell you. However, I'll write again soon, I hope this gets to you in time for me to wish you "Happy Birthday" and that you have a good day. (Thanks very much ... you're velcome!)
Letter to Mum