Special Six: Highlights of Oahu

Hawai’i, for me, is a place of natural beauty, blue skies and seas and a people with a beautiful culture.

In this post, I’d like to highlight six special places on Oahu island, that I enjoyed very much during my stay there and would highly recommend to anyone travelling to Hawai’i.

  1. Kahana valley

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During orientation week at East West Centre, we were taken to Kahana valley on the North shore. We first went to the beach area adjacent to the valley and did some beach cleaning and then drove to the state park area.

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While it is a state park and nature reserve, some land has been allocated to native Hawaiians for indigenous plant cultivation.

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The staff member, who had organized the trip, also organized a traditional Hawaiian potluck lunch for us, which his family and relatives cooked.

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As I was new to the East West Centre culture of bringing your own lunch box for potlucks and parties, so as not to use disposable plastic ware,  I had to make do with leaves to eat my lunch out of. I was quite fascinated by the dishes I tried out that day – a porridge like stuff called ‘poi’, which looked like the north Sri Lankan ‘kool’ except that there was no flavour added to poi, not even salt or sugar. I learnt that poi is considered the quintessential Hawaiian meal made out of taro plant (called ‘kalo’ in Hawai’ian). The native Hawaiian folklore considers the Hawaiian people are descendants of the taro plant so it is a very much revered plant. After lunch, we were taken to the taro patch of the staff member and he showed us the plants from which he had extracted some taro for our lunch.

2. Waikiki beach

Waikiki is a place that any traveller to Honolulu is bound to visit. It is famous for its beach. It was a place that my friends and I often visited.

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However, there are lots of lovely places around the beach area that is lovely to visit as well. Kapiolani park, with a view of the Diamond head crater, is a venue for festivals and picnics and I enjoyed a few, including the Okinawan festival.

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Another place at Waikiki that I enjoyed visiting was the Aquarium. Opened in 1904, it is the second oldest public aquarium in the United States. I saw the national fish of Hawai’i there – the humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa, which is not the fish below, by the way.

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3. Coconut Island

Since I became very much interested in marine life conservation from the environment week discussions at the East West Centre, I decided to organize a visit to Coconut island for our cohort. The island is a marine research facility of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology of the University of Hawai’i.

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Groups, who would like to visit the island, need to book a prior appointment as visits can only be scheduled and there needs to be staff to guide you around the island.

4. Hanauma Bay

Hanauma bay is a lovely nature preserve and a marine life conservation area, which some of my friends and I decided to visit during our last weeks in Honolulu.

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5. Byodo-In

One of my cohort members was a resident of Hawai’i and one weekend, she invited another friend and I to go with her to a couple of places she treasured in Honolulu. One of the places we visited with her was the Byodo-In, a replica of the 900 year old temple in Japan, and opened in 1968 to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to the island.

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We wrapped up our visits with brunch at my friend’s favourite pancake house.

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6. My favourite cafes 

Since I enjoy trying out independent cafes, I did try out some during my stay in Honolulu. Two cafes stand out in memory and I would recommend them both to someone, who really enjoys their coffee.

Morning Glass was a place I was introduced to when two leading Hawai’ian social entrepreneurs/ social business leaders I had wanted to interview suggested the Morning Glass as their favourite coffee place to meet up. It is a lovely coffee shop near East West Centre, with great coffee, and a great place to do some work or meet up friends or work acquaintances.

The second cafe, that I very much enjoyed, was Peace cafe, which is a vegan food cafe. A vegan friend and former colleague from my Stockholm teaching year had wanted me to meet her parents visiting Honolulu and this was the cafe, they introduced me to as their favourite cafe.

Have you visited any of the special places that I have mentioned above? Which would you like to visit?

[Linking this post to The Weekly Postcard and Faraway Files #42]

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Special Six: East West Center Experiences

I had been meaning to write this post for the last few years, especially as I have been asked a lot about my time in Hawai’i with the G12 cohort of the Asia Pacific Leadership Program of East West Center. I finally got around to completing this post this weekend, sharing some of the experiences that made my time at the East West Center special and hope that it encourages some of you, who are interested in emerging priorities in the Asia Pacific region and are currently at a turning point in their careers to consider applying for the APLP or any of the other exciting programs offered by EWC.

The East West Center, an independent, public, non-profit organization was established in 1960, by the U.S. Congress, to facilitate cooperative study, research and dialogue between the United States and Asia and the Pacific.

(1) Sharing of diverse experiences

The 29 participants of G12 came from diverse backgrounds and experiences and it was exciting to hear about work they were engaged in, in their respective corners of the world.

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G12 and APLP staff, and a few alumni

One of the presentations by Yuan, a fellow cohort member, who is an anthropologist and development professional and who was doing her post doctoral studies on minority ethnic groups in China,  made a huge impression on me. Yuan and I decided to explore the possibility of a collaborative study, after the completion of our fellowship by spending some time with the Mosuo community she had spoken of.

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Yuan making a presentation about one of the minority ethnic groups

A lot of the conversations we had between cohort members was out of the classroom and mostly at Hale Manoa, a lovely residence hall, which was cleverly designed to nudge residents to converse with each other at their huge open plan kitchen and dining spaces throughout the building. Cooking, sharing food and conversations over meals, that took up most of the evenings, was a way of resident living there.

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One of the many potluck meals

(2) Inspiring classroom sessions

The classroom session focus topics had been determined by the collective responses of priorities of the cohort and each week focused on a particular theme, bringing in experts in that particular field for talks and discussions. I guess I found the week on environment, facilitated by UNEP staff Colleen Corrigan, an APLP alumna the most fascinating because it opened up my mind to marine conservation and the world beneath the oceans.

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In parallel to the themes for the week, we had several sessions focusing on leadership development. I enjoyed most the personal action plan development activities, which ran across the whole term on a weekly basis. The activities were designed to be reflective and self-exploratory and intended to question our assumptions about ourselves. It ended with us creating a personal action plan portfolio for the next ten years.

Some of the leadership sessions used sailing and navigation as a metaphor. For one of the field visits, we were taken to the Polynesian Voyaging Society office, where Nainoa Thompson, the President of the society spoke to us about navigation, leadership and the story of Hokule’a. We visited the Hokule’a, while it was being prepared for its next round the world voyage.

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It was also a privilege to go on a sailing trip with Nainoa Thompson who had been one of the crew in the second voyage of Hokule’a in 1978, when Eddie Aikau, Hawai’ian surfing legend, was lost at sea.

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Nischal, at the wheel, with Nainoa Thompson guiding him

(3) Solitude and reflection in the Japanese garden

The Japanese garden at the East West Centre was designed by landscape artist, Kenzo Ogata, and was the contribution of twenty two business firms in Japan. In 1964, Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko blessed the garden during a visit, and returned 30 years later to see the garden they had blessed.

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The garden is one of the special places at East West Centre and is adjacent to the Imin Centre – Jefferson hall.

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In addition to time spent on reflections, we usually ended up taking classroom group activities into the garden, if we were at the Imin centre.

(4) Learning Labs

One of the interesting experiments of the program was to bring together smaller groups of the cohort under themes interesting to the group members and work on a small project. My learning lab group theme was social enterprise and we worked with a small organization which supported migrant farmers integrate within the Hawai’ian society and have a sustainable livelihood. It was a very interesting exercise as the group members were from different academic and country backgrounds and we had different perspectives on the project. After some hurdles, we managed to work together by sub-dividing the group into smaller specific themes such as community empowerment, marketing etc. which allowed the different expertise in the group to come out. Our assessment report and recommendations were subsequently used by the organization, so it was a good outcome of the small joint project.

It was fun to present the findings at the event organized at Doris Duke’s Shangri La, where we were also given a guided private tour of the beautiful place.

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Photo courtesy of Matt Berry

(5) Interesting group trips and events: 

The first group trip was during the labour weekend, where the program staff arranged for us to go to Kailua beach and try out canoeing before enjoying a picnic lunch, courtesy of one of the staff.

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One of the last events of the program was held at the gallery on the ground floor of the John A. Burns hall, which is not only a venue for art exhibitions and performances, it houses a collection of objects from around the Asia Pacific region and is open for group tours to schools and community groups.

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Rangi and Sam

We had the last group ceremony for the programme, at this lovely East West Centre gallery.

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(6) Peer support:

We were asked to form voluntary peer support groups and naturally, the groups were formed around people we were most comfortable with. Initially, the group was more for ensuring that all the group members finished assignments on time, especially during the spring semester when we worked independently in our respective home countries or was traveling on an independent study trip. However, my group and I continued our periodic skype updates and chats and though infrequent now, we have kept in touch and visited each other in our respective countries.

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Reunion with Yuan and Duan, Kunming, 2013

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Reunion with Nancy and Aiying, Kandy, 2016

My time in Hawai’i was an especially healing one, something that I needed at that point in my life. The double rainbows, that was quite a frequent occurrence in Honolulu, helped me remember that despite the clouds, the sun does manage to shine through and  there is a special rainbow in sight.

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Looking back, my time in Hawai’i with the APLP cohort was a very special and meaningful one and I would recommend the experience to anyone willing to invest nine months of their life to step back and reflect on the path they have taken and where they wish to head towards, while engaging in interesting mini-projects and interactions with a diverse group of people.