Saturday, August 28, 2004

To Sea Life Park

Turtle exhibit at Sea Life Park

About every four or five years I head Diamond Head (east) along the H-1 freeway to Sea Life Park, Hawaii’s small-scale version of Sea World. I first visited Sea Life Park on a school field trip back in the sixties. The cost then, if memory serves, was $2. Now the price of entry is $26 for adults, $13 for kids under 13 and adult “kamaaina’s” (residents of Hawaii). For those who compulsively perform financial calculations, that’s a 5% compound annual growth rate in the child ticket price over a 40-year period.

Unlike California aquatic parks such as Sea World, Marine World, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, it is easy to take in all of Sea Life Park in an afternoon. When we went last week, I carefully clipped a 25%-off coupon from the back of a relative’s Hawaiian Telephone directory, thereby saving $22.75 on four tickets. At the net admissions cost of $68.25, Sea Life Park was a fair value.

Note to myself: I really must get a State ID card to capture the often-huge discounts available to Hawaii residents at hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions. On my last trip three years ago I took the first step by waiting patiently for three hours to get a certified copy of my birth certificate, whose “Territory of Hawaii” designation betrayed me as a geezer, but I forgot to bring my original social security card from California.

Applicants are also required to supply “supplementary documents” such as marriage licenses, but I don’t see how the authorities can enforce this rule. How would they know that the documents exist? Many women do not change their surname when they are married; neither do they use the “Mrs.” prefix, preferring “Ms.” (or these days even “Dr.” and “Rev.”).

We turned on the air-conditioning to its maximum setting as we approached Hawaii Kai in our rented Pontiac. Hawaii Kai is now a prosperous community of million-dollar homes, but I remember when it was a dry, hot expanse of dirt roads, bushes, and tangled foliage, home to pigs and chickens.

The “pig man” would come to our home in central Honolulu and pick up a week’s supply of our table scraps, which had been ripening in a three-foot steel can, and take it to his hogs. He would show his gratitude by inviting us to an annual luau at his farm. The food was plentiful and tasty, but the powerful stench emanating from the pens and the large horseflies buzzing about the dishes weren’t esthetically pleasing. Then again an eight-year-old didn’t know what "esthetics" meant or that they were supposed to matter.

For hours I would watch the hogs, who rolled around in a nameless mixture of mud, slop, and waste material. The new residents of Hawaii Kai roll around in BMW and Lexus SUVs and would be horrified to have the pig man as their neighbor. I hope he sold his land at a good price to Henry J. Kaiser, the visionary industrialist who developed the area.

Past Hawaii Kai the highway narrows to a single lane in each direction. We poked along at 35-40 mph behind sightseeing tourists, past rocky cliffs and golf courses, and entered the parking lot twenty minutes later.

The shows and exhibits may be more lavish on the Mainland, but the setting at Sea Life Park, with the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other, is unmatched.

The Park is nestled against the cliffs of Makapuu.

After each show we headed back to the store as respite from the heat. The sweat on the back of my hand erased my re-entry stamp twice during the afternoon, but my pallor and flat, accentless English, not to mention the befuddled expression that I have learned to evince without much effort, proclaimed that I was another confused tourist. My son bought a towel to take back to college in San Diego, and we headed back to town for dinner with my cousin. © 2004 Stephen Yuen

Rabbit Island is the backdrop for the dolphin show.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Unintentionally Revealing

The KRON (Channel 4) news this evening had a short piece on corporate psychopaths [Update-9/8/04: the original link went down, so a link to another news organization was substituted.]
A key characteristic of the psychopath is having no conscience, like Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Hannibal. And it’s similar in the office—a worker without conscience and with obsessive focus is quite likely to succeed in the short term and possibly land in a management role. Workers who show these psychopathic traits often thrive at the expense of others with a tendency to bully.

Experts say you’re more likely to find these social predators where there is power, prestige, or money, professions such as politics, law and the media [emphasis added]
The piece could have named farming, accountancy, pharmaceuticals, energy, banking, or any of a hundred other industries. Funny that psychopaths are particularly concentrated in professions from which the Democratic Party draws its strongest supporters. (I'm willing to lay odds that academia and entertainment would have ranked fourth and fifth.)

Monday, August 23, 2004


When you ask my fashionable Mainland friends about their favorite Hawaiian island, many will champion Maui, others will name Kauai or Hawaii, and a few, seeking to impress with their eclecticism, will favor Molokai. They always seem a little disappointed when I tell them that my favorite island is crowded Oahu, where over three-fourths of Hawaii’s people live. I suppose that my opinion is colored by the fact that I spent the first seventeen years of my life as a resident of Honolulu and that many of my friends and most of my relatives live there. But distance, both temporal and physical, can confer a degree of objectivity.

Hawaii's most famous landmark is on Oahu.

On the plus side of the ledger Oahu has:
  • the most white-sand beaches, which is important unless you don't mind being dashed against the rocks. Every couple of miles on the drive around the island there’s a decent, occasionally outstanding beach with public restrooms and/or showers.
  • the best drinking water. Rainwater filters through the volcanic rock, where it is trapped below sea level under tremendous pressure. No other island produces sweet Artesian wellwater so abundantly.
  • the most varied restaurants, shopping, and nightlife, befitting the State’s capital city and most populous island.

    The traffic, congestion, and pollution can be horrible. Twice in the past week I’ve had the misfortune of trying to make an appointment during the evening rush hour. On both occasions, once in Waikiki and the other near Honolulu International Airport, it took half an hour to travel less than a mile. If one can avoid the morning or evening commute, getting around is easy.

    While the beautiful people go to Lahaina, this beach, in the heart of Honolulu, has sparse attendance on a weekday.

    On this trip I’ve renewed acquaintance with two vigorous individuals who are in their nineties and many others who are over 80. The experiences of these friends and relatives bode well for a retirement life on Oahu, because longevity is one of my post-retirement goals (it’s better than the alternative). Arizona is attractive, Tahoe is tempting, but Oahu is probably where I’ll end up. © 2004 Stephen Yuen

    [Update - 9/8/04: this perspective on Oahu is worth checking out.]
  • Sunday, August 15, 2004


    The apartments next door to my parents’ house were built before the War. The two-story buildings experienced the fate that befalls all wooden structures in Hawaii and became a breeding ground for termites. The termites would swarm around the streetlights during warm, breezeless evenings, and a few would wriggle through the screens into our house. When I was a child I would stand on a three-legged stool and hold a bowl of water up to the light, where the termites would fall, flailing futilely in the liquid.

    The warm Hawaiian humidity provides an especially fecund environment for things that go squish. The owner of the apartments planted low-growing palms next to our fence. The thick foliage housed nests of cockroaches, which plagued the neighborhood for decades.

    Some of the tenants weren’t conscientious about wrapping their garbage, which attracted rats. Dad complained, the tenants said they would be more careful, and the rats became less noticeable but never completely disappeared

    This week, when I visited my parents, I was taken aback to see an empty space where the apartments had been. The buildings were bulldozed to rubble, and the entire lot had been cleared. None of the neighbors is sure what will rise in their place, but all are confident that it will be better than what had been there before. Dad said that he and the other adjacent property owners have been invaded with cockroaches and vermin, now that their nests have been destroyed. As long as we’re diligent about sanitation and prevent the pests from breeding elsewhere, these problems will not be long-lasting, and the neighborhood will end up much improved.

    I thought of parallels with recent international affairs and realized that I think too much. © 2004 Stephen Yuen

    Thursday, August 12, 2004

    Going Home

    The airlines, especially charter carriers who book extra flights during tourist season, love the 757-200. Airbus still doesn’t have a direct competitor to Boeing’s 21-year-old product, which seats 228 passengers and traverses 3,900 nautical miles. Other aircraft, such as the 777 and A340, can exceed the 757’s range, but they also have much larger seating capacity and are much more expensive. For missions that are “long and narrow”, such as hauling 200 price-conscious tourists from London to Orlando, the 757 is ideal.

    Because of the cattle-car feeling, the carriers’ affection is not shared by passengers. The typical seating configuration is 38 rows with three on each side. Other single-aisle planes, such as the 737, used by Southwest, or the A320, flown by Jet Blue, have 150-170 seats. The 757’s lengthier routes and longer unloading time make for a less pleasant flying experience.

    Last night our flight to Hawaii did not begin promisingly. The 757 departed a half an hour late on its originating flight from Indianapolis and was correspondingly late on arrival in San Francisco. We waited another half an hour to take on passengers from a tardy flight from Chicago. It’s hard to blame the airline’s penny-pinching orientation; they had the only sub-$400 round-trip fare to the Islands in August, while many competitors were charging over $600.

    Nevertheless, there were pleasant aspects to the flight. There was plenty of legroom (“pitch”—the distance between rows of seats), the movie, Shrek 2,was enjoyable (headphones were included), and there was no surcharge for the hot meal. And the three of us could sit together on the fully loaded flight because we had selected our seats online one month earlier.

    After an uneventful landing and wait at the baggage carousel, we proceeded to the car-rental agency. All of us were dragging as we hauled the suitcases up the stairs of our relative’s house after 11 p.m. (2 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time). I felt a twinge of exhilaration about coming home after three years and fell asleep as soon as my head touched down. © 2004 Stephen Yuen

    The view that greeted me this morning: the Waikiki skyline and Diamond Head on the left.

    Tuesday, August 10, 2004


    I’ve hit one of those patches where things aren’t going as planned—nothing severe, mind, I can distinguish the trivial from the important—it’s just that I’m stymied wherever I turn.

    I want to replace the carpet, but before I schedule an installation date, the walls and ceiling must be painted (I can do the walls myself, but the ceiling requires special equipment). I’ve called painters, who promise an estimate by a certain date but won’t put forward even that modest effort, even after several reminder calls. Of course I won’t make the mistake of engaging these people, but there’s no satisfaction as the ratty carpet continues to mock me.

    I’ve called a gardener, whom two of my neighbors rave about, to estimate the cost of a small clean-up project. He seems like a nice, energetic fellow, but he’s broken a weekend appointment and ignored two of my follow-up phone calls. I intended to use him, but now...

    The exterior of our house needs to be cleaned and sealed, and we’ve reached agreement with a reputable contractor to perform this job, but first we must repair a crack in our chimney. On the advice of a neighbor we’ve been trying to contact a man who would probably do good work but we’ve been unable to communicate with him (he did leave a message once, so we know he’s still in business.)

    A generation ago the epitome of futility (has a certain ring to it, nicht wahr?) was the maiden who sat by her silent phone on Saturday night. Today it’s the frustrated suburbanite who waits...and waits...for his contractor to call, fax, or e-mail. An in-person visit would trigger the vapors.

    At work there are several tasks that are on hold because of crucial information that other people have to prepare and send. Because these people are colleagues and customers, I can’t be too obnoxious and so am limited to offering gentle reminders through the usual channels.

    My Hawaiian vacation starts tomorrow and no progress will be made on any of the above for two weeks. Feeling beset and bewildered, and occasionally angry, by the (in)action of others, I bestirred myself from my usual torpor in the pew on Sunday to listen to the words of a long-ago Sermon:
    Every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, “You fool!” shall be liable to the hell of fire. [Matt 5: 22]

    Message noted. Let it go. Let it all go. © 2004 Stephen Yuen

    Palm trees thrive in Hawaii. In cool San Francisco these palms along the Embarcadero were imported and have to be carefully nurtured. But they don't have coconuts that can hit you on the head.

    Wednesday, August 04, 2004

    Miscellaneous Musings

    Vietnam Vets Can Celebrate
    Side benefit of John Kerry’s nomination: at least until the election Hollywood won’t green-light more movies where the villain is a crazed, drug-addled Vietnam veteran. If John Kerry wins, these scripts will be deep-sixed for at least four years.

    Celebrity Politics
    One of the cable news channels ran a viewer survey that asked whether the political views of celebrities influence the vote of the general public. Well, duh. Not true of everyone, of course, but some people will be swayed. Celebrities sell drinks, cars, diet plans, cell phones, cosmetics, clothes, and everything under the sun because advertisers believe there are enough of us who believe that we will be like our heroes if we buy the product they are touting. Celebrities ask for our help in fighting a disease, and many of us respond with cold cash. It asks little of an admirer to pull the voting lever that Sam Superstar recommends.

    Remain True to Your Principles Without Making Your Friends Angry
    I’ve been reading how some wealthy individuals feel that they should be taxed more because they feel a mixture of guilt and gratitude to the society in which they have achieved their success. Someone should tell them that, instead of supporting laws that will increase taxes on themselves and others—many of whom will disagree with that point of view, they can achieve their personal objective simply by writing a check to the government for the additional amount they think they ought to be paying. Such donations are deductible contributions under Section 170(c) of the Internal Revenue Code:
    For purposes of this section, the term ''charitable contribution'' means a contribution or gift to or for the use of (1) A State, a possession of the United States, or any political subdivision of any of the foregoing, or the United States or the District of Columbia, but only if the contribution or gift is made for exclusively public purposes.
    Any individual who makes a donation to the government deserves to be doubly admired because 1) he is making a gift for “public purposes”, and 2) he is not attempting through tax legislation to force others to emulate his otherwise noble act. The journey to enlightenment should be taken alone. © 2004 Stephen Yuen

    Barry Bonds Home Run #685
    Last Friday I saw Barry Bonds hit home run number 685 at SBC Park. I finally have seen something that will impress the grandchildren (when they come along).

    Barry Bonds rounds second base after hitting the ball into the Bay.

    Monday, August 02, 2004

    Vaillancourt Fountain

    The Vaillancourt fountain in Justin Herman Plaza is hard to love. After the 1989 earthquake destroyed the freeway off-ramp, the fountain’s complementary big brother, some said it lost its raison d’etre.

    Because it was expensive to power the pumps, the water had been turned off since 2000. Vaillancourt fountain became a silent, concrete jumble in the midst of a waterfront that is growing greener and softer. Depending on the way one is facing, the harsh angles overwhelm the view of the renovated Ferry Building, the nearby park, or the beauteous Bay beyond. The fountain became a grimy sculpture, a favorite resting spot for the ubiquitous pigeons, who further despoiled its surface and walkways. It became such an eyesore that some called for its demolition.

    Last month the pumps were turned on, and the area was transformed. The sight and sounds of the rushing water bring life to a dead corner of Justin Herman plaza. Children skip along the walkway beneath the waterfalls, the tourists take their pictures, and the pale tower denizens leave their cubicles to munch on their sandwiches in the sun. © 2004 Stephen Yuen