Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Corner View - At the End of the Street

At the end of the street, when I am visiting in Hawaii, this is what I find: Chinatown.  But it is an END only in that sense, that it is what I find at the end of a short journey.  Or if an end is only really about coming full circle.

Because this  is the place where my story of life really BEGAN.  And where the story of the Chinese in Honolulu began. Where many, including my mother's family, marked time in cramped Chinatown rooms, until they could find the house up in the green hills underneath a mango tree.  (Which looking up the streets to catch a glimpse of, is still one of the prettiest sights in the world to me.)

For me, it was the starting point from which my mother and I left, journeying on a bus in a morning rain over the cane filled hills to visit one of her sisters.  This is where my love affair with food and color incubated, as I accompanied my grandmother on her Saturday shopping trips.  This is where, shopping with my mother, we would meet old friends of hers from highschool and stop in dim restaurants to eat huge bowls of crispy wonton and noodles studded with chunks of red roast pork and green vegetables.  Under lacquered lanterns and the cooling breezes of giant fans.

Which would keep me looking for such noodles everywhere I went for the rest of my life!

This is where my love of the search began.  The search for the delicious, and sunny, measured, sheltered pleasure.

Today this place doesn't know itself if it's at a beginning or an end.

Daily it still buzzes with color and vibrancy.  The shops open early and bring their goodies out onto the streets.  The shoppers pour out of buses and stream down alleys to find both necessities and delight.

It is vivid and pungent.  Aromatic and sweet.  Fish still flop here in tubs of fresh water.  And whatever

 you want to eat, from any part of any animal, you can find it.  (Oh, does that spoil the tone a bit?)

But many of Honolulu's Chinese no longer come here, businesses have been taken over by Vietnamese and Phillipinos, intent on their own beginnings.  Once the Vietnamese restauranteurs tried to rename the area (or at least a street) for Saigon.  This was met with a great outcry.  And ultimately never happened.   All the Chinese came out of the hills and the suburbs:  "Impossible!"  This was still and always would be CHINATOWN.  Somebody's auntie or grandma would ALWAYS need to come here to buy lychee in season, or chinese parsley cheaper than at the supermarket or a special sauce or noodles or dried fish.  It was the Chinese who built and made Chinatown.  Just because it wasn't SO Chinese anymore didn't mean that it STOPPED 


And yet, many of the buildings are neglected now.  People no longer meet here for banquets or do major deals in Chinatown.  Only a few dragon dancers still train here, the noodle makers and jewelers are disappearing.  The pharmacies with their mysterious bins, jars, and drawers of dried shards, stalks and powders are part of myth and legend now.

The beauty queens are a relic of times past.   It's not what it was.

But Chinatown will never be OVER in the minds of the local Chinese.

Never.  Over.  Because to them, life is a circle.  There is neither a beginning nor an end.  It is all one. 

Absolute Oneness.

We are neither Coming or Going.  In or Out.  Up or Down.  Cold or Hot.  Near or Far.  But a little bit of each.  So that we keep ourselves in balance.  So that we can get to the end of that next street. And (as I keep discovering) find our starting point again.................!

For other Corner Views:  jane, ladybug-zen, ian, bonnie, esti, sophie, cele, modsquad,


  1. I love your personal spin on Honolulu's Chinatown. I used to work right downtown on Bethel Street so trips into Chinatown were a regular event for me. I loved gawking at all of the fresh fish in the markets.

    Your previoius post inspired me to look at a few things online about Honolulu architecture and I came across my absolute favorite church--Hart Wood's Christian Science church. Perhaps not very Hawaiian but what a great building. Also, when I was in Grad School at UH Manoa studying Historic Preservation I did a research project on First Congregational which was a unique adaptation of the Colonial Revival to Hawaii. And even more unique in that it was designed by the King of the Gothic Revival, New Englander Ralph Adams Cram.

  2. Beautifully written, Paradis. The photos are so good, so earthy and real, yet vibrant. So good. :-)

  3. Thank you for the tour ... very inspiring and beautiful photos.

  4. I really enjoyed this post.

  5. Wow, what a great story, so special, and moving!

  6. Just gorgeous ........ totally fabulous post MP!
    I was hooked from start to finish...it made for a good bedtime story... Its 1am here... Im not tucked up in bed but I've happliy had my bed time story which came to life for me through you well chosen words and pics tonight. The vividness of the of those times you describe....the view up that wonderful hill where people moved to...mango trees, green. trees, ...and the noodle story...and circles...yes..it was so beautifully poetic and satifying this story.
    I will be like those naughty children who cant sleep...Please aunty MP...tell me another story!

  7. Wonderful narrative. Thank you for sharing all your memories. A joy to read and see the photos.

  8. Thanks again for another great tour! And thanks for your thoughts on my poll today. I really appreciate it!

  9. Beautiful post! So moving and fascinating to hear about your family history- you have such a strong sense of PLACE.


    And thanks for sneaking the goat-by-the-pound pic in there; no Chinese market would be complete without a fantastic array of animal parts. It might even deserve its own post.


  10. Hello there! you always have such incredible posts! thank you!

  11. talking about full circles, he. AT THE END OF THE STREET was my very first corner view! hee hee... there was a fanfare in my street just at the moment that cv ran. so to apply the two birds with one stone proverb (...), i shot a few snaps. i remember that initiating {musical bang} moment vividly. ;))) and have been in awe of the cv community ever since.

    ... a few years have passed and we've been communicating on and off a little; i can visualize what you write here about food, mixed up with memories and emotion.
    i softly urge you to dive into those memories and talk about them.
    write. (and shop for the proper writing class, hear!)

    i also notice i never stopped here, back in 2010.
    never too late for that, i'll say.
    with love,