“FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” AMID KAMEHAMEHA DAY FIESTA

ACCIDENTAL TOURISTS IN OUR OWN STATE

The main reason I booked this weekend trip to Honolulu back in April was the Hawaii Symphony’s season finale concert on June 11 – “From Russia with Love.” Little did I know at the time that Elizabeth and I would land in the middle of a wonderful three-day fiesta, a celebration of the Hawaiian culture and the unsurpassed beauty of the islands.  And yes, the “From Russia with Love” concert was also great.

Kamehameha Day header

King Kamehameha Day, June 11, is a state holiday in Hawaii. This year, it was an even bigger deal than usual. This was the 100th anniversary of the first King Kamehameha Day celebrations. And since the 2016 date fell on a Saturday, Friday was also a day off for thousands of government and other public service employees as well as many businesses.

But I did not know any of that until just a few days ago. I was never much on official holidays even when I had my own company. My employees always had to put a note in my calendar a few days in advance so I would not wonder why they did not show up for work. So it was only on Thursday that I told Elizabeth on Saturday we might also be able to see a parade down Kalakaua Ave, the main Waikiki drag.

TOURING OAHU

As soon as we landed at the Honolulu airport on Friday morning, we became accidental tourists in our own home state.  We started out by giving ourselves a nearly full driving tour of Oahu. We had been to many of the spots you see on the map before. But not for a long while.

In a way, this was also our farewell tour of Oahu. No, we are not going anywhere. But we are no longer  going to be be held hostage to the increasingly greedy car rental companies. You may have seen from our last trip to Honolulu in May of this year that we had forsworn against some of them.

For a while, the skies were pretty gloomy. It looked as if we might have to drive through some rain. So I said a few prayers. And magically, the clouds departed from the Dillingham Airstrip.  And the rest of the weekend was picture-perfect weather.

HONOLULU FIESTA, DAY 1 – FRIDAY NIGHT

Back in Honolulu some four hours and 100+ miles later, we realized that the King Kamehameha Day festivities were going to start this Friday evening. The main Waikiki drag – Kalakaua Ave – was going to be closed to traffic after 4:3o PM.

After a nap at our hotel, we rejoined the crowds as the sun was setting in the west,

This is something you are not going to see very often… pedestrians strolling on the busy lanes of Kalakaua Ave. How unusual is that? Think New York’s Fifth Avenue being closed to traffic.  Which does not happen even for Macy’s Thanksgiving parade!

One thing I was looking to find, though, this being the King Kamehameha Day and all, was an old Royal Hawaiian flag. I have plenty of them flying back at the Rainbow Shower in Maui. But I wanted to have one that I can use as a shawl, a scarf or a bandana.

HUNTING FOR OLD ROYAL HAWAIIAN FLAG SCARF

Well, you would think that among the hundreds of market stalls on King Kamehameha Day one might find the flat that actually does represent the Hawaiian kingdom before the foreigners invaded and occupied these beautiful islands. Think again. Elizabeth and I visited each and every one of them and none had the old Royal flag for sale.

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Old Royal Hawaiian flag flying at Iolani Palace, Honolulu

Finally, we came upon a stall selling the dime-a-dozen-type Hawaiian sarongs. I asked the owner about the flag. He said he had one. But did not bring it tonight.

“If you come and see me at Kapiolani Park tomorrow, after the parade, I will bring you some,” he promised.

NEW SHOPPING MALL DISPLACES 800 JOBS

A bit farther down the lane, we came upon what we remember was once a thriving Banyan Marketplace. Now, and ugly shopping mall was being constructed in its place (see the first photo below).

“As if Honolulu needs more shopping malls,” I observed dryly to Elizabeth.

A merchant we talked to told us that the mall was being built by foreign money. He did not know from what country.

“But they had wiped out 800 jobs,” he lamented.

Indeed, I remember coming to this Banyan market since the 1980s. And probably for many decades before that.  It that stretched all the way from Kalakaua to Kuhio avenues. It was full of little stalls. It was like an every day King Kamehameha Day celebration. And now it’s gone.

Progress?

No. A setback actually. But…

“Money talks,” as my new merchant friend put it laconically.

FRIDAY EVENING FIESTA ON KALAKAUA AVENUE

Now, that’s something we have never seen before. Normally you are elbow-to-elbow with tourists from all over the world, while the buses, shuttles, taxis and cars struggle to make their way up and down Kalakaua Ave.

Tonight, however, it was the start of a fiesta.

After a while, Elizabeth and I snuck in the back toward Waikiki beach and my favorite Honolulu hotel – the Royal Hawaiian – now run by the Sheraton hotel chain. It is hard to imagine nowadays that this was once the tallest building on Waikiki. Now it’s the lowest building on the Waikiki beach strip.

As we strolled around the hotel grounds, we came across a wedding setup on the front lawn, facing the ocean.  How would you like to get married at a place like this?

As it turns out, it was an elderly Japanese couple who were tying the knot. Guess only folks like that can afford a lavish wedding at the Royal Hawaiian these days.

Elizabeth was also looking for a “haku lei” for her hula dance class performance. Haku lei is a small lei that fits over one’s head, like a bandana. Finally, she found one this evening. You can see her wearing it proudly in front of a Dior store on Kalakaua Ave. (She was not aware of Dior until I told her after I took the picture). 🙂

I also lucked out. I have a black silk kimono which I bought in Hong Kong some 10 years or so ago. It always seems to get undone. So when I saw a group of Japanese men selling Samurai accoutrements, including the kimono belts, a penny dropped.

“That’s it! That’s what I need for my kimono,” I thought.

After a little bargaining, and a lot of smiling and genuflection, I bought this Japanese belt you see in the above picture. Then I had to take a lesson about how to fasten it. It’s complicated. I’ll have to practice it when I get back home. Elizabeth said she had some friends in her hula class who are Japanese and can help if it need be. 🙂

OUR FIRST ANNIVERSARY DINNER

As if all this walking and partying was not enough, we also had our first anniversary dinner planned at the Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Waikiki. And the staff treated us like royalty.

After dinner, we went back out to Kalakaua Ave and joined the festivities that were evidently going to go on till late at night. Here are some pictures from our second stroll up and down the main Waikiki drag.

The first photo is of an Indonesian group performing their native dance. The other two are of a Bon dance (a Japanese dance for the souls of the departed). Elizabeth joined it it.

And that’s all she wrote for this busy day – June 10, 2016. And the actual King Kamehameha Day had not even begun. 🙂

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KING KAMEHAMEHA DAY – JUNE 11, 2016

Day 2 of Being Accidental Tourists in Honolulu

The 100th King Kamehameha Day parade was supposed to start at Iolani Palace, the former residence of Hawaiian royalty, and finish at Kapiolani Park.  It is a long route (see the map). Elizabeth and I figured it would take them two hours or longer to get to the final destination. As our hotel was at about midpoint of the route, we decided to walk to Kapiolani Park and wait there for the parade to come to us.

We were not alone.  Just about “half of Honolulu” seem to be out lining the parade route streets.  But we found a beautiful shady spot under the blooming Rainbow Shower trees in Kapiolani Park to lie on the grass and just veg out.

Truth be told, I was the only one doing that. Elizabeth wore white pants which she was afraid would be stained by the grass. And she was also anxious about not missing the parade. So she tried to get me up and and to move with several “here they are”-false alarms. 🙂

Eventually, I did get up and we went in the opposite direction. Deeper into the park toward Diamondhead. To find the vendor who promised to bring the old Royal Hawaiian flag sarong to Kapiolani Park.

And we did find him. He kept his word. He had brought several such flag sarongs. I only needed one. So for the rest of the day, I used it as my new “poncho.”

Finally, it was well past 11 o’clock by the time the head of the parade reached Kapiolani Park. Here are some pictures of the mounted Hawaiian ladies dressed up in their finest. Notice the beautiful Rainbow Shower trees in the background in full bloom? Most of downtown Honolulu looks like that these days. Gorgeous!

Notice also the proximity of the parade route to Waikiki Beach which lies only a hundred yards or so off the other side of the street.

Unlike the beautifully clad ladies, the dress code of the Hawaiian men did not leave much to the imagination. All these fierce looking “warriors” wore was a loin cloth. Which flapped freely in the light breeze, proving to all who care to look that they, like the Scottish Highlanders with their kilts, wore nothing underneath.

Hawaiian warriors parade

Alas, none of the Highlanders were to be seen on Honolulu streets during this 100th King Kamehameha Day parade.  For that, one would need to go to the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in mid-August.

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After the parade, Elizabeth and I had a snacky lunch/dinner from some of the food vendors in Kapiolani Park. Elizabeth had some Thai chicken wings while I enjoyed my favorite dessert – crepes stuffed with fruit and Nutella spread.

After that, Elizabeth posed with a couple of statues in the park. That last photo can be aptly captioned as Two Queens. It is a sculpture of Queen Kapiolani after whom the park was named.

Kapiolani Park concert 6-11-16Kapiolani Park 6-11-16

KING KAMEHAMEHA DAY – JUNE 11, 2016 – Kapiolani Park Concert and Waikiki Beach stroll – a video clip by Bob Altzar Djurdjevic

Here is also a short video of some of the performances that took place while we were eating our lunch. Or more precisely, after I was finished and able to walk around and film it. The video includes a clip filmed at Waikiki beach end of the park.

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WALK ON THE BEACH

After that, we took our shoes off and walked back to our hotel along Waikiki beach. Here are some panorama shots from that stroll.

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“FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” AMID KAMEHAMEHA DAY FIESTA

Later in the afternoon, we walked back to the beach from our hotel and spent some time just floating on waves.

And then, finally, it was time for us to get ready for the main event of this weekend – the Hawaii Symphony “From Russia with Love” concert. But not before we witnessed another part of the Kamehameha Day celebrations. A group of HUGE (!) Hawaiian sumo wrestlers passed by us on the street just outside our hotel.

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And then it was time to go to the Blaisdell concert hall…

The concert was outstanding. Olga Kern, the Russian pianist, was fabulous. I got a chance to tell her that myself when we met during the intermission. She played two extraordinarily difficult pieces by Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev, and also and etude for an encore after a standing ovation by the audience.

But what really drew tears in my eyes was the orchestra’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s “1812” overture. It’s a majestic piece of music that takes a great conductor (Victor Yampolsky, now professor of music at Northwestern University) and an outstanding symphony orchestra to bring it off. And that’s what they did. In spades.

At the end of the performance, the Russian-born conductor himself applauded the Hawaii symphony orchestra and gave them two thumbs up.

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Even before the main event, we were treated to a surprise concert by a group of young Hawaiian musicians just outside the Blaisdell Hall. Here’s a video clip of one of their pieces – by Bach.

CONCERT BEFORE HAWAII SYMPHONY CONCERT – a group of young Hawaiian musicians perform at Blaisdell Hall on June 11, 2016 before the “From Russia with Love” concert by Hawaii Symphony – a video clip by Bob Altzar Djurdjevic

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