story by Deborah Gushman
art by Alex Preiss
Not so long ago, if you were living far from the Islands and you found yourself suddenly craving poi, or Kaua‘i Kookies, or li hing mui, your only option was to call up a friend or relative in Hawaii who had access to a supermarket or general store, and beg them to send you a care package. And if you weren’t comfortable asking for such favors, you would have to wait until your next trip back, and fill a corner of your suitcase with portable tastes of Paradise. But that was Then, and this is Now ... dot.com.
I’m on the Internet a lot, researching various things, and I occasionally emerge from a net-surfing trance to discover that I have just squandered two pleasant but unproductive hours online, browsing www.Y2Kanu.com and the on-line Honolulu Advertiser, printing out the lyrics to Hawaii Ponoi and Honolulu City Lights, or marveling at a picture of an old friend from my canoe-paddling days, demonstrating his supernatural strength by lifting a small German car. When it comes to shopping, though, I’ve only recently discovered the joys of letting my fingers do the Webwalking.
Since I only get back to Hawaii once a year or so, I always keep a scribbled list of things I’d like to buy the next time I’m in the Isles. Pineapple-papaya preserves, to tropicalize my morning toast; Gabby Pahinui’s hard-to-find "Brown Album" (official title: Gabby); an artificial pua kenikeni lei to hang from my rear-view mirror, here in the high desert of Santa Fe where a real dried lei would turn to dust within days; a new "Live Aloha" sticker to replace the weather-beaten shred that now adorns my front bumper; a refillable bottle of Hawaii Water in those distinctive Art Deco containers with the artistic black labels; and a copy of Pidgin to Da Max, since I rashly sold my own first-edition copy at a garage sale when I moved to the Mainland. Oh, and a green University of Hawaii T-shirt, even though it’s sure to alienate all the rabid Lobos fans in the gym where I work out. Those were the things on my current To-Buy-in-Hawaii list, and it never occurred to me to look for them on the Net.
Then, one day last week, I finally got around to hooking up the speakers that came with my new computer two years ago, and I decided to test the sound by listening to HAPA’s rendition of Aunty Edith Kanakaole’s infectious (and deliciously naughty) "Ka Uluwehi O Ke Kai." Finding an audio clip of that recording on hawaiianmusicstore.com (and at HAPA’s own lively site, hapa.com) proved amazingly easy, and enjoyable. Then it occurred to me that there might be a musical snippet of Gabby Pahinui’s exuberant Royal Hawaiian Hotel somewhere on the Web. Sure enough, there was. And as it turned out, the "Brown Album" containing that cut was available from several sources online, although amazon.com cautioned "Limited Availability."
One link led to another, and the rest, as they say, is credit card history. Finding most of the things on my list, via the phenomenal search engine of google.com, was the simple part. The difficulty came in prying myself off the Net and getting back to work, because the Hawaiian shopping sites led to so many seductive detours and unexpected amusements.
I spent at least an hour reveling in a wonderland of food/hula/language sites (hawaiianlanguage.com is the gateway), lovingly tended by a charming Big Island native named Aunty Leilani. Then, as I was idly searching for a source of day-old poi in powder form, up popped this hilarious quote, with the relevant bit helpfully highlighted in boldface type: "‘You look like three-day-old poi, Danno,’" McGarrett said grimly. "‘Why don’t you go home?’" I even found a rare audio sample of Edith Kanaka‘ole herself performing the stirring chant No Ana I Hilo, on the Hula Records-related site, hawaiian-music.com: pure chicken-skin, all the way.
Meanwhile, my virtual shopping basket was filling up with marvelous treats. Pineapple-papaya preserves were available all over the Web, but I liked the exotic sound of the Pineapple Papaya Ginger Marmalade from Island Café, which has the added appeal of being located in the village of Captain Cook, on the Big Island. I found a gorgeous artificial pua kenikeni lei, made from Fimo clay, at Everlasting Hawaiian Flower Leis, but the $75 price was a deterrent. So I compromised by ordering a reasonably-priced faux lei of intertwined ilima and pikake from one of my favorite shops in Honolulu (hulasupplycenter.com).
My search for a new "Live Aloha" bumper sticker led to an intriguing labyrinth of interrelated sites, offering more than 2,000 products under the umbrella of e808.com. In addition to an enticing array of dashboard hula dolls and plumeria-print seat covers, e808 carries UH T-shirts, and I thought "Eureka!" But the new, Gumby-like "Big H" designs bore no resemblance to the rainbow logo I remembered, and I gleaned from the accompanying text that the team is now known as the Warriors rather than the Rainbows—a major switch, my ignorance of which is only further proof that I’ve been away from the Islands too long. The UH bookstore Web site yielded no remaining Rainbow-logo gear either, so I concluded that the only way to acquire one of those vintage shirts would be at a garage sale or thrift shop in Honolulu. (Punahou Tank, here I come.)
Pidgin to Da Max—along with its sequel, Pidgin to Da Max Hana Hou—was readily available from a plethora of sites, including half.com, where a used copy (maybe the same one I sold back in 1992!) was going for a mere $8.75. Hawaii Water, too, was a cinch to find, at hawaiiwater.com. The catch was that you had to buy a case, and all I really wanted was one of their beautiful empty bottles to refill with local water, and tote to my exercise class.
As for the "Live Aloha" sticker, I couldn’t find it for sale anywhere, but there is a way to mail a SASE (with optional donation) and receive a sticker in return, via hawaiian.com. In the course of that quest, I stumbled serendipitously upon the site for Aloha Stickers, where the menu of choices is staggering. Not only do they have the swirly octopus, shark, turtle and seahorse motifs I’d admired on cars and trucks in Honolulu, there are also stickers of Chinese characters, zodiac signs, surfers, hula dancers, paddlers, quilt patterns and on and on. And they come in colors, like the rainbow.
All in all, it was a heady, happy cybershopping day for this transplanted Manoa resident. Of course, there’s still no substitute for browsing the eclectic aisles of a Longs Drugs or some delightfully funky Neighbor Island emporium. But even a virtual taste of Paradise is better than none at all.