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A milo leaf floats in the hands of healer Mahealani Kaiwikuamo'okekuaokalani Henry.photo by Linny Morris Cunningham
Vol. 8, No. 3
June/July 2005



by Stu Dawrs
photo by Sergio Goes

The decision to undergo a species change isnít one to be taken lightly. Just ask Drew Erickson, whose transformation from twenty-eight-year-old construction worker to Ailuropoda melenoleuca took more than six months to complete.

"At first I was thinking about being a dog or a cat; then I was looking at zebras and giraffes," Drew recalls, after laughing for roughly two minutes at the question of his animal origins. "Then one day I was in the thrift store Savers, looking at their stuffed animalsóI found this one that was so cute and I thought, ĎThatís it, Iím gonna be a panda.í"

If you havenít been in Waikiki lately, at this point youíre no doubt utterly confused. But take an evening stroll down Kalakaua Avenue, and there among the sidewalk menagerie of silver cowboys, street musicians, caricature artists and hair-braiding slackers, youíll find the panda. And man, he is cuteóon any given evening, Drew attracts quite the large, beaming crowd, most of whom seem perfectly happy to believe he is, in fact, a dancing, bamboo shoot-loving bear.

Credit that to a degree in fine arts, an eye for detail, two months of research and four months of sewing. "I didnít want to just look like a man in a bear suit," he asserts in a serious tone, before noting that every part of his costume can be controlled independently. "All except the tailóit just bounces up and down on its own when I dance."

Being a panda has been Drewís sole source of income for more than a year now, but ... well, it can be a jungle out there. Street performers have always had a touchy relationship with city administrators, and nighttime Kalakaua has its share of party animals. "I got tackled by a drunk once," says Drew, but again heís grinning. "But when Iím working, itís almost always positive: People are smiling and they want to give me a hug. In fact, these days, when my friends ask me what I do for a living, I just say, ĎI go hug people.í"