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March 24, 2009

Maui Notebook

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Here I am in Maui (thanks for the local tips, commenters). Here are a few things I've noticed so far.

* General Motors is alive and well on this island if low-profit rental cars are any indication. We and many other tourists are driving Chevy minivans. They are practical for folks in large groups (such as ours) with lots of luggage. We're also driving a Chevy HHR -- their version of a Chrysler PT Cruiser. One quirky feature is its power window controls: the buttons are on the center console.

Chrysler is doing okay too, with their Sebring convertible line, anyway. Lots and lots of them, both ragtop and folding metal top.

* Tattoos are plentiful on young adults. Many are quite elaborate with much green and blue shading. I hope hope their owners will appreciate the decision to have had them 20 years and 40 added pounds in the future. Like chewing gum, this deducts 10 observation guesstimate IQ points, or so I think.

* Japanese. There aren't many tourists here, though I did see a group of about 20 this afternoon in Lahaina. Corroboration is the almost complete lack of Japanese language signage in stores and store windows. There's lots of that in Honolulu, plus I always see two, three or more Japan Airlines 747s at the Honolulu airport.

This is not surprising. Japanese tend to spend their tourism budgets on four and five star attraction. In England, they're all over London and in evidence in Cambridge and Oxford, but not so much elsewhere. In Italy, they're usually found in places like Venice and Florence. I can't blame them. Given linguistic problems, they opt for tour group travel and tour bookers tend to aim for the famous destinations. Which Maui isn't, it seems.



posted by Donald at March 24, 2009


GM does well with rental car sales, but as you note it's a low-profit market.

Posted by: Peter on March 24, 2009 10:03 PM

The PT Cruiser (sounds like a Navy vessel) and the HHR (sounds like a Cabinet department) were designed by the same man.

(But Donald, of all people, would know that...)

We rented a Chevy Cobalt for our honeymoon. The high for that whole weekend was -9º. I still don't care for GM, but must admit it handled the cold well, as does the ancient duct-taped Prizm we use now.

By the way, isn't it fascinating how Washington wants to prop up GM, but Sweden refuses to lift a finger for SAAB? Well, 'what doesn't kill me, strengthens me', and I wouldn't be surprised if SAAB-- soon to be unloaded by GM-- looked better five or ten years from now.

Posted by: Reg Cæsar on March 25, 2009 3:07 AM

Heeeeeey, while I have no interest in getting inked up, my sister is covered in them and my brother-in-law is an skin-ink slinger.

It's a class and age thing more than anything else. Even the swipples in the graduate physics division usually have one or two of 'em.

Japanese tend not to leave Waikiki, period. Drives me crazy, and it's not just a language thing. They don't go off the beaten path even in their home country. Of course there are a few that do, but those that do tend to make up for the majority of the population's conformity.

To give an example, I visited a famous shrine down in my prefecture that's always packed with tour buses and people, less than a quarter mile away is a former Imperial Summer Home that's now a museum. You can wander the mansion and grounds and encounter maybe five or six other people there(amazingly, you're allowed to touch and sit on most of the furniture.) The place is gorgeous, historic, well preserved and... empty. Why? Because for whatever reason it's not on many official tour guides, despite being within sight distance of a major tour spot.

Posted by: Spike Gomes on March 25, 2009 9:36 AM

I got on a 737 going from Oahu to the Big Island 4 or 5 years ago. I was one of two or three euro-american dudes and the rest of the plane was packed with 20-year-old japanese women. It was pretty cool. That particular subset is one of the more notable achievements of human evolution.

Posted by: Bhh on March 25, 2009 11:32 AM

"Corroboration" is when Japanese work together on a project. (Groan... sorry...)

Maui is indeed a "famous destination". But, as Donald hints, it's famous among those who apply ink to pale skin, not to the Bourgeois Bushido crowd.

Is Charles Lindbergh's estate on the tourist track yet, or is it still a private matter? (Do the Japanese care about Lindbergh?)

I don't see how "linguistic problems" would apply anywhere in Hawaii; Japanese are the largest ethnic group by far in the state (unless you clump all "haoles" together). Many of my mid-1960s Oahu grade-school classmates had one or two parents born in Japan, and were fluent in both tongues. I particularly remember a nasty Alphonse-and-Gaston argument with a neighbor girl; she insisted my birthplace (NYC) was the largest city in the world, while I countered that hers (Tokyo) was instead.

Posted by: Reg Cæsar on March 25, 2009 12:26 PM

Learning about Hawaii should become a theme at this blog. Lord knows that Hawaii is one of the bigger gaps in my own knowledge-base.

Looking forward to visuals. Don't forget to snap a few leis.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 25, 2009 12:39 PM

People in Hawaii of Japanese descent really tend not to speak much Japanese anymore, Reg. Pidgin and standard English and some baby-Japanese, mostly.

Waikiki hotels pay plenty to get Japanese-speaking employees, not a few of which are white kids.

(about ten years ago, at any rate.)

Posted by: omw on March 25, 2009 12:43 PM

When we were on Maui two years ago, it seemed like there was some relative of Henry Ford's on the county board who had made a law that rental agencies had to have not fewer than 50% of their selection be Ford Mustang convertibles. On the Road to Hana (you MUST go) we saw, multiple times, chains of two to five Mustang rag tops filled with gawking tourists doing owl imitations.

We were offered one but it would have cost money to upgrade (we won the trip) and we stuck with the generic sedan. We were hardly ever in it, so it was no big.

Watch out for the crazy mountain cows, Maui's only dangerous non-human life form. Cows which don't know they are not mountain goats - NOCTURNNAL mountain goats - are inherently hazardous to navigation.

Posted by: StM on March 25, 2009 1:57 PM

The rainbow papayas at the farmers markets are almost worth the whole trip. Score some of those.

I think I'd go there all the time if it wasn't for the nightmare 10-12 hour flight.

Posted by: Bhh on March 25, 2009 2:59 PM

Tattoos are plentiful on young adults. Many are quite elaborate with much green and blue shading. I hope hope their owners will appreciate the decision to have had them

IIRC, Maui has a large indigenous population and tattooing and/ or body art is a huge part of their culture. I think face tattoos were popular traditionally as well.

Japanesse exports are down 50% so maybe people are saving their money.

Posted by: chic noir on March 25, 2009 3:43 PM


The youngest of the truly bilingual local Japanese are in their late 50s, early 60s. With those younger it's become a running joke that they attended Japanese school for a couple years and "I nevah wen learn notting."

Lindberg's estate is still off the beaten path, most locals don't know about it, much less tourists.


Those salad days are over, I know from first hand experience. There's enough Japanese ex-pats and level-4 haoles living in Hawaii that those places can be selective now. The real demand is for folks that know Mandarin now (most of the local Chinese speak Cantonese or Fujianese).

Posted by: Spike Gomes on March 25, 2009 8:09 PM

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