Hawaii: The Good, The Bad, & The Aloha
Never living abroad made Hawaii the furthest I traveled when I moved there in 2016 to fulfill a longstanding desire to live near the ocean and find a permanent home. These goals and aspirations to live in different places to experience diverse cultures shifted radically during my residence in Hawaii.
From the moment I landed in Honolulu, something seemed off. Perhaps more than anything, I felt disappointed but also misled, which I shouldn’t have felt for knowing the same problems exist everywhere. If you live in Hawaii longer than a week for a vacation, the island’s issues glare, and if you are honest, you realize you are part of those problems.
I waited two years and spent considerable time researching Hawaii’s cost, places to live, culture, and other aspects of the island. The tremendous move, the largest in my life, held trepidation, but thinking myself prepared, I pushed through the cost and logistics. Living in a small town in Arizona for almost five years also filled me with a despise of small-town life, cementing the decision to live in Waikiki.
Hawaii is a beautiful place filled with wonderful people. I met many fascinating individuals: an effortless task, providing you are not crazy. During the first five months in Hawaii, many people of diverse backgrounds entered life, like my friend Karen, who invited me to dinner where I met more amazing people.
I lived across the street from the Ala Wai Canal, where morning and evening walks formed an exercise routine.
Some days I went to the beach or the beach park to enjoy the perfect weather.
Dinners, drinks with friends, and client meetings quickly filled life with different outings.
No doubt, Hawaii has many awesome things to do, and the people are amazing, but what you don't see are the many problems most everyone contends with daily.
The Ala Wai Canal I walked around in the evenings and mornings also bore hazard signs for being so polluted. I stopped walking the canal in the dark because of rats scavenging litter and public trashcans.
Other problems people don't see before moving to Hawaii quickly form a constant aggravation, like dealing with substandard conditions due to high costs. My apartment looked nothing like the photos online, which I expect companies to doctor, but not with such blatant misrepresentation.
The place was a dump: an expensive dump.
Worse than shabby, the apartment’s roach infestation quickly made me crazy. I saw online discussions about roaches before arriving in Hawaii, but nothing could’ve prepared me for the magnitude of the problem. Having lived in Baltimore city, where bugs can be a problem, I thought people exaggerated the issue in Hawaii. I was wrong.
Management must have doused the apartment in pesticide because I only saw a dozen or so roaches my first day. The little desk area where the computer rested became unusable after a day because of roaches swarming the equipment.
The tiny apartment cost almost $1850 a month, and all the cabinets were useless for anything other than pots and pans because of roaches. Any food, dry goods included, had to be kept in the refrigerator.
After furniture arrived and almost daily rounds of pesticide, I thought the roaches were under control, but computer equipment and furniture quickly became infested with bugs. That chair and curtains needed trashing because no amount of bug spray eliminated the insects.
After five months living in this apartment, my shower backed up with sewage, which took almost a month for maintenance to repair.
Talking to some friends, I soon learned $1850 a month rent for a studio was woefully inadequate, and if you want to live roach-free, the minimum is $2000 per month. Being a haole, I didn't believe them and began investigating new digs, certain to find better accommodations for a reasonable price.
I was wrong.
Luck prevailed despite my wrongness, and I lucked into a very very expensive, two-bedroom-two-bath condominium for a low cost. Sheer luck brought this opportunity that no one should believe for a minute would occur when moving to Hawaii. In trade for web design and digital marketing, I ended up in this apartment for about the cost of the roach-infested place, which was significant savings considering the new digs ran upwards of three to four thousand dollars a month or more.
I am purposely not showing the building because the residents have privacy concerns, but you can see the plushness of this place from the views. Again complete luck.
Living in either apartment still does not give one the scope of problems faced by Hawaiians. Everywhere you go, the homeless haunt Hawaii. They form tent cities in parks and on beaches. You will encounter them everywhere you visit, which increasingly disrupts tourism. While many cities suffer this issue, homelessness is unique in Hawaii.
Many of the people I met felt stressed all the time about money. Most residents live on the financial edge trying to pay bills, and those who can afford to stay usually don’t because they cannot justify the financial drain. If you live in Hawaii, unless you have enormous amounts of money, you will live in what most people in the US and many other countries consider poverty.
You wonder why anyone chooses to move there, but keep in mind, one is not fully aware of the severity of problems, which Hawaii bears some fault for unintentionally inviting people to move there. This blame might seem strange, but Hawaii is dependent on tourism, and Hawaiians understand this dependence and tend to downplay the problems online and in person. Hawaiians are also proud of their state, and this pride fuels positive discussions about the Islands, even when facing many issues.
In truth, Hawaii is a place ravaged by capitalism and tourism’s unsustainability. The masses of vacationers coming to Hawaii litter and tax the already overburdened nature and infrastructure. Seeing firsthand Hawaii's issues altered my notions of travel significantly and aspirations to move to different locations now tempers with a better understanding of what that travel does to places like Hawaii. People like me are a large part of the problem because making a home in Hawaii just adds to the congestion and strain on resources. Tourism, the state's primary revenue, does little for Hawaiians struggling under high costs and low wages. The problem is complex and requires far more than just promoting more tourism.
I don't pretend to know the answer, but what I will say is don't move to Hawaii.
Along with changing my ideas about travel, Hawaii elucidated a selfish point of privilege. People with money tend to pursue intrinsic goals or solutions, such as filling the often-experienced emptiness or unhappiness of life through new things or moving to new places. Geographic cures undermine other people by not acting in the interest of their communities.
It is one thing to sit on a beach and hold existential meditations but quite another to purchase an overpriced condo for summering or transport all possessions thousands of miles to a place of limited space and resources just to feel better about yourself.
Perhaps Hawaii shoulders some blame for presenting itself as a paradise and ultimate getaway from life's worries. Advertising in this way inspires many people outside Hawaii to see Aloha as the thing they've been seeking or at least an escape from problems. Once while working with a client, the conversation turned to people's reasons for moving to Hawaii, and she said, "Vince, people come here from all over the world because they can be someone different since no one knows them in Hawaii."
Places don't fix people, and there is no place on earth you can travel and not be you.
Hawaii is not a remedy for your life.