Art by my grandkids

April 27, 2015

Maria and Grant dropped their children off for us to watch Saturday night.  As usual, Julia (age 7) and Rylan (age 5) asked for paper to draw on:

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They drew a number of pictures, among them these family pictures.  Aren’t these drawings cute?

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I really liked Julia’s picture of a woman, all dressed up:

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Then, they watched a video about robots that they enjoyed.  Before long, Maria and Grant came by to take them home.

Racial diversity and acceptance

April 25, 2015


Caricature of David and me in 1979.


David and I on our wedding day in 1980.

A lot has been made of Barack Obama’s racial heritage, half-African and half-white.  Perhaps, that is understandable to some people.  But when I see our President, I don’t see a black man making history.  I see a Hawaii-born-and-raised kamaaina, someone who fits in everywhere, because he knows all about racial diversity and acceptance.

I feel that way about myself.  Although a Korean married to a haole, I have never experienced racial discrimination in Hawaii or in any of the many places I have lived in or visited (the mainland, Canada, Asia and Europe).  It’s too bad others have not been as fortunate.

Minorities constitute the majority in Hawaii.  When one walks downtown, one sees a mass of Asians on the street.  Naturally, growing up in this environment, I never felt like an odd-ball.  Living on the mainland, then in Asia, and then Europe, I carried this feeling wherever I went.  It just never occurred to me that I was supposed to feel different or inferior because of my race.

My hapa-haole children also fit in everywhere.  Maria has spent a summer in Korea, two weeks in Japan, and a year in California, while Lisa has traveled through Europe and the mainland extensively.  Although bi-racial, they look haole to me, but for some reason, all of their friends are Asian.  They have the best of both worlds.

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Maria and Lisa, half-white, half-Korean (2011).

And my darling grandchildren, how I love them!  They are 3/4 Asian and 1/4 white.  What a beautiful family!

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Top:  Grant and Maria.  Bottom:  Julia and Rylan.  (2014)

Time for a picnic

April 23, 2015

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Hawaii at sunset.  Photo by Ted Trimmer.

Looking at this picture, I feel nostalgic.  It conjures up memories of the many picnics my family and I enjoyed at Ala Moana Beach Park during my childhood and the early years of my marriage.

Halmoni (Korean for grandmother) would gather her children and grandchildren at the park.  Uncle Hung Soo barbecued on the hibachi the kalbi and pulkogi that Halmoni had marinated and massaged in shoyu, sugar, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, and green onions that morning.  As soon as the first batch was cooked and thrown into a large pot, I helped myself to it, loving every morsel of the charbroiled, tender slices of meat.  Yum!  Add to that Aunty Helen’s famous potato salad, my mother’s cucumber kimchi as well as other potluck foods, and we all indulged ourselves in this feast.


After David and I got married, we often picnicked at Magic Island in the late afternoon.  We barbecued teri-chicken on the hibachi and ate it with my own potato salad and tossed vegetables, while sitting on a beach mat, facing the setting sun.

So, here we are, many years later.  I can’t even remember our last picnic; it was so long ago.  I miss the tangy, salty air that whetted my appetite…the sound of the waves rolling in and out…the crackle and sizzle of beef being barbecued on the hibachi…

It’s time for another picnic!

Conversations with David

April 21, 2015


David in his thirties.

David came into the house after cleaning the gutter.
David:  There was a lot of dirt in the gutter.
Me:  How did dirt get into the gutter?
David:  It came from the roof.
Me:  How did dirt get on the roof?
David:  I don’t know.  I am not God.  God made the dirt.

*   *   *

David made the coffee this morning.
Me:  Why do you put in heaping tablespoons of coffee?  You should level them.
David:  I like my coffee strong.
Me:  Well, it would taste better if you measured the coffee properly.
David:  Hmm.  Maybe I should make it with milk.
Me:  What?  You want to pour milk into the coffee maker?
David:  No!  You fool!  I meant mix milk with my oatmeal.
Me:  That was a non sequitur.  We were talking about coffee, not oatmeal!

*   *   *

Hard to believe, but we have been married for almost 35 years.

If you find a purse

April 19, 2015


Hawaii at sunset (photo by Ted Trimmer).

Sometime in the early 1990s, I had an awful experience.  This is what happened:

After buying groceries at a shopping center near my residence, I transferred the food from the shopping cart to my trunk, closed the trunk, and drove home.  When I parked my car, I discovered my purse was missing.  Since my house key was in my purse, I could not open the door.  So I returned to the shopping center, looked in vain for my purse in the carts, and then visited the customer service counters of Kmart and Sack n Save.  No one had seen my purse.

Meanwhile, my frozen groceries were melting!

Desperate, I drove to church, where David and the children were sitting, got his house key, went home and put the groceries into the fridge.  Then, I turned on the answering machine and heard a message.  A man said his wife had found my purse in a cart and had brought it home.  He told me to call him.  Apparently, he had seen my phone number on my checks.

Aargh!  Why hadn’t his wife taken my purse to the customer service counter, instead?  (I didn’t tell him that.)

Anyway, long story short, I met the man at a gas station and got my purse back after offering him a $10 reward, which he declined.  (He also kissed my cheek!)

Point of the story:  If you find someone’s purse, take it to the customer service department of the store, because most owners would check there first.  Besides, without a house key, how would the owner hear your message on the answering machine?

Moments in Europe

April 17, 2015


London, 1969.

After living and working in Thailand for ten months in 1969, I flew to London where the cold weather was a welcome relief from the heat and humidity of Bangkok.  I managed to find cheap hostels and pubs, thanks to the travel book, “Europe on $5 a Day.” There was so much to see in London — Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the Tower — sites I’d learned about in school, but which never seemed real to me.  Touring the city made my college history lectures come alive.

People stared at me wherever I went, apparently assuming I was Japanese.  I remember while staying on the Left Bank in Paris, several Frenchmen bowed before me and said, “Konichiwa, Mademoiselle.”  I was tempted to answer, “Aloha.”

It was different in Zurich.  Unlike Parisians, the Swiss obeyed traffic signals and always walked on crosswalks.  In fact, I was sure I was on a different planet when I looked out the window one day and wondered, “Why is the rain so white?”  It was my first snowfall.

Of all the cities I visited in Europe, Rome was by far the most intriguing with all those sculpted fountains, cobblestone streets, cathedrals, and the ancient Coliseum and catacombs.

While in Venice, I met a young Yugoslav woman who spoke limited English.  Together with two men — a German and an Italian — as our guides, we visited a nearby island and a glass-blowing shop.  As we sat in a gondola between locations, the German said to me, “You know, Americans are so ashamed of their involvement in the Vietnam War, they are reluctant to admit they are Americans.  When I asked someone if he was from America, he said, ‘No, I’m from California.’”

When I arrived in Munich a few days later, it seemed like a good idea to settle there to study music.  But the frigid winter challenged this island girl.  My inability to adjust to the climate, combined with not being able to find work, made it impossible to continue living in Munich.  So three months after landing in London and touring the European continent, I rode a bus to Amsterdam Airport.  There, I kissed Europe good-bye and flew to New York.  It was a relief to again hear American English.

A busy weekend

April 15, 2015

As I mentioned before, my sister Sylvia’s husband, Pete, passed away on March 10, and my mother, Julia, died on March 14.  Pete was 65 and Mom was 99.

Prior to the two funerals, I hosted a potluck dinner for the family at my home on Saturday.  We were overjoyed that my youngest sister from Virginia and my nephew from Bali were able to attend.

Here we are:

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On Sunday, we celebrated Pete’s life.  So many friends and relatives came:

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Hollis, David, and me:

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Pete’s son, Travis:

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Pete’s wife, Sylvia:

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Pete’s ashes were scattered at his favorite surfing spot, Kewalos.

On Monday, we celebrated my mother’s life at a Catholic church, where I read my eulogy:

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My grandkids placed roses on top of Mom’s casket, as we all did.  Mom’s casket now rests on top of my father’s casket:

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I am tired, now, and want quiet time.


April 13, 2015


Marigolds in my patio (Hawaii).

Crime in New York City got to me.  I was in the bedroom when I heard the sound of my dining table being dragged.  Dashing into the living room, I saw a man reach through the barred window, grab my purse, and run up the fire escape.  I couldn’t believe anyone could be so daring.  The police came and found my purse in a trash can, my money gone.  My apartment was broken into on two other occasions.  The final blow came on a pay day when a man whipped out a gun and robbed me in an elevator.

That incident broke my will to remain in New York.  After seven adventurous, romantic, and risk-taking years abroad (living in California, Thailand, Europe and New York), I was tired and homesick.  In all those years away, I’d vacationed in Hawaii for only a week.  My parents had begged me to return for good, but I’d told them I wasn’t ready.  Now, I was.

Moving back to Hawaii, I was immediately surrounded by friends and relatives — making me wonder why I ever left.  Having lived and worked around the world, I can truly say Hawaii is the best place to live.

However, there is crime in Hawaii, also.  One night, a concert I attended ended late.  The buses had stopped running so I started walking to my parents’ home.  As soon as I turned the corner to my street, I heard running footsteps.  Then I felt an arm around my waist and a hand on my mouth.  I screamed loudly and shrilly.  Startled, the man dropped his hands and took off down the street.  I was afraid he’d circle the block and attack me again, so I hurried to the nearest house and asked if I could call my father.  After telling Dad about the assault and how afraid I was to walk the short distance to our home, he picked me up in his car.

Women who have never been victimized might not share my occasional feelings of paranoia and insecurity.  But it certainly helps to be married to a tall, brawny man and I haven’t been robbed or assaulted since our marriage.  I feel safe with David.

How I became a radio commentator

April 11, 2015


Hibiscus in my garden before being demolished by bugs.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine myself speaking on the radio as a regular commentator.  Here’s how it happened.

Sometime in late 2003, I sent Hawaii Public Radio five chapters from my book, “Like a Joyful Bird,” each one abridged to fit a 2-1/2 minute time span on the air.  Michael Titterton, the president and general manager of HPR, promptly called me and asked if I would be willing to be a commentator.

Several weeks later, I found myself in the HPR studio, reading two essays.  My mouth was very dry so I drank a lot of water, filling up my bottle twice.  My tongue clicked against the roof of my mouth — quite audible on replay — and I could hear the paper rustling in my hands.  The microphone picked up everything.  After two hours of speaking, I walked out of the studio with a full bladder and a tension headache.

Recording my stories was harder than I expected.  I thought of giving up.  When I told people I was going to quit, the response was staggering.

“You hang in there, and I know doors will open for you,” said Joanne.

“Chances like this don’t come often; you’ll regret it if you give up!” said Donna.

“Don’t give up.  Go with the flow.  If they postpone it, hang in there.  It gets easier all the time,” said Bobbie.

“Have a shot of whiskey with water and maple syrup before accessing the microphone.  It may not help the dryness, but it will make you feel better,” said Helge.

Well, I listened to my friends and went on to speak on the radio for 15 months, after which the station decided to give other community voices a chance to express themselves.  It was a wonderful experience, and I’ll never forget it.

An aristocratic mother

April 9, 2015

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Uncle Harold and Aunty Marilyn in my home, 2004.

Many Koreans immigrated to Hawaii during the early 1900s.  Most fled poverty; others – including some of high status – were motivated by political reasons.  My aunt’s mother, an aristocrat in her homeland, was one of these.

A century ago in Korea, the land of my ancestors, citizens of high birth and low struggled under the tight control of the Japanese.  Many upper-class Koreans were eager to escape – so eager, in fact, that they willingly registered for plantation work across the ocean in Hawaii.  Little did they know, their delicate hands would soon be covered with calluses.

Aunty Marilyn’s father, Pom Surk Lee, was one of the yangban (male scholars) who immigrated to Hawaii in 1904 in search of a better life.  Although highly educated, he lacked the will to succeed either on the plantation or in the Western business world.  He went on to live a modest life with his wife, who came to him via an arranged marriage from Korea.

Marilyn’s mother, Wi Poon Yoon, belonged to the Pa Pyong Yoon clan, which was well-known in Korea for producing seven queens – among them, Queen Min, who was assassinated by the Japanese in the 1890s.  Wi Poon was born in 1890 to a relative of Queen Min, but she was orphaned at age eleven.  American missionaries cared for her until she left Korea.

As a young woman, Wi Poon worked as a nurse’s aide at Severance Hospital in Seoul.  During this time, Korean girls were being trapped into becoming “comfort women” – sex slaves – for the Japanese.  So when Pom Surk’s family offered to have Wi Poon marry their yangban son in Hawaii, she gladly accepted.  Initially, the missionaries she stayed with discouraged her from marrying a man she had never met and from going to a place she knew nothing about.  But, she bravely went ahead with her plans.  Wi Poon was twenty-one years old when she arrived in Honolulu in 1911, and she slowly assimilated into plantation life and marriage.

But Marilyn’s mother never forgot the past.  She hated the Japanese so much because of their atrocities against the Korean people, she forbade her children to wear Japanese rubber slippers or eat sushi.

“Above all,” she counseled her children in Korean, “don’t marry Japanese.”

She also told her six daughters not to marry Korean nationals, because they would expect their wives to wait on them hand and foot.

“Marry local Koreans, instead,” she said.  “And don’t marry good dancers, because they always turn out to be gigolos.”

Heeding this advice, Marilyn was very happy when she met and married Harold, a local Korean who doesn’t dance well.

Despite her mother’s racial biases, Marilyn accepted, and even embraced, her ancestral enemies.  She has many Japanese friends, enjoys Japanese cuisine, and buys Japanese-made cars.  In fact, one of her sons-in-law is a local Japanese.  And, in a turn of events I’m sure Wi Poon never expected, Marilyn grew to be more cosmopolitan than her aristocratic mother.

Hawaii is truly the great equalizer.


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