Honolulu: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Squeezed September 6, 2005

Sarah Dylan Breuer read my entry on my recent Kauai trip and decided to ask the following:

I have a huge favor to ask. I’m interviewing for a job in Honolulu this week. I grew up in Los Angeles (loved it — especially when I could surf often), and now live in Maryland. If you’d like to tell me as much as you feel like saying about the positive and the negative of living in Honolulu, I’d be very grateful. I visited Hawaii as a tourist once years ago; I loved what I saw of Maui and Kauai, but I wasn’t all that impressed with Honolulu. Admittedly, at the time I was twelve years old, and it was mostly about not liking Waikiki Beach so much. Nowadays, I’m sure I’d be grateful for the cultural life of a large multicultural city. Many thanks for any wisdom you feel like sharing!

Well, Sarah, I’m not going to sugar coat this, but nor am I going to invoke Oregon’s Tom McCall and say “for heaven’s sake, don’t move here to live” either. I’m gathering this both from personal experience and from what other people have told me.

Live in paradise, pay the price. That’s the main thing to remember about Hawaii. And the price of everything is much higher here. Of course, the main thing that mainlanders first notice when they visit an island supermarket is, “Milk costs HOW MUCH?” I’m not sure how comfortable your existence has been up to this, but if you come here, expect to pinch pennies a little. The main inflationary item, efforts to control the price of which has made news and drawn scorn on the mainland, is gasoline. Hawaii no longer has the undisputed highest gas prices in the nation (whether the price cap had anything to do with it is debatable), and Honolulu has it better than not only the neighbor islands, but many places on the mainland as well…but even with the cap in place, expect to pay through the nose for a tank of gas.

You are fairly fortunate that if (when?) you move here, you’ll have a job offer in hand. Too many people come here on whims and end up working minimum wage for years at a time. And minimum wage doesn’t pay the bills…see above. Tourism has been booming nowadays, but higher-paying professional jobs are still harder to come by. so in that sense you would be lucky.

But on the plus side…well, where do I start? Enviable weather, people with an active lifestyle (hiking, jogging, and yes, surfing too), an ethnically diverse population, lots of history, and natural beauty just minutes (or less than an hour) away. There truly is more to Honolulu than just Waikiki Beach, and I think as an adult that’s what you’ll discover. And if you love nightlife, Honolulu has it here too.

Keep in mind that Hawaii’s population is so diverse than no one ethnic group has a majority, so people need to cooperate to get along here. On one hand, Hawaii is fairly color-blind, but on the other hand, pride in one’s ethnicity, be it Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, and white too, is paramount in island culture. As long as you’re respectful, open-minded, and willing to try new things, you should have very little trouble fitting in in Honolulu, or anyplace in Hawaii for that matter. Hawaii tends to attract these types of folks. Bigots will find little sympathy here.

Good luck in your job interview and I hope you can make it here to the islands!

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