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Tokyo, Beijing, Bangalore . . . North Kihei

January 11, 2012 - Ray Tsuchiyama

One question that pops up invariably in Maui conversations is “How long have you been on Maui?”

That’s easy and hard for me to answer. I am very new to Maui, having lived here for about six months. However, I recall visits to Maui of the 1960s when I had fun with my parents, uncles, aunts, and cousins going to the Dairy Queen in Wailuku, shopping at the old Ah Fook market and Woolworths, and slurping the azuki-bean guri-guri sherbet at the Tasaka shop. So I have a “historical memory” of Maui before the enormous population growth of the 1990s and 2000s – a number of current Maui residents were either not born back then or were shoveling snow somewhere on the Mainland.

And I am genetically tied to my grandmother, who was in her eighties when she passed away in Wailuku in the 1960s, and she arrived on Maui in time to possibly watch Haley’s Comet streak overhead (the night sky of Kahului was very clear back then, except for the sugar cane burning days).

One friend, working at a Wailea golf course, came to Maui with his parents when he was two years old. He graduated from Baldwin High School in the late 1960s, and he said that few people around him today exceeded the number of years he had lived on Maui. Although he looked Caucasian, his friends and his world view were more local Maui Japanese, as most of his high school classmates – of that era – belonged to the former ethnic/cultural background, and he assimilated smoothly, even to the point of speaking pidgin English, and religiously attending Baldwin class reunions, increasingly on Oahu, and probably in Las Vegas in the future.

Many of my Maui friends who were born and raised on Maui invariably spent some years on Oahu or Mainland attending college and a first job, then returned to Maui, often for family reasons, like an aged parent (before the War, the plantation camps overfilled with children, now there is the looming need for retirement homes and hospices).

One “metric” is when a Mauian mentions that he or she recalls the “paved road” ending at Azeka’s Market in the early 1970s. One Kihei resident, upon stating his address, received incredulous looks from Wailuku friends (“Why would you want to live there?”) – this was as late as the early 1980s.

I guess my “metric” of historical one-upmanship may be that I recall King and Beretania Streets in Honolulu when both were two-way, and there were far more shops and pedestrian activity along those streets in the mid-1960s – now all roads lead to Ala Moana Center.

In my travels, similar “I was there when . . .” stories abound in many cities, since people wish to prove that they have “on-the-ground” accurate knowledge than new-comers.

For example, long-term expatriates in Tokyo recall that the area around Tokyo Tower was so far “out” from the Marunouchi and Hibiya office and shopping districts that some angry members of the Tokyo American Club, upon its move to near Roppongi in the late 1950s, handed in their resignation letters, saying they wanted to remain in “downtown” Tokyo – laughable to anybody who has visited Roppongi’s flourishing night life today.

In Beijing grizzled residents would say “I was here when there was only the Third Ring Road.” Up to the 1980s Beijing was a much smaller city and if it was not the Chinese capital, few people would live there – a la Washington, D.C., with its infamous humid summers since it was built on a swamp. In fact, the Beijing weather is quite awful: I have endured dust storms in April, hail in July, heavy snow in early November, Arctic freezing in February.

Currently, the 6st Ring Road has been completed, encircling Beijing, and the 7th Ring Road huge project is in the planning stages. Even in the 1990s the Haidian District, including Beijing University and Tsinghua University, the top Chinese academic institutions, defined the northwestern suburbs of Beijing – now the area is definitely within city limits, and there are more suburbs and growth, consuming communes, farms, and wilderness, and so much more traffic, ironically that each “Ring Road” was supposed to alleviate.

Bangalore, a sprawling city on a plateau in southern India, is another place that I witnessed over the years undergoing tremendous change. Up to the early 1990s Bangalore, with a cooler climate and many Indian defense research centers, had a high number of Indian Army and Air Force retirees and their families.

In the center of Bangalore was a sleepy shopping street (dotted with old bungalows – now replaced by malls) named Mahatma Gandhi Road (shortened to “MG Road”), and the joke was that if a person parked his scooter along the street, everybody would have known that the particular person had gone shopping. Whenever I visited Bangalore I used the “MG Road” story with local people and always got a good knowing laugh.

Then IBM, Texas Instruments, and other high tech multinational firms established small engineering centers in Bangalore; call centers followed (AOL had a large unit – it was located in the Whitefield area, near where the late Sai Baba, a charismatic Hindu priest, had his ashram), and a great flow of engineers, call center workers, business people descended upon Bangalore from throughout India.

Since many southern Indian languages are incomprehensible to Hindi-only speakers, the default language was English (a patois called “Hinglish is spoken – and texted -- by many young people). The Bangalore government stressed Kannada, the historical regional language of the local Karnataka State, and the elegant cusive script was emblazoned on government ambulances, buses, offices. (See example on Blog Post.) My Indian manager, a Hindi-only speaker, had to use sign language with his maid, who spoke Kannada and almost no English. In a couple of decades Bangalore became one of the most diverse cities in India.

Note: More future blog posts on places and peoples abroad, as many blog readers have expressed interest in my travels.


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