Hawaiʻi

Dave Shoji

Cover story by Liberty Peralta, PBS Hawaiʻi

 

Hawaiʻi volleyball fans know him as one of the sport’s winningest coaches of all time. Dave Shoji, former University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Wahine Volleyball Coach, is featured this month on a new episode of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

After defeating Santa Clara University on September 6, 2013, Dave Shoji became the winningest coach in NCAA Division-I women’s volleyball at the time.

After defeating Santa Clara University on September 6, 2013, Dave Shoji became the winningest coach in NCAA Division-I women’s volleyball at the time.

 

During his 42-year career, Shoji’s teams won more than 1,200 matches, more than 85 percent – one of only a handful of coaches in the National Collegiate Athletic Association to have done so.

 

Despite his success as a volleyball coach, Shoji pursued other sports as a student athlete. Growing up in Southern California, Shoji played high school football, basketball and baseball. Of the three, he says baseball was his best sport; it led to an athletic scholarship to the University of California – Santa Barbara.

 

Left: Shoji (center) in 1969 in Knoxville, Tennessee with the UC Santa Barbara volleyball team after winning the national title against UCLA. Right: Shoji in 1994 coaching the UH Wahine volleyball team

Shoji (center) in 1969 in Knoxville, Tennessee with the UC Santa Barbara volleyball team after winning the national title against UCLA. Photo Courtesy of the Shoji FamilyShoji in 1994 coaching the UH Wahine volleyball team Courtesy of University of Hawaiʻi Media Relations

 

His college baseball career, however, didn’t last long. “I realized at that time that I wasn’t going to go anywhere in baseball,” Shoji says. “I was too small and my arm wasn’t good enough; I didn’t have any power. It’s just a different game in college.”

 

UC Santa Barbara ended up being the place where Shoji discovered volleyball, a relatively new collegiate sport at that time in the 1960s. With Shoji on the team, UCSB won a national championship in 1969, and he became an All-American player in the sport. He later took his volleyball chops with him to the Army, where he served on active duty for two years.

 

After completing college and his military service, Shoji moved to Hawai‘i in the early 1970s and helped set up UH’s new volleyball program – setting the stage for long-term success in the sport. Among his career highlights, he’s led the Rainbow Wahine team to four national championships and nine NCAA Final Four appearances.

 

Dave Shoji on Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox Tuesday, March 31, 7:30 pm

 

Now retired in Honolulu, Shoji is focused on his family, with three grandchildren in South Carolina and Poland. He is also focused on his health. Diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2016, Shoji says he’s grateful for the medical care and support he received during his treatment. “You never know,” he says. “You just pray and you try to live healthy. I’m pretty good right at this moment.”

 

 

 

PBS National Leader Paula Kerger
says PBS Hawaiʻi “gets it right”

 

CEO Message

 

Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawai‘i President and CEO

PBS National President and CEO Paula Kerger arrived from Washington DC on a windy, drizzly afternoon, and she departed days later, with word of the passing of retired PBS NewsHour anchor Jim Lehrer.

 

In between, the Hawaiian sun shone and so did Kerger’s smile, as she reached out to meet and listen to Islanders and to see firsthand the work at PBS Hawaiʻi.

 

She is that leader you want to see representing the Public Broadcasting Service – observant, intuitive, open. She does her homework. She’s friendly in an authentic way. And she is a smooth veteran at pushing back as warranted.

“This is truly, I would say, the most exceptional (public television) station in our country. It gets it right. It understands what it means to be part of the fabric of this community.” Paula Kerger, PBS National President and CEO

“This is truly, I would say,
the most exceptional (public
television) station in our
country. It gets it right.
It understands what it
means to be part of the
fabric of this community.”

Paula Kerger
PBS National President and CEO

It’s no wonder that Kerger is admired among the 330 public television stations across the country. Over the last 15 years, she has gamely navigated the system through waves of profound change – the largest being the revolutionary technology that has expanded PBS programming to online platforms. It’s a period that has seen a commercial explosion of programming on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc.

 

Oh, and we can’t forget that much of the public Kerger serves has become deeply polarized and can’t agree on what’s fact and what’s not.

 

Kerger with Honolulu event sponsor, Donna Tanoue and event co-host Dr. Mary Bitterman Getting together with Kalāheo High (Kailua, O‘ahu) students Hope Kanoa, Gabrielle Goodgame and Emily Casey; their HIKI NŌ teacher, Kathy Shimizu; and Wai‘anae High HIKI NŌ educator, John Allen

Kerger with Honolulu event sponsor
Donna Tanoue and event co-host
Dr. Mary Bitterman
Getting together with Kalāheo High (Kailua, Oʻahu)
students Hope Kanoa, Gabrielle Goodgame and
Emily Casey; their HIKI NŌ teacher, Kathy Shigemura;
and Waiʻanae High HIKI NŌ educator, John Allen

 

Kerger, once COO of the flagship New York public television station WNET, told our supporters she’d wanted for some time to visit PBS Hawaiʻi, especially as young HIKI NŌ students won more and more national awards, using PBS journalism standards. She waited, because we were working through our own transitions, including the need to relocate and build a new facility.

Proud of two HIKI NŌ storytellers from Kaua‘i High who’ve achieved national distinction: PBS Digital All-Star Leah Aiwohi and student alumna Tiffany Sagucio, a PBS Gwen Ifill Fellow

In a conversation with PBS Hawaiʻi supporters, Kerger said she has traveled widely throughout the nation. Then she stunned us with: “This is now my 50th state. This is truly, I would say, the most exceptional (public television) station in our country. It gets it right. It understands what it means to be part of the fabric of this community.”

 

Pictured right: Proud of two HIKI NŌ storytellers from Kauaʻi High who’ve achieved national distinction: PBS Digital All-Star Leah Aiwohi and student alumna Tiffany Sagucio, a PBS Gwen Ifill Fellow

 

If you’d like to find out more about this national public media leader, you’re invited to join us at the table, so to speak, on Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox on Tuesday, March 24, at 7:30 pm, broadcast and streaming.

 

Aloha nui,

Leslie signature

 

 

NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG
Kalani Peʻa

 

For a young Kalani Peʻa, music wasn’t just a hobby he enjoyed – it was also therapy, as he worked through a childhood speech impediment. On a new NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG, the Grammy and Nā Hōkū-winning singer and his band perform selections from his albums, E Walea and No ʻAneʻi in the PBS Hawaiʻi studio. Discover Peʻa’s humble beginnings in Panaʻewa, Hawaiʻi Island, his creative drive and how music changed his life.

 

More from Kalani Peʻa:

 

Music Saved Me

 

There’s Beauty Everywhere

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Stephanie Han

 

Award-winning writer Stephanie Han draws from her life experiences to inform her poetry, fiction and non-fiction, which frequently grapple with identity in multicultural settings. Her childhood was anchored by books, which helped her make sense of others and the world around her. Though her life has taken her around the globe, she now calls Honolulu home where she continues her work as a writer and educator.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Mar. 8, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Stephanie Han Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Reading is one of the few creative art forms where we enter the mind of somebody on a deeply intimate and personal level, across time, across cultures. You’re concocting in your mind what the person looks like and they become something you invent.

 

As a child, she found refuge in books, which she called her friends because her family moved so frequently. She says reading and writing are linked and somehow writing chose her and she became a writer. Stephanie Han, next, on Long Story Short. 

 

One on one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people. Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Stephanie Han was born Stephanie Mi Suk Yoo but goes by her maternal family’s name. A resident of Kaimukī, O‘ahu, she’s a teacher with a doctorate at Punahou School at Honolulu, and she’s a writer of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, much of it about one’s identity in multicultural settings. Dr. Han is the author of “Swimming in Hong Kong”, a collection of short stories. Her father was one of Korea’s top scholars before he came to the United States to attend university, becoming a medical doctor and research scientist. Her mother was raised in Kunia Camp in central O‘ahu, a descendant of the first wave of Korean immigrants to Hawai‘i.  Stephanie Han’s parents met in the San Francisco Bay area, and after they were married, lived all over the United States, fueled in part by their wanderlust.

 

Where do you call home?

 

Now, Hawai‘i is home and in a sense I think it always was a spiritual and familial home to me, we just simply moved around the Continental U.S. I’ve lived in every place except the Pacific Northwest because my family was peripatetic, we were itinerant, and I have been as an adult. But this is the one place we always came for weddings, funerals, family birthdays, and gatherings, so, I would say, in a sense, if I could call one place an idea of home, this would be it. Hawaii was where I could have a sense of belonging, where I could have an Asian face but I could speak English and it wasn’t a big deal, um, where I saw different kinds of cultures and people interacting in a relatively peaceful way and this was a contrast to growing up in the mainland in certain areas where my family were kind of these pioneers, in the Midwest or in the South or even in certain areas of New England.

 

Did you experience racism or was it people who simply didn’t know what to say to you and said the wrong thing?

 

I think it was both, you know, my mother grew up in Kunia on the plantation and so when kids were kind of chicken fighting and kind of bullying me and beating me up when I was in third grade, she wasn’t gonna have that. She was, she…um, immediately asked um, somebody in the Korean community whose father knew judo, to take me on as a student.

 

So she was not a hovering parent in the sense that she approached the bully, she prepared you to approach the…

 

Yes.

 

Ok, so what happened?

 

And so, because she grew up, you know, watching boxing matches and wrestling in the Kunia gym, and so, yes, I was supposed to be a good Korean-American daughter, but I needed to know how to fight back. And so, um, we, me and the bully, we had it out in front of the drinking fountain. He was a head taller than me and the kids gathered, and I don’t even know how it…after a month, I was very confident, after judo lessons for one month, I obviously felt I could take him on, and um, you know, he hit me, and I punched him back, and then we were hauled off to the, um, by the school librarian, who, now, I know they must’ve thought it was really hysterical because I was a head and a half shorter…

 

And boy-girl, I mean usually boys don’t take shots at girls, right?

 

And boy-girl, exactly, and then…

 

So this is a bad bully…

 

Yes, and then, he was crying and I was not, I was just in shock and just paranoid that my mother would get mad at me and he never bothered me, nor did anyone ever bother me at the school again, and I was never physically bothered like that again because it was…it’s all psychological, right? It’s how you carry yourself.

 

Why did you move so much?

 

That was my parents, I think their adventure. So, for my mother, being, growing up pre-statehood, her adventure of travel…I mean, my family traveled a lot overseas, too, but her adventure was in the mainland and for my father, as an immigrant to the United States, this was also his adventure of seeing America.

 

That meant you switched schools a lot.

 

I switched schools every year until I was nine.

 

That’s a lot.

 

What you get used to is, you know, making friends, and you also get used to leaving, it prepares you for different kinds of relationships and different kinds of ways of navigating, and it also obliges you to be more open, and what it did was, it made me closer, I think, to my family and to my parents, and to hold on to things that were permanent, let’s say like coming here, seeing Grandma in the summer or seeing my cousins here, this became a kind of…a permanent idea.

 

Did you have any tricks about how to make friends as a kid when you were starting a new school?

 

No, and I think it did become difficult and it’s what propelled me to become a reader and a writer…because, um, at a certain point, I think, you know, we were often in these places like Iowa, where there were not a lot of Asian-American children, and I remember telling my mom that I had troubles making friends and she said, well, if you read a book, you’ll always have a friend. And this had to do with how she was, I think, and she was a bookworm, and she was a mom who, um, you know, sought out intellectual and creative things, and we didn’t talk as much about feelings, we could find those through books and things like that, so, um, you know, books became my world, books became a way I could make friends, she was right. Books became a path to understanding and to figuring out how people behaved, and from reading comes writing, an idea of expressing personal narrative.

 

I think I’ve heard you say that uh, your mom taught you the importance of creative expression, your father taught you never to quit, which came in very handy when you’re a writer seeking publication.

 

Yeah, so that was definitely my father. So there’s a saying he used to tell me, fall down seven times, get up eight times. A really perfect example of it was me with math studies. So when I was in ninth grade, I went off to boarding school at Phillips Academy Andover, I was a straight-A student prior, I get to Andover, everybody was a straight-A student, so, I really struggled, and I was getting a…I think I was failing math, and so, my father and mother said, we’re tired of you, you know, calling us up at, you know, every night, crying about your math homework so you come back for Thanksgiving. So I came back for Thanksgiving, I did math six to seven hours a day with my father, and um, flew back, I passed the exam, and then I stepped off the plane in December and my dad said, we’re not…we’re conquering this math thing. And so, I did math with my father…I went to work with him six to eight hours a day, every single day of my three week holiday. I would sit there in the gas station, in the front seat of the car, while he’s pumping the gas, doing math problems, um, I did the entire math book, over Christmas.

 

Did you want to do that? Did you resent that?

 

Uh, at first I resented it, but then after awhile I liked it. Like I still know the quadratic formula to this day, because he made me write it down 27 times, because he said if you write anything down 27 times, you’ll never forget it. What it showed me was that you don’t have to be good at something, you can persist and you don’t have to quit, and then I went back and I went from being a D-student in math to two A’s.

 

What does your dad think of your career? He seems like a very success-oriented guy and goes by the numbers, and being a writer is not going by the numbers, especially as a female…

 

Yeah…yeah, my dad, um, human being status is, um, granted upon a Masters degree, so now I have a PhD, so you know, it’s ok.

 

Don’t you have two Masters?

 

Yeah, I have two Masters degrees.

 

And a PhD, the first PhD in English Literature…

 

Literature, from City University of Hong Kong.

 

And you do a lot of professional teaching as well?

 

Yes, so, I consider myself a writer and educator, and I think, you know, my father was a, you know, he was a research scientist and a university professor, too, so he’s proud of that, you know, so in a sense, although it wasn’t in science and most of his family were medical doctors, even my aunts who were 85 years old in Korea, were medical doctors in Korea at the time, which was quite radical for women, but so now, you know, he knows I teach and I write and it’s something that is parallel…parallels his interests.

 

Stephanie Han’s award-winning writings are influenced by the books she read growing up, as much as by her life experiences. Her narratives often center on female protagonists who deal with issues of race, gender, and colonialism, and above all, identity.

 

You said your friends were books?

 

Yeah.

 

And you do live other people’s experiences through books?

 

Oh yeah, like my early experiences were just, you know, like in Iowa reading Laura Ingalls Wilder. I used to ask my mom why she didn’t wear a bonnet and churn butter…like why…

 

Because that’s the real mother…

 

Yeah…I sent away to the Laura Ingalls Wilder home for photos of Laura Ingalls Wilder. So there are family photos of the Ingalls and Wilder family with my family photos because they, it became such a part of how I was trying to understand where I was living.

 

Did you watch the TV show, too?

 

Yeah, but I didn’t like the TV show as much. That was kind of just a short cut, and I was one of those, you know, that didn’t match, that was in, you know, on the shores of Silver Lake, that wasn’t in the second book, you know, I could really…

 

Who’s [INDISTINCT] anyway?

 

Yeah, yeah, I was like, you know, Pa didn’t play the violin like that. You know, I was really…I could be very exact about it. And there were some, also some things that were not quite, you might say kosher, about those books, of when it was written. You know, their treatment…her treatment of how she saw Native Americans, or how Pa was doing the darky kind of dance where he was wearing blackface, and I didn’t understand this as I was reading it, so I find it sort of interesting, you know, how you read one book to open your mind, and I did need those books when I was little, to understand the farm children that I was going to school with and their background and then how later you read them differently. So, um, but yeah, you know, that’s when I would, you know, I’d say, can we have apple pie like Farmer Boy? You know…

 

But reading does…depending on what you read, does teach you empathy, or at least the ability to identify

 

Yes.

 

with somebody else whose, maybe, outer behavior is off-putting…

 

Yes.

 

Because you don’t understand it or you don’t think there’s a reason for it, but when you read a book and you see what’s going on inside…

 

Yes, because reading is one of the few creative art forms where we enter the mind of somebody on a deeply intimate and personal level, across time, across cultures, even when we’re seeing a movie, we’re looking at somebody from the outside in, right? We’re looking at their face. We’re not looking inside their brain. So, when you’re reading, we’re entering somebody’s very intimate thoughts, it’s that magic…

 

And heart.

 

Yes, you know, how they’re dreaming, how they’re feeling, and sometimes you know, when you’re looking at a picture, um, or illustration, you might initially, you could have these reactions, you could be put off by their clothing or something and you might not be able to enter them in the same way, but when you read something, you’re concocting in your mind what the person looks like and they become something you invent. So, reading also propels us to imagine and it works a different kind of imagination gear, in a way, and we, we relate that to ourselves. Like, yeah, I remember I was riding a bicycle, yeah, that’s what it felt like, this person must be riding a bicycle in the same way, yeah, you know, and it becomes something else, verses, you know, I love photography, and I love film, and I love video, and, you know, all these other kinds of visual images, but, it’s something else, you’re outside in.

 

That’s a great point. What are some of the books that have made the most difference to you in reading?

 

Well, I would say…

 

Besides Laura.

 

It changed, yeah, it changed over the course of time, right? So, um, you know, I read, you know Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison. When I was a teenage girl, then I read Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior, and that blew me away, I would say really the opening sequence, because it was the first time I could see the picture. There is a woman of color and she kind of looks like me, she’s Asian descent, and look, she wrote this book, and look, this character is not, you know, is fierce, and is a warrior, and is running through the woods and doing these things, and that was really eye-awakening, and I love Jane Austen. Years later, I read the Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki in translation which is very similar to the Austen book, and that was the book that my mother told me to read and I could see how she transposed ideas of, you know, protocol and manners and this, and how they came through to my upbringing. My narrative has always been something that’s been changing, um, narratives that were…I was told and then tried to imitate, so, I think about this idea of the stories that were maybe told to, let’s say me, through a religious or philosophical structure, which were Confucian virtues, right? Which were…Confucianism is built on the pillars of five relationships, right? King, subject, teacher, husband, wife, and almost all of them are hierarchical, except friend to friend, but there’s a very strict hierarchy that organizes a lot of Asian culture and that was the narrative, in a sense, that I think played out for me or continued to play out in a lot of my life. There was also narratives, uh, folk tales that I was told, so…a traditional, it’s a Japanese folktale, it was also told to Korean kids, was Peach Boy, which is…I’m not sure, do you know it…

 

Momotaro?

 

Yes, and I’m sure you’re familiar with this story…

 

I grew up with that story.

 

Yes, and he comes with a peach to this older parents, and he fights…you know, he makes friends with the dog, the pheasant, and the monkey, goes off and he kills all the monsters, and he comes back with wealth to his village and he’s the hero of the story, right? And this is a typical, Joseph Campbell journey…mythic…myth of the hero, which crosses cultures, right? But there really is not…we don’t find the myth of the heroine, and Campbell had said that’s because the wisdom that is had, women always have inherently, and Campbell was writing and speaking at a different time period, because women do need a narrative.

 

What you said before reminded me of something…I was fortunate enough to interview W.S. Merwin, and he said, um, when life is going along pretty well, you tend to read prose, but when you have something awful happening, some emotional thing, what do you do? You read poetry.

 

Poetry…

 

Is that true?

 

Yes, that’s totally true, and I write poetry um, when I have no words, that’s what I say, and then I write prose to try to make a linear sense of an issue.

 

As an adult, Stephanie Han has lived in many different places around the world. She kept moving in part because of the adventure of experiencing different cultures, but that was not her only motivation.

 

You told us how your, your family moved around quite a bit because of your father’s career when you were a child, but you continued to move around as an adult.

 

Yes, it set the pattern. So I thought…so that’s how I became an expatriate, ectera ectera, it set a pattern where you think moving is normal, um, it’s strange because there’s a different skill-set involved with staying, right? And so that’s, to me, this is now my question too, of staying, you know, this is my home now, so this is…this is the question of staying, and um, yeah, you set the pattern because, you know, and what you realize is, there are many people who actually do this…were just…were…maybe we don’t talk about it quite as much, or we’re referring to one place as the home, but a lot of people are rather itinerant.

 

It seems to me that you’ve been in a number of first-of situations, you might’ve been the first Asian girl in a class or…I mean, you’ve done so many um, so many activities in different countries, uh, what have you learned from that? Because it’s not surprising to me that you became a writer, somebody who’s already good in English and…generally, writers keep their distance, they’re detached.

 

Yeah, I think um, what I learned is that you have to be open and you have to be curious to different experiences and you also have to be tolerant, and I think being overseas um, for different periods of my life, also opened that up, and what I also found is language, speaking different languages matters, but you really need an open heart and you need to be able to laugh with somebody, you need to be able to eat food, you need to listen to their music and maybe dance a little, and that becomes more important than, often than, um, let’s say, exchanging literary ideas.

 

And when do you know it’s time for you to move on, or in the past, how did you figure out…was it outwardly directed or did it always come from within?

 

Um, no, sometimes people moved because they think moving will solve things, but moving doesn’t often solve what you…it could solve temporarily, a job, but maybe that’s the job wasn’t really what needed to be solved, or a question about this, right? So…

 

It’s a way of distracting yourself, in part?

 

Yes, right, and you know, there’s more…you know, there’s the adventure of being out verses sometimes, if you stay in one place, the adventure becomes of going in and going still, or going deeper, so I, you know, I…I’ve had people tell me, you know, I don’t think you can come to necessarily, any more wisdom, traveling and moving, then you can come from being in one place and going deeper. You might find that you can still come to very similar ideas of people and behavior and spirit, and some of the people I consider the most wise, who I seek counsel or friendship, or guidance from, are people who are in one place. Because they came to similar ideas and then moved and came to a different way of seeing things that were incredibly wise.

 

Interesting. One thing about staying is that you…if there are issues, you have to either work them out or, or hole up in yourself, and generally people do either…I mean, I would hope people who stay, find a way to work things out.

 

Yeah, and this just becomes the retreat of a writer, too, right? Reading and writing, for me, um, was always a bit of a social, personal retreat, so, I didn’t neces–, you know, if, the outside became too strange or difficult or, I just would read more or I wrote more, which I…I don’t necessarily advise to everybody.

 

Well, why have you moved as an adult?

 

Um…

 

Repeatedly?

 

Yeah, mostly, it was, I think it was work and opportunity, and a desire to seek, and a desire for adventure, and so I think that was the phase that I was also in, and um, there’s like a whole community, you know, if you’re an expatriate, that’s what you do…you just…you move, from place to place often.

 

And you always find people like yourself…

 

Mm hm, and it becomes a community.

 

It is a community.

 

So that is a community.

 

So how do you find people in that community?

 

Um, you know, they can initially be a much more often welcoming and opening…open to people, because everyone wants a place to live, everyone knows you need employment, so people come rushing forth with opportunities or jobs or places to live, they know you need help with this, because it’s kind of this strange pioneering community, right? Whereas, if you often move into community where people have been entrenched for along time, they’re more closed because you’re an outsider and the peculiar thing is, you know, expatriates, they often never really occupy the place that they’re in. They live in the peripheral of wherever they are and that is the community, it’s being on the periphery.

 

That’s interesting, so, perhaps, at this point in your life, that is still your home?

 

Um, no, I’d say…it’s funny, that’s why I think I ended up here because I don’t have to always be on the periphery here. I do have maternal family and maternal roots here, so it allows me to step in here. I didn’t attend school here which makes, you know, Hawaii is very rooted in people’s young, younger years of schooling…

 

Where did you graduate from…

 

Yes, but um, you know, my son is now local to here and my family is here in that sense, or I should say some of my older relatives. So, I can be both an outsider and an insider here and maybe that’s just right.

 

At the time of this taping in 2019, Stephanie Han is teaching at Punahou School and lives in Kaimukī, O‘ahu, where she also continues to write. Mahalo to Stephanie Han for sharing your stories with us and mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

I don’t think people choose to be writers, I think writing chooses you and then writing becomes a compulsion. Reading and writing are very linked and um, when it is a certain level of a compulsion then it flows through you and you feel at that moment, this is what you were meant to do and you draft it very quickly and it’s almost as if your body is a kind of vessel for what the words are supposed to be, and there’s other times you sit there and you’re just miserable and you try to run away from the desk and you decide at that moment you need to clean your room, but um, you know, so it varies and you just have to, you know, kind of sit your butt in the chair.

 

 

 

[END]

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Lopaka Kapanui

 

“Chicken skin” storyteller Lopaka Kapanui grew up around old Hawaiian legends and ghost stories from his family, and says he’s always been sensitive to spirits. In the 1990s, he was introduced to Oʻahu’s original “chicken skin” storyteller, Glen Grant, and his ghost tours. Since Grant’s passing in 2003, Kapanui has taken up the local ghost story mantle with regular tours, books and community events. Kapanui views his job not just as entertainment, but also as a way to communicate and educate.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Mar. 1, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Lopaka Kapanui Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

As local people growing up here in Hawai‘i, we’ve been conditioned to believe that it’s a negative thing because of, you know, the different ethnicities who come here, who’re still here. My job mainly, is not just to tell ghost stories and to scare people, but also to clear up that misunderstanding of what this is all about which is really, really communication.

 

He says his spooky stories aren’t made up, they’re based on history, experience, and a knowledge and understanding of the unseen. Meet this Hawaiian ghost storyteller next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawaiʻi’s most intriguing people. Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.   

 

Aloha mai kākou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Robert Lopaka Kapanui is many things including a writer, an actor, a cultural practitioner, and even a former professional wrestler, yet he’s best known as a storyteller whose made a business of taking people on tours of what he calls Oʻahu’s most haunted places. Like many who grew up in Hawaiʻi, Lopaka first started hearing ghost stories at a young age and says he even had a few of his own supernatural experiences. He also experienced a scary start to his own life, but the reason for that was not supernatural.

 

At three months of age, I was severely malnutritioned and they said I was about the size of a rolled up newspapers, and my mother was having an argument with my grandfather and refused to go home. So, instead she chose that we should live in a station wagon behind a bar in Kalihi. But my health wasn’t good and my mother didn’t have the means, financially, to take care of me in that capacity, and so, as hard as it was for her, and she told me this later on, she had to do something, you know, to help me and to make sure I had a better life and her only option was to give me up for adoption, and at an appliance store where my mom worked as a secretary, she met a nice man who ended up becoming my adopted. My adopted parents had a little boy that they’d lost a short time before my adoption and so this sort of all worked out for them. The only condition after the adoption was that my biological mother couldn’t see me. That’s the agreement she had to make, that she wouldn’t involve herself in my life and not try to reconnect at any point, and so she had to agree to that.

 

And so, when did you see her again?

 

I saw her when I was 15 years old and she called my adopted father and told him that my biological grandfather passed away and his last request was to have me at his services, and the funny thing is my biological mother told me later on that she actually had a dream of what I would look like, what I would be wearing at the services for my grandfather, and so when I walked into Hawaii Memorial, there I was in the beige shirt she imagined me in, the white jeans, the slippers, and my hairstyle, of all things.

 

I guess at three months you wouldn’t have any uh, remembrance that you were, that you had a really tough time as a baby, that you obviously were really hungry and you were weak. How do you look back on your start in life? I mean, kind of a tough go.

 

You know, the funny thing is I don’t really recall any of that. I do know that I was sick for most of my early life, to the point that about six or seven years old, I had to go to Children’s Hospital and I was there for a couple of months to have my kidneys cleaned out. You know, I’m a Buddhist, so we believe in karma. And so, I personally think that, you know, somewhere in my past life, I was someone who caused somebody a great deal of suffering and so, maybe it was my karma early in my life to go through this, to eradicate all of that early so I wouldn’t have to go through that later in life.

 

Tell me about your adoptive family, your new family, what are they like?

 

You know, it’s a crazy life. I am adopted by a traditional Portuguese family. I’m a Hawaiian kid and I grew up thinking I’m Japanese.

 

Why? Because you lived in Kaimukī?

 

We actually…

 

Leslie: “You lived in Waiʻanae side, werent you?

 

We were in Waiʻanae, and we spent every summer in Wainaku on the Big Island. And, um, it was toward the end of the plantation era, so, a bunch of us, even though we were different ethnicities, everything we did was intrinsically Japanese. Okazuya, the weekend watched Toyoma no Kin-san, Kikaida, everybody does karate. And so we don’t think about it as being something Japanese, it’s just something we all did.

 

Well you were living with a Portuguese family, so did they have a sense of the ghosts?

 

You know the funny thing is, they would stay up all night with all the other neighbors and talk about ghosts and things that happened when they were growing up and so none of us were ever able to, to listen to that we had to go to sleep, and you know, I used to get spankings for this all the time, I would sneak underneath the kitchen table, because they had the big crochet cover, and I would hide and listen to them tell ghost stories. And so, they were very, very aware of what was going on and for the larger part of my younger years…and you know, in retrospect, I understand now why, but my adoptive father would always remind me that I was adopted and I wasn’t his son, you know, and we’d go out and meet people and he would introduce my brothers and say, oh this is, you know, my adopted son, not my real son. Father and son baseball game, my two older adoptive brothers don’t wanna play, I’m like, dad, we can go do it. No, cannot, you’re my adoptive son, the article says father and son, not you. And so, one of the things that happened is while I was in the hospital, my adoptive father was at work and he went to use the bathroom and he said someone’s pounding on the door, pounding on the door, turning the doorknob, and he says outside, after he yells to cut it out, he hears a voice saying, dad, dad, open the door, let me in, it’s me, dad, let me in. Claims it’s my voice, but knows it can’t be me because I’m in the hospital. And he says, whoever that is, just go away, go away, leave me alone. And then he hears the voice say, I know why you don’t want to open the door, dad. Cause I’m not your real son. And it left. Come to find out they had to call a Portuguese fatsera to come look at the house and she told my adoptive parents, she says there’s three Hawaiian people buried underneath this house and pointed to my adoptive father and said, they’re upset at you because every day they hear you telling the boy he’s not your real son, so they want to take him. They tired of hearing that. And so, her advice was, change your attitude now. He’s either your son or not your son, but you make up your mind.

 

You must’ve been thrilled to hear that.

 

Oh, years later on, you know, when I was a teenager and just had enough and wanted to leave, uh..

 

From Wai‘anae, I believe you lived in…you moved around quite a bit, as a kid?

 

We did, from Wai‘anae we moved to Waimalu, and that was interesting, because we, we lived in a haunted house and it was owned by a local Japanese family, so it had the shoji doors and everything. And nothing quite happened that was scary until one night, we’re sitting in the living room and the door to the hallway is here and we had this stand-up oil lamp, the only way you could make it work was through oil…sometimes the oil is dripping down the thing, and we see this little Japanese boy come out the door from the hallway, and he walks up to the oil lamp and he starts to lick it. He’s licking the oil and he looks at us and he turns around and he leaves. Everybody’s freaked out. We call a priest, he won’t come. We call a kahuna, who won’t come and so we call an odaisan, a Japanese, you know, person with, with gifts, who comes to the house and we explain what happened and that person says, oh, yes, in Japan they have a ghost like that, it’s usually a little boy and the ghost likes to lick the oil of the lamp. Can you get rid of it? Ah, yes, I will ask it to go somewhere else. And he said, same time, please throw away the lamp.

 

Wow, so was that your first experience with the idea of ghosts?

 

That was the first uh, visual experience. Up until then, I always heard voices, would have aromas around me, but never quite had the visual experience up until that time…and soon after that I became sick, about six or seven years old, had to go to the hospital, like I said, and while I was in the hospital, and this is a short story, my adopted grandmother, my adopted father’s mom, would come every day and sit with me and I had a roommate next door, who I would play with, his name was Scotty, and after I get out of the hospital, I found out that my adopted grandmother, grandma Lucy, had passed away while I was in the hospital, but they didn’t want to tell me because we’re really close, and I described what she was wearing and my adopted father went into the living room and brought out the picture, the black and white portrait and it’s the exact muʻumuʻu that I saw her wearing. It turns out that that was the portrait that was displayed at her services. My roommate Scotty, was a very famous kid, back then he was in a commercial where he was singing a Hawaiian song and he was very upbeat, I had no idea he was sick until one evening, the curtains closed and I can see the doctors, hear the family, they’re working on him, there’s crying, they leave. You can see his silhouette sit up in the bed and I see him jump off his bed, his little shadow comes up to the partition and he says—friend, friend, let’s play, c’mon friend, let’s go play. And I start to get off the bed and then I hear my uh, adopted grandmother say behind me, don’t get off that bed. I said, why? It’s my friend Scotty, he wants to play. You get off that bed, your feet touch the floor, you go with him, you never come back. And that’s at the old children’s hospital.

 

Lopaka Kapanui pursued several interests after finishing school including Hawaiian cultural practices, professional wrestling, and working in Waikīkī. But it wasn’t until someone told him about a chicken skin ghost tour led by University of Hawaiʻi professor named Glen Grant, that he found everything he’d learned and experienced up until that point in his life was coming together.

 

The job you have now, the business you have, this is all, it’s based on things that have happened to you all along?

 

All of my life and then I run into this guy in 1994 who’s hosting this downtown ghost tour and I’m working at the Halekulani at that time, and a gentleman by the name of Takeni Oshiro, who’s in charge of the front desk, is raving about this tour, and so I go the following Wednesday and the place is, it’s packed, a crowd of people…and when I hear this gentleman talk and he starts to go on about these stories, I’m astounded, I’m flabbergasted because the majority of what he’s talking about are things I already knew growing up and learned from my mom but the difference was there was documentation and there was history and there was things to back up these claims so that no one could say, well that’s just made up Hawaiian legends, you know, old wives’ tales.

 

What kind of documentation?

 

He would show photographs of places that were haunted and then produce the map as to what the place was before. For instance, like a…the area around Aloha Tower, there’s some sacrificial temples, there were areas where the spirits would gather late at night, you know, to, to basically frolic, and there was a map he showed regarding that and then it happens to be um, where the First Hawaiian Bank building is now. And as the tour went on, more people started to come and so, sometimes that tour would end like 2 o’clock in the morning. Um, the following Wednesday was when I was at hula with Keoni, because he’s also my kumu hula, and he told us, so listen, by the way, um, this friend of mine, uh, is doing this ghost tour out to Wai‘anae so I’m gonna do the, you know, Hawaiian part and he’s going to do the other part, and he said, so you guys are gonna dance at the heiau at Pokaʻi Bay. And so, he said, oh, I don’t know if you’ve heard of this guy, my friend, his name is Glen Grant. And so, we would do that tour all the time. My cousin and I mainly danced and one weekend, Keoni couldn’t make it and Glen was in a panic—I don’t know your part of the tour, what am I supposed to do. And Keoni says, oh, Lopaka knows it, you know, he can do it. And so that’s basically how it started, after that he called and asked, you know, more stuff to do, would you mind? And so it eventually, evolved into being mentored to basically take over the tour. You know, the thing about being trained by Glen Grant and learning from him, is documentation, research, and he actually said to me, I can get away with mispronouncing Hawaiian names and other things, he says, because I’m haole, so people expect me to make mistakes, but he says, you as a Hawaiian? One mistake you make, your own people will crucify you. So, he said, it’s harder for you than it is for me, so you have to get your facts straight.

 

But he was a professor so he would have to get his science right.

 

Absolutely, so, I remember I made a mistake about a legend about Pele, and uh, Koko Head Crater, and in front of a room full of people, he got up and told me I was wrong. And he said, what are you doing? You didn’t research that. He goes, don’t do that again.

 

Glen Grant described himself as a Jewish guy from…

 

From Hollywood.

 

Oh Hollywood, that’s right, I can see your cultural interest but what was his?

 

Glen’s story was when he moved here he was living in a dilapidated old, beat up house, on University between these high rise condominiums and again, the short story is immediately after they moved in, things started to happen, uh, roommate is taking a shower and he sees his girlfriend coming towards the shower curtain, he opens it, he’s got soap in his eyes and someone slaps him in the face and he turns around, no one’s in the shower, no one’s in the bathroom because it’s locked. Things being thrown around the kitchen and so they finally call a landlord over and explain to her what’s going on and she says to them, oh, I’m so sorry, I forget to tell you, before you come to this place, uh, some lady live here, her husband fool around, she hang herself in the kitchen, she hate men, so sorry.

 

That would’ve been nice to know earlier.

 

Yeah, so, Glen is telling me this in the old store and he says shortly after that, all those guys that were his roommates, one by one they were all killed in car accidents and he had a ’55 Chevy Belair station wagon and when it got creamed by this truck, like 2 o’clock in the morning, he just walked away with a scar. So, he’s the only one who survived and that peaked his interest in uh, ghosts in Hawai‘i. Primarily it started to be Japanese ghosts and then it became Hawaiian, Portuguese, and all the other cultures. And so, he even admitted himself that he was a big chicken, first one probably to run if anything happened.

 

Before this career there was another one, could you tell us about that?

 

Oh my god. I can’t believe, ok…um, I had a career as a…as a professional wrestler for 17 years, when I was still working for Glen Grant, I was still doing this, it was towards the end of my career, it wasn’t becoming fun anymore, and um, his secretary, when I’d tell her listen, I’ve got something this Saturday, like a match or something, don’t book a tour, she’d book it anyway, and we always figured it out. But one weekend, I could not get out of the tour and I could not get out of wrestling the match. So, I had to figure something out, so I got on the bus and before I got on the bus, I called the booker at the venue and I said, listen man, I’m stuck, what are we going to do? The booker says, I don’t know. I said, ok, let’s do this, I’m gonna bring my tour to the venue and I’m gonna do the match and instead of the main event, make the match first. And he says, ok. And I said, but, I’m gonna bring my tour with me. And he’s like, oh man, I don’t know about that…it worked out. So, I got on the bus and I said, listen everybody, we’re going to this venue, it’s a professional wrestling match, when the bus pulls up, you guys get out, go to the front door, sit in the front row. I’m gonna uh, run into the ring, beat the guy up, I’m gonna win the match, and then you go back to the bus and we’ll do the tour. And that’s exactly how it happened, I run in, beat the guy up, 1-2-3, get the belt, run out, people go on the bus, finally get out to the bus and get in and I’m looking at everybody and I get on the mic and I said, so, is anybody gonna give me a hard time? No, no…then you know, big round of applause.

 

Lopaka Kapanui says his knowledge of Hawaiian history and culture and the supernatural have come about through research and his own experiences as well as the encounter of others who share their stories with him.

 

Do you believe in ghosts? Do you believe that there are actually ghosts? And what are they?

 

A ghost is uh, something that’s residual, that’s a recording that just plays itself back during certain times.

 

And where did it come from? It died and then part of it is left? I mean…

 

I have to honestly say it’s like working for the State and the joke is you work for the State, you die, no heaven or hell, you go back to work. So, a ghost is someone who’s been in a place for a certain amount of time and some part of them is still there, they’ve made some sort of impression of themselves. Like a psychic thumbprint.

 

Deliberately? Or this just happens?

 

Yeah, it just happens, you know, not intentional. And so, when you see a ghost, you’re seeing a recording, you know, an imprint of an event that’s happened in the past. Uh, when you see an apparition, an apparition is aware, it’s cognizant. It knows it’s not here anymore, it knows it’s not human, but it’s here for some reason, some unfinished business. And so, if it senses that you’re psychic, it wants to communicate with you.

 

And what’s the downside of communication?

 

The downside of communication is sometimes it leaves marks. Fingertip bruise marks, scratches, sometimes no matter where you go, you will hear a voice calling your name, you know, and it won’t stop until you answer the phone call, so to say. It’s trying to get through all this stuff to get the message across. And so that’s where uh, misunderstanding takes place and people think it’s evil, it’s demonic, but really, it’s just communication.

 

So there is, there are no ghosts that will harass you and drive you to your death?

 

Not that I know of. I’ve never heard of anyone yet, losing their life because of an encounter with something otherworldly. According to Hollywood and reality shows, it might happen, but in real life…not so much.

 

And there are ghosts of every ethnicity and background around the world?

 

Oh, absolutely, especially here in Hawai‘i. I mean, you may not believe it, but the most famous ghost story here in Hawaii is a Japanese ghost story.

 

Which one is that?

 

The woman with no face.

 

Tell us the story.

 

So, the short story is 19, uh, 1956, the Wai‘alae Drive Inn.

 

Yes, that’s the one. Ok, that’s the obake in the restroom, right?

 

In the women’s restroom. Uh, the double feature was Love Sways in the Amazon and Monolith Monsters, according to the article from Bob Krauss, who was a great guy, and it’s the intermission, the woman goes to the bathroom, doing her business she says she sees a woman in a white summer yukata come up to the sink, wash her hands, and the woman says when she looks in the mirror, the lady takes her hair back like this, has no face.

 

That is really spooky.

 

Yes, and so, to fast forward that event, uh, today that ghost is still haunting that area.

 

There’s no drive inn anymore.

 

There’s no drive inn, but there’s a Times Supermarket. And she’s been seen in the walk-in freezer, and the employee bathroom, and there was also a shopping mall. After the drive inn was demolished in ’94, she had nowhere to go. So, she went to Times Supermarket, and then the mall, and so, she’s been seen in the women’s downstairs bathroom at the mall, uh, at a department store and the 8-plex theatre. So, she’s still around. Apparently, she’s haunting theatre number six.

 

Why is it not okay to take pork over the Pali, according to legend?

According to the legend, and this is the short version, Pele and Kamapuaʻa were once boyfriend and girlfriend.

 

Ok, she’s the Fire Goddess, he’s the Pig God.

 

Right, right, and so, even though they were in this relationship, Kamapuaʻa has not changed his ways and so he’s out cavorting and Pele finds out and one afternoon he’s coming home and he says, what a wonderous sight, a tidal wave coming from the mountain, and he realizes it’s a tidal wave of lava, he says, oh my god, she found out. And so he’s running for his life, Pāpa‘ikou, Puna, Panaʻewa, and a hill outside of Hilo called Kauku is where the pig god lies flat and begins to pray and the Hilo rain, the Ua Kani Lehua begins to fall, they say roots from grey trees rise up and hold back the lava, the lake of fire, and finally, when it’s all cooled off, they say Pele appears and says, well, I can’t kill you, so what are we going to do. He says, let’s make this agreement that from this moment forward, the Koʻolau side of the island, the Windward side is mine, lush, green with rain and the Kona side of every island will be yours—hot, arid, dry. And none shall cross into the other’s territory. And Pele says, a ō ʻia, agreed. And so, if there’s any truth to this, it is really that you can’t bring pork from the Windward to the Leeward side. But to be more specific, you can bring pork through the H-3, the Wilson, the Pali tunnels, but you can’t bring it up that road at the Pali Lookout, that’s coming from the Windward, because technically, there’s a road at the Pali Lookout that crosses that meridian that makes it Leeward. I will send you a picture of someone who brought pork, over the Pali, coming from that side. It’s someone who unknowingly thought he was doing a good thing by making an offering, but come to find out his offering was pork to the pig god, which I later on told him, you realize you’re making an offering of pork to the pig god, do you understand that? And he says, why? Does it make a difference? I said, it’s like offering a mother her own children. Under his hand, in this picture, you see a green swirling mist, like this…um, I actually had to go back 4 o’clock in the morning to do prayers of apology for that guy and supplication. Because on these adventures, I’m pretty familiar with ghosts and spirits and other things, but a lot of times, it’s foolish people that worry me.

 

Are there certain pathways or interject points that are known for ghosts?

 

Yeah, they’re called ao kuewa, and the ao kuewa is an opening between worlds where after you die, your spirit is escorted to the next world by your family ʻaumakua.

 

What about the jumping off places? There’s several on the islands. One of them is at Mokulēʻia by KaʻenaPoint, and then Maui has one known as the jumping off place for souls?

 

Yes, that’s Kahekili’s Leap, the other one we’re talking about is, leina a ka ʻuhane at um, right on the cusp of Mokulēʻia and Kaʻena. Another one is Kalaeloa, Barber’s Point, and yet, another one is now the cafeteria of Moanalua High School, and so that’s another leaping place and Moanalua High School used to be on my list of the three most haunted public schools on the island but it’s fallen off since King Intermediate has taken its place.

 

Because of what happened there before?

 

Mainly because of the history, for instance uh, ʻAiea High School, the famous battle of Kaeokulani and Kalanikūpule months before the battle of Nuʻuanu, it takes place from ʻAiea High School all the way to where Pali Momi is. The unfortunate thing about that battle is when Kalanikūpule wins the battle over his uncle, every warrior that’s been slain on the uncle’s side, they’ve all been left, out in the open, they have not been given the proper burial of respect. And that’s uh, the sign of disrespect and so the large majority of that is the grounds of ʻAiea High School, the part of that freeway that always has accidents, Kaʻahumanu, Kaonohi overpass, which happen to be night-marcher trails. And so, the trauma that has caused by an incident makes a psychic thumbprint on the environment and depending on the kind of people who are around the area determines as to if that trauma becomes residual or cognizant. And so, what we’re talking about when we say residual is a-a-an event just repeating itself, it’s not aware that you’re there. Cognizant means the event is aware that it’s passed away, it’s aware that it’s not human, and when it becomes aware of us, it wants to interact and communicate and that’s when hauntings happen.

 

So many people think this is all balderdash, it’s just, you know, ridiculous. How do you explain to them that why you know this is true?

 

What I always tell them is, give me a chance to change your mind. Spend some time with me, come to the event, come listen, and give me a chance, give me that opportunity to change your mind. You don’t have to like it, uh, I would encourage that you at least respect it, but that’s the first thing I say, let me change your mind, and they usually end up becoming believers at the end.

 

We close this program with a spooky story that Lopaka Kapanui told a group at a Japanese cemetery in Mōʻiliʻili, Oʻahu during a full moon on the night of a Friday the 13th. Mahalo to Robert Lopaka Kapanui of Kaimuki, Oʻahu for sharing your life stories and chicken skin accounts with us, and thank you for joining us. Aloha nui.

 

There was a teacher and one night she’s home, sitting at the kitchen table, correcting papers and she’s sort of watching TV, and all of a sudden, the TV screen goes…white poltergeist and the wind suddenly dies and the sound is gone. And from behind the house, somewhere near the mango tree, she hears the tinkling sound of the chimes. Dum, dum, dum, and it’s coming around the house outside her bedroom, the bathroom, coming around from the living room, dum, dum, dum, and now coming up the steps, ding, ding, and she tries to get up to see what the source of the sound is, but she cannot move. Something is holding her down at the kitchen table. Not even her head can move, only her eyes can record the front door. chimes in return, there’s a skeletal fist with flesh falling off of it, and it walks into her living room, skeletal remains of a woman in a faded bloodied white kimono, clumps of hair are falling off of her skull, teeth bare, and she stands just in sight of the front door in the living room and she says, leave my house now.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org, to download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

 

 

[END]

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Alice Inoue

 

Inoue is the founder of Happiness U, an organization with a mission to teach others about achieving life balance and fulfillment. Her childhood in San Francisco and Taiwan left her feeling lonely and out of place. After working several dozen jobs in Japan, she moved to Hawai‘i on a whim. Inoue reflects on how her curiosity and entrepreneurial nature led her on an untraditional path to her current position of helping others find their life’s purpose.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Feb. 23, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Alice Inoue Podcast

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

In the 60s, being mixed was not really something that was- that you would be proud of. It’s- I think when I came to Hawai‘i, it seemed to be celebrated almost like, wow, you’re hapa. And it felt like very normal. But it wasn’t, growing up. It wasn’t normal. And living even in San Francisco, it didn’t feel like I was part of a San Francisco culture.

 

She calls herself a T.C.K. Or third culture kid who never fit in anywhere. Yet she says she overcame all the negativity she felt toward herself and the world around her. And today counsels people on how to be happy. Meet this life coach next on Long Story Short.

 

One on one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people. Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Alice Fong Inoue of Kaka‘ako, O‘ahu has had many jobs in her life, including teacher, television show presenter, astrologer and feng shui consultant just to name a few. Currently, she’s an author, a life coach and the founder of Happiness U. That’s an organization whose mission is to teach people how to balance their lives so they can be happy. Alice Inoue always says she was anything but happy when she was growing up. Born to a Chinese mother and German Irish father in San Francisco, she felt out of place, whether she was in America or in her mother’s homeland in Taiwan.

 

First, I just want to ask you used the expression that was the first time I’ve heard it; third culture kid.

 

Oh, T.C.K. Yes, third culture kids. So a third culture kid is someone who was raised not in the country of their origin. And the culture of a T.C.K. Is such that you become- you create your own culture. So if you think about it, I grew up speaking English in Taiwan, which was a Chinese culture, and going to an American school and then later going to Japan. So-

 

And speaking Japanese.

 

And speaking- Yeah. So I never felt like I really fit in anywhere. And so that is a very common thing for T.C.K and T.C.K.’s. I think Hawai’i has a lot of T.C.K.s because Hawai‘i culture is not like mainland culture either. Like Obama’s a T.C.K. There’s a lot of- and now- now we are adult T.C.K.s.

 

Kind of like being between cultures.

 

Yeah. Yeah. So I don’t feel like you belong to any culture. I don’t feel like I belong to any belief system. I don’t feel like I belong anywhere. In fact, I feel that I am-

 

To this day?

 

Yeah. I don’t feel like I belong anywhere. Yes, I feel like I’m me. And either you get me or you e- you- you resonate with what I do and what I talk about or you don’t. That’s kind of it. So I don’t feel like I- like I don’t feel like I belong to Hawai‘i or I don’t feel like I am. I live in Hawai‘i. I love Hawai‘i. It’s supported me. I’ve had amazing learning experiences here. But I- but I’m not from here. So when people say, where are you from? I really feel like there’s no answer to that.

 

So you grew up in San Francisco until you were eight, but you didn’t feel like an American?

 

No, I don’t really remember much of that. And in fact, I somehow got teased as a child because somebody saw my mother being Chinese. And so the words such as Chinese pig, and so I was very much extricated from American people. So I never had a really good childhood in America. Then going to Taiwan, I had brown hair. I was different from them. So I was very much not connected to any culture. And so I never felt like I was one or the other.

 

You said your mother’s from Taiwan. What about your dad?

 

My dad, he was uhh- He was a merchant marine from Rhode Island. And so he was twenty six years older than my mother and met her when she was working at like a bookstore in Taiwan or something. And somehow they connected and brought her to America. So this is in the 60s.

 

So were hapa kids in San Francisco?

 

No…

 

Not really huh?

 

I think back in the 60s, being mixed was not really something that was- that you would be proud of it. I think when I came to Hawai‘i, it seemed to be celebrated almost like, wow, you’re hapa. And it felt like very normal. But it wasn’t. Growing up it wasn’t normal. And living even in San Francisco, it didn’t feel like I was part of a San Francisco culture.

 

And then in Taiwan, it didn’t feel normal either.

 

No, because then again, my father was American and they’re all Chinese and I lived with the whole bunch of my mother’s family, relatives and Chinese cousins. So I was always the odd one because I was part American.

 

Why did you move to Taiwan after-

 

So what it was, was I believe that my mother and I- my father was a merchant marine. So he would be away a lot and left my mother and I in San Francisco. And I think she must have missed home or something. So he thought, well, I travel all over the world on the ship anyway. Why don’t you just go live near your relatives in Taiwan? So that’s why we- I grew up over there. I went to an American school, but I lived with a whole bunch of Chinese relatives.

 

After Taiwan you moved back to the United States to go to-

 

-College.

 

–college?

 

Yes. So at 16, I graduated from high school and I moved back to go to college. And I still didn’t know who I was. I didn’t feel American college scared me with all the Americans. And they were very American. And I didn’t feel American even though I spoke English. And I was very unhappy. I- I was umm… I started eating. I gained a lot of weight. And I was just unhappy. And even though there’s nothing to be unhappy about, it was my reality. And the final… Week of school. Back then, we passed notes. We didn’t have text, right? And some classroom- somebody passed a note. Had my name on it. I didn’t know who it’s from, but I opened it up and the note said, you’re always so unhappy. Do you ever- do you even know what happiness is or something to that effect? And I looked around. I didn’t know who it was. But that, I believe, was sort of the catalyst to me recognizing, huh, is there such a thing as I didn’t know that I was putting out that vibe? I had no idea-

 

It’s how you always were right?

 

Yeah. I complain and blame and feel sorry for myself and cry. So I didn’t know that- that- that you could search this or I didn’t realize that I was giving that out. So I believe that kind of started the trigger. And then after college, I went to live in Japan and it was just, I think, little- finding little pieces of myself along the way.

 

After graduating from the University of California at Santa Cruz, Alice Inoue spent the next four years living and working in Japan. Then she decided, on a whim, to move to Hawaii.

 

You’ve said that you’ve had 30 to 40 jobs, which is astounding. And I remember you’ve said that when you were in Japan, you had eight jobs simultaneously.

 

I’m kind of entrepreneurial by nature. So I- I didn’t know the word entrepreneur. You don’t know that word when you’re growing up. But it- when I look back so in college, uhh, I just learned how to cut hair. And so I started cutting people’s hair for money. So I used to make money, just cutting people’s hair in the dorm bathrooms. And then going to Japan, it was- I was there to teach English as my first job. But I also know how to play piano. So I started teaching piano. I also spoke Chinese, so I started speaking Chinese. Umm, I also cut hair as I would start cutting people’s hair. So I started to pick up all these different jobs based on the skills that I had. And I really enjoyed that. And my life has just been a series of one thing after another. Not for any other reason other than I really get excited by learning new things and then being able to share them with others. And if I can use that to- as a profession, even better.

 

And did you get tired of what you were doing? Is that why you stopped?

 

New opportunities would come up. And I think that…

 

You don’t have time for everything.

 

Yeah, so it’s just the situations would change. And I just wanted to do something more. I would just- it just kept evolving.

 

You’ve lived in Hawai‘i for- is it 30 years now?

 

30 years, exactly. This year I was living in Japan. And I watched a television show of Konishiki and Konishiki is a sumo wrestler that was very, very popular at that time. And there was a show about him coming to Hawai‘i. And I watched it. And it’s- it’s funny because I didn’t know anything about Destiny or Syncr- I didn’t know any of that. But all I knew was like, Hawai‘i, I want to go to Hawai‘i. And so back in- this is 1989. I call the travel agent and uhh, booked a flight to Hawai‘i. When I got to Hawai‘i, I- I… Had never felt more comfortable in any place in my whole entire life. It was as if I’d come home and that’s the only way I could describe it. And the taxi driver said that if you’re a first time to Hawai‘i, you have to go to Waikīkī. You have to go see Diamond Head. So I remember being in front of the Duke Kahanamoku statue and laying there thinking, gosh, I have an American passport. I would love to live in Hawai‘i because I had already been in Japan for about three years- four years at that time. And at that moment, a newspaper classified ads blew by and basically blanketed my body. And when I looked at it, it had all these help wanted ads. I thought, oh, my gosh, maybe I could work in Hawai‘i. So I took my quarter and it was by that police station on Kalakaua.

 

When pay phones-

 

-Pay phones-

 

–Took a quarter.

 

Yes! And I called and I got an audition. And then I had to go to Liberty House at that time, bought an outfit, auditioned or not auditioned. What is it- interviewed. And then I got the job and I moved to Hawaii within a few weeks.

 

Wow.

 

And not knowing anybody.

 

And many people were between islands, maybe between coastlines in America. But you. That’s a big move.

 

It was huge. And I think just-

 

To do it alone.

 

Yeah, I was alone and I didn’t know anybody. And it was kind of a- I don’t know why.

 

That was a great leap of faith, would you say?

 

Yeah, it was. And it was just right. It just felt right. And it was uhh- it was a rocky start in the beginning. But 30 years later, here I am.

 

Once you got to Hawaii, how did you make a life for yourself besides landing a job first thing?

 

So when I first moved to Hawai‘i, I didn’t know anyone except the person that had hired me. And we didn’t have Internet back then. So you couldn’t really research people so you don’t really know about them. So the first company I worked for… It was during the time of that real estate boom. That was uhh, a lot of Japanese were buying buildings and buying condos here. So it was a kind of a real estate company. And it was it was difficult only in that they weren’t as ethical as uhh- as you would think a company wer- was. And there’s just a lot of complexities that came. So imagine coming to Hawai‘i with beautiful weather, just people that are so welcoming and then working at a company where the only person I knew was the boss. And his idea of work was, you come in at eight o’clock in the morning and you don’t finish until midnight. And I didn’t know any other way. I didn’t know about labor law. I didn’t know anything. So it took me a good year before I kind of got a little bit more entrenched into the community and realized like, oh, this is not how you- how you have to- have to live.

 

You married somebody very well known here.

 

Yes. Yes.

 

Egan Inoue.

 

Yes.

 

Racquetball champ and martial-

 

Martial-

 

Mixed martial arts practitioner.

 

Yes. Yes.

 

And that’s why your last name is Inoue now.

 

Yes. People always ask that. So I don’t have any Japanese blood in me per say. But through Egan, I got to keep his last name. And so I love- I love it. And he’s a- he’s an amazing friend and amazing person. Taught me so much about life and success. And if you want something and you want to be the best at something, you have to put time into it.

 

So you’re born Fong, now what was your-

 

You want me to tell you my real- maiden name?

 

I’ve seen Fong associated with you, but-

 

That’s just my middle name.

 

OK.

 

So my last name is Leary.

 

Leary.

 

L-E- and I never felt like me. I never liked that name.

 

Fong is your mom’s-

 

-Umm, I think-

 

–name?

 

–it was my my grandmother’s name. So Alice Fong Leary is how I was born. But Alice Leary never really had a good life. I’ll just say it just never seemed to go my way. Even when I first came to Hawai‘i and I was starting to do auditions. I never got anything as Alice Leary. I think I did- I counted it, like fifty-two auditions for different commercials and things and I never got it. Then as soon as it became Alice Inoue, everything changed. I did get a- that sort of started- and I think it’s because in Hawai‘i it was a familiar last name and it kind of integrated me a little bit better.

 

And you obviously feel comfortable with it because you- you’re no longer married to Egan, but you keep it.

 

Yes. Yes. Yes. It’s- it’s- it- it really has worked well for me because I got involved in the Japan market working for Japan TV news. So it really match. And I also speak Japanese. So it just sort of matched. And I kept it. And I- I just I feel like Alice Inoue now.

 

You know, there is a time you were known by tens of thousands of people in Hawai‘i, but they weren’t necessarily local people. They were people seeing you in their hotel rooms.

 

Yeah!

 

And you were terrific. I saw you doing news on visitor- Visitor Television.

 

Yes, it was called- it was Japan TV news visitor, it was O‘ahu visitors bureau television. We had these different uhh, shows that would air in twenty-eight thousand hotel rooms to all the visitors that came. So we did these daily newscasts about jellyfish or just different activities going on. So it was known much more to the visitors that came to Hawaii than people that lived here locally.

 

And then you besides being an anchor, then you went off and did a field reporting show where you were doing sports, and surfing.

 

Yeah! So that was our Fuji Television. So we wanted to show the visitors to Hawai‘i that it’s- there’s so much to do. So we did something like 39 or 40 different things. Everything from scuba diving to skydiving to anything that you could do as an activity in Hawaii. I got to do it. So we called this sh- we called the show Do Sports. And that was really helpful to a lot of the businesses locally so that we could showcase the things that could be done in Hawaii that you might not have known about.

 

You’ve said that you’re a- you’re an introvert by nature, but all these things you’re talking about really require the ability-

 

-Yeah.

 

–to present in front of people and bring it and- and depend on others for-

 

Mhmm.

 

–for your success, especially in television.

 

Yeah.

 

How do you-

 

Yeah.

 

How does that correlate?

 

So interesting. Like when I take any sort of test, if you- out of 30 questions, 29 out of 30, I’m more introverted. So I’m- I’m what you would call a learned extrovert. So by understanding that what I need is time alone, then I make sure that I have a lot of time alone. And when I say learned extrovert, it’s Toastmasters. It’s all these different ways to learn how to speak. I mean, people wouldn’t believe it, but in college or all the way through college, I never once raised my hand in class to ask a question because I was shy. And uhh, it’s the only reason that I can get up and do what I do is because I love the information that I’ve learned and I love nurturing people. And so I want to share information so that forces me to get up. And the more people I want to reach, the more confident I have to be in speaking to large groups. So it was- it’s a- it was a learned expanse. And in fact, every single time I have to get up to talk, I go through a complete challenged internally to be able to to present.

 

Alice Inoue’s career in tourist television and as an on camera talent and spokesperson for local businesses was flourishing in Hawai‘i. Then an unexpected turn of events changed all that. And off she went on an entirely new life path.

 

During those years, I felt that I had really become successful in some way. I was busy filming every day. We’re doing these shows and I had sponsorships from different companies, large companies that would pay me money. And it was wonderful. And I thought that this was the- this is who I am. This is what I do. I just introduced Hawai‘i and I try to showcase Hawai‘i to the- to the Japanese market and that I felt really good. And somebody uhhm, gave me a gift certificate for an astrology reading. Now, I wasn’t into it. Not my thing, but some gives you a gift certificate, you go. So I went and this- this man started telling me about myself. But my mind was like, well, you read that in the newspaper. I was on the cover of midweek. You read that there- so your mind doesn’t let you believe it. And so anyway, he pulls out a bunch of data and this is in 1997 and he says in April of 19- of the year 2000 you’re going to have a career change. You’re gonna go on a career change because of this planet. So I was like, mm ok. Do you remember Palm Pilots back in the day?

 

Yes. Palm Pilots.

 

So I was very modern in 1997. I had a Palm Pilot. So I- I clicked forward three years and I wrote in there, astrologer says, Pluto changes my life. And I almost did it facetiously. Wrote it in there April of 2000. And I kind of put it away and forgot about it. Then as we got towards that time period, I started losing sponsors and losing shows and I was doing a variety of contracts and shows. But it was fine. I still had my full time job that Japan TV needs- news. And then they came in on April 1st of the year 2000. And my boss at the time said to me, Alice, we have good news and bad news. The good news is that we sold the company. Now, I didn’t even know the company is for sale. Good news was we sold company. The bad news is they didn’t purchase your- your little newscast. And so we’re going to have to let you go so you can go get an employment. And so without the vehicle of television, nobody is gonna- I- sponsor. There’s- it was pretty much my whole identity. I didn’t- I didn’t know who I was without television.

 

And blindsided-

 

-Yes, I had no idea.

 

–And not to have any warm up on it.

 

Yeah. So I remember going to unemployment. And as clear as day. Glass- you pull out a form and it says, how long did you work that? Right. You have to write down your work. And I turned on my Palm Pilot and the pop up came up that I had written three years ago that said that your life would go through a career change. And I just thought, oh, my God. And it was one of those moments literally where that chicken skin moment, that realization that this was destined. Kind of like it was so foreign to me. But all I knew was I made a commitment in that moment that I wanted to learn it. I want to learn how to calculate somebodies life. I wanted to- because I felt safe in that moment, because I was scared of- what am I gonna do? Who am I?

 

But it felt better to believe that this was preordained.

 

Somehow, yes. So in that moment, I felt very like, wow, how do- how do you do this? And I was curious. I think that was it. I was very curious. So from- and from there unemployment, I went to Borders and I bought like four hundred dollars worth of like astrology. Like- and I was on unemployment. I had no work. So all I did was study. And that- that was like the birth. And that was literally 20- 20 years ago. Yeah, basically 20 years ago. And that started this whole new journey of wanting to understand the divine workings of human beings, of the universe, of life and why things happen. So that began this- this sort of segment of my life that I’m in now.

 

You also did feng shui?

 

OK, so the- the- the way it goes is like I started and I said, wow, how do you figure this out? So I started learning the- the- the- the- about astrology and cy- life cycles that say it’s more about timing. When did- when do you move? When do you change jobs? When- when do you transition? So learning about life cycles. And then, well, the next thing, if the planets have something governing us, then what about your environment? So then I got into Feng shui. So I went to learn about feng shui. And once that- whenever I learn something, I delve so, so deep into it that I learn it and I embody it. And then I- I was- I was a astrology and feng shui consultant for a while. Then people would say, you know, I can’t help it because I’m a Scorpio, or oh, I talk too much because I’m a Gemini. So people would give these excuses or they would say things like, I don’t have money because my bathroom is in the wrong place. That kind of thing. And I started thinking, you know, no, it’s not. You can’t blame the planet, can’t blame your environment. It’s you. So then I got into life guidance, meaning how do we create our life? So, yes, the planets are there. There’s a sun in the morning, the moon at night. Yes, our environment is there. If it’s uncluttered, we probably feel better. But it’s really up to you. And so that’s how I moved into life guidance. And that’s where I started discovering that we have so much more… Power over our lives than we think. Things don’t just happen to us, they happen for us. And how do we look for the good in situations and how do we train ourselves to be able to kind of live a life that we want.

 

And you found answers for all of those things?

 

Kind of. I found answers that satisfied me. Yes. And then uhh- then I used whatever I’ve researched, whatever I’ve learned. I’ve read hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of books and spent thousands of hours studying. And I’ve come to understand that we- there- things do happen for a reason, if we can find that reason, because then we can move forward. So, yes, I feel like in my case, I found answers.

 

You know, I notice you’re really keying in on, you know, why do things happen? When do they happen? How do we know?

 

Mhmm.

 

I’m just kind of looking back at your childhood, because so often what we do, we don’t even realize that at the time. But umm, something happens in our childhood and-

 

Yeah.

 

–we- It really- it influences what we do later.

 

I’m living in places that didn’t accept me. So if you’re not accepted socially, what do you want to do? You want to be alone, right? So when you’re alone, there’s a lot of time and a lot of umm, things that you start to discover about yourself. And so what I- what I- what I tell people too, is a lot of your purpose lies in what you used to love as a child, because sometimes as adults, we get into just doing what we have to do to make money, pay the mortgage. We kind of get into life and we do things because we have to. Not necessarily because we love it. And when we- when we’re trapped into it, our life kind of gets a little bit dimmer. It’s not as- it’s not as fun. But if you go back to when you were a child, what are the things that you love to do. Uhh, I used to love solving puzzles. I used to love dissecting animals. Uhh, so I- all the things that I love to do as a child. I feel that I’m doing them now as an adult. So it- its-

 

But you did them as a child for a sense of escape or to make yourself happy.

 

Yeah. Because I just enjoy doing these things. I loved magic tricks. I loved- I just loved anything that I could do on my own. And I- I remember umm, wanting to, to help people. But if nobody likes you, nobody wants you to help them. Right? So I would put these uhh, kind of stuffed animals or figurines and I would pretend like I was their counselors or their- their- their guide. So I would premake these questions that they had for me and I’d put questions out of the hat and I would pretend like I was helping them in life. I wanted to be like a Dear Abby. I loved Dear Abby. I used to read that all the time. Living in Taiwan, we used to get some sort of American newspaper and she was in there. And used to love- And I always thought like, I want to be a Dear Abby.

 

And so interesting, so by feeling unaccepted, you resorted to your own devices to find out what cheered you up and-

 

Yes.

 

-satisfied you.

 

Yeah.

 

And that- that- that’s a theme that remains to this day.

 

Yes. Because everything that I find and I do alone. And I- and I find it to be valuable to me. Or I want to come out and share it with you. So I feel like I’ve been interested in many, many different things. And because of that, I’ve learned a lot. In 2013, I uhh- and then I started writing books. I wanted to share what I learned at the end of the year with people. So I started writing books. So I- I had a plan. I wanted to do a book a year- book a year. And I got to my sixth year. I was going to write my sixth book. I couldn’t seem to figure out what I was going to do and I couldn’t move forward. And I asked myself, what do you really want to do? Because everything was going well. Many clients- I was speaking. I was- I had- I was doing fine in that business. And the answer came back. I just want to teach people to be happy. I just want to teach people to be happy. And in that moment of recognizing that, I had the idea, what if I could have a school, a school where didn’t you learn- Where you learned all the things that you didn’t learn in school.

 

Which you wish somebody would- So many things you wish somebody had told-

 

-Yes!

 

–you a long time ago. Someone, please.

 

Yes!

 

But you do find out by hard knocks later.

 

Later. So what if we could learn how to move through betrayal? What if we could learn resentment and guilt? And why am I feeling guilt? All of these emotional things that- and what is my purpose and why am I here? And how can this happen? What if we had a school that we could teach those thing? So immediately I decided physical, mental, emotional and spiritual classes. Spiritual classes like what’s my purpose? Umm, mental stress, overwhelm- emotional guilt, like all of these things. These are teachable. These are things that I’ve- I’ve learned that I can share. So that was my breakthrough. And I opened Happiness U in September of 2013. And so we have a location where people come and they learn these things. There are hidden blessings in everything, hidden benefits and everything. And if you can find the benefits and find the blessing, that’s where you thrive. We find that silver lining. That’s where we recognize that life is about growing.

 

At the time of this conversation, in the fall of 2019, Happiness U was still teaching its life lessons after seven years at its Kaka‘ako classroom in Honolulu as well as online, mahalo to Inoue of Kaka‘ako, O‘ahu for sharing her life story with us. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i. And Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha Nui.

 

You have a longtime relationship with another well-known person who is Alan Wong, the restaurant tour.

 

Yes.

 

So, of course, I want to ask you immediately-

 

Yes.

 

–what everyone must ask you. Who cooks at your house?

 

That is the number one question. I cook. I’m in charge in-

 

-You cook for Alan Wong?

 

–the kitchen. I do. I do. And he is one of the best people to cook for because he appreciates it. And in the 20 years that we have been together, he has never once said, why did you cook this this way, or this is overcooked. He’s never done that. He’s- he’s a- he’s just so appreciative. And so I get to keep the kitchen. That was the one thing we got together. I like cooking. I love cooking. I love nurturing people. And I thought, oh, my god, you’re a chef. The only problem is like, what am I going to do? Like, I need a kitchen. He’s like, you can have the kitchen.

 

[END]

 

 

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI
Hawaiʻi’s Physician Shortage

 

Hawaiʻi needs 300 primary-care doctors statewide, according to an annual report evaluating the Islands’ growing doctor shortage. More than 500 specialty doctors also are needed. The shortage is greatest on the Neighbor Islands, especially on the Big Island, where the situation is described as critical. What’s being done to address this? Join the conversation on Hawaiʻi’s Physician Shortage on INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI. You can phone in or leave us a comment on Facebook or Twitter.

 

Phone Lines:
462-5000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Facebook:
Visit the PBS Hawai‘i Facebook page.

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

 

 

NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG
Kawika Kahiapo

 

Slack key musician and singer-songwriter Kawika Kahiapo is a longtime member of the PBS Hawaiʻi ʻohana. In 2008, he wrote the theme song for our “PBS Hawai‘i and You” campaign. He then served on our Board of Directors for six years, from 2009 through 2015.

 

Kahiapo makes his NĀ MELE debut, performing music inspired by his lifelong home, Windward Oʻahu. “When I lived in Lāʻie, driving up and down the coast every day, coming to and from work and from gigs, I was just inspired by the natural beauty,” Kahiapo says in the program. “I wanted to celebrate that.” Song selections include “Nani Wale Kualoa,” “Kaulana Makapuʻu” and “ʻO ʻOe ʻIo.” Kahiapo’s wife Laurie and daughter ʻĀlana accompany him with hula during several songs.

 

Here is a behind-the-scenes look at this production of Na Mele:

 

Don’t Miss Kawikaʻs Na Mele Digital Short.

 

 

 



LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
John Morgan

 

Behind the scenes of the 4,000-acre Kualoa Ranch on Windward Oʻahu is John Morgan, its president and owner. He’s a sixth-generation member of the kamaʻāina Morgan family. There’s still some ranching at Kualoa, though the property is perhaps best known for its recreational activities and as a backdrop in blockbuster movies like Jurassic Park. Morgan traces the history behind the ranch, which dates to King Kamehameha III’s reign, and the property’s evolution under his leadership.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Feb. 16, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

John Morgan Podcast

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

One of the key ingredients of being successful is you gotta like and care about people, so, and then, be passionate about whatever you’re doing and I’m totally passionate about Kualoa and preserving it and the mission.

 

He was midway through college when he asked his father if he could take over management of family-owned lands in Windward Oʻahu. They were the site of a ranch, just getting by, after their hey-day as a sugar plantation. What John Morgan did with those lands, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawaiʻi’s most intriguing people. Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Kualoa Ranch in Windward Oʻahu is an amazing property. It’s actually three, virtually intact ahupuaʻa, or Hawaiian mountain-to-sea districts. This precious property has been in the kama’āina Morgan family for a long time and at times, after the fall of sugar cultivation as Hawaiʻi’s dominant industry, the family struggled to hold onto the lands to make them financially productive. When sixth generation Hawaiʻi family member, Morgan, grew up, the four-thousand acres were a private nature reserve and cattle ranch. He had no plan when he asked his father, as a college student, if he could manage the place. Over the years of his leadership, the lands took on a diverse new life. There’s still some ranching, but the spread is best known as a destination for visitors and locals and filmmakers and TV shows. Parts of the blockbuster movie, Jurassic Park, were filmed here. But big-time media makers don’t come by every day. The way John Morgan explains it, Kualoa Ranch’s main business is offering environmentally sustainable and educational activities. His great-great-great grandfather bought the first parcel of land that started Kualoa Ranch from King Kamehameha the Third.

 

Our family got started here in 1828, Dr. Gerrit P. Judd and his wife, Laura, came on the third ship with the missionaries and uh, he was a doctor. He wanted to be a missionary but they didn’t accept him at the uh, American Board of Foreign Missions. From what I understood, I read the book—Dr. Judd—and I read it awhile ago, and uh, he, his theological, uh, theologic, uh, credentials weren’t good enough, according to the people who were evaluating him. Maybe got a C instead of a B, I don’t know.

 

But still, he was appointed the Mission Doctor?

 

Yeah, so they wanted doctors here, because as we all know, you know, the whole situation with the, with disease and all of that…

 

All of the illness…

 

…and was just terrible. So, there’s uh, a lot of epidemics, in fact, we created a timeline for early Hawaiian history and you know, we recorded all these different epidemics uh, that were, were, there was quite a few epidemics and so he, he dealt with it. He learned a little bit about the laʻau lapaʻau, you know, from the Hawaiians, and he actually wrote uh, the first uh, anatomy book in Hawaiian. And so they wanted doctors and so, kind of in the spirit of being a missionary, but you know, uh, basically helping people out, that’s why he decided to come here. He practiced medicine for about ten years before he, uh, went into service for the King, and so he got acquainted with the King and there was a mutual respect there and he wasn’t uh, uh, a missionary, and he wasn’t a merchant, and he was interested and he was a pretty, you know, smart and honest guy, so he ended up becoming a minister to King Kamehameha the Third. So when successive years he was Minister of Finance, and Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Minister of the Interior, not in that order, but…so he held-held pretty…uh, big positions in the government.

 

Do you think being a physician helped bring him to the King’s attention?

 

I, you know, honestly, I don’t know. Again, the population at the time, you had missionaries who weren’t really involved with secular affairs and you had merchants and whalers and others who had their own self-interest, and so here was a guy who um…

 

Met a lot of the families through helping them…

 

Yeah, and…

 

…with their medical issues.

 

…and didn’t have, you know, kind of a self-interest that…and so, he was kind of a neutral, yeah, neutral party, but again he was, reading the books about him and everything that I have and-and-and a lot of people would agree that, you know, he was definitely a solid guy who-who-who was devoted to the Kingdom and the King. The start of the ranch was uh, in 1850, it was part of the King’s personal land and uh, and so he sold the-the-that parcel of land to Dr. Judd in 1850.

 

Did Dr. Judd know what he was going to do with it?

 

What we understand is that he, you know, just liked farming, he just wanted his own farm and uh, so, I’m not sure, because there’s no records of it, how much that he was aware of, you know, the cultural and historical significance of Kualoa, but uh, but he-he-he did build a house out there and uh, actually shipped schooner loads of squash and melon back to Honolulu, so, he did actually run it as a farm.

 

How much did he pay for the land, do you know?

 

I think it was thirteen hundred dollars.

 

For how many acres?

 

Six hundred and twenty-two.

 

Amazing.

 

Yeah, yeah.

 

So, uh, then, so that’s your great-great-great grandfather?

 

Yeah.

 

I believe I’ve read that Dr. Judd chose to renounce his American citizenship to serve the King of Hawaiʻi, King Kamehameha the Third.

 

Yes, he did. Rick Cord, is the first one, so he was the second U.S. citizen to renounce his U.S. citizenship and that was a, it was a telling act on his part, yeah.

 

Does your family have an opinion of what happened during the Overthrow times?

 

Not really. Dr. Judd was gone already and Charles was there. Charles was in service to the King, he was a chamberlain to King Kalākaua and so, all of our ancestry, you know, up to the point of the Overthrow was definitely in favor of the monarchy.

 

Which of the generations was it who got involved heavily in sugar industry which was king in Hawaiʻi?

 

So, Dr. Judd’s had uh, nine kids, seven of which who lived at least to adulthood and one of those nine kids was Charles and so that was my great-great-grandfather, and he actually went into business with Samuel Wilder, who was his brother-in-law, he married one of Dr. Judd’s uh, daughters, and uh…

 

And as you’re saying these names, I think of streets in Hawaiʻi which bear these names…

 

Yeah, so Samuel Wilder and Charles Judd, uh, basically bought Kualoa from Dr. Judd, and started the sugar uh, mill, in 1863 and it went bankrupt, actually, and so, uh, Dr. Judd got the land back because they couldn’t pay it all off and uh, and so, so, that’s how Charles got involved and then, Charles actually ended up buying the neighboring two ahupuaʻa of Kaʻaʻawa and that was in 1860, and Hakipuʻu in 1880. So, by 1880, the ranch was intact three, you know, separate but continuous ahupuaʻa.

 

It’s three ahupuaʻa? Are they still intact?

 

Still intact and still contiguous, yeah.

 

So, for all this time, since the days of the monarchy, um, your family’s had these three contiguous ahupuaʻa and kept them. That’s very unusual, isn’t it? To not have to sell off land?

 

It is, I mean, when you look at a lot of kama’āina families, in order to preserve they, you know, or whatever, for whatever reason…

 

Whatever reason, right..

 

…and so, during the Depression, that was a very tough time, and uh, um, at that time, my great-aunt was kind of in-charge and things were-were-were-were again, very tough. Thatʻs when Ka’a’awa town was created and that was our way, that was our time when we sold land, we didn’t sell it at the time, we just created lots in Ka’a’awa town and leased them all out. Uh, but that was about the extent of that and luckily, we didn’t do more.

 

Long term leases?

 

Long term leases.

 

Are they…is the land still leased?

 

Uh, no, it’s all sold off through, you know, through uh, you know The Land Reform Act, you know, that occurred in the 1970s, so that all went to fee in uh, I think uh, ’84.

 

Was that part of the ahupuaʻa?

 

That was part of the ahupuaʻa, yeah.

 

So, so a small section was sold off?

 

Little small section uh, just kind of…it’s cut off from the main part of uh, Kaʻaʻawa Valley by a little ridge, and so, it, it, you know, didn’t disrupt uh, you know, other parts of the operation and so that’s why they chose to develop it over there.

 

Well, what is the cultural significance of the Kualoa lands?

 

It’s mentioned in the Kumulipo, uh, you know, the name—Kualoa, and then there’s a whole bunch of legendary reference to you know, Kualoa, whether it’s Luʻanuʻu who’s supposed to go and find a place for a sacrifice, or the legend of Mokoliʻi, or uh, you know, there’s a…there’s just a number of different legends. I wouldn’t call it a legend that it was a training ground of chiefs because when you go back to, you know, Kamakau, or you know, some of the other, the writers, who talk about uh, you know, back in the time of Kahahana and Kaʻa…Kahekili, there was a, a kahuna, Kaʻopulupulu, who-who-who was advocating that uh, you know, Kualoa was so sacred that Kahahana shouldn’t give it to Kahekili because Kahekili actually was demanding it in order to keep peace. So, I don’t consider those as much legends as more recorded history, even though that was back in the 1700s. So anyway, there’s a lot of different reference to uh, to how important Kualoa was in the ancient times and for us, it’s a, it’s really important to honor that, understand that, and keep that uh, as something that we still cherish.

 

Managing Kualoa Ranch had never been a full-time job for any of John Morgan’s ancestors, but with changing times, he felt driven to make the lands financially productive or risk losing the precious property.

 

Except for a short time in your life when you went to college, essentially you’ve lived at Kualoa, at least part-time, I think your family, when you were a kid, went back and forth…to Nuʻuanu and…

 

And Kualoa, yeah.

 

So, you’ve spent a lot of time as a resident, at least a part-time resident, of Kualoa all your life?

 

All my life, yeah.

 

You know, you must know every little nook and cranny over there?

 

I’d like to. [LAUGHS] You know, there’s all these little valleys and you know, I love…my wife and I love to go hiking out there…and the kids…and so, but, you know, it’s funny, it can be…it’s a big place but it’s also a small place and if you want to go to every single corner it’s gonna take a lifetime, so…haven’t been to every place yet.

 

Did you know you’d become the CEO of the family property, Kualoa Ranch?

 

No. [LAUGHS] It’sone of those things that when you’re young and there’s only five employees and you know, fixing fences, spraying herbicide in the pastures, and moving irrigation, you know, for the corn fields and everything…

 

And you did all that?

 

So we did all of that. And take uh, when we started horseback rides, took out the horseback rides with my wife and, and-and-and, you know, I asked my father if I could make a career at the ranch and so, you know, when he said yes, I came back from Oregon State University to the University of Hawaiʻi, but it’s really just one foot in front of the other, there was no grandiose plan and uh, you know, certainly couldn’t have envisioned Kualoa Ranch being what it is today, way back then.

 

Well when you said…when you asked your father, did you have a sense of—it would continue to be horseback rides and, and beef?

 

I definitely had a sense it would continue to be horseback rides and beef but there needed to be something else, because it was clear that it wasn’t sustainable. My grandmother, my great-aunt, my father, my aunt and my uncle, who were all the older generation, uh, you know, knew that it wasn’t a sustainable business anymore. It never paid a dividend. Um, and so…

 

So, everybody always had other jobs?

 

Everybody always had other jobs…

 

As they ran the ranch?

 

Yeah, that is one of the things that we can credit my ancestors is nobody looked at it as a cash cow, and so everybody wanted to preserve it. But, you know, if you’re losing money every year, it’s harder to do that and so, um, when I…you know, asked him if I could try to make a career there, I knew that it was…I had to figure something out.

 

But you were okay about figuring it out?

 

Yeah, you know, I guess I stepped up to the challenge.

 

When you came back from uh, a couple of years of college at Oregon State and decided to go to school in Hawaiʻi and work on the ranch, you took a lot of credits but they weren’t necessarily…I think you took enough classes to get credits to graduate but they weren’t in the right areas…

 

[LAUGHS] Yeah, yeah.

 

Because, you were just picking what you thought you would need. You knew what course you were going to take.

 

That’s right. So, I was an Economics major, I didn’t really take college as seriously as um, glad, all my kids took it more seriously than I did, and um, so I applied to three colleges, chose Oregon because I didn’t want to go to California or Colorado where I was accepted to both other colleges, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I first uh, went to college, so I thought Economics was, you know, gives you a good understanding of life, and so, so, I was a major in Economics in Oregon State, and when I transferred back to University of Hawaiʻi, I stayed in that. But you’re right, I took finance and I took accounting, and horticulture, and agronomy, and Hawaiian language, and all the different things that I thought might help me because, you know, I’d already made the decision and my father had supported it, that I’d make a career at the ranch. And I’m glad that I took all of those things because now when you read financial reports or, I love, you know, knowing…certainly not fluent in Hawaiian, but uh, you know, I know a little bit, so, all of those things help me tremendously.

 

Did you have an inkling of what you wanted to do?

 

I did. Uh, knew that you know, people coming to the ranch and tourism was…

 

Tourism.

 

…probably the answer and so…

 

But what would they look at?

 

Ah, at the time, you know, again, 1981 when I took over didn’t know, but by ’84, I met a whole bunch of people in Waikiki and realized that tourism was booming and especially the Japanese tourist part of the business was booming and so, when we opened what we called The Activity Club, at the time, 1985 on April…April 1st, 1985, uh, we had put together a variety of different activities: horses, ATVs, uh, jet skis, helicopters, a gun range, all these different activities and uh, we presented to the Japanese travel wholesalers. So, we had one type of client, which was the Japanese travel wholesaler. The consumer was the, you know, the Japanese customer, uh and then we had all of these activities and uh, and so we launched and it was a very, you know, started off slow but it really resonated with the marketplace, so by the end of the 80s, we’re doing gangbusters and you know, thought I was a genius.

 

And that was before the movie productions came in?

 

Yeah, we had a couple of small ones. I think the original Hawaii 5-0 had come out there and early 80s Magnum P.I. had come out there, but really before anything big had started, yeah, yeah.

 

For example, 50 First Dates, King Kong, Skull Island, and Jumangi: Welcome to the Jungle. Under John Morgan’s leadership, Kualoa Ranch was thriving as a visitor destination, but world events and economic changes during the 1990s and early 2000s made him re-think his business model.

 

And then everything changes, ah, you know, in the early 90s, I think the Gulf War’s in ’91 and there was a currency crisis in the East, and you know, just a bunch of different things happened and you know, lot of other businesses were saying, hey this Japanese business looks good and so, it started to really uh, struggle and so by the late 90s it was struggling and then, course, 2001, it was a terrible situation for everybody. So we had to kind of re-look at what we’re doing and-and-and-and, you know, wasn’t all in one fell swoop but we…introspected, looked, and tried to figure out really what was the strength of the ranch and what was our core competency, and, you know, whether it was from a cultural perspective or you know, market-driven, we realized that it was really the land and the history and the culture and uh, and the agriculture. So, we got rid of a lot of the stuff that didn’t really fit with uh, the brand that we wanted to build. So, we got rid of the gun range, got rid of the jet skis, got rid of the helicopters, got rid of a lot of the different things and focused on ways that people could just experience the land. We recognized that uh, in order to be able to sustain the land, you know, we have to have a viable business and so, tourism and local, local visitors as well, it’s not just tourists. So, how do we, how do we provide enriching experiences for people and get them close to the land? And you know, introduce them to agriculture, introduce them to the Hawaiian culture, and of course, the movie part doesn’t hurt, either. But um, so, as time goes on, we try to, try to, you know, enhance different parts of the land by you know, doing different things whether it’s cultural or agricultural or otherwise, and so, we’re kind of in a perpetual landscape improvement mode. So right now, we’re resurrecting taro patches in a bunch of different areas and uh, so that when people go through these areas, you go—wow, this is gorgeous…and you learn about it, and then not only that, we harvest the crops. So, and then we built a replica, it’s not a heiau because it’s new, but we built a replica of that. We’ve had several different areas that uh, yeah, we’re doing different things from a, from a cultural perspective. We’re doing things, you know, a lot of our agricultural developments occurring around the tour routes. We built a six thousand square foot piggery made out of a repurposed movie set. It’s right on one of the tour routes because people like that kind of stuff, so whether it’s the culture or the agriculture or you know, other things, we…we know that integrating tourism with what we do is uh, and the history of the place is-is-is what makes us successful.

 

You’re basically not near the city center, you’re not near the Legislature which could be making laws that would, you know, that would affect you…it’s kind of a really different life, isn’t it? I mean, the skills you need to do well on the land you own and also, you know, what it takes to keep that land in a modern American city. 

 

Yeah, you know, hate to use the analogy of the plantation era, but, you know, plantation era’s not all bad because people were taking care of the land and maybe monoculture, cropping, is…not everybody likes now, but, from a…from the standpoint of being there and not in Bishop Street, so to speak, and you know, being close to people and being close to the land, uh, you know, I really, I really appreciate that. I do get to town, you know, whenever you need to, but uh, but I’m fortunate and even our sales people are fortunate that we’re at a point now that instead of having to go drum up business, a lot of times people come to us and so, a measure of success is when-when-when, you know, you don’t have to go to town to go to-to-to do everything and uh, we can stay out there and do our work and attract the right kind of people, so…

 

What do you worry about? What keeps you up at night when it comes to running a ranch? And this uh, this uh robust visitor operation?

 

Yeah, obviously worry about the people, we have almost 400 employees and they’re a big responsibility and you know, we want to take care of them. We want to uh, you know, see if we can have more of a positive impact in our community. We’re a big company in a small community. Those things don’t really keep me up at night but they are parts of the responsibility that are important. Um, you know, again, from that perspective, we certainly hope that the visitor industry in Hawaiʻi remains robust because if it wasn’t, you know, it hurts everybody including our company. We know that as we evolve we need to, you know, put more effort into different areas. Five years ago we hired a…created a position for a Hawaiian Cultural Resources manager, so that person is just devoted to, you know, encouraging and all of the awareness and uh, learning about Hawaiian culture within employees as well as guests. Now the same thing is going to happen with sustainability just to push the envelope a little further, push the needle, you know, a little…

 

And what kind of sustainability will that person look at?

 

Ah, everything, um, but we’re not all that good on energy right now, uh, we want to do a better job in recycling but you know, it’s really how do we integrate all thoughts and-and-and of sustainability into all the different diverse things that we have going on, because we’re really diverse. So, so, so that’s kind of direction…you know, we don’t see major changes in the, in the short term. We just hired another, another agriculture manager at the same time, he’s going through training this week and-and, so we’re adopting a new kind of approach to our agriculture. We used to say, this is diversified ag, this is livestock, this is aquaculture and now we’re doing it more from a kind of a kuleana perspective of this 40 acres is your kuleana and it has taro, you know, shrimp, and you know, lettuce, and everything else, and you run this area and so we have three diversified ag “hubs” that we call them. One of them’s about 40 acres, one of them’s about 60 acres, and another one in lower Kaʻaʻawa, so, that’s where the piggery and the sheep and the chickens and cacao and all kinds of stuff.

 

Cacao too?

 

So, we have cacao and bananas and papayas and all kinds of, all kinds of things.

 

And it all adds up to sustainability. You have a succession plan for you?

 

Nope.

 

You don’t?

 

Not yet, yeah.

 

Does any of your children want it?

 

Everybody, uh, is definitely interested in-in being involved and so our whole family, we’re so lucky that…it’s my brother, my sister and I, and we have some cousins that are involved on the ownership side and everybody is uh, is passionate about the preservation of it and everybody is committed, but from a succession point of view, that’s still a work in progress.

 

Is it, as they say, complicated?

 

Ah, it’s-it’s-it’s complicated. I mean, you know, being involved is one thing, being a CEO is a whole nother thing. And so, we’re really grateful that everybody wants to be involved, but I think everybody realizes that from a succession point of view on a CEO, the best person should do it. It’s not whether it’s family or not, and so…so, we’re in that process of trying to figure out…I think I still have ten more years or something, so we’ll see.

 

Mahalo to John Morgan of Nuʻuanu in Honolulu for sharing your story with us, and thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawaiʻiand Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?

 

Hm, I don’t know, I’m kind of an adventure thrill-seeker, if you’re talking about the personal side. You know, some friends and I climbed the top of Mount Rainier, I didn’t think that was really a risk, it was very strenuous but, um, you know, surfed big waves, if you’re comfortable doing it, uh, you know, did the Molokai Crossing with a couple of friends in a relay on stand-up paddle boards, it’s a challenge, so…on the personal side, you know, I don’t…I don’t really think about things as monumental risks, maybe I’m forgetting things right now, and on the business side, I mean, every time you do anything it’s a risk.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

[END]

 

 

 

 

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