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HIKI NŌ
The Top Stories of the Fall Semester, 2018-2019

HIKI NŌ Episode 1008 – The Top Stories of the Fall Semester, 2018-2019

 

This compilation show features some of the top stories from the fall semester of the 2018-2019 school year. Each of the stories presents a variation on a theme that has become a hallmark of HIKI NŌ storytelling: empathy.

 

Program

 

–Students at Waiākea High School in the Hilo district of Hawai‘i Island tell the story of a married couple for whom empathy has become a profession and a way of life: husband and wife both work in the foster care industry and foster children themselves.

 

–Students at H.P. Baldwin High School on Maui tell the story of a fitness coach who channels his own physical and psychological challenges into developing empathy for his clients.

 

–Students at Maui High School in Kahului tell the story of a young woman who is grappling depression and has, on occasion, harmed herself. The student storytellers who created this feature deal with this sensitive topic with a great deal of empathy.

 

–Students at Konawaena High School and Konawaena Middle School on Hawai‘i Island collaborated on a story which shows that empathy is not limited to people’s feelings for other people. Human interactions with goats at the Dancing Goat Sanctuary prove that animals often elicit and deserve our empathy.

 

–Students at Kamehameha Schools Maui High School show how one teenager’s empathy for girls who suffer from low self-esteem inspired her to launch a positive self-image workshop for young women.

 

–Students at ‘Ewa Makai Middle School on O‘ahu tell an empathy-driven story about the highly personal connection between a young dancer and her art form.

 

–Students at Waimea High School on Kaua‘i tell the story of a girl’s battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in a way that leads viewers from feeling sympathy for to sharing empathy with the young patient.

 

This special episode is hosted by Yasha Ronquillo, a 2018 HIKI NŌ graduate from Maui High School who is currently a part-time HIKI NŌ teacher at her alma mater.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Patrick Sullivan: Professional Problem Solver

 

With partners and clients from around the nation and the world, Oceanit employs out-of-the-box thinking, finding solutions to some of the world’s most difficult problems by combining science, technology, engineering and creative thinking. Oceanit founder, CEO and President Patrick Sullivan speaks about his approach in bringing together curious minds with very different skillsets and why he feels Hawai‘i’s diversity and isolation help cultivate a culture of innovation.

 

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

 

Patrick Sullivan: Professional Problem Solver Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

We’re working on a project to help with elderly. What’s needed is a very inexpensive but effective robotic assistant that can just be there to help them out, and if they fall, if they’re in trouble, if they’re in pain, if they just need help. Just something as simple as recognizing an object is critical.

 

This fearless innovator finds solutions to some of the world’s most difficult problems by combining science, technology, engineering, and innovative thinking.  Nothing new for him; he’s been problem-solving since he was a teenager, when he concocted enterprising ways to pay for college.  Patrick Sullivan, 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.  Patrick Kevin Sullivan is president and CEO of Oceanit, an internationally recognized company he founded in Downtown Honolulu in 1985.  He calls is a mind-to-market company that turns scientific principles into real world applications for real world problems. His company says he’s raised more than $475 million to develop cutting edge solutions.  Oceanit’s clients come from around the nation and the world.  The company is also entrepreneurial, sending products it developed to the marketplace through spinout companies, partnerships, or direct manufacturing.  Patrick Sullivan employs an intensive process, bringing together curious minds with different skillsets and encouraging what he calls intellectual anarchy.

 

Would you give us some examples of what products have come about as a result of this very dynamic process?

 

Well, there’s a couple.  One of our spinouts, Ibis, which is doing energy management in commercial buildings.  So, we just had a board call on the way in, and I was on the call.  And that started out with a … it’s a healable wireless mesh network, which was a legacy of a technology we built for a military group to look behind walls of concrete and steel, and to communicate in really weird places.  And so, we built that technology.  Then we thought: Okay, how do we do something that’s gonna make a difference?  And so, inside the organization, we have people that are really concerned about energy, greenhouse carbon.  We thought: What if we could use this as a way to mitigate and inform people on energy?  And commercial buildings turns out to be the market we focused on.  We didn’t know what the market was in the beginning. So, we kinda pivoted from this thing. We built all these tiny antennas and all this kind of electronics, and all this stuff, and this software, and a wireless mesh network.  And it’s become a technology that is—like, California’s using it in a lot of their schools, universities, commercial buildings—there are some commercial buildings here, where it’ll save fifteen, twenty percent of the energy in a commercial building.  It starts with the interesting question, and it cascades into these things.  And as we gain insights, it opens up these vistas of things that were not thinkable.  When you map that process, which I’ve mapped and call the intellectual anarchy process, it will bring you to some really interesting points, and create lots of opportunity.  But they’re things that don’t exist.  So, people have asked me, like in … we had this meeting with like, thirty, thirty-five of these science advisers to Office of Naval Research, and we kinda walked through how we do this.  Because I try to show people what we do; it’s not a secret.  And they said: Well, how do you do this?  Because they always start with a requirement.  We start left of requirement.  We don’t start with a requirement.  And I told them, I said: You should try this.  I said: If you actually ask yourself what’s important and what’s interesting, you will find the thing that you should be doing.  And I said: We do this fourth quarter of every year.  We have these broad conversations in the company, and we ask ourselves: What should we do with our time on the planet that’s gonna make a difference?  Because we’re here to impact humans and society. How do we make the world better? What should we be doing?  So, we pick a few things, and every year we do this, and those things cascade and it creates all the stuff.  That’s what intellectual anarchy is.

 

Wow. And it seems like all these problems that have resisted answers for time immemorial—common cold too.  I mean, there are so many.  You’ll never stop with thinking big kind of projects, because there are a lot of big things that are unanswered.

 

Yes.  And so then, it comes down to: What should we do?  What might be possible?  And so, we spend time exploring these things, and then we try to pick a few.  And it takes time as these roll out, but what it does over a period of time, it literally creates a pipeline; a pipeline in all these different subjects.  So, it’s not limited by subject; it’s limited by what’s important and what’s interesting. This process, again, of intellectual anarchy, there’s a exploration and discovery phase where you have to be pretty open-minded to where it’s gonna lead you.  It moves into the product phase, you’re building real products. And then, those have economic value, where you can sell, license, you know, do all kinds of things with it.

 

A project you might have thought was silly at the time, and you’ve also talked about weird ideas.

 

Right.

 

But they have to be respected, right, because they can go somewhere.

 

Exactly.  And the insights from this silly early stuff turned into … you know.  I mean, it’s funny; we just had this group here this week from Korea because they want a license for the Country of Korea.  We’re gonna do, I think, a pipeline in Turkmenistan this quarter.  We’re actually gonna do heat exchangers in Abu Dhabi.  I mean, this stuff is all just kinda cranking.  And … it was all invented here, and developed in the lab, but the market is the rest of the world.  And that’s how we view it.

 

So, it’s interesting, ‘cause it’s a fascinating blend of, you know, just sky’s the limit, whatever you can do, run with it.  And then, there has to be some some balance in it.

 

Right.

 

What an art that must be.

 

It is.  And it’s funny, because my wife is the COO, Jan is.  So, she was an attorney for about fifteen years, and then we started doing some spinouts and I asked her if she could help.  And she’s really good at it.  And there’s a whole operating team that manages stuff.  But it is an art, because you’re dealing with things that are messy.  Innovation is messy.  Right? But it’s trying to understand people.

 

And people are very invested in what they’ve done, too.

 

Right.  But she does a really good job of that.  And I tell people; it’s like businesses are either built to manage, or built to innovate. But if it’s built to manage, innovation is love.  If it’s built to innovate, management is hard.  If it’s built to innovate, the way you manage is really important.

 

I can see how it’d be hard to find the right fit at your company, because so many people who are very bright and educated are into control.  You know, they want to control their world, and they’ve developed a lot of tools with which to do so.  So, those are the bright, educated people that you don’t want.

 

Well, it depends if they’re gonna become agile and flexible.  If they’re inflexible, that’s a real problem.  But if they’re flexible, they may learn a tool set today, but there may be a better tool set tomorrow.  And if they say, Well, I can’t do that, that’s real problem.

 

Patrick Sullivan, resident of Kailua, Windward O‘ahu, works with partners and clients throughout the global community, including universities, governments, nongovernmental organizations, and businesses. His staff of more than a hundred sixty scientists and engineers hails from around the world.  He says that living and working in isolated Hawai‘i, with our Hawaiian culture and multiculturism, is a plus, inspiring his team to think outside the box.

 

For manufacturing and certain things, you can build facilities in different places.  For the magic, this is the place.  See, innovation comes from differences, not sameness.  So, getting different people with different perspectives. And we live in this environment here, where all kinds of different people live together.  That’s our strength.  So, our big strength in Hawaii is the people.  Okay?

 

Because you don’t think you’d be able to get this assortment of people in another place feeling comfortable about living here?

 

It’s the culture.  So, the business culture is Native Hawaiian.  It’s real Hawaiian by culture as a business, the way we work together.  It’s organically built here from scratch.  So, it’s a unique culture that is collaborative.  We respect each other, but there’s lots of debates on the science, on the facts, on the details, on those kinda things.  But the culture wouldn’t work in other places.  It works here.  The DNA of the culture is Hawaiian.  It doesn’t exist in Silicon Valley, it doesn’t exist in the Beltway. It’s just kinda different.  I think in the culture of Hawai‘i, is innovation. And I think we forget that sometimes. But the Native Hawaiians that came to Hawai‘i, they innovated to get here, they innovated when they got here. They were the first in the country with electricity, they did all these innovations.  They were not afraid of electronics, or I should say, afraid of technology, afraid of change.  They embraced it.  And to this day, culturally, they embrace people from everywhere.  It’s just part of our culture.

 

I know you do have to bring in a lot of people.  I don’t know how hard it is for you recruit locally, but I bet you do have some limitations there.  What if you did have a whole bunch of PhDs of this mindset you could hire; would that affect your diversity in innovation?

 

The people that grow up here, who get the good education, have a skillset to work with people from all over, because they grew up here.  It’s kind of an experiment, but we found it really, really works, and so, it seems kinda crazy.  To bring a technology to market, you’ve got technology risk, execution risk, and market risk.  We focus on technology and execution.  Execution risk, we’ve discovered that if we take sort of local kids or people that grew up here with a good education, we can put them anywhere in the world.  And like, we did this scale-up in Pennsylvania to put steel casing in the Marcellus Shale, which of course, we’ve never done. But we did.  And we did this in three months.  But to build something like this, you need the welder, the forklift guy, the truckers, the roughnecks, the roustabouts, everybody who maybe never went to college; right?  Here, we’ve got all these really educated people that work as part of the company. But I told the guys; I said: Look, bring aloha, get to know these people like they are your relatives at Christmas or whatever.  Don’t be afraid, they don’t see guys like you ‘cause, you know, it’s Pennsylvania.

 

And respect their skills.

 

Right.  But we work with them, they work with us.  And if you do that, it’ll be successful.  They crushed it, because they brought that human element.  And so, with the education, which is essential, they were able to bring the cultural piece to work with people that are totally different, and be very successful.

 

Who are the rock and rollers?  How do you find them?

 

Oh.  They can go between cultures.  Right? So, the culture of deep science and the culture—

 

Oh, they’re the translators.

 

Right.  Technology Sherpas.  So, he’s gotta go from dealing with the deep science guys and translate that to how it impacts humans and society as a product or a device.

 

And they are different languages?

 

Absolutely.  Each industry has its own culture.  So, they’ve got to learn the culture and the language of an industry, and then translate that back.  ‘Cause usually, the scientists and the engineers working on the problem, they may think they know what it should do.  They’re almost always wrong.  Because when you start talking to real customers, it’s like: Oh, that’s what you do. And until you get in front of them, until you spend time with them, you just don’t understand it.  You’ve gotta have those people that are out talking to humans, and people in the industries, and all that kinda stuff all the time. So, we do.  Those are those people.  The human element and the culture of Hawaii, I think, enables a lot of that to happen, too.

 

Running a business that’s based on innovation and fearlessness can be daunting.  Patrick Sullivan knows that not all brilliant hardworking scientists and engineers who are interested will be a fit for Oceanit.

 

When your colleagues describe you, I notice things tend to end in less. Fearless, limitless, endless.

 

And relentless.

 

Those are nice things to hear.  See, especially the older I get, the more I see things are connected; the fields are connected.  People are taught for the convenience of teaching, but in the real world, there’s much more things that are connected.  And methods and materials change.  So, think about like, the Wright Brothers were kinda bicycle guys, and they had canvas and sticks, and they eventually built a thing to fly.  And then, people thought: Well, what if we use aluminum.  Right? Or what if we use carbon.  And over time, what was impossible became possible. And so, what I’ve learned is that, you know, the fields are really connected, and as methods and materials change, what was once impossible becomes possible.  And so, we do a bunch of that kinda stuff now at Oceanit.  And it’s a lot of fun; sometimes it’s a little crazy.  But it unlocks the … you know, what I find is that we hire really bright people, but what drives things is what’s in here.  So, we try to connect what’s in here with what’s in here. And so, it’s not just the education; it’s that connection to doing something that really matters, that makes the magic happen.

 

How do you teach that?

 

Well, that’s a really, really good question. Because a lot of the time … we’ve got this way to work with uh, PhD recent grads, and I will usually have a talk once a year with the new ones.  And I say: Look, you know, we’re proud of you, and your mom’s proud of you, and you did an amazing thing; but now, nobody cares, so what are you gonna do? Because now, it’s all about the rest of your life, and it’s not limited to that field; it could be anything.  So, we purposely put them in a field or a problem where they may not have any expertise.  And a lot of the time, they go through like, of course, fear. They’re worried because here, they’re the smartest guy; now, they know nothing.  But we’re trying to get them to get comfortable in the fundamentals.  So, we kinda drive them through this process, so they go back to the basics, and they can look at any problem and start understanding how to think about the problem.  And we do that with a lot of these young PhDs.  Usually, it’s easier if they’re right out of school, then we kinda unscrew a couple things, and then we teach them how to do this.  And when they learn to do this, they’re a force. And we started with a couple young PhDs in aerospace who really learned to get the moves.  Right?  But they have to get comfortable in going into something that is way out of their field, or whatever, without being afraid, with the fundamentals and, you know, full grasp of the fundamentals so that they can actually go forward and figure out: Okay, I can think about it this way or that way.  We can look up research information on pretty much anything.

 

So, once somebody gets their PhD, then you send them through boot camp.

 

Right.  And if they like it, they love it; and if they don’t, they hate it and they’re terrified.

 

And you usually can tell pretty quickly.

 

And we try to find out sooner, than later. Because there’s no right answer. We’re looking for an answer that works for us, and we want the ones that are just excited.  It’s kinda like surfing or anything; right?  You learn to love it because, yeah, you get hammered sometimes, but when you get the right wave, it’s a blast.

 

And I notice when you talked about your background and having to go through things, you know, I think what you were saying is, you sometimes made a mistake or messed up in business or in some area, but you don’t say that.  You say: I learned a lot.

 

Right.  Yeah. And the way I look at it, as long as you’re learning, you’re making progress.  Because especially when things are really, really hard, it’s not gonna be straightforward.  The reason they’re hard is because it’s just not that easy.  So, you’re gonna get some hits.  Like, when we’ve done some of these startups and we’re interviewing people, I say: Look, I just need to know, when you get hit, are you gonna get up?

 

Right.

 

Because that’s the question.  Was it Rocky Balboa or somebody; it’s not how hard you can hit, it’s how hard you can get hit, and then get back up.  And getting back up is a really big deal.  Because when we’re in this kind of … especially the stuff that we do, people are gonna take hits.  Nobody wants to, and it’s always painful.  So, anybody that says, oh, failure, whatever.  No; it always smarts.  But you gotta get up.

 

You’ve been described as an eternal optimist.

 

Are you?

 

Yeah; I think so.  I think you gotta be, to do this.  But I feel blessed in so many ways.  Yeah.  I think I have a very good sense about our future in Hawai‘i, and for Hawai‘i, and for the country and other things.  You know, there’s issues, always gonna be problems.  But problems are maybe opportunities in disguise.  So, I think in general, things move in the right direction, but to get there, sometimes we take a bunch of turns and tacks in directions which seem kinda crazy.  But yeah, I’m an optimist.

 

Your entire business is devoted to problem-solving.  So, other people may come home and say: I have a lot of problems today.  Whereas, that’s what you went to work expecting as what’s on your plate; right? I mean, it’s a different way to look at problems.

 

Yeah; yeah.  But we found that … for example, if we did what everybody does, why would anybody care about what we do in Hawai‘i, in the middle of the Pacific.  And we do things that nobody thinks are possible. And we have a way to do it, it’s a interesting, challenging, and disruptive.  So, we break up the world into these three buckets.  The disruptive stuff, we’re just really, really good at. But that’s what draws the attention from a lot of big companies that we work with, because we’re thinking way outside of the box.  You know, the groupthink that they’re all stuck in, and the functional fixedness that, you know, they can’t see it any other way, we’re able to kinda get way beyond that and come up with different ways to do things.

 

Patrick Sullivan was always good in math, which started him on the path to becoming an engineer.  Growing up, he took whatever job he could find, often convincing prospective employers that he could build anything they needed.  After graduating from the University of Colorado Boulder with a Bachelor of Science degree, he attended the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, where he earned a doctorate in engineering.

 

What did you do in your childhood that helped you become who you are today?

 

In my childhood …

 

I mean, did you learn good habits early?  Did you develop some specialty that helped you along the way later?

 

One thing I learned maybe older than growing up, and what I tell young people, that especially as we’re doing tech things here is, I tell people they have to be comfortable in their own skin.  By that, I don’t mean the color of their skin, but who they are.  So, from Hawai‘i, there’s a sense of saying in trying to hide the fact that we’re from Hawai‘i.  People go out, try to raise money, try to do things, and they want to say: Well, you know, we’re here in Palo Alto, we’re doing all this stuff.  And I tell them: Look, own it, and you’re gonna find out right away, the people that it doesn’t matter to are gonna work with you, and the people that it does aren’t gonna help you anyway.  So, you might as well be comfortable in your own skin, because when you are, the authenticity of what you’re doing will come through, and you’re gonna find those people that are gonna work with you.  And the irony is in building the business over the years, I’ve found that there’s this kind of Hawaiian network in the world.  So, whenever you come from Hawai‘i, pretty much no matter where you go, there’s people who used to live in Hawai‘i, or grew up in Hawai‘i, and they’ll always try to help.  It’s the craziest thing.  But they always come out to help.  And they’re everywhere.  So, it’s a special thing to be from here.  And for what we do, it works great.

 

You do so much with automation and artificial intelligence.  What do you think Hawaii’s gonna look like in 2025 when it comes to AI?

 

Well, there’s gonna be change.  Not all of it, people are gonna like.  I think the biggest issue is in jobs.  For example, drivers.  Autonomous cars are, I think, gonna make it.  And so, people that earn a living with driving, that’s something we should be thinking about as a community.  The things that we do here that are unique and special to Hawaii are still gonna be unique and special here.  And the human contributions in creativity, imagination, are still gonna be really important.  But in the future, we see ag tech, for example.  Agriculture in Hawai‘i could be very successful, but instead of low-cost labor, it’s gonna be technology.  You know, we have terrific sunshine, water, and soil.

 

Then, what are the low-cost laborers going to do?

 

People need to get educated.  Education becomes a big deal.  So, making education more available, more affordable, is really important.

 

He was named Hawai‘i Business Magazine’s 2016 CEO of the year for outstanding contributions to Hawai‘i’s economy. Mahalo to Patrick Sullivan, president and CEO of Oceanit in Downtown Honolulu, and a resident of Kailua, O‘ahu, for sharing your story with us, and giving us a back-of-the-house tour of your offices.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

How do you relax?  Or can you relax?

 

Well, no, of course, it’s really important, and there are so many things to do here.  But obviously, one of the big one is surfing.  So, surfing is a way to reconnect to the world.  And it’s a totally different environment.  Everybody is the same; right?  And we started this when the kids were small, but my mother-in-law would cook dinner, and everybody would show up, and we’d go surfing.  And so, the Monday Night Surf Club, we’d call it. And so, we did that for years, and years.  And it’s a great way for everybody in the family to get together, but to go out and do something and have some fun.  But yeah, the ocean is still a great teacher, and I get in the water, gosh, four or five times a week.  Right? So, I still enjoy a lot of that.

 

[END]

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Nakeʻu Awai

 

Original air date: Tues., Sept. 7, 2011

 

Designing Timeless and Unique Island Wear

 

Leslie Wilcox talks story with Nakeʻu Awai, a Kalihi-based clothing designer renowned for his timeless and unique island wear. Nakeʻu initially pursued an entertainment career that led him to Broadway and Hollywood. Eventually he returned home, where he found his calling in fashion design. For three decades, Nakeʻu’s creative Hawaiian prints and equally stunning fashion shows have wowed clientele throughout the islands.

 

Nakeʻu Awai Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I used to often tell my mom, How come we can’t go shopping in slippers and wear shorts? And was, No, any time you’re Downtown, it’s pants and shoes. Well, all the Haole tourists wear slipper and shorts. But, yeah.

 

It’s a long way from Kalihi to New York, to Hollywood and back, but it’s the journey of a man whose life has been dedicated to entertainment and design, from a big city to a little shop at the foot of Kamehameha Heights. It’s Nakeʻu Awai, on Long Story Short.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. In this edition of Long Story Short, you’ll meet a Honolulu man who’s had a fascinated—well, careers, really. After graduating from Kamehameha Schools with an interest in drama, Nakeʻu Awai went on to take his shot in the bright lights of the New York theater scene. Later, he appeared in network television shows in the heyday of live TV production.

 

But these are careers that few in Hawaii really know much about, because since he returned home, he’s made a name for himself as a fashion designer. To have a Nakeʻu Awai design in your collection is to have a dress or shirt that will never go out of style.

 

Where did you grow up?

 

I grew up in Punchbowl.

 

What was that like?

 

Sidewalk skating. Golden Wall Theater—swim and tap at the YWCA down on Richards Street.

 

Tap, as in tap dance?

 

Tap dance; Mrs. Barnes. My first try at dancing, and swim, it was mainly swimming, and I got interested. Oh, I want to take tap, I want to take tapping. And then, I snuck into Alice Keawekane’s, some of her classes, and that’s Alicia Smith, Loyal’s mother is Alice Keawekane. And Loyal and Alicia, I mean, they’re all connected, Loyal and Alicia. And she taught hula. And because, when you’re waiting for your parents to pick you up … Come on, keiki, come join. So I snuck into some of her hula classes. So that was my early exposure to dance, which I would use later on. Golden Wall Theater, lot of my background comes from the movies, from the time we were little, during war years when blackout was part of our living. I don’t remember that part of it, ‘cause I was a baby. But Mom would take the kids and she, so it was brother and two sisters, and we’d go to the Golden Wall. And she’d come out and it would be all dark, and she’d hold me as the baby, and everybody would grab around her skirt, and we’d make it home.

 

And Golden Wall showed the latest Hollywood movies?

 

All and one day, I thought maybe if I had enough money, I’d bring back Saturday matinees. It was where all the kids came. And ee screamed our hearts out, because it was all the Westerns, and they would have serial chapters where at the end, the guy would be falling off the cliff. Next week—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

—follow through what happens. And when he fell off the cliff, he grabbed a branch, so he was saved, yeah.

 

Do you remember how much it cost to go to those matinees?

 

No.

 

What did you have for snacks?

 

I wasn’t too much of a snacker, but popcorn, I guess. And they had seed mui in bags, the paper bags. I mean, they dug it out like this, and that’s how you got it.

 

Influenced by all those afternoons at the movies in the Golden Wall Theater in Nuuanu, Nakeu Awai began to see a future in art and design, eventually merging theater and fashion.

 

But you’re a visual person, so movies—

 

But this helped—

 

—were preferable for you.

 

Yeah. This helped me, yes. Yes. And then television came after that, from black and white into color. Yeah. So a lot of things that I create today because aside from fashions, it’s putting fashions into visuals that is I enjoy that more.

 

More?

 

More.

 

So putting fashions into, say, musical revues?

 

Yeah.

 

And … shows.

 

I enjoy—

 

Fashion shows.

 

I enjoy that. I enjoy that the most. And using other people’s—you know, so I will use my clothes as well as the other people and do shows. Because drama was what I majored in at University of Washington.

 

So the shows are more important than the clothes that you have designed?

 

I feel that. The segments that I do are universal emotions that we all experience.

 

Have you thought of doing other than your fashion-related shows as musical revues?

 

I’m open to, I’m always open to being creative. I’ve already started my Christmas show this year. I’m thinking about next year up at the Waikoloa. You know, Pili Pang’s haula in Waimea.

 

So you’re that generation that sort of—you were before the Hawaiian renaissance. You didn’t speak Hawaiian.

 

No. In fact, we grew up speaking only English.

 

And Kamehameha insisted on it when you were a student there.

 

And Kamehameha had a Hawaiian language teacher. His name was Reverend Judd. But I felt so bad, and I guess I wasn’t strong enough to stand up against my peers. But it was after lunch, and the movie The Blue Angel, where the guy becomes taken advantage of, where he plays the dummy in the club, and all these horrible things happen to him. In the movie The Blue Angel, with Marlene Dietrich, yeah. So the same thing I thought about this man. See, so I relate back to when I saw this man. After lunch, kids brought straws back from the dining hall and was doing spitballs at him. And this old man was going, Oh, ooh.

 

And he was the Hawaiian teacher.

 

Yeah, language. And so, did we learn the language?

 

What did your parents do for a living?

 

My dad was a land abstracter.

 

What’s a land abstracter?

 

Well, he worked at the Land Office, and it was reading land deeds and stuffs, and translating them. So on his own, he helped a lot of Hawaiians find land that was due them, that they weren’t aware of. He’d ask them, Where were you born, who’s your parents? And he’d go do research kind of stuff. And my mom was an educator. And every weekend, my dad because see, we grew up without cars, because Mother and Dad never drove. We’d get on the taxi down at Aala Park. The kind that had all the extra seats, and go to Haleiwa because—

 

Is that a jitney?

 

Huh?

 

Was that a jitney, with extra seats?

 

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, but it was called the Waialua Taxicab, and it drove you to your homes in Haleiwa, Waialua. And then it’d come back and pick you up. But we’d spend weekends there because he’d work up in the taro patch. Every weekend, he was in the loi, because—and by himself. And loi and kalo, as kalo people today will know, it’s hard work

 

It’s very hard work.

 

And you have to keep working at it. You can’t let it go by, because—

 

So he worked five days a week, and then he goes to the taro patches—

 

Yeah.

 

—on the weekends?

 

Yeah.

 

That’s not a weekend. That’s not a break.

 

But he enjoyed that. And he would bring back a bag of taro, and he would cook, we would have to peel.

 

That’s what he did it for, a bag of taro?

 

And he also sold. He started selling some of his kalo to Chun Hoon’s Market, the old market on Nuuanu. So we had fresh poi. It was lumpy. I preferred the factory poi, because it was smoother, but we’d peel. Oh, and I still have his boards somewhere in my shop, the poi boards that he used and pounded poi.

 

Did you tell him his poi was too lumpy for you?

 

No.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

‘Cause he’d just strain it, yeah. And so, I mean, it was fine. It was fresh. But, after you get spoiled by having some factory made poi.

 

What was your mom like?

 

Mom was a hard worker. She believed in education, so she pushed all of us. After I graduated from Kamehameha School, I really wanted to get out and get into the working field. But, No, you gotta to go to college. So she pushed for that. Hard worker, a woman that wore the same pair of shoes until it kaputsed, then she got a new pair of shoes. So she gave up a lot. But then she wanted to see the world, so my first year after University of Washington, she wanted to see America. And Father hated traveling. So she ployed me into going, and so we saw America on Greyhound. From Seattle, we went straight across the northern route to visit friends and upstate New York, and then went down south, and came back across. Yeah.

 

Was she still very frugal?

 

Yeah. As she got older, because see, I was the last one. Everybody was—the two sisters were on their own, Brother was on his own, so maybe she felt a little more freer to do these trips. Because then she and Dad went to China, with Char’s Tours. I still remember that, because it was such a negative thing.

 

After graduating from the University of Washington, and seeing North America by bus, it was time for graduate school. Catholic University in Washington, D.C. was a fine school; but for a young man from Hawaii in the 1950s, D.C. was not quite the place to study theater. Where would Nake‘u Awai head next?

 

So I told my parents. What are you going to do? I said, Live. Pause, pause. And they hung up on me, click. Next episode. So I moved to New York. But, I went all over New York. And when you’re young, you’re really kinda daring, so I looked up every conceivable rental. The nice thing about New York is they have rentals by price. So you can look for what you want to spend, and they’re right there. Well, I went Bowery, I went Harlem, I went all over New York. And after when I settled in New York, I said to myself, I would never, ever go back to all the areas that I went into. But one wintry morning, I was in Brooklyn Heights, and this woman in—you know, they have brownstones. She opened this tall black door. And she had a place, and it was within my price range, and it was a … so everytime I watch TV, they have those steps going up into the brownstones, and to the side they have these two steps that go underneath. I was there. It went from sidewalk, all the way to the back of the house. It was long rental.

 

And did you think you were gonna be a lifelong New Yorker at that point?

 

I wanted to. Because New York will always be my happiest years.

 

Why did you leave New York?

 

Winter.

 

[CHUCKLE] How many winters did you get through?

 

Four. And the last winter, I had electric blankets. But when you’re sleeping, you go, [GRUNT]. Just slight turning. It was freezing. And I had moved, how you move around, you find a better place. So my last rental was on the fifth floor of this walkup. Wonderful. I wish I still did that. Overlooked the—you could see the Statue of Liberty, and the lower rivers before they split off the Hudson, and the Hudson and the other river, and subway and stuff, and stuff, and stuffs. Yeah, but New York, the energy, there’s no city that has the energy that keeps you, keeps you going.

 

Did you feel your Hawaiianess in New York?

 

Yes. I have some pictures somewhere that we’ll see Rowena Akana and I, and this Filipino guy doing a Hawaiian revue down in Atlantic City for Tutasi Wilson. She was a woman that lived in Florida, and would come up and do these big Hawaiian conventions in Atlantic City. And that was the only time I did Hawaiian. I never really studied Hawaiian. There was a Hawaiian restaurant that all the Hawaiians gathered, but I quickly stayed away from it, because even back then in the 60s, the Alamihi Syndrome … Hawaiians—

 

Explain that.

 

The alamihi is the black crab that goes crawling up, yeah? And as it gets up to the top, another one will come and grab and pull them both down. So, I didn’t want to be part of the Alamihi Syndrome.

 

Definitely not. The ambitious Nake‘u Awai had a lot more that he wanted to do, and he kept on his path, a path which eventually led him back to Kalihi. But first, there would be a stop in Hollywood.

 

I keep expecting that you’re gonna say, And then I became a costumer and a design person. But you’re not saying that.

 

No.

 

When did that come along?

 

Not until my years in Hollywood. Because then, after the last winter, I came home, and got right into My Fair Lady with Linda Ryan. And the choreographer who came from Vegas saw that I had potential, so he pushed me to get the role of Carpathy the Hungarian. So besides being a dancer, I played a secondary part. And so I did that. While I was doing that, the people that I worked with in Atlantic City, Flower Drum Song, were being hired for this show in Reno. Direct from Japan, Hello Tokyo. We need another guy. Well, there’s Joel Awai, he lives in Honolulu. So they called me. I got hired to go up to Reno. And the three male singer dancers were myself, Jimmy Borges, and Bob Ito. Now, Bob Ito … Quincy. Remember that show? It was where he was the mortician.

 

Right.

 

His assistant was this very well spoken Japanese guy, Bob Ito.

 

I remember him. Okay, that’s Bob Ito.

 

And he spoke so well. See, Bob Ito is a Canadian, so of course, he will speak very well.

 

And that’s where you met Jimmy Borges?

 

And that’s where I met Jimmy Borges.

 

What was he like then?

 

Well, like all the dancers, they make fun of the singer’s walk, Jimmy.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

In other words, the same leg and the same arm swing. Instead of opposition, yeah? That’s the natural walk. They walk da, da, da, da. Yeah.

 

So he was definitely a singer, the way he walked.

 

Yeah, but the three of us had to do singing and dancing. I stayed in West Hollywood until I found my own place. Then I started going to auditions, and I started dancing on television. So that is the next nine years of my life.

 

Nine years dancing on television and other venues. What kind of dancing did you do?

 

Jazz; modern dance. Back then, musical specials were big, so I performed like the Jack Benny Special, or the Petula Clark Special, or Elvis had a special I was a part of.

 

Now, you said you weren’t an extraordinary dancer, but it sounds like you’re getting some good roles. You’re getting hired.

 

Well, so maybe I was better than some of the others. But I mean, I don’t consider myself a solo dancer, because I worked with a number of people who were great solo dancers, like in the Elvis Presley Special.

 

So what was it like? Did you actually encounter Elvis? You saw him on the set?

 

Well, Elvis was a very quiet, timid fellow who was like a school kid. And when he tried to relax and socialize, the moment Colonel Parker came in Elvis.

 

How old was Elvis then? Was he out of the Army?

 

He was out of the Army, yeah. I don’t know. Because this was in preparation for him to go to—because Elvis performed, then he went to movies, then he went into the Army. Now he’s out of the Army, and he’s gearing to go back to— because then he made a big—after television special, he went to Vegas, yeah? I think Elvis and I would be about the same age. I don’t remember. Do you know how old he is, or would be?

 

No, I don’t know how old he would be.

 

Okay.

 

So did you have any interaction with him?

 

No. No. Because he didn’t socialize with us, because he was under wraps, or when he did come in and the Colonel would come in, he would jump up and he would disappear. Yeah; so dancers, they’re like cattle. They’re just kept in some room until they need them. And the thing with television, which is really junk, is you don’t have time to really warm up. So we call it the warm up special. We’d come to work, go get our face done. So you go to make up, get your face done, then we greased up our bodies with um, Bengay. Because then—

 

You didn’t want to hurt. [CHUCKLE]

 

Yeah. No, because then when you got up to dance, you would be all warmed up. Because Bengay would get your muscles and bones ready for performing. Because you never knew; sometimes you would wait hours before they’d call you. Dancers! So like when these musicals started to dwindle, the first people they got rid of were the dancers. The second people they got rid of were the singers. The last people they got rid of were the actors. That pecking order; yeah. So I worked with a lot of big names. Bill Cosby was one, his special. I came back to do Don Ho’s special, because the dancers were hired in LA, and so we came back when he did his special. And I still remember getting flown, a few of us getting flown to Lahaina to work with the children at the elementary school there, where they did this One Paddle, Two Paddle, walking down Front Street. And we were like guides, yeah, or aides or guides, I mean, as dancers. So that was Do Ho’s special.

 

It was in Lahaina, during the shooting of a Don Ho television special, that the germ of the idea of a career in fashion design finally took hold in Nake‘u Awai. Remember those photos of jumpsuit Elvis, macramé’d beaded belt flying? That was his handiwork.

 

While I was there, I was fortunate to have a close friend from Japan teach us how to do macramé. And because all Japanese children grow up learning knots, what the sailors do, the art of knotting. And so he taught us how to do macramé. And so this other fellow from Hawaii and I decided to go into business doing macramé belts. This was before the hippies then got hemp and were doing macramé baskets, macramé wall hanging and stuffs. We did belts and accessories. So I sold these belts to stores in Beverly Hills, to fur shops in Beverly Hills, to designers like Bob Mackey, where I still have some drawings. ‘Cause Bob Mackey was a good artist, and that’s how he started before he got into fashions. He was an artist who drew for designers. And so, he gave me some sketches of macramé that we did for Carol Burnett and stuffs and stuffs, where we did the macramé, and he did these sketches. Because he could make the drawing look like Carol Burnett. And so I got to meet designers besides he, Jean Louis, which is the old film that Lana Turner did, her gowns by Jean Louis. Jean Louis, who was a French designer who also, for a long time, did the uniforms for United Airlines, long ago. Well, he had a factory in Beverly Hills. And what’s interesting, half of his factory were Japanese, and the other half of his factory were Haole. And you could tell the difference, because the Japanese factory was zz, zz, zz. The Haole factory, [GIBBERISH]. So, I became aware of clothing design there. My Black choreographer mentor, Claude Thompson, felt that I could do it. So he gave me this job where I was doing costumes for Sammy Davis’ girls, because Claude was choreographing them. And he wanted me to do the costumes, so I was given this wonderful budget to do costumes for six girls. And that was my first try at clothing.

 

What did you do for them? What kind of costumes did you come up with?

 

I had fun. I was very creative. I went downtown LA and found all these places like where you could buy leather. And I bought chamois. The stuff you clean cars with? I bought skeins of chamois and cut them into—left parts of it rough, because the edges of chamois uncut, and did a wrap blouse for them, and sewed and hung beads on them. And then I got scarves that they did what the Blacks do, a do-wrap, the tight um, head wrap with a knot here, and bought a whole bunch of scarves, and did a scarf skirt. So I asked friends of mine, Well, if I want a scarf skirt, how do you do it? Well, you hang the scarf point-to-point, you sew from point to this point, from point to that point. And so, as long as I knew the construction, then I could pass it on to a seamstress. So they had these scarf skirts. So when they stood … would be all scarves hanging, but when they spun, it didn’t split apart, it connected. And with that, I had these big clunky boots.

 

And it worked.

 

Yeah. He loved it, and Sammy loved it too. So on a couple of times, I met Sammy and his wife Altovise, who was one of his dancers that he ended up marrying, and Sammy’s little black poodle, who I hated, because he’d run down from the house, and he’d straddle your foot, and shee all over you.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And I’d go … [GAGGING]. [CHUCKLE]

 

When you look at your career, and you’re still going, how do you describe it?

 

Well, it’s something that I look forward to every morning. It’s not like I don’t want to go to work. I get ready, I get up at five-fifteen, I do my things.

 

What’s in your shop? Tell us about your shop.

 

My shop is a collection of my fashions, and a collection of things that I like, and have cluttered my shop with. Like I have these blown-out Portuguese man-o- war [CHUCKLE] that Colleen Kimura did. So it’s like this blue spacey thing, and it has all the tendrils hanging down. And I have an old wreath that Noelani Pomroy did when she came from Kauai. I have an old, old, old, old wreath that Amelia Bailey brought to the shop many years ago, that’s still hanging up there. So it’s like going in a Chinese shop full of all kinds of—I mean, people come in, and they’re like [CHUCKLE]—the look is … Or they’ll come in, and they’ll take a long time, because there are too many textures and colors, and blends, and things to look at. I mean, yeah. And I like it. Everybody says, You need a bigger shop. No, I’ve gotten used to it.

 

At the time of this conversation in the summer of 2011, Nake‘u Awai continues to create and design, an icon of Hawaiian fashion. From his overflowing shop in Kalihi, he continues the dance of life, inspiring a new generation with his timeless textiles. For Long Story Short, and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org.

 

When you see Elvis and he has these gyrating hips with these belts with beads on them, those were the belts that we did for Bill Ballou was the designer. A lot of things, as I look back, I’ve done stuffs that people didn’t understand what I did, and why I was doing it until later, and then you see them doing it and understanding it.