As soon as I stepped off the airplane, I took a deep breath, relishing in that sweet Hawaiian air, the scent transporting me back to what feels like a lifetime ago. The last time I was here was about 6 or 7 years ago. I was still in undergrad, I was in a different relationship, and I had barely even begun to scratch the surface of my love affair with food.
When I arrived, it was almost 11pm on a Friday. It had just recently rained, and it even sprinkled a bit as we drove. The damp cool air was a blanket welcoming me back to one of my homes. As I rode the 15 minutes to where I would be staying, I chuckled inwardly when we got onto the H-1 freeway, one of Hawaii’s three interstate highways (take a moment to think about that statement), smiled at the Likelike (pronounced LEE-keh LEE-keh) Highway sign, and struggled to remember which exits I would take most often. I knew that the first few days would involve a bombardment of memories, just like these on the short drive from the airport, and I couldn’t wait.
Hawaii was the first place I lived after graduating high school (literally — my mom, stepdad, and I moved less than a week after graduation). I lived here for four, very formative, years. I often say that it was the best stepping stone to living on the mainland. Oahu is bigger than Guam, has a freeway (!!), but the Pacific Island culture in Hawaii is very similar to what I was familiar with growing up on Guam. Even though the radio stations also played island reggae, and everyone wore shorts with slippers (AKA zoris/flipflops/thongs), and the people looked like the people on Guam, and the climate was almost identical, I was still in an unfamiliar place with no friends or family other than my parents.
What I ended up clinging to most for its familiarity was the food. Although red rice and kelaguen aren’t part of everyday food in Hawaii, there are enough foods in common that it was easy to forgive. The love of white rice and liberal use of soy sauce in dishes were probably the most apparent connections. And, of course, their reverence for SPAM also made things easier. Other than a few cravings for red rice and kelaguen, I don’t really recall being homesick for Guamanian/Chamorro food. I didn’t realize this until years later, looking back at the kinds of food that I grew up with, the kinds of food I consider to be comfort food.
So as not to be completely overwhelmed by the flood of memories and nostalgia on my first day back, I decided to take it a bit slow. I walked to the Ala Moana Center with the hope of purchasing some slippers (because why on earth would I buy them in Boston… in February?). On my way there, I had to step into the 7-11 just to see this: