Should we move to Honolulu?
January 25, 2007 1:20 AM   Subscribe

My SO has gotten a job offer in Honolulu. Should we go?

I know that many will have the immediate impulse to reply, "Yes - are you stupid?", but we do have some concerns I was hoping to get some advice about, especially from people who live there, have lived there, or have spent extended amounts of time there.

Both of us are active in the arts, espcially small-scale, shoestring budget local stuff (I'm a theatrical director, she's a dancer), and we are both wondering what the scene is like there. We've also heard troubling reports of racial tensions from friends who have been there. On the other hand - it's Honolulu! On the other other hand, we really like where we live now (Tucson, Arizona). On the other other other hand, it's a really good job.

As you can see, we've been tying ourselves in knots about it. This would be a big move for both of us, and we only have a few weeks to decide if we're going to do it, so we're feeling rather stressed about it.
posted by kyrademon to Travel & Transportation around Honolulu, HI (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I would absolutely go. I lived in Honolulu for six years, only recently moving back for my job. We plan to move back again in a few years.

The arts: well, it's good you like shoestring budget local stuff. There's plenty of that. There is an actual symphony and opera, but, well, it's no New York, San Francisco, or Seattle. There are a number of small theater companies.

Racial tensions: quite the opposite. It seems that way to visitors and people who haven't been there long. There's an antipathy for flower-shirted visitors that I think you'll see in any economy so dependent on tourism, but once you make some connections and learn the social norms, you'll have trouble finding nicer people, regardless of race. They're so comfortable about multiculturalism there that race jokes just aren't offensive to most people any more than blonde jokes, for example. It puts people off who aren't used to it.

Things you'll have a hard time with at first: Slow pace and general non-professionalism. It's hard to describe, but being a typical impatient mainlander isn't going to get you anywhere there. It's just going to irritate people, which is typically what newcomers mis-read as racial tension. People "talk story" for a few minutes before getting down to business. Things take a couple of days that maybe don't strictly have to. No big deal.
Also, expect to have a much smaller place there for the same money.

So go. You'll love it for six months, hate it for six months, accept it ambivalently for a few years, then you'll start to find that you really love it there. At least, I did.
posted by ctmf at 1:58 AM on January 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

I spent six weeks on the islands a decade ago, writing a travel guide; and I visit and keep track of the news intermittently.

The first thing to think of is the cost of living. This calculator suggests that you're in for a colossal increase; you'll need on the order of a 60% raise to maintain what you have in Tuscon. In my experience, staples are somewhat more expensive; luxury goods that have to be imported from a mainland are simply out of reach for all but the wealthy.

Honolulu has a long history of racial integration; as a city dweller you'd probably find it easy to insulate yourself from the Asian gangs of the inner city and the native rowdies on the island's west side. It's certainly no worse than any mainland city, and probably better. In general, Hawaiians are delightful, extraordinarily friendly and welcoming people, even the ones who don't deal with tourists for a living.

When I was there, the art scene was not particularly exciting, and mostly surrounded the University. There will not be big-city amenities and if you are not the sort of artists who are in mainstream demand you may be surprised to find how small your audiences are. The cultural diversity of the place fosters lots of collaboration and cross-cultural work, but I would think it also would make it hard to create a loyal following for artists trained in only one cultural tradition.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:50 AM on January 25, 2007

I vote for "go"
posted by matteo at 4:37 AM on January 25, 2007

Go. Duh.
posted by Brittanie at 5:15 AM on January 25, 2007

I should rephrase that —

Go! If you hate it, come back.
posted by Brittanie at 5:16 AM on January 25, 2007

I have some friends who moved there, and they had a tough time even finding an apartment, much less affording one. Consider it carefully before you go, and realize that if you want to travel out of Hawaii during the vacation season, your flights are going to be extremely expensive.
posted by rachelpapers at 5:29 AM on January 25, 2007

You're coming from Tucson, where half the residents think all Latinos should be killed, and you're talking about racial tension? Hawaii is the most diverse and least tense location in the United States. The problem you'll face is that the shoe is on the other foot: whites are not a majority in Hawaii.

Do realize that the cost of living is huge and the island is small. Don't buy a car. Get monthly bus passes, and make sure you're close to the bus routes.
posted by jellicle at 6:19 AM on January 25, 2007

They're so comfortable about multiculturalism there that race jokes just aren't offensive to most people any more than blonde jokes, for example. It puts people off who aren't used to it...

...being a typical impatient mainlander isn't going to get you anywhere there. It's just going to irritate people, which is typically what newcomers mis-read as racial tension.

This is exactly it. As a haole who married a local, it definitely takes some getting used to, for all the reasons that ctmf described. But I've found that most of the people who want to engage me in awkward "Oh my god, your husband's from hawaii?! Don't you feel so uncomfortable there?" conversations are exactly the kind of people who would drive locals completely up the wall. Recognize that it is a different culture (and demonstrate respect for that culture), and you'll be fine.
posted by somanyamys at 6:34 AM on January 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've never lived in Hawaii, but had a good friend who did. He described occasionally suffering from something called "rock fever," a strong desire to get off the island that sounded a bit like cabin fever crossed with large-scale claustrophobia.

If you go, I hope you enjoy it!
posted by CMichaelCook at 7:53 AM on January 25, 2007

My brother and his wife recently moved to Honolulu, and they love it. (My brother is white and his wife Asian-American, and they haven't mentioned racial tensions, although my brother did say that he thinks there's some hostility to mainlanders.) It is expensive, but that seems to be pretty much their only complaint.
posted by craichead at 8:08 AM on January 25, 2007

I would have trouble with the isolation.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 8:34 AM on January 25, 2007

kyrademon, we made the same move (from Tucson to Honolulu) two years ago. I lived in Tucson 30 years, and I've never regretted moving. The differences between the two places are obvious, but there are many similarities: similar-sized population, large university, native population issues and racial diversity, great natural beauty, alot of folks just getting by.

It is a dense place, not quite in a NYC sense, but getting around by car is difficult. Fortunately the place is so compact you can easily moped, bike or walk around. Housing is a real pain, expensive if you want to buy, scarce if you want to rent. I highly recommend living close to where you work, if possible, to avoid commutes into Honolulu.

I am not in the arts scene, so I can't offer much there. We do have a monthly arts walk called First Friday (I think), similar to Tucson's old Downtown Saturday Nights where downtown galleries open for the eveining, and it is well attended. I know a theater producer at the local university, and if you'd like to contact him to discuss the local theater scene I can set that up.

We have not felt the slightest twinge of 'island fever'. Plane tickets to neighboring islands are $39 or something right now, so it's easy to go someplace else. We don't feel isolated at all.

The climate is incredible and people are always outside. You never need heating or cooling; just open your windows and let the tradewinds take care of you.

So I recommend going. Good luck!
posted by ldenneau at 9:13 AM on January 25, 2007

I've never been, but I had a friend who lived there. I think you should absolutely take advantage of this opportunity. I do NOT think you should let this go. The worst that can happen is that you won't like it, and you move back after a year or so.

Yes, it's expensive, but pretty cheap when you consider what you will be getting for free - that fantastic sun, beaches, hikes, nature, some of the most gorgeous settings in the world will be at your disposal.

Anyway, my friend returned from having lived there for two years a better person. He was much more active and spontaneous than before. I didn't hear anything about tensions with the locals, but I don't think "some" tension should stop you. They probably just don't like how commercialized their culture is becoming - and hey - who doesn't sympathize with that?
posted by xammerboy at 9:14 AM on January 25, 2007

Go! They have volcanos there....VOLCANOS!!!
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 9:50 AM on January 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Asian gangs of the inner city?! Uh, what?

The housing market is finally beginning to soften a bit. Everything is still super expensive, mind you, but there are actually places available.

The local theater and arts scene is indeed shoestring and populated with people who particpate simply for the love of what they're doing. If you've got enthusiasm and desire, I'm pretty sure that not only will you find plenty to do, you'll be downright embraced.

Don't worry about racial tensions. I would wager that anyone who complains about any kind of racial enmity isn't used to the relaxed way race and ethnicity are treated here. Just keep in mind that racism and hostility aren't tied together here the way they are on the mainland. somanyamys and ctmf are right on the money.

Seriously, Asian gangs of the inner city? What the goddamn?
posted by sun-el at 10:06 AM on January 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Born and raised local guy here, wife from a small town in BFE (central Florida). I've answered hundreds of 'moving to Hawaii' questions on USENET, message boards, question sites, and the like. So first and foremost, feel free to ping me directly if you have any questions... or if you'd like to meet up with a MeFite once you step off that plane in HNL!

The two biggest challenges are finding a job (covered) and finding a place (tougher). The tiniest apartment will have 60 applications, and you may never even see it even after paying a "nonrefundable processing fee." And what we call a "studio" you might consider a closet.

My number one piece of advice tends to be, "Hope for the best, plan for the worst." Keep funds aside as part of an exit strategy. The problem with island life is you can't just hitchhike or take a Greyhound to another state if things don't work out. And our social services network is in crisis (homelessness is becoming a major problem). I see dozens of people a year fly out on a wing and a prayer, figuring they'll find something, blinded by dreams of a simpler life, perfect weather, spiritual harmony... and finding the day-to-day challenges of workaday life exist here like anywhere else, and everything costs more, to boot.

As for racial tensions, I like some of the comments so far. (Well, not "insulate yourself from the Asian gangs of the inner city and the native rowdies on the island's west side" -- holy crap.) Racism exists everywhere, and Hawaii has its share of boneheads and jackasses like anyplace else. If you come with a chip on your shoulder and look for trouble, I guarantee, you'll find it. But the racial and ethnic mix is different, unique, wonderful... worth experiencing, and a huge upside if you have the right mindset.

One thing that my wife said took some getting used to: Hawaii is very race and ethnicity conscious... which can feel like, or sometimes be a symptom of, racism. Because everyone is a minority, our differentness is as plain as the noses on our faces. We talk and joke openly about differences all the time, sometimes crudely, and certainly more overtly than people on the Mainland may be used to. Chinese jokes, Portuguese stereotypes, they're almost mainstream. Most never got the memo on "oriental" being un-P.C., and ethnic labels are thrown around freely. (Some bristle at the term 'haole' as a Caucasian identifier as equivalent to the 'N word,' but for most it's completely innocuous.) But you'll find they're almost always put forward with sincere affection.

For what it's worth, my wife came here for school, her brother ended up here due to the military. Same upbringing, same background. My wife feels Hawaii is the most fantastic place on earth, full of many cultures and colors and warm, tolerant people. Her brother found it a backwards, anti-White racist hell-hole and can't wait to get back to the East Coast. IMHO, attitude makes a world of difference. I feel bad my brother-in-law and family didn't find what I love about Hawaii, but I think it's probably better for him and Hawaii that they're leaving.

The arts? They're seeing a bit of a renaissance. Especially in Honolulu, but also on the Big Island and Maui. It's not something many folks can do for a living, but the passion is there... and the mix of influences and styles is awesomely dizzying.

I agree with ctmf that the pace of life might be the most maddening. We joke constantly about "Hawaiian time," but it's real, and will impact your day-to-day life. An 8 o'clock meeting may not come together until 8:30. The day you're in a hurry is the day the cashier at the coffee shop will engage someone in a long discussion of family history.

The only people who wear jackets and ties are lawyers and legislators on opening day. You'll likely find your wardrobe changing considerably. (Consult a local before buying aloha wear, though... the "Hawaiian shirts" most folks think of are just as cheesy and ridiculed here as they are in pop culture.) Don't freak out if you show up for a business meeting and get hugged or a peck on the cheek.

If you're coming to Honolulu, expect traffic. Like a mini-L.A. Rush hour clogs eight-lanes of interstate. Constant road construction and seemingly random lane closures will test your patience. Speeding, pedestrian deaths, and road rage are increasing. It's part of a more general issue of rapid development, limited space, and population growth, something you'll definitely pick up on.

And yes, boxes of cereal are two months old and still cost $6, gas prices are the highest in the country, we have a pyraminding "excise tax" that does not exempt food or medicine, online merchants force you to pay for Second Day Air (so that $6 cable will cost you $36)... hold on to your wallet!

But in the end, it's a question of "standard of living" (having the things you like) and "quality of life." Plenty of people find living in closets and working two jobs worth it for all the other things Hawaii has to offer.

Like others have said, it may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. As long as you do so with eyes open (and some savings), jump! And look me up when you get here.
posted by pzarquon at 12:04 PM on January 25, 2007 [9 favorites]

pzarquon, that's a great summary.
posted by ldenneau at 12:49 PM on January 25, 2007

Seconding the thumbs-up to pzarquon's write-up. I'll just add a bit more...

The arts scene is definitely on a comeback, and money is being pumped into downtown Honolulu/Chinatown to support the various galleries and studios springing up (First Friday is definitely helping). Check out The Honolulu Weekly for info on what's up in the various arts scenes, etc.

Some of the more permanent (meaning, they have a venue) local theater groups are Diamond Head Theatre, Kumu Kahua, and the Manoa Valley Theatre. You mention that your SO dances, but what kind of dance? I think there may be something here for both of you, and in Hawaii, it's always "shoestring" and "local" - although you may want to prepare yourself for productions done in pidgin (aka Hawaiian Creole English).

As for racial tensions, I could go on and on about this subject. When you are part of the community and not just a tourist, it's fairly easy to be absorbed and accepted so long as you are patient and are willing to understand where all the pieces fit. It's really a complex web of interactions between cultures that goes back generations, and will take quite a bit of time to explain... I'm thinking this might be a side project of mine to try and illustrate how the races interact here. But for now, just remember that Hawaii is probably THE most ethnically inter-mixed community you'll ever encounter, and nothing is ever black, white, brown, yellow or what have you. You can also e-mail me if you have other questions, I wanted to keep this short...
posted by krippledkonscious at 3:18 PM on January 25, 2007

pzarquon, you've been flagged. For being fantastic.

You make me want to go, and I've never even considered it.
posted by Ynoxas at 3:36 PM on January 25, 2007

Response by poster: Hey, all. Just wanted to give a profound thank you to everyone who's weighed in so far -- this has been incredibly useful and helpful. And I may very well contact those of you who have offered to talk to me over e-mail about this, once I figure out what questions I should be asking. :)
posted by kyrademon at 5:50 PM on January 25, 2007

Sorry; I got rushed in the middle of writing my above comment and posted about half of what I meant to say. So let me add a little context:

I keep reading, over and over again, that it's no longer safe to sleep on the beach along the west side of Oahu because young native kids camp out there, drink beers, and get rowdy. (I slept indoors maybe 3 or 4 times on my entire trip and no one ever hassled me; when I slept out on the west shore of the islands, I ended up sitting around a campfire, chatting and drinking beers that some young local guys gave me. I often suspect I was part of the horrible problem I keep reading about. Who knows.)

One of the things that's clear is that the island's culture and way of life is changing over time. A lot of what I read is "oh, how things are changing." For a long time, half of civic life in Honolulu centered around the Navy base at Pearl Harbor; the other half centered around the racially-defined communities, the Hawaiians, the Chinese. The inner parts of the islands were taken up by agriculture. Those generalizations haven't been remotely true for decades.

Honolulu has what, 400K people in it? I think if you're coming from any other city in the world of a comparable size, you'll be pleasantly surprised at how well people get along.

Rereading my response, I forgot to say the most important part: If I were you I'd totally make this move. Hawaii is awesome, the people are awesome, the islands are awesomely beautiful and magnificent and would inspire the soul of the dullest, dustiest individual, never mind a pair of artists. There's good things to eat, the weather's great. If you can scrape by money-wise you have got to go.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:10 PM on January 25, 2007

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