Monday, October 28, 2013

All roads lead to Chinatown.

You wouldn't guess by looking at me, but Chinese/Hawaiian ancestry runs through my blood. It's on my mother's father's side of the family. Immigrants to Hawaii long ago and a blend with the locals, the family made its way by owning a full service laundry mat (well before washer and driers were invented) and some real estate. My two front teeth are scooped - a little trickle down affect of my asian blood. But then again, you couldn't tell by looking at me.

I joined my mom in Honolulu this week to clean out my grandmother's house. Gam, my grandmother, passed this last March at the ripe age of 96. She lived in Nu'uanu Pali, up the mountain from downtown Honolulu, the last stop before crossing over to Kailua side. Gam and my grandfather bought this brand new house in 1955. The covered car porch and gate has four Chinese emblems built in. I only just found out on this trip they mean happiness.

Happiness, indeed.

The house sold after 22 offers in a week. It is a gem. A nice big lot in the rain forest, just a few miles from downtown.

We've been cleaning out decades of treasures: wooden bowls, bone china from the kitchen cupboards, the occasional cockroach stuck to the cabinet floor, books filled with notes, old slides, ice picks, you name it. It's like living someone's life in reverse. You can tell a lot about someone by what they keep and what they don't have around. Old sewing machines from a time when if you wanted new clothes, you had to make them. Gam had every kind of twine you can imagine - old fishing line on a spool bigger than your thigh and small hemp that bound her boxes of Christmas ornaments. Dowels in every width and length, ready for any project she might think up.

We also had to sell her car: a 1996 Acura with less than 40,000 miles on it. We listed it on Craigslist and had a dozen responses in an hour. The couple that came up to Nu'uanu met us that afternoon. We could barely understand one another - their English was choppy and our Mandarin nonexistent. We managed to make plans to meet the following day at the DMV to transfer the title and then deliver the car to Milikini street. Mom had to get one of her trustee documents notarized and the wife drove her into Chinatown into some back street and had her climb four flights of stairs into some dark office. The notary didn't speak a lick of English and the entire transaction was completed in Chinese.

Business transaction complete, I followed my mom who followed the wife back through China Town. We drove past where my grandmother's funeral was, past the noodle shops, past the mauna pua factories. We could've taken a quicker, more direct route. But for this lady, all roads lead to Chinatown.

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