I'm trying to keep my business, my triplets, and my waistline under control. I excel at one of those, fail at another one of those, and one is a work in progress. Which is which is day dependant.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Beautiful Poverty

I've neglected emzeegee & the hungry three for a couple of weeks because we all headed off on a tropical adventure, and since we've come home I've been stuck with the head cold from hell. DH thinks I'm attempting weight loss by mucus, since it's surely impossible that one person can blow their nose as often as I am and not lose something. While the idea of fat morphing into snot and then disappearing sounds appealing, let me assure you that going to the gym is far more successful and kinder on one's nose.

We spent 11 days in and around the islands of Hawaii - first on a 7 day cruise through the islands and then a scant 2 days in Honolulu. Yes, I know that equals 9, and I said 11... but since I live at the ends of the earth, it takes a day to actually get anywhere and another day to get back.

What struck me about our time in Hawaii is the incongruity of it all. We took a number of different tours and saw all sorts of amazing things... and yet what stuck with me was how many times we saw poor people, saw homeless people, and heard stories of people with 2 or 3 jobs who are struggling just to get by. I took some time to chat to our various tour leaders, bus drivers and locals we met, and for everyone the story was the same. Hawaii is hurting. I found myself quite shocked at the state of some of the housing there - ramshackle houses which look as though they would not survive the summer breeze let alone the hurricanes that come to that area. Of particular shock was the homes we saw around the big island.

On the one hand, people are clearly struggling. On the other, I could not believe how inexpensive everything there was. Food. Drinks. Clothing. Souvenirs. Absolutely everything we came across was ridiculously inexpensive. Even tours - whole day tours for $75! Of the most shock - and joy - was the cost of clothing. I literally bought massive bags of stuff for my kids- pants, shirts, jeans, shoes, belts, sweatshirts... and the bill came to something like $130. School uniform pants for my son, for which here I'd pay upwards of $50, were $12.50. The shoes he loves (Keen's) are $200 here and less than $100 there. The exact same tennis shoes I bought for myself the day BEFORE we left Australia for a bargain of $80 (normally over $100, hence I thought I was the most fab shopper ever) were on sale at Nordstroms for $31.

$31. Less than a third of what I'd normally pay retail.

So in a country where everything appears ridiculously cheap.. why are people struggling so much? Is it the cost of housing? The cost of insurance? What? I just found it so difficult to marry the image of all those sad houses, and all those people sharing their stories of struggling - with the fact that I took my daughter out to lunch and both of us (with drinks) paid less than $10... and had plenty of leftovers. Why are these people not affording to live to a good standard? What is wrong with America? Why are Hawaiian pineapples now bearing a "grown in Costa Rica" sticker?

Hawaii, like Australia, suffers a little bit from being an island. So most things are going to be more expensive than on the mainland purely on account of transport. Not a whole lot is actually produced on the island, so most of it has to come from somewhere, and getting it there costs a heck of a lot. Australia has the same issue - so a lot of things here are crazy expensive simply because they are imported. Even accounting for "island living tax" - things were just crazy, crazy cheap. I bought my girls a hoodie at Gap for $11. I couldn't even get a hoodie for $11 here if I was at K-Mart AND it was on clearance.

Of course, not everyone is struggling - certainly as we left the tourist areas of Waikiki we saw some amazing properties. Huge, stunning, amazing villas. And we met people who are leading perfectly middle class lives and doing just fine... so it's not as though the entire place is falling apart or anything. It just seemed like there was this veneer of beauty and underneath was a struggling state. I have heard many stories from friends and relatives about the state of the American economy in recent months (years...) but Hawaii was truly an eye-opener for me.


fish said...

I had no idea Hawaii was having that hard of a time either but I guess being that its a tourism town it makes sense that you would see the biggest difference there.

Wendy said...

Great post! Very informative - definitely subscribing to your blog. Many thanks