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From a Newcomer in Hawaii to Other Newcomers
Andy

    To Whom It May Concern,I've recently moved to Hawaii with my family from Taiwan,
    where I lived for more than a decade. In the year prior
    to our move, I often logged on to the Hawaii chatboard in
    order to get some practical advice as well as general
    impressions of the area of the U.S. I was planning to move
    back to. As it seems that people interested in moving to
    Hawaii and teaching there frequently access this website,
    I am writing to try to satisfy their curiosity on certain
    points and to give them a newcomer's set of impressions on
    what it's actually like here.

    First, I'd like to comment on the cost of living here,
    about which you read a lot of negative commentary. My
    impression at this point is that the proverbial high cost
    of living in the islands is exaggerated. True, I lived
    outside the U.S. for many years and am just now trying to
    get a sense of what day-to-day costs are like in my home
    country after being away for so long. But I have taken
    frequent vacations throughout the years to visit my family
    in Pennsylvania, and my sense is that, apart from the
    costs of housing, the day-to-day costs of getting by in
    Hawaii are about the same as on the mainland - IF, that
    is, you shop where the locals do and avoid paying the
    greedy middlemen who run things in areas where (often
    extremely wealthy) tourists hang out. I've read horror
    stories of people having to pay $6 for a gallon of milk or
    a box of cereal, but where we shop we don't pay more than
    $3.50 or so for either. Gas is 10% more expensive, but of
    course you don't really feel it in most situations as
    you're living on an island where everything is in close
    location to everything else and the farthest distance you
    can actually drive from one place to another is about 44
    miles.

    The biggest difference, as might be expected, is with
    respect to home costs. Of course, things have gotten just
    as expensive in many areas of the U.S. mainland (and
    probably more expensive in fact in a lot of places such as
    California). The key thing is that you have to get used
    to living in smaller spaces. This is relatively easy for
    me, as I've spent the last decade living in the second
    most densely populated country on Earth, where you don't
    get much for your money when it comes to space. In fact,
    I've gotten so used to it that I've come to like living in
    modest spaces as you have that much less work to do
    keeping everything in good condition. My impression is
    that most people in Hawaii simply don't feel the need for
    the grandiose spaces that people in general enjoy on the
    U.S. mainland. The majority of people here either have
    either immigrated from or descend from people who
    immigrated from heavily populated East Asian countries
    where people simply don't have so much space as we have in
    America or in Western Europe. The other thing is that, in
    an area of the world where the weather is so perfect, you
    don't feel the need to have such commodious indoor spaces
    simply because you don't feel the need to spend so much
    time indoors. I suspect that many people from the
    mainland who relocate to the islands, particularly those
    raising families, (understandably) can't get used to
    dealing with the smaller spaces associated with living on
    a space-hungry island. If, however, you're in a position
    such as myself, coming from a part of the world where
    people live in similarly crowded circumstances, or if you
    are single or don't yet have children, you'll have a much
    easier time adjusting to the smaller spaces and will be
    able to accept not having so much space for the same
    amount of money.

    In short, I believe that the perception that Hawaii is so
    much more expensive than the mainland is only correct from
    the point of view of people who are not willing to
    sacrifice the great amount of space they enjoy on the
    mainland and force themselves to pay double or more when
    they get here than what they would have to pay if they
    were willing to make such a sacrifice.

    Second,to all the people, whether locals or mainlanders,
    many of them apparently mean-spirited, who are constantly
    griping about ethnic issues and racial slights on this
    chatboard, I will say this: lighten up a bit, and you're
    sure to a much nicer time of it. Doubtless there are a
    lot of people who go through life looking for trouble of
    this sort, and doubtless, in a frequently mean-spirited
    world, they're able to find it. My impression, however,
    is that there is FAR LESS of this sort of trouble in
    Hawaii than anywhere else in the U.S. My daughter,
    although she is half-Chinese, looks far "whiter" than any
    of the other kids in her class, in an elementary school
    where there are only a handful of white kids. She
    certainly doesn't notice that she looks any different from
    the rest of her classmates, comes home with a big smile on
    her face every day, and is overjoyed to be out of the
    crazy, high-pressure study environment of public school in
    Taiwan. She's already picked up the local accent and
    apparently fits right in. The other white kids I notice
    at her school all seem to be just as happy as everyone
    else. Doubtless in high schools you do encounter
    problems, some of them involving ethnic or racial slurs,
    but doesn't this happen everywhere in the American public
    school system? Adolescents can be nasty and groups of
    them will frequently treat poorly anyone who is perceived
    as non-conforming, including when it comes to appearance.
    This is a just an unfortunate part of American youth. My
    suspicion is that the sort of kids who encounter this sort
    of trouble in school here are the sort of kids who would
    encounter this sort of trouble anywhere (and possibly
    administer to this sort of trouble to other kids). And
    I'd like to add that, while I understand that I've only
    been here for a couple of months and likely haven't had
    much occasion to experience certain negative aspects of
    living here, so far I have found strangers and especially
    people doing any sort of public service (grocery clerks,
    bus drivers, etc.) to be far more relaxed and FAR
    FRIENDLIER than most of their counterparts in the frantic
    East Coast area where I grew up.

    To conclude, my experience so far as a newcomer has been
    entirely positive, and I would recommend it to other
    teachers or prospective teachers who are looking for a
    change of locale and who would like to make a contribution
    to a part of the U.S. which desperately needs more good
    teachers. The costs here really seem to be exaggerated,
    as do the reports of poor, mistreated haoles.

    If other newcomers or prospective newcomers would like to
    contact me for an exchange of info, I'd be happy to hear
    from them!

    Best wishes,
    Andy