Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Bula Vinaka!

Yesterday, we were up and about at a quite reasonable hour (for me!).  Our day was fully scheduled with a trip to the Polynesian Cultural Center, departing from Waikiki on a tour bus at 10:15 AM.  The drive to the northeast corner of the island took about an hour and a fifteen minutes, and we were entertained thoroughly along the way by our bus guide/narrator.  We saw some interesting things like the place where they filmed the TV show Lost, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Karate Kid Part 2, and the Jurassic Park movies.  They were actually filming Jurassic Park 4 when we drove by.  We saw lots of vehicles and trailers.

Arriving at the Cultural Center, there was a bit of confusion regarding getting our tickets, and a lot of people trying to sell us into tours and the buffet lunch.  We did manage to get our tickets and not buy the tours or the buffet.  We were grateful for this later when we came across a snack bar with much cheaper, basic food.  Between us we had an egg salad sandwich, a tuna sandwich, a hot dog, and a meat pie.

The Polynesian Cultural Center is set up as a series of small man-made islands representing different cultures.  These included Samoa, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Hawaii, Tahiti, Tonga, and Fiji, with a nod to Rapa Nui (Easter Island).  Each island contains reproductions of tribal buildings, along with cultural activities and demonstrations.  Each island is staffed by a group of performers who are from the culture that they represent.  What Quinn learned was "If you're Polynesian and you're a guy, you must not wear a shirt."

I did have two very cynical men-folk with me on the journey.  Much mention of 'tourist trap' and questioning of 'cultural-ness' was cast in my general direction.  I went in with my optimistic pants on and had a perfectly enjoyable time when I wasn't being negative-d at.  Mostly they handled the islands and the on-island shows well.  The Luau was a totally different bird.  I almost had a mutiny on my hands.  The food, at least, was tasty, and we had some friendly folks at our table that we chatted with for most of the event, while trying not to be overwhelmed by the cheeseball, cruise ship vibe of the MC.

In Samoa, I enjoyed learning about food preparation.  The men do it!  Unfortunately, this was the first place we hit and we sort of rushed ahead before getting a chance to understand how much time we would need to spend in a given place, and we didn't want to completely miss something.

Next up was Aotearoa.  This was probably my favorite 'island.'  I am fascinated by Maori culture.  We went into a small museum and saw some impressive art pieces and weaponry, which were explained well by one of the performers.  Having actually spoken to him made seeing him later in the shows feel neater and somehow more personal.  Quinn and I also partook in a game of tossing sticks designed to improve hand-eye coordination.  Good news, we're both fairly coordinated! At least with sticks.  The spinning poi balls were a disaster for me, which  is not surprising given how terrible I am with nunchucks.  Quinn, on the other hand, fared much better.

From here we moved on to Fiji.  I also enjoyed Fiji a great deal.  We attended the on-island show, our first of the day.  Everyone was handed a bamboo stick to pound the rhythm along with the songs.  We also learned about Polynesia in general, where it is in the Pacific, and how it relates to Micronesia and Melanesia.  Fiji is pretty much on the dividing line between those three subdivisions.  Here we learned to say "Bula Vinaka!" which is basically "hello" in Fijian.  A very informative show, and since we were sitting in the front row in front of a narrow performing area we got a very up-close look at the dancers, including three men performing an energetic dance full of leaps and spins and aggressive forward motions, which took the nearest dancer about eight inches away from Quinn. Impressive!  My little black belt was shocked at how aerobic the dancing was.

Afterwards, we moved on to Hawaii.  We saw taro growing and learned about the process of preparing it to become poi.  Poi has been much maligned whenever I've heard about it.  I tried a little bit of freshly-made poi.  It was purple and highly . . . neutral.  Perhaps a little bit sweet?  Otherwise, it was one of the most singularly non-flavorful foods I have experienced.  Quinn and I also tried out ukuleles.  Only four strings, which makes them easier than guitars, but I still have the same problem with ukuleles that guitars have always given me.  I have wimpy fingers.  They want to surrender after very little time.

Now it was time for the canoe pageant.  Groups of performers from each island went past on pole-pushed, flat-topped double canoes.  More dancing.  More singing.  Haka from Aotearoa!  I can't say how much I adore haka.  Mesmerizing hips from Tahiti.  Some very large men moving very fast and seriously rocking the boat from Tonga.  While the men dancing were great, I was distracted by watching the man pushing the pole.  He was twig-like, pushing a whole lot of weight, and doing it in a way that had him almost horizontal out across the water while spinning the boat around in very tight spaces.  He was hugely talented and, for me at least, managed to completely upstage his performers.

Once the pageant finished it was time for Tahiti.  We didn't spend much time here, mostly because the performers hadn't returned yet from the pageant, and there was drumming that sounded like it was coming from Tonga, so off we went.  We were there in time for the big Tonga show, but didn't watch it all.  Quinn was eager to track down a rumored coconut tree to try to climb it.

On the way back, we stopped again in Aotearoa to see the show there.  Still my favorite place.  I enjoyed the ritual welcoming into the performance space, and the show itself.  Lots of energy on this particular 'island.'

We never did find the coconut tree.  Apparently there had been too many injuries so the climbing of it wasn't happening any more.

On the educational front, we saw a huge double-hulled canoe and learned about theories of how the Polynesian islands were peopled.  Then it was time to catch a canoe ride back to the entrance for the luau.  Imagine my joy to discover that our boat-poler was none other than the impressive young man from the Tonga boat!  He was clever and amusing throughout the short journey.

The luau was mentioned above, and I think that's enough on that subject.  Afterwards was an evening show--a full production show with complex lighting, set changes, a story of a man from his birth to the birth of his own son, and FIRE DANCERS!  Husband and son tolerated the show.  Husband was most interested in the stagecraft.  Son was pretty much done with music and dancing and was ready to go home, which we did directly after.  Climbing back onto the tour bus was a relief at the end of the day, the beds back in the hotel even more so.

I enjoyed myself greatly and learned several snippets of things I am interested in exploring in future fiction.  In all, a rewarding day for me.  More tomorrow!

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