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Maui's One Degree of Separation

October 22, 2011 - Ray Tsuchiyama

Our relocation process is continuing, with some furniture purchases: our dining table finally arrives to join our two lonely dining chairs. Along our furniture store visits we experienced the quintessential Maui encounter of meeting a couple from my office at one Kahului furniture store (both of us looking for a couch), then meeting them again at the next store in Wailuku (although our respective searches were delayed, we chatted politely twice about all kinds of things). We looked around for them at the third store, and we were relieved that they weren’t following us. They probably felt the same.

Maui has a small population and often you can’t avoid meeting each other. The 160,000 Maui residents are distributed in several areas, like Lahaina/Kaanapali/Kapalua (the “West Side”), “Central Maui” (a collection of industrial, government and business offices, high schools, college, shopping and housing stretching from the coastal area northwest of Wailuku to Kahului and towards Paia), “Up-Country” (Makawao, Pukulani, Kula), and the transient-heavy Kihei/Wailea resort strip. There are also over 2,300 people in the distant eastern coastal town of Hana. My congested ancient Honolulu neighborhood of Kalihi-Palama (at the time of my graduation Farrington High School had over 3,300 students, so larger than the entire population of Hana) plus the 1960s model suburb of Pearl City equal nearly 75,000 residents, nearly half of all of Maui’s population.

There was a 1990s play entitled “Six Degrees of Separation”, and later a game with the premise that if you sent a letter to a friend with the objective of reaching a Hollywood star (Kevin Bacon), the journey would involve six people, and the last person would be Mr. Bacon’s pal or personal lawyer or perhaps even his baby-sitter – who would personally hand your letter to the startled actor. The central idea revolves around how “small” the world is, how “linked” you are to other people (although you may not know them – think how Social Networking platforms like Facebook and Linkedin work and flourish, with members adding “Friends of Friends”).

In contrast, Maui seems to be a society of just one-degree of separation – an exaggeration – but longer-term residents would probably agree. In a short time as a new resident you will see the same people at the same places, like the Kihei Safeway analyzing the shortribs or the Dunes golf course Café O’Lei restaurant, and you spend more time than usual chatting with these people about other Maui people – whom you will meet in a short time. As for myself, with some genetic/historic Maui links, I discovered once on the phone with a real estate appraiser that his father was a Maui High classmate of my father; I discovered that a college instructor was held when she was a baby by my cousin in Wailuku. In another case, my aunt taught Sunday school to an acquaintance at the Kahului Union Church.

This genetic networking all leads to instant trust by other Mauians, yet I had an uneasy feeling that my life is out there, to be scrutinized and discussed. I was afraid that in the future I would have one enemy or conflict that creates a “Peyton Place” (this Neolithic Age TV show mention dates me, I know) atmosphere. Also, I have heard about ex-spouses living simultaneously on Maui and this makes for a challenging social scene, but then people have to move on in any town or city and create their own happy new families and re-started lives.

In six months I will re-visit this topic, as now I am now touched by the Mauian level of friendliness unmatched by other Hawaiian islands, indeed the world, and easy smiles.


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