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The Studs Terkel of Maui

November 20, 2011 - Ray Tsuchiyama

Barely three months on Maui, I listen to many Mauian voices. I jot down notes wherever I go, from the freezing yogurt section at the Kihei Safeway to dancing to a ‘80s band at the King Kamehameha Clubhouse to getting my hair cut in Kahului.

I reminded myself of Studs Terkel, an award-winning Chicago-based writer who wrote down the words of a wide range of the Windy City’s citizens. I shall never achieve his powerful collection of fascinating lives, yet I hope, like a social anthropologist, to give life to many voices that I encounter on Maui.

The thirty-something entrepreneur who cuts my hair is originally from the Pacific Northwest and has been on Maui for more than a decade. I asked him why he came to Maui, and he responded that he wanted to live on a less urbanized island, in case he failed miserably he thought (an innocent when he arrived on Maui) he could eke out an existence on Maui with a tent and papayas. However, after years of hard work he succeeded in business and has a nice small shop catering to a wide range of customers, including a finicky guy like myself.

An individual who holds hundreds of people captive in his hair salon chair must develop a set of philosophical thoughts, too – and this is what he said to me regarding what traits in a person shall raise the potential of long-lasting success living on Maui:

- You must be able to entertain yourself. That is, if you can’t develop hobbies or group activities (church choir, yoga, restoring Studebakers, Italian cooking, coral-reef photography) that take up your time, you will start traveling more and more to Honolulu, and one day you pack up and move.

- You must be able to deal with limited resources. I can relate to this, as I have tried to buy a stuffed chair and somehow the entire process in the 21st century fast-transportation age takes months to transport it to Maui. Or, the same model of something is at a couple of stores, but another model (invariably that I like better) is on perpetual “rain check” status. His point is that if you grow frustrated and emotional on this issue, you won’t last long on Maui.

- You must love Nature. Very true. I cherish my simple after-work evening sunset walks at Kamaole Sands Beach III. I feel so blessed and privileged to be able to watch sandpipers hopping on the sand, and swim in the clear, clean ocean and streams.

- You must have an acute sense of accountability. My barber explained: “Many times I have wanted to do an evil hand gesture against a driver on the highway, but I restrained myself, as the next day I could be standing next to the driver at the Minit Shop cash register”. Very insightful of the challenges of living with 150,000 other Mauians on a small island. This also explains why Mauians who harbor deep antagonisms (from years and years before) become very friendly once they meet at a party: they hide their emotions quite well, hugging and pecking each other on the cheek, evoking the apt Japanese word “shibai” or literally, a “performance”.

- You must have some luck. Self-explanatory. Luck often comes to those who make their own, by working hard, keeping commitments, and extending kindness to others without any expectation of a return favor.

After my haircut, when I sped onto the freeway back to Kihei, I was tempted to perform an “evil hand gesture” at a driver who crossed suddenly into my lane, but remembering my barber's words, I restrained myself, and increased my chances of succeeding on Maui.


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