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Love and the Maui County Fair

October 1, 2012 - Ray Tsuchiyama

This year’s Maui County Fair’s four-day run will draw approximately 95,000 people. My spouse C. and I were a couple walking in the crowds, bumping into huge stuffed animals or cartoon characters, like Pikachu of Pokémon fame. I particularly enjoyed the chow fun again. My spouse C. challenged me to have the will power to limit myself to two malasadas (it was difficult, but I did not surrender to my basic instincts).

When my grandparents, father, uncles, and aunts were on Maui in the 1930s, Maui Island’s population was about 40,000, so the Fair attracts today more than double the entire pre-World War population of the Valley Island back then.

Before the War, the Fair, held in the former Fairgrounds Kahului Puunene Avenue home, was a chance to meet people who lived in far-flung corners of Maui, like Hana or Lahaina or Makena. My family met friends arriving on the sugar train coming in from Haiku. Plantation trucks brought entire families from various camps in Central Maui.

Instead of large E.K. Fernandez mechanical rides, there was horse-racing (a large horse-tracking was a permanent fixture for decades), introduced by Samuel Alexander Baldwin. In the past, the Fair attendees could conduct hidden betting and drink beer – as opposed to today’s family-centric Fair, with a tobacco/alcohol-free setting). In later years, the Fair hosted a big high school football game. Even later came demolition derbies and motorcycle races (I missed that era). The last Fair at the “old” Kahului Fairgrounds took place in 1987, what seems to be a hundred years ago to many Maui transplants – barely 25 years ago, when Maui’s population was 65,000 or so. Afterwards, a nonprofit Maui County Fair group was formed and the fair was moved to the War Memorial Complex – and draws many families from Central Maui, from Waihee, Happy Valley, Wailuku, Kahului, along the coast to Haiku – and there is a lot of concentrated eating in the enormous open-air sit-down area.

In the Maui of the past, with a population a quarter of today, the Fair must have resonated with many more languages, including Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese, Okinawan, and Hawaiian. The range of food may have been more complex; from the perspective of today’s fast-food Maui many people may not recognize some offerings. Also, people were fanatics about sports that are now unknown on Maui, like sumo – a top sport in pre-War Maui, ranking next to baseball.

We were amazed by the sight of so many children and young people, teen-agers, others in their twenties. Some couples held babies or pushed strollers (one bumped into my ankle, and I still have a bruise). Spouse C. and I were struck how young some parents were, almost as young as our own child in college.

By the late 1930s, during my father’s time at Maui High School, the Fair transformed into the annual occasion on Maui for young people to meet and then take steps to fall in love, marry, and launch families. Then as now, young people are challenged to meet in a positive, bright environment. Today’s society is more inward-looking, with solitary enjoyment at home with electronic devices (supermarkets even rent out DVD movies for solitary viewers). Churches, temples, and other places of worship still offer venues to meet others, yet not everybody will take the time to join a congregation. Some even try to meet others in huge, air-conditioned halls – called Foodland, Safeway, Wal-Mart, Costco or Times – these 24-hour caverns are now Maui’s “town commons”. It is indeed a challenge to meet another for a lifetime of happy memories together.

If my father had not left Maui before the War, my mother may have been somebody he met at a Maui County Fair – perhaps he helped a girl arriving at the Kahului station with a big bag of rice on the train from Haiku. Instead, that never happened, but it could easily have, and that would have set off a chain of events that culminates at the 1987 (the year I was actually married) Maui County Fair – to a different individual, perhaps at the malasada booth.


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