living in hawai’i is a unique experience and when we have out-of-town guests, we are reminded of just how special our life in these islands is. a couple of my girlfriends are visiting from the big desert (aka: arizona). when we have peeps who are hawai’i novices are rare visitors come in from out-of-town, we tend to accompany them on little adventures that we don’t take advantage of normally – simply because its all in our backyard.
this weekend we loaded everyone up in the car and headed to laie on the north shore of o’ahu to spend a beautiful (& HOT) afternoon at the polynesian cultural center (PCC). the PCC is owned and operated by the morman church and BYU-Hawai’i. its structured into recreated villages representing many of the polynesian cultures and countries including hawai’i, tonga, samoa, tahiti, fiji. it has been at least 15 years since i’ve visited the PCC and it was first-time experience for panda and shortstack, as well as for tasha & rose (our AZ friends). the PCC is impressive for many reason – but what i truly appreciate about it is that, although it is a tourist attraction (keep in mind, we do live in hawai’i and our main economic bread & butter is tourists – so keep on visiting us, please!), the PCC strives to preserve and share authentic customs, cultural practices, stories, art, heritage, dances, food, etc. of the home cultures that are represented. there are tourist trappings (drinks in pineapples, shiny mirrors on traditional headdresses, “tropical” serbert cups served over fruit cocktail – yeah, don’t ask! but they were delicious and refreshing) but the meat of the PCC is substantial. the majority of the staff and performers are BYU-Hawai’i students who are from the represented countries and cultures; many of whom have grown up in and carry on the cultural practices that are shared with PCC visitors. there is an air of authenticity that ties all of it together. besides that, the staff and performers are HILARIOUS! they are having fun sharing the beauty of their cultures with all of us (seriously – visit tonga’s short show – – besides amazing drumming, the fun is infectious! i was literally laughing so hard that tears were pouring down my cheeks!).
we spent the afternoon and were able to hit up a few of the village demonstrations: samoa’s coconut tree climbing had shortstack vowing to try out his tree-climbing skills on papa’s coconut trees during his next visit; aotearoa’s performance of traditional oli (chanting) and songs gave me chicken skin – i swear, these polynesian islands are the spiritual home of my soul!; the drumming performance from tonga was elemental … and FREAKING FUNNY! be prepared to jump up and in with the fun if you are called up a volunteer! we also enjoyed watching the parade of cultures on the canoes (but try to get seats early under shade if possible because the heat can be fierce!).
our visit package included dinner at the ali’i luau … ummmm … YUMMMMY!! now, if you haven’t had hawaiian food before, this may be a good place for you to try a bit of the traditional dishes. you can have tastes of poi, lomi-lomi salmon, pipi kaula, kalua pork and haupia all in one place while still having more common food choices such as teriyaki chicken, filled fish, rice, and green salad. i would say everyone should be able to find something to eat.
our day at the PCC ended with their evening show – Ha: Breath of Life. please, please, PLEASE see this show. it is a beautiful piece of theater. and don’t be surprised if you tear up a bit (some of us may have all-out cried). again, most of the performers are students or connected to BYU-Hawaii. their voices and dancing are truly mesmerizing. shortstack was completely absorbed by the show despite it being so far past his bedtime that panda and i were shocked he hadn’t passed out from pure exhaustion.
all in all, the day was a blast! it was fun for our little family to step out of our normal routine and visit a tourist attraction in our own backyard of o’ahu that we would not have otherwise explored. the PCC was a beautiful and enjoyable place for shortstack to learn a bit more about the culture of polynesia that we are surrounded by but don’t often explicitly recognize. the AZ girls seemed to enjoy all of it and we all could add another adventure to our belts.
a few visitor notes to keep in mind: it can be HOT and the sun can be fierce so be sure to wear sunscreen, bring a hat and any other protective sun gear that you may want. there are a lot of places thanks to the abundance of trees and foilage where you can have a respite from the sun, so be sure to take advantage of them every once in a while. the bathroom facilities are well-kept, but are often crowded after shows as that is when everyone is taking potty breaks. there are snack bar facilities throughout the center but, as with all tourist attractions, it can be pricey – you may want to consider bringing a bottle of water (be aware that it may be officially “discouraged” by the park, but our bags weren’t checked as we walked in so we know for future visits). don’t forget your camera! there will be plenty of photo opps and moments that you will want to record or take pix of. use the map that they give you – schedules of the shows and demonstrations are included. give yourself enough time to get between the villages and if you want to attend any of the shows/demos, get there a bit early as the seating fills up quickly. seats in the shade are at high premium but worth the few minutes of early arrival! give yourself and your party enough time at the center – there is A LOT of ground to cover. although we were able to sqeeze in several demonstrations, we didn’t have a chance to explore the exhibits or talk with the center attendants. they have crafts and games demos in addition to the the cultural demos and performances. be prepared to have fun! one of the aspects that i love about the life in and culture of hawai’i is that happiness, joy and fun is valued – and you can witness how that value is held and carried throughout other polynesian countries. your cheeks may likely hurt from laughing at the end of the day. but, so may your feet. be sure to wear comfy shoes and clothes. the PCC is a beautiful place to visit and will give you a small taste of the cultures that surround and inform life in these beautiful islands.