Waikiki sunset – You can forgive it a little bit Baywatch.

I’ve just returned from an 11-day research trip to the USA. This is the longest time I’ve ever been away from home since the eldest was born almost 4 years ago, and the first overseas jaunt I’ve had since the Siegen conference and our Florentine holiday in 2005 (shout-out to Mita Banerjee for that Siegen invite – one of the best intellectual confabs I’ve ever attended).

My first muu-muu factory

The USA fieldwork was for the ARC Discovery project that we scored (2008-2010) – “we” being Jacqueline Lo, Dean Chan and I. The project is ‘Being Asian in Australia and the United States‘, and it is the first formal examination of Asian Australian and Asian American cultural formations. Given the significant difference in histories and disciplinary formations between AAu and AAm material, it should come as no surprise that it’s a rich and deservedly growing field. My section for the project is focused on cultural community celebrations and commemorations, so finding myself in the fascinating Hawai’ian context was a fantastic way to kickstart the fieldwork. During my (all too short) time there, I met some great people from the University of Hawai’i and the Okinawan community, and had timed my visit to coincide with the annual Okinawan Festival that takes place in Kapiolani Park (adjacent to Waikiki). My warmest thanks to those who made my Honolulu stay so constructive and much fun: Pensri Ho, Shari Tamashiro, Christine Yano, + Jon Okamura. Your many forms of generosity were much appreciated!

It was also a happy coincidence that my AASRN buddy, Adam Aitken, was in Honolulu as the UH English Dept’s Distinguished Visiting Fellow. We managed to meet up a couple of times, both with good food involved. First time: Japanese BBQ at Gyu-Kaku (where I was pleasantly surprised at the deliciousness of the tako wasabi [raw octopus in wasabi sauce] – its appearance of greyish gooeyness in a small bowl was very unpromising). Second time: Shari T. booked us in at Sunrise, a local Okinawan restaurant where the owner is prone to whipping out his shamisen (his ‘pick’ is a well worn plastic spoon) and singing at the end of the evening. One of the things that I’ll always love about academia is that the most useful meetings are not across a table in a formal meeting room; they’re the ones had on the fly between conference sessions, over coffee, brainstorming in someone’s hotel room or at the airport, and with meals involved. Maybe it’s because these informal get-togethers are ones where you don’t bring a ‘game face’, and that’s when things get much more interesting.

At the Japanese Cultural Centre of Hawai’i – WW2 sentiments

I also had the privilege of dropping by the Kapiolani Community College Cactus Garden (those of you who know me are au fait with my succulent-lovin’ past…) with Shari T. Granted, it was about 10pm at night, so possibly not the best way to view it, but it was a damned impressive site all the same. Grand plans to return to the garden to take some proper pics were thwarted by my last day’s rushing around in Honolulu. Alas.

Next stop after Honolulu was Seattle, an almost 6-hour flight to the US mainland. It’s when you contemplate that distance that you realise how isolated HI is, and how many resources are poured into retaining the state’s psychic ‘proximity’ to the rest of the nation. Given its size and touristic appeal, Honolulu’s waste is also a big problem.

In Seattle, I was lucky enough to stay at the Sheraton downtown. It was a perfect hotel experience; I was particularly stoked about two things: recycle bins in guest rooms + the option to skip housekeeping for a day (which resulted in the hotel gifting you a $5 voucher to use in one of their cafes/restaurants). I loved Seattle. It was my first time in the city and I was rapt by its geographical layout, civic priorities and number of fab things to see.

I had nowhere near enough time to check out the place properly, and the things I saw were limited further to directly on-topic research sites (e.g. Wing Luke Museum and International District, Little Saigon and densho offices). I had a great meeting with the very savvy and lovely Tom Ikeda (of densho.org) on my first day, and one with the fab Rick Bonus at UWashington the day after. Chatting with Rick, we might have hatched some plans to see him Down Under later on this year (organisation and funding permittting).

Atrium art, Wing Luke Museum


University of Washington: Beautiful campus, great people

That said, I managed to do one thing in Seattle that had nothing to do with my project. On my last full day in the USA (a Saturday, I might add), I moseyed along to the Science Fiction Museum at the Seattle Centre. Being a part-time nerd, it was a fab experience to see literary and filmic timelines and/or ‘classics’ for so many things that I’ve enjoyed. The museum did a fairly good job of representing various eras and ‘fandoms’, as well as balancing between text and image. There’ll always be critics, but I think it works to engage diehard fans as well as less rabid punters.

I became somewhat obsessed with the building in which it was housed, designed by Frank O. Gehry. There are many pics of it on my camera. Way overrepresented!

But look how pretty it is!

Part of the EMS|SFM Building, Seattle Centre