Aloha, International Marketplace

Aloha. The International Marketplace, a Waikiki mainstay for more than fifty years, is being torn down and replaced by another mall. This has a lot of nostalgic people upset, but I suppose I see it more as one mall replacing another mall. While some describe the marketplace as some kind of Polynesian cultural, kitschy greenbelt of great shopping, I thought of it more as a mecca of store after cart after store, all selling the same cheap crap that you’d never buy in your local town, but do buy while on vacation.

My first trip to Honolulu in 2011 was not for vacation; it was for work. I’d have never chosen to go there on my own, having heard so many stories about the traffic, the crime, the homelessness, the racism, etc. I also wasn’t thrilled about the six hour flight every week either. And, my first few days in Waikiki were filled with a little disgust and disorientation for which I will chose to blame the Garmin for not taking the coning laws into consideration. Once oriented, however, I became drawn to the city, purchasing a residential condo just 560 days from the day I first landed at HNL.

I remember the first time I stumbled into the International Marketplace’s maze of street food, trinket carts, and even a few bars and restaurants. It was a bit surreal for me; I was surrounded by everything I hated – imported crap, tight spaces, and crowds of tourists. But somehow, something about it worked for me. I didn’t exactly frequent the place, but I enjoyed passing its entrances on both Kuhio and Kalakaua sides. I was fascinated by the number of people who, despite having day jobs, dressed themselves in silver paint each night for a few hours to collect a few hundred dollars from tourists wanting to pose with them. I enjoyed watching the hookers and pimps play out their roles on Kuhio, a subculture of crime that respected the culture of tourism. And I was amazed how this little area, which offered nearly nothing of interest to me, seemed to be solely responsible for the life and activity in Waikiki. The farther you were from the International Marketplace, the quieter it was.

The marketplace always struck me as an interesting setting for a book. It had all the right elements: transient visitors and vendors, big banyan trees offering places to hide, seedy-looking bars right alongside family restaurants, artificial waterfalls, and Tiki imagery throughout. Not sure if it would work as the only setting in any book intended for adults, but it might be quite interesting as a children’s book or young-adult fiction. It had a certain charm that was hard to describe – most likely that it wasn’t the sterile environment of a modern mall. It was dirty. It occasionally stunk. And it was worn down, perhaps decades past the useful lives of the termite-ridden buildings.

I’m excited to see what the new buildings look like, holding out hope that the developer will do something iconic and not just a repeat of the Royal Hawaiian Mall. Estimates on completion range from 2015 to 2018, depending on who you believe. Some of the vendors, particularly those with alternate locations, are expected to return to the new site when completed. I guess we’ll see.


The Temperate Mandrake

National Novel Writing Month has concluded and so have I. Where as the first book seemed to pour out of me, this second book took everything I had to finish. Despite having 34 characters (4 primary, 8 secondary, the rest tertiary), I really struggled to make a compelling plot this year. But I have a number of options and areas worth pursuing that were unknown 30 days ago. So again I salute the NaNoWriMo process.

The story is about a young chemical botanist named Elizabeth Hamilton who happens upon a legendary plant, the Temperate Mandrake, while part of an Alaskan eco-cruise. The plant’s nectar, when consumed, is alleged to provide ever lasting life. The plant becomes an obsession for Elizabeth, seeking to understand every aspect of the plant and finding frustration with its atypical life cycle.

Laura Stempson, another passenger on the cruise, also take an interest in the flower, but sees it as a gift to all people and seeks to have the flower taken from Elizabeth so that it might be distributed in such a way to extend the lives of those who would most benefit society, instead of just those who can afford it.

The primary storyline, I suppose, becomes a sort of Lord of the Rings, though not as clearly defining the lines between good and evil. I’ve tried to put the Mandrake at the center of several different debates (religious versus atheist, individual versus collective, seven deadly sins, and corruption versus system), while maintaining a story that stays true to the characters.

For now, have four to six weeks to let the story bake in my head. No doubt, it will be refined to something completely different that what’s currently on the (electronic) paper. My goals for the rewrite are as follows:

  1. Augment the story with more details. Currently, the story is very heavy on dialog.
  2. Develop a secondary storyline that better crosses paths with the primary – illustrate the curve balls life throws
  3. Round out the characters in a Meyers-Briggs matrix and ensure consistent behavior and character development throughout the book
  4. Find a more compelling way to end the story



Gila Project Full Trailer

November is National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. While not written in November, my first book was written in under 30 days and I am up for the challenge again this year. As of the tenth day of the month, I’m averaging 24.5 words per day above the threshold to meet 50,000 words in a month. I must say that the second book has been a lot more challenging that the first. My story was fully baked before I started writing Gila Project, even if it did develop/change in the process or writing and editing it.

This book, which I am calling November2013, is about an Alaskan eco cruise where a significant discovery leads to a bitter end for the cruise-goers. Because it wouldn’t be a book by me if it had a happy ending.

For the rest of the month, you can expect that my posts to the blog will be far and few between. However, I did want to share my full book trailer for the Gila Project. It’s been posted on for some time, and roughly follows the theme of the other teaser trailers. Enjoy!



Kiss Teaser

Last week, I introduced you to my Scotch video teaser for my book, The Gila Project. This week, I am sharing my Kiss teaser video. I again asked Willow and the Embers to provide the background music for the twenty second teaser video, showcasing the song titled “Skinny Girl,” a song that takes the listener into the insecure mind of an uncertain lover. Well, that’s what I hear when I listen to it, anyway.

I simply love this song. It is probably my favorite on any of her albums. I wonder if I would feel the same had I not known her since high school. I like the song because it invokes a feeling with lyrics and music in the same way a David Lynch film drops the viewer into his unimaginable and perverted underworld. I have pity for this girl in the song who documents everything she does to win the approval of her lover, only to realize that she’s just a skinny girl and he prefers a pretty girl.

As I was writing The Gila Project, this song played over the house music rotation one day. I had a number of ideas for scenes in the book where sex between the primary characters would play a pivotal plot role, but I was still uncertain about how the details would play out and whether it would be a positive or negative moment. Though I’d heard the song plenty of times, it registered differently with me when I heard in on this July day. It ultimately told me what I needed to do to make my story seem real and maybe even refocus the reader into alternate ways of seeing life.  


Scotch Teaser Trailer

When I wrote the Gila Project, I wanted to tell a story that didn’t have a large number of locations. I wanted to be able to focus on the details of just a few locations with the intention of giving the reader the feeling of being there. All too often, when I am reading, particularly action thrillers, I have a hard time keeping track of all the various locations the hero travels to and many of them aren’t particularly memorable as a result. The bar in my book is based on the bar in this video.

I would also like to thank my friend since ninth grade, Willow Scrivner, for allowing me to use snippets of her music in the video. Her album, Sweet Dark Demon, was part of the soundtrack I listened to as I wrote the book. I chose it as background music because I like the way she captures a moment or an ordinary item, like Scotch, and makes it personal, giving the listener an experience. You can buy her album at

Maui Pickford

I’ve owned the recipe for the Mary Pickford for years; it can be found in most of the classic cocktail recipe books you might come across. Despite that, it wasn’t until the Tucson bar, Wilko, featured it on their menu that I discovered it. The drink is made with Rum, a medium Jamaican will do, but dark Barbados seems to do better. Add to that a half ounce of maraschino liqueur, half ounce of pineapple juice, and a dash of grenadine and you have a beauty that can be drunk straight up or on the rocks.

Maui Gold pineapple is on sale this week for 0.69/lb in Honolulu. I picked one up; it’s tough not to at those prices. Today the pineapple was at maximum ripeness, so we cut it open and enjoyed as much acidity as our stomachs could handle, but half the fruit remained. I’ve often joked about the eight drinks of the 808 area code – the same recipes you’ll find on every restaurant’s menu. Nearly all of them are rum based, which is understandable. But none of them accent the base flavor of the rum. Arguably, that is to ensure that whatever rum is on sale could be easily swapped in.

But here is a drink that offers a true sense of terroir – rum and pineapple – that has been grossly overlooked by the Honolulu bartending establishment. The Mary Pickford is every bit as refreshing as a Blue Hawaiian or Pina Colada, buts the additional dimension of introducing all those tourists covered with oil to the world of craft cocktails. Who in the Honolulu establishment is willing to go first? Here’s a hint; you’ll need a little Maraschino liqueur.

Mary Pickford

2 oz Rum (Barabdos or Jamaican)
1/2 oz Maraschino Liqueur
1/2 oz fresh Maui Gold pineapple juice
1 dash of grenadine

Mix ingredients with ice and strain into cocktail glass. On hot days, pour over ice and serve on the rocks. Garnish with a Maraschino cherry.


The Luxuarious Life of Dining on Expense Account

As someone who has written about life on the road, especially someone who spends an entire book slowly exploring the details of a single restaurant and bar frequented by a traveling consultant, I enjoyed the dose of reality offered by the NY Times piece today. In my current role, I don’t travel as much as I used to, and when I do, the trips are generally shorter. But I do get to approve a lot of expense reports as the manager for a number of different projects in my territory. And I can say that the way real business travelers eat is disappointing, in a word.

I’ve found, since I started taking the shorter trips, that my own habits have even gravitated away from the sit down dinners at medium to posh restaurants toward the hotel’s bar and grill. Part of this is the convenience of proximity, having just traveled in for the evening and not really seeking adventure, and part of it is suburbia. For whatever reasons, my projects of late haven’t exactly found me in any of the bustling metropolises where a lot of options exist.

As a consultant, however, I completely rejected the idea of eating in a hotel and always chose hotels for their proximity to good food and drink. But that kind of travel is certainly different. As a consultant, you leave Monday morning and your rushed meal is Lunch, sometimes eaten while still in transit. But three to four nights in the same hotel, week after week, drives a different kind of behavior, at least for me. On my first trip to Paris, I had the option to eat lunch with some colleagues. I was impressed with the fact that the cafeteria had silver and china and even wait staff. The French have a very serious relationship with their food. For American’s, it seems food is merely a dollars per calorie ratio which drives attitudes of super sizes and value menus. It’s not an experience; it’s not an opportunity to unwind. It’s unfortunate that too many people fail to see this; mealtimes can be the most productive hours of the day, having left behind the culture of the office, our minds are free to think differently.


What Would Murray Drink?

A few months back, I was waiting outside the door of the Zig Zag Café on a chilly spring afternoon in Seattle when I glanced away from the sign on the door reminding me I was early, distracted slightly by a familiar posture whose face I hadn’t taken the time to process. When I saw who it was, I did my best to give him his privacy, but still couldn’t help but ask about his health, having been aware of a local drive to assist him with some medical bills. He assured me his was fine and happily retired. I felt pretty good knowing that, of all the bars in Seattle that Murray Stenson can choose from, he went where I chose. And while I certainly haven’t been to every bar in Seattle - including Canon, a priority as far as such priorities are – I find myself returning to the ambiance, selection, and general friendliness of what was, for a year, the number one bar in America. I like it better now that the tourists have stopped coming.

I followed Murray inside and paid strict attention to what he ordered, even while scouring the details of the often complex Zig Zag menu. A highball? Seriously? Campari and soda? This is what the greatest bartender in America drinks? Fair enough. Campari has a complex flavor profile, but as a highball makes for a rather simple drink. Prior to this experience, I’d always assumed that highballs evolved from a lack of direction following prohibition and the war. Those who drank, drank like Mad Men, straight. Perhaps the mixture of cola, ginger ale, tonic and soda were ways of softening the drink, while still allowing the base spirit’s flavor to shine through.

Using cola as a mixer may have been a tipping point into a much darker world, one where Fresca and orange vodka provide a sweetened reminder of childhood with the full benefits of adult beverages. But throwing cola aside and considering that a man with one of the most complex palates keeps it simple, perhaps there should be more exploration into the world of premium highballs. I was prompted to even consider such a notion when I cracked open a can of Vanilla Coke Zero. After a few sips, I wondered whether Jamaican rum would bring the same joy to an artificially flavored vanilla & caramel soda, as it did to the classic recipe. It didn’t. Something just tasted funny. Not one to waste, however, I was determined to balance the drink out, ultimately determining that a few drops of chocolate bitters was just the trick.

The chocolate actually attacks the vanilla a little, enhancing both, but allowing the Jamaican rum to shine through, exactly how it’s supposed to. I think that premium highballs would make for an interesting experiment among finer establishments, especially given the myriad of sodas available today. Pimm’s Cup, ginger liqueur, gin and Dry Cucumber Soda (and just a dab of rhubarb bitters), for example, make for another wonderful variation on a traditional favorite. Both of these, of course, are more summer time drinks, but I see no reason why the flavor options couldn’t be shifted to more fall and winter-friendly profiles. After all, a Campari and soda is about as winter as you can get, save maybe for something with a little allspice dram in it.

Talking Shouldn’t Have To Be Rude

For most of my life, I’ve made impressions on others (mostly negative) with my genuine curiosity about other people who may be facing challenges that I haven’t experienced (diseases, accidents, addictions, etc.). They often looked on in horror as I asked a subject about his specific experience and what it was like. I continued to do it because the subject always responded positively and would occasionally even thank me for asking about them. Despite these anecdotal experiences, the rules of our society seem to still consider it rude to ask someone how they lost their leg or what it was like being an alcoholic.

As it turns out, I may have been doing the right thing, despite me being labeled as rude. People recovering from such events are often surrounded by others who don’t like to dredge up such topics. They seek out support groups primarily because the people at those groups understand what they’re going through. As an impartial third party with a genuine interest in their predicament, it’s very likely that my conversation with them allows them to relive an experience in a safer environment, acting as a sort of therapy.

I suppose, however, it’s always a question of when it might be appropriate to broach the subject. Most of my such conversations were not the first ones I had with those people. But they did occur relatively early on in our relationship. It turns out that what I was doing was expressing empathy, and perhaps it carried more weight for breaking social norms. But I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t interested in talking about their own life’s challenges, at least a little.


Who Do We Think We Are?

“Adventurers have stumbled across a cave so enormous that it has its own weather system, complete with wispy clouds and lingering fog inside vast caverns.”

Go look at these pictures! First of all, they are amazingly beautiful. If you’re hoping for any kind of article, you might be disappointed. Finally, the text talks about how the cave contains a cloud, but the pictures look more like fog, which I suppose is similar. But forget all that for a moment.

How did we miss this? This looks like a pretty large cave and, though it’s believed miners have partially explored it in the past, this vast expanse of space and seclusion was largely unknown until just recently? Seriously, how did we miss this?

Some of you may know where I am going with this. That’s right, the whole global warming theory (or global cooling theory, depending on what’s happening in a particular year). Anecdotally speaking, I simply can’t see how anyone with any sort of intellect can swallow the notion that we know anything about climate when we’re still discovering large chunks of terrestrial wonders. We missed this big huge cave, but we’re certain that the rise of oceans will wipe out 50,000,000 people? (By the way, that UN prediction was supposed to have already happened.)  How much do we really know about our own planet?

But I digress. Last week, I wrote about the experience of writing about a place to which you’ve never been, relying solely on the pictures and descriptions you can find on the internet. While I have no particular use for this cave in any of my upcoming story ideas, I almost wish that I did. I particularly like this serene shot of a tranquil pool of crystal clear water in the middle of a giant rock formation.

Crystal clear pools and slow moving streams make it easier to explore Quankou Dongs