Sunday, November 4, 2012

Ohau: No Wow in Luau

Prior to our trip, my wife spent days and days researching various activities and making reservations to be sure that we didn’t miss a thing. The first scheduled activity on our itinerary was a luau. For those of you who may not know, a luau is a party. There are a few traditional components that differentiate a luau from any other party, such as Hawaiian food, Hawaiian music and hula dancers. Other than those basic parameters, the only other requirement is that you have fun.

However, Hawaii runs on a tourist economy. Because of this, the luau is now a commercial industry, serving busloads of imbecilic tourists, including me. My wife signed us up for one that was located about a 40 minute drive from our hotel. It’s 40 minutes if you are familiar with Honolulu. It’s an hour if you’re not.

I was gnashing my teeth in frustration by the time we arrived, convinced that we had missed something important. As it turned out, it would have been nearly impossible to miss anything important.

We pulled into a gigantic parking lot full of cars and buses, and walked to the ticket office. We picked up our tickets, and went through a turnstile. The turnstile led us through a series of switchbacks. Up to this point, it was exactly like going to a theme park in Orlando. The only difference was that our late arrival meant no lines.

Suddenly, the resemblance to a theme park ended. The switchbacks led us to a group of women whose only job was to ladle watery mai-tais from gigantic punchbowls into plastic cups. I didn’t know it at the time, but the mai-tais were intended to numb our senses.

From the mai-tai station, we were herded to a photo station. A woman and a man in traditional dress placed puka shell leis over our heads and then posed with us for a photo taken by a staff member. My wife explained that it was more expensive to get a flower lei. Moments later, we arrived at this booth. One side is labeled “Shell Lei” and the other side is labeled “Flower Lei.” We were handed a few drink tickets and then were admitted to the luau. The people wearing flower leis get extra drink tickets and a commemorative plastic mai-tai cup. Up to that moment I had felt like a second-class citizen with my cheap shell lei, but once I found out the benefits of the flower lei, I wore my shell lei proudly.


Once inside, we discovered throngs of people wandering around. There were craft tables set up for kids to learn how to make leis and baskets, gift shops and of course, the bar, with long lines of tourists desperately trying to get a buzz from the weak mai-tais.

I admit, it was a beautiful spot.



Eventually everyone was herded to an amphitheater where a combo was playing traditional Hawaiian music. The bandstand was so small, the bass player had to stand off the stage in the back. In my opinion, the soothing Hawaiian music was the best part of the entire evening. But of course it ended once everyone was seated and the real show started.


The show began with an athletic young man dressed in a loincloth describing the history of the islands. He introduced a few guys dressed as the king and his retinue, who paraded onto the stage. Then some dancers came out and performed some hula.


After the hula, the announcer told us that the kalua pig had been roasting all day in a pit in front of the stage. Two big men came out and lifted the pig out of the pit and paraded it past the gawking tourists. The announcer then did something that I thought was really strange. He had two girls come out with plates piled with the food that we would be eating that night. He then described every item on the plate. I suspect their insurance company wanted them to make sure nobody was allergic to pork or pasta salad.

But the weirdest thing about the food presentation was the presentation of poi. Poi is a pasty substance made by mashing cooked taro root. It used to be the staple of the Hawaiian diet, before rice, beans and potatoes were introduced to the islands. The announcer made a point to tell us that “not everyone likes poi.” To illustrate, they selected a woman from the audience and asked her to taste it. “Watch her face, everybody!” the announcer insisted. It seems that the Hawaiians are ashamed of poi.


Next, we were herded to the beach, where a group of pre-selected tourists had been dressed in grass skirts and were obligated to perform some kind of embarrassing chanting ritual for the amusement of everyone else. I felt nothing but sympathy and a kind of creeping anger that this was supposed to entertain me.


We then were led to our tables in front of a stage, where a dozen or so dancers performed a sequence of historical variations of hula, and then veered off into Tahitian and Samoan dances, including the obligatory fire dance.


The food was nothing special, and they sent a guy around with tiny cups of poi in case you wanted to try it. It was rather tasteless and an unappetizing purplish-brown color.

During the show, a horribly smarmy announcer kept demanding a response from the crowd: “A-looooo- HAAAA!” He would cup his hand to his ear to hear the returning alohas, and then demand, “I think you can do better than that!” They trotted out some additional acts, and asked the audience if anyone wanted to learn to hula. Dozens of borderline retarded tourists, convinced that they were drunk on the watered-down mai-tais rushed to the stage.


At that point, my wife tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “Do you want to leave?” I have never loved her more than I did at that moment. We burned rubber getting out of the parking lot. For what it’s worth, that was by far the low point of the trip. It gets much better.

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