1. The pace of life is much slower.
New York City was a wonderful experience, but I couldn’t stand the speed of the city. Cars, buses, sirens, crowds, flashing lights, and the post-work subway rush, all spinning around my head and pushing me down the avenues like a wind tunnel. I became a faster walker — I had to be if I wanted to make the train, then catch that bus, get to class, and not get trampled by the mass commuters.
The transition to “island time” is something I’m still getting used to, but it feels good. Sure, people are regularly late, and any errand will involve “talking story” (the Hawaiian term for chatting) to a couple friends and strangers. It all works out, though, as long as everyone is on the same page. That may be why reggae is so popular here. That slow, rocking beat is a perfect soundtrack for everyday life in Hawaii.
2. Shoes aren’t such a big deal.
When I lived in NYC, I only went barefoot once. It was a decision that haunts me to this day. At 2am down in Alphabet City, I took tiny, painful steps in the high heels I never should have worn. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I shed my shoes and braved the unimaginable germs.
Since moving to Hawaii, I’m barefoot about 75% of the day. I walk to the beach, around my house, and even into some stores without shoes. When I do wear shoes, they’re almost always flip-flops, what Islanders call “slippahs.” Bars, restaurants, and even some rainforest hikes are slipper-friendly.
3. Honking doesn’t happen.
I never understood why New Yorkers insist on honking in traffic jams. Honking won’t magically disperse the hundreds of cars inching home at 5pm. And yet, the honking never ceases. I saw it as a language, a cacophony of frustration, like birds in a jungle.
In Hawaii, honking is just not done. When someone honks, you know they’re either from the mainland, or rushing to the hospital. This doesn’t mean there’s no traffic in Hawaii. Honolulu ranks even higher in traffic congestion than New York City. But people don’t honk. The mentality seems to be that we’re all on this peaceful island, and there are better things to listen to than honking car horns. I’m grateful for the Aloha spirit on the crowded highways.
At four-way stops, however, this mindset can be frustrating, and dangerous, when it becomes a game of “You go brah,” “No, YOU go!”
4. Summer weather lasts all year.
Winter in New York is downright painful. The wind tunnels are so piercing that no amount of scarves or hats could keep my face safe. The snow is always grey and slushy, and the warm weather never seems to arrive.
But, oh Hawaii, how I love your year-long summer weather — sunny days, short bursts of rainfall, and the perfect temperature of 85 degrees. The “winter” is a short rainy period between December and April, when the temperature usually drops from 85 to 83. And even when the sun does shine too bright, the salty trade winds cool me down.
5. Buildings top out at about two stories.
I remember how terrible it was when an elevator broke in New York City. My more athletic friends would jump at the opportunity to work their thighs, while I just got sweaty and grumpy climbing 24 flights of stairs.
In Honolulu there are a couple of high-rises, but mostly this island is filled with one-story bungalows. I can’t remember the last time I used an elevator, or climbed numerous flights of stairs. I’m sure my thighs are less firm, but I don’t miss the stairs. Also, I love seeing a full sky that isn’t blocked by buildings.
6. Tropical fruit grows in my backyard.
The fact that I could always walk to the nearest corner and buy apples, oranges, and occasionally sour strawberries was definitely a convenience in New York City. The bad fruit was something I pretended not to question. There was always the option to buy imported mangoes and pineapples from Whole Foods, but they were pricey.
Now I have a bunch of bananas growing in my backyard, a lilikoi — “passion fruit” — vine fruiting, and a hedge of Surinam cherries. Anything I don’t have I can get from my friends who have a farm, or my neighbor who never picks her mangoes.
7. I live in a house, not an apartment.
If you live in New York and are in the 99%, you probably have an apartment the size of a walk-in closet with no elevator in a sketchy neighborhood. Hawaii is plenty expensive. However, I now share a room in a huge house with other housemates, and pay the same amount of rent I did to share a tiny one-room apartment in NYC. Living in a house with a yard and an actual kitchen makes me feel like a real adult.
8. I can afford beach fashion.
Living in Manhattan took a toll on my wallet (and pride) when it came to fashion. I also went to theater school, where every day was a contest to see who could better accessorize their leggings and leotard.
In Hawaii, I can spend the whole day in my bathing suit and sarong and be acceptably dressed for the beach, Whole Foods, Macy’s, a friend’s house, and even Downbeat Lounge. Boys hardly change out of their boardshorts, because you never know when you might jump in the ocean.
9. There are hippies everywhere.
Being of the hippie persuasion in New York City (especially above 55th Street) was a lonely affair. My Birkenstocks always looked shabby next to all the designer shoes. Don’t get me wrong, New York is so diverse that there’s a sample of every kind of person; the vegan musician sits right next to the Wall Street tycoon on the subway. However, I still felt like a minority, and everyone’s token hippie friend.
When I moved to Hawaii, it was like I finally found “ma people.” Everyone I meet is either a yoga teacher, a massage therapist, or a farmer. Parties always involve hula hooping, drum circles, spinning poi (occasionally on fire), and acro-yoga. Potluck dinners are filled with organic, vegetarian, delicious dishes, and I always have friends to garden with.
10. I have awesome experiences — for free.
In New York there were plenty of things to do, but most of them cost money, and were either indoors or required good weather. On sunny days, I’d normally go to Central Park and relax with a book, or walk though my favorite boroughs in search of the perfect cafe. The museums are amazing but, honestly, I said I went to them more than I did.
One day off in Hawaii can be more adventurous than a week off in New York. Surfing, sailing, hiking, snorkeling, swimming with turtles, climbing banyan trees, and jumping off cliffs into the ocean are all within an hour drive. All those activities are also free. I wouldn’t exchange seeing whales breach, or picking wild guavas during jungle hikes, for all the restaurants and art galleries in Manhattan.
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