Sometimes the Twain Do Meet.
When I stepped off the plane here for the first time—it was in May of 1962—Honolulu was a very small town. Not so much in terms of population, which was about 400,000 at the time, but everybody knew everybody else. Certainly that was true for the business community and, to a lesser extent, it still is.
Having come from New England, the weather was a big change, of course, and a lot of little things were very different, too. For instance, I was surprised to discover that all the barbers were women. And probably 95 percent of those women were of Asian ancestry, most of them Japanese, some Korean and a few Chinese.
I had never had my hair cut by a woman, but it took me no time at all to find a beautiful young Korean girl who did a great job. It was de rigeur back then for a haircut to conclude with a shoulder massage. They only lasted about 30-seconds, but they were very pleasurable and my pretty lady barber always made it seem as though it was a little extra just for me.
Until I retired a dozen years ago and moved from Honolulu to Maui, I was getting my haircuts at a little hole-in-the-wall barber shop just up the street from my office. The sole proprietor was an elderly Japanese lady who had been cutting hair for 50 years. She had come to Hawaii from Japan as a little girl and one day as she was snipping away, I asked her how her father had made his living here. He was, she said quite proudly, a master stone mason and in fact, was responsible for all the stone work on some of the beautiful old buildings in downtown Honolulu—the Alexander & Baldwin building (photo above), the Dillingham Transportation Building, and several others.
Those buildings were all designed by C. W. Dickey, a prominent architect from the Bay Area who gave them a unique style, including distinctive tile roofs and, of course, wonderful stonework. Here’s the interesting thing: my wife’s grandfather was C. W. Dickey’s friend and the on-site supervisor for all his jobs in Honolulu. Clearly, the stone mason from Japan and the haole (Caucasian) construction supervisor from California knew each other and worked together, probably for more than a decade.
This is why I enjoy chatting with strangers over meals in Amtrak dining cars. You just never know.