There was a time when I lived in a luxury apartment in Tokyo and I had a housekeeper four days a week. I hate to admit it but shopping was one of my hobbies. In my defense, I must point out that Tokyo is like a giant shopping mall and it’s impossible to walk down any street in the city without glittering shop windows enticing you in. Yet deep spirituality and serenity coexists alongside the blatant materialism and quest for money. All of these things are evident every moment of the day in the chaotic melange that is Tokyo life. I’m not complaining. I love Japan and for all its paradoxes, I embrace it all.
When I left Japan and brought my daughter to Hawaii, all of that changed. There were no more shopping excursions and I had to work very hard just to put food on the table. I sometimes complained about the work, but I didn’t miss the shopping trips.
Now we live in a little wooden house that was built over a hundred years ago by a Chinese immigrant. His name was Tam and he was the eldest son from a large family. He came to Hawaii by ship and carried with him a small, bitter olive tree in a ceramic pot. He tended it carefully on the journey so that he could plant it in his new home. He knew that he would be homesick and he wanted to have a familiar taste of China.
When he got to Hawaii he built a small house in the upcountry of Maui. He planted the olive tree in an auspicious corner of the yard where it flourished in the fertile soil. Then he planted a yellow, bamboo grove so that when the wind blew through the trees, it would sound like China. Next he planted what his neighbors told him he needed to sustain himself: banana, mango, lilikoi, guava, papaya and taro. He tended pigs and chickens.
He brought his family over from China, among them his younger brother, Eddie Tam who would grow up to become one of Maui’s most illustrious mayors and he added on to the house to accommodate his family.
We were lucky enough to move into the house just after it was remodeled but the outside looks much the same as it did in Tam’s day. The Chinese olive tree towers over the house and shades the street, pelting innocent cats and playing children with olives when the wind blows. The rain beats down on the corrugated tin roof and the wild descendants of Tam’s chickens run through the yard chasing my cat into her hiding place under the house.
Not a day goes by that we are not grateful for our little Hawaiian house.