Somewhere, there is a picture of my late huzband Joel and I, with a broad chested, tattooed gentleman from the Pacific island nation of Tonga, that was taken at the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu. The travel agent who booked our tour to the islands sold us really hard on taking the VIP package at the cultural center, and it proved to be one of the highlights of our trip and worth every penny of the hundred or hundred and fifty bucks a piece we paid for it. Located about an hour’s drive from the main tourist area at Wakiki beach, the cultural center presents exhibits from seven different Pacific island cultures. All of the performers in each of the seven areas is a native of the area depicted, and all of the staff come from Pacific island nations.
As VIP’s we were assigned our own personal tour guide, a very sweet gay boy from Malaysia whose only job that day was to show us around the huge park. Without ever making us feel rushed, he repeatedly whisked us into a show or demonstration that was just about to start. We spent zero time waiting in lines, rather it seemed as though as soon as we took our seats each performance almost immediately began. We got to meet many of the performers (including that gentleman from Tonga whom we had our picture taken with). And everyone we met was just as kind and friendly as you could ever hope for the people you meet to be. At dusk, our guide escorted us to the dining hall and brought us not cocktails but papaya juice and urged us to help ourselves to the buffet. The food was rather like Pacific islands meet Mormon jello. Which was perhaps apt, since the center is run by the Mormon church and all of the young performers and staff are students at the adjacent campus of Brigham Young University. What really struck me is that while I am well aware that the Mormons do not and probably never will approve of my sexuality, they nonetheless hired a gay kid to work in the center and the person who assigned him to us apparently realized he would be a great fit for us. They may not approve of me, but they sure did treat me like a VIP.
I don’t know that I will ever get to visit Hawaii again, let alone manage to visit Tonga and the other islands that have been on my bucket list since that wonderful day at the Polynesian Cultural Center. But I will always carry with me my memories of that special place and those special people, who truly showed me the meaning of the Hawaiian word Aloha. If you ever get a chance to go to Hawaii, do make an effort to visit the PCC. It is truly one of the signature experiences of Hawaii. My sincerest thanks to Detlev Artelt whose suggestion of the words “beach, sunshine and cocktail” led me to this glorious trip down memory lane today.