You can’t help but take notice of the Polynesian Cultural Center as you drive the Kamehameha Highway north around Oahu. Though now an adult, it’s my “Childhood” that takes the driver seat as we make our way around the curvy road and see our first sign that it’s ahead:
This is one of those places for which I have an odd reverence that overwhelms unsuspectingly from my days of youth. In the late-70s, from the bright lights and busy beaches of Waikiki, my mom took us by tour bus, a caravan of mostly Americans seeking to learn about the “ancient ways.” Leaving mid-morning, it feels “forever” away from the hotel and the pool where I love to play.
A torrent of tiki gods and palms trees come at the big bus window. Inside, cool air, dim lights…eventually, a dark interior and flashes of lights on the stage, punctuated by hips throttling in place, and the sound of drums and whooping. All types of shiny food are involved, glazed, glazed – and wild garnishes of orchids and pineapples. Then, deeper drums and wild calls arise from bare-chested men with big brown nipples and women with giant multi-colored headresses, hips still shaking. This seems to go on endlessly. People from the bus slurping on bright red liquids and clapping like mad when the scene abruptly comes to a halt. All of us then, reeling out into the dark night, sounds of the Hawaiian jungle close to our ears. Nothing but night-chirps, wind through palms and an ocean folding over itself in the distance. The world was a million miles away. Asleep on the bus ride back to Sheraton Waikiki and jolted awake upon the hard brake of arrival. The whole thing gelled into a surreal dream.
Then, the Adult in me is back in the driver’s seat, snapped out of reverie by something that makes her chuckle. I wonder, if I were a child of today, if the experience would be infused with the same dreamlike qualities if I’d stumbled out into the night and glimpsed golden neon in the neighboring trees: