Ke’eaumoku Street defines the western boundary of the “K Streets”, the neighborhood where Max lives. The word ke’eaumoku translates in Hawaiian as “Great Heavenly Island Climber” which seems to have no relation to anything in the area. Ah, but remember that streets in Hawaii, as elsewhere, are often named after famous people. So who was this guy Ke’eaumoku?
Wikipedia tells us that Kalani Kama Keʻeaumoku-nui was a Prince of the Big Island of Hawaii and high chief of the Kona district and part of Kohala district and grandfather of Kamehameha the Great, who conquered the Hawaiian Islands and formally established the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi in 1810. So, yeah, Ke’eaumoku was a heavy, a big deal, and the street bears a name of great distinction.
By the way, Ke’eaumoku was born to Keaweʻīkekahialiʻiokamoku and his half-sister, Princess Kalanikauleleiaiwi. These names don’t mean anything to me either, I just added them because I hope someday to get one of these names in a Scrabble tournament and earn 19,756 points without even counting the triple letter score. There are only 14 letters in the Hawaiian alphabet but man oh man they sure get used frequently. Hawaiian names wear out my spell checker. But I digress.
Ke’eaumoku Street gets a lot of traffic as it is a thoroughfare between the densest population centers on Oahu and the major shopping center – Ala Moana. Along Ke’eaumoku Street is a Walmart with Sam’s Club above, a McDonalds, a giant Hawaii Medical Service Association headquarters building (imho perhaps the ugliest structure ever conceived), a packed collection of small retail businesses and restaurants and a handful of seedy girlie-bars with exotic dancers whose shifts start at 2:00PM and run in some cases until 4:00AM.
What really defines the Ke’eaumoku Street area is its heavy concentration of Koreans. The old joke is that the street should be named Koreamoku.
Years ago the area had many Japanese residents and businesses but over time the neighborhood evolved as a Korean enclave. Back in the 60s through the 80s Ke’eaumoku Street was the place to go if you wanted to visit “Korean Bars” a uniquely Hawaii twist on the girlie bar meme or trope, I can never remember which is which. Buy-me-a-drink (weak tea) hostesses, strippers, politicians in the booths making nefarious deals, tobacco smoke thick as San Francisco fog banks, loud music and a lot of begging by drunk guys who were always just minutes away from finally convincing Miss Kim to spend the night. None of this is based on personal experience, mind you, I am simply a voracious reader. Yeah.
Over time the area has lost a lot of the bars and substituted Korean restaurants, Korean shave ice joints, Korean cosmetic stores featuring snail and placenta based face creams (no joke) and small Korean owned electronic stores and sundries shops. It is also a popular hangout for homeless people, several of whom have staked out territories and have become regulars who are recognized by Max as he wanders the district.
I try to avoid taking the Malt on walks along Ke’eaumoku Street because the sidewalks are filthy. Aside from the copious chewing gum stains and hillocks there are usually chicken bones, pieces of fast food and other waste that is irresistible to the Malt but devastating to doggie digestive systems. Lots of bicycles and skateboards on the sidewalks and too many cars all add up to a bad choice for walking a tiny dog. So of course it goes without saying that this is Max’s favorite stroll and the stubborn little guy will pull me in that direction every chance he gets.
Several times in years past there have been movements among the Korean business people to establish the Ke’eaumoku Street corridor as an official “Koreatown” and brand the neighborhood as a cultural district to better promote it to visitors to Hawaii. The movements have never gained traction presumably because there is no acknowledged leader in the business community. I know that the Neighborhood Board has had a standing invitation for any reputable organized group to present the Koreatown concept for discussion but so far, no takers.
I don’t know how to feel about the concept of manufacturing ethnic neighborhoods. When such evolve organically it makes for an interesting area but when created out of thin air…hmmm. In any case, it seems moot at the moment. A more likely development is the building of a large condominium on a 3.5 acre lot (actually collection of small lots) located across from my condo and owned by a Korean company named Cuzco Development USA Inc.
The area is zoned for a 400 foot tower, mixed use, and its construction seems inevitable at some point although the current land owner seems to have banked the property for now. When built the tower will change the feel of the area forever. For better or worse? Who knows?
Max doesn’t much care about these things. He just likes the activity on Ke’eaumoku Street, the smells, the dropped food bits, the Korean ladies who fawn over him, the homeless who recognize him and mumble unintelligible greetings, the noise and the action. Though I try to avoid that walk, Max insists on an occasional walk down this particular street and I indulge him. Then it’s back to our little condo, a good foot washing with antibacterial dog soap and a well-deserved nap on the coffee table before we explore yet another of Honolulu’s K Streets.
Categories: Max's Stories