Visiting Uncle Fish

Pagoda lantern

Delightful stone lantern at the Pagoda Hotel entrance.

Today’s urban ramble took us along a familiar route that started with a visit to Uncle Fish at the Pagoda Hotel.

The Pagoda Hotel is a landmark in the K Streets and a beloved spot among local folk. Everyone has a story about a graduation, wedding, party, birthday or special event at the Pagoda; it’s that kind of place.

Established 50 years ago by Mr. H. T. Hayashi, the Pagoda was a family run establishment until 2010. Part of the hotel has since been sold to a developer who will soon be converting a portion of the 392 room property into a condo.

The unprepossessing lobby at the pagoda Hotel.

The unprepossessing lobby at the Pagoda Hotel.

The Pagoda offers budget, almost motel-style accommodations along with a nightclub/banquet facility named “C’est Si Bon” where – trivia alert!  – famed illusionist David Copperfield got his start.

It is also home to the renowned “Floating Restaurant” consisting of a series of pavilions built in a giant salt water pond also fed by a natural artesian spring.

Pagoda Restaurant

The Floating Restaurant

The Floating Restaurant is home to an impressive collection of brocaded carp called nishiki koi and a few 50 to 80 pound Trevally (called Ulua in Hawaii) a fish highly prized for their fighting ability. The carp are long lived: some date to the opening of the hotel in 1964 and may live up to 100 years.

A rainbow of nishiki koi.

A rainbow of nishiki koi.

The koi ponds extend beyond the interior grounds of the hotel to border a section of Rycroft Street. Max loves to meander along the pond and eye the carp, either as attractive additions to the street scape or as potential appetizers.

Street side koi.

Street side koi.

Uncle Fish, whose real name is Carmencito Leano (“Cito”), is the head fish wrangler, the fish whisperer, at the Pagoda Hotel. He was recently featured in a great local news broadcast which included some great shots of the Pagoda Hotel. (Please click on the link because I am too stupid to figure out how to embed the short video.)

In Hawaii children are taught to call their parents’ friends and acquaintances “Uncle” and “Aunty.” It’s a pleasant custom that reflects island values of treating each other with respect and aloha. Max’s human friends are also called Uncle and Aunty. But I digress.

Max cadges a koi food treat from Uncle Fish.

Max cadges a koi food treat from Uncle Fish.

Max is very fond of Uncle Fish. That is partly because Uncle used to have a dog breeding business when he lived in the Philippines and knows how to handle pooches. But it’s also because Uncle always has a little bit of koi food to give Max. Just saying “let’s find Uncle Fish” will get Max’s tail to wagging and make his gait more bouncy as he searches for his buddy and benefactor.

Along the way to Uncle Fish’s place we passed by a number of the less famous landmarks that add depth and dimension to life in the K Streets.

Snail creme

With intense snails you get a full 70% of their original slime.

Max thinks the Korean beauty products store is always worth a sniff probably because it sells snail extract to give your face that special glow.

Apparently only intense snails are used. Lazy, unmotivated or laid back snails are eschewed. Eew, that sounded bad.

This place also sells a face product made from human placenta but this is far too classy a blog to go there.

The name of a nearby local dim sum restaurant – “Panda Cuisine” – makes me wonder if the food is meant to be fed to pandas or if the food is made from pandas.

Where can you go to eat some tasty Panda? I have an idea.

Where can you go to eat some tasty Panda? I have an idea.

Raging crab has goofy grin.

Raging crab has goofy grin.

No matter, we move on and find ourselves at Raging Crab featuring a crustacean logo  that looks anything but raging.

I guess the name “Stupidly Grinning Crab” was already taken.

One of my favorite signs makes the statement that standardized fonts trump clarity of expression.


Make what? Oh well, at least the font size is standardized.

Yes, I refer to the Toki salon featuring “Hair and Make”. The “Up” never made it. There’s actually another level of humor here because “make” in Hawaiian, (pronounced mah-kay) means to die. Perhaps Hair to Die For was the intent?

With such nice hair, no doubt you’ll want to up your fashion game and shop at Codi Club because that, my friends, is where the makeover story really begins. I know you were curious about that.

Who needs Louis Vuittion when you have the Codi Club.

Who needs Louis Vuitton when you have the Codi Club.

Where the makeover story ends is another tale, one which probably involves tragic displays of public intoxication and police involvement.

In view across from the fashion Mecca of Codi Club one can see construction of a new condo on top of the parking deck at Ala Moana Center.

Not very impressive just now but all of the condos have been pre-sold with the top units in this building going for $9 – $15 million a pop. To live above the parking garage for the Nordstrom department store. Go figure.

All yours for about $4,000 a square foot plus maintenance fees.

All yours for about $4,000 a square foot plus maintenance fees.

We turned the corner at First Hawaiian Bank whose well kept corporate lawn presents a veritable Serengeti of dog poo opportunities in this otherwise urban setting.

Dog magnet midst the concrete.

Dog magnet midst the concrete.

We then proceeded past Aunty Lee’s Banyan Barber Shop where Max’s incredibly cheap owner gets his hair cut and beard trimmed by a delightful Vietnamese grandmother whose work ethic and optimistic view of life are astonishing.

Seven days a week, never a holiday, 9AM to 7PM daily and she charges $10 for a senior haircut.

Once a year Lee visits her daughter and grandson in Indiana. She never misses the chance to look you in the eye and tell you how lucky you and she are to live in a place that offers so much opportunity.

Aunty Lee's barbershop is full of small altars and little statues of the Buddha. Aunty Lee is also Catholic. She's flexible.

Aunty Lee’s barbershop is full of small altars and little statues of the Buddha. Aunty Lee is also Catholic. She’s flexible.

Finally, after 40 minutes and a mile of sniffing every object in sight, we return home to a good paw washing followed by treats and a well-earned dog nap.

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