Sunday, April 12, 2009

Going Hawaiian in Portland

I had a super Hawaiian weekend here in Portland, starting with the Hapa concert at the Aladdin Theater. I got tickets for me and my friend Rod, who grew up on O'ahu. We planned a whole Hawaiian evening, starting with dinner at the Ohana Hawaiian Cafe.

Of the Hawaiian restaurants I've tried in Portland, that's my favorite. It's a small and simple cafe run by a friendly young couple. She does the cooking; he makes sure the customers are happy. Rod and I were very happy with our meal. He chose the teriyaki chicken and I had the teriyaki beef and both meals came with the requisite scoop of rice and macaroni salad. We had Hawaiian fruit juice with our meal and for dessert we both had haupia, coconut custard. Rod said the haupia at Ohana was the best he'd ever tasted. The fact that it was topped with whipped cream and toasted coconut didn't hurt.

The place was packed and I told the owner I assumed everybody there was filling up on Hawaiian food before going to the Hapa concert, but he said it's always packed on Friday night.

But because it was so busy, our plan of getting to the Aladdin shortly after doors opened so we could sit up front was foiled. We got there 10 minutes before the concert began. Like the restaurant, the theater was packed. It appeared that most of the audience were Hapa regulars and never miss seeing them when they pass through Portland. I had only seen them perform once before, when Rod and I saw them at the Oregon Zoo last summer. But the zoo crowd is so rowdy that we could hardly hear the music.

The Aladdin was the perfect setting and even though Rod and I were sitting toward the back, we felt swept up in the intimacy of the space and the mutual affection the three band members and the appreciative audience felt. I was most looking forward to seeing Charles Ka'upu, who chants and talks story throughout the performance. He wasn't able to make it to the show at the zoo last year, but I soon heard his voice when he began walking down the aisle to the stage, chanting a welcome oli. I actually met him a couple of years ago at a luncheon for Portland travel writers put on by Maui tourism. He came along and did a welcome chant for the journalists. I had no idea he was part of Hapa and had an international following.

The singing, chanting and the hula dances by Miss Aloha and guest dancers were all quite wonderful. A truly magical evening.

But the very next night I was at it again. I decided it was about time I attended Pacific University's annual lu'au and hula show. This was the 49th annual event put on at the Forest Grove university by its considerable population of Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students. Guess I shouldn't complain about the lu'au part, since it's for a good cause, but the school tray with kalua pig, teriyaki chicken, rice and chicken long rice in the little compartments wasn't particularly inviting, especially with a plastic fork to eat it with. But I was game and even ate my serving of poi.

The hula show, however, was fabulous. The costuming alone, as shown in the above photo, was a major production. There were separate costumes, all amazing, for the almost 20 numbers. And the costumes really ran the gamut, from more traditional ensembles to ultra-modern and flashy outfits. The dancers were accompanied by their own musicians, a very talented lot who played guitars and 'ukuleles and sang. The kid who played the 'ukulele was a virtuoso!

The event includes one dance performed by non-Hawaiians. There is a hula course offered at the university so non-Hawaiians can learn the basics, enough to have their own dance in the show. All the dancers were quite wonderful.

Now that I know what an outstanding event it is, I will be sure to mark my calendar and buy my ticket in plenty of time for next April's major event, the 50th annual Pacific University Lu'au. It promises to be a great show.

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