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Facetime Instead of Facebook: 36 Hours in Honolulu

The Sunday New York Times had a feature in its Travel Section today on how to spend 36 hours in Honolulu.  It singled out some of my favorite places like Kapiolani Park, Chinatown and the drive from Hanauma Bay to Waimanalo with stops at Sandy Beach and Makapuu.  With no disrespect to the author, Jocelyn Fujii, I would like to suggest my own itinerary based on recent travels and a reunion with Na Kani Pela, a choir I sang with in high school that represented Hawaii for the Bicentennial celebration.  I guarantee you will have a magical time.

Na Kani Pela choir gathers for 35th Reunion in Honolulu.

First, start by bringing in the people who made your high school years memorable.  Collect them all on Facebook then invite them and their families for a big reunion bash.  Bug them until they say yes, as showing up for a reunion 35 years later gives people considerable angst.  Get people warmed up with a small gathering at the Ground Floor on Richards Street in downtown Honolulu and listen to some Hawaiian music.  Hold a pot luck at the home of your calabash mama who looks just like she did 35 years ago.  Watch the spark of recognition in her eyes with each arrival and the tears of joy as she gives you a huge ohana hug.  Realize you are older now then she was back in 1976.  Shudder!  Celebrate as each of your high school friends walks through the door.  Sing the songs that were the soundtrack of your youth.  Take photos.  Hug alot.  Talk story.  Bring tons of food and pig out.

Stay in room 1431 of the Waikiki Beach Marriott with a view of Honolulu that will make you never want to leave.  Spend time with your sisters for the first time in three decades on your island home.  Bring your sons along as dates.  Let them roam around Waikiki like you did when you were teenagers.  Get up early every day and walk around Diamond Head.  Discover the Farmers Market at Kapiolani Community College.  Have inari sushi, fried green tomatoes and shave ice for breakfast.  Talk to a homeless man named George on Kalakaua Avenue who reminds you that “just because you don’t have a roof over your head, doesn’t mean you don’t have a home.”  Visit your favorite beaches on Oahu.  Eat plate lunch at Zippy’s, L & L, Kaneke’s and Ted’s Bakery.  Have breakfast at Wailana.  Char siu omelet.  Ono!

Na Kani Pela picnic in Waimanalo

Have a picnic on the beach at Sherwood’s in Waimanalo.  Make Kukui Nut leis with your buddies and talk more story.  Watch your children play in the surf and get stung by Portuguese Man of Wars just like you did when you were a kid.  Be baffled as they stay in the water even though the pain makes them want to jump out of their shorts.  Realize that if your son was growing up in Hawaii today it would be a perfect fit just like it was for you so many years ago.  Have a banquet at the Elk’s Club and watch 4th of July fireworks in the distance.  Ooh and aah!  See all your friends in their muumuus and aloha shirts.  Realize you are all older and a few pounds heavier but you can still sing and raise the roof like you did when you were teenagers.  Watch two generations of hula dancers and tell your friends just how much they meant in your life.  Hug some more, this time holding on tighter, as you say goodbye for now.

Sunset on Waikiki Beach

There is no place like Hawaii, and to me, there is no place like Honolulu, where I grew up and still continue to call home.  The only problem is that you eventually have to leave.  36 hours go by quickly.  This time when I flew back to the mainland over the lights of Waikiki I took so much more with me.  I carried my friends from Na Kani Pela, I took a tropical sea of memories and the music that played in the background of my youth.  I came back to Colorado with a full heart and a sense of how lucky I was to be a kid who grew up in a place like that, with friends like that, surrounded by love like that.  That’s how you spend 36 hours in Honolulu.  Now we’ll have to stay in touch on Facebook.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.

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Prostitution in Perspective

When I was a senior at St. Andrew’s Priory in Honolulu I was selected by my high school government class to spend a week at the Hawaii state capitol observing the legislature. My assignment was to select one bill under consideration, research it and follow it through the session. I chose the effort to legalize prostitution. At the time, Hawaii had a very active sex industry. My school was close to Hotel Street where the ladies of the night did business.  The bill eventually died (I don’t recall whether it was in committee or if it actually got to the floor) and prostitution continues to be illegal in the 50th state, as it is in all states except Nevada.

Prostitution, Mustang Ranch, Nevada, Reno

Prostitute at the Mustang Ranch outside Reno, Nevada

Recently I revisited the subject of prostitution for a story I’m working on for HDNet World Report.  What got the report off the ground was Senator Harry Reid’s speech before Nevada’s legislature on February 22 in which he called for “an adult conversation” about ending legalized prostitution throughout the state.  Prostitution is already against the law in counties with more than 400,000 people, which includes Clark County (home of Las Vegas) and Washoe County (home of Reno.)  Senator Reid said that Nevada would be more business friendly if the state finally eliminated legalized brothel prostitution from the rural counties as well.  “Nevada needs to be known for innovation and investment,” Senator Reid said, “not as the last place where protitution is still legal.”  As you can imagine, his comments have stirred up quite a pot.

The point of this blog is not to rehash the morality of the world’s oldest profession, nor is it to discuss the economic impact of brothels in the rural areas of the state, or make the case that legalized prostitution seems safer and smarter than its illegal cousin.  The point of this blog is that this journey opened my eyes to the humanity of women who do this kind of work.  Before I criss crossed Nevada visiting brothels I had a predictable response to prostitutes.  They were messed up and misguided.  Who could possibly do this kind of work?  Why would anyone sell their body to a stranger unless they needed the money to finance a drug addiction?  They must have a crushing amount of baggage that would lead them to this lifestyle.  And, of course, many do.  But the ladies we met in the rural and suburban brothels that dot the landscape were attractive, smart, friendly, savvy, confident and defied stereotypes.  Most were not fallen women without other options.  Many were educated and had goals in mind.  They were wives and mothers.  This was a means to a different end.  And at least in the brothels, pursuing their careers as independent contractors, they were confident and satisfied.   Now I’m certain the lives of women who do this illegally, on the streets, is much more dangerous and seedy. But in the safety of the legal brothels we found women who do this with class and dignity.

Asya, Donna's Ranch, Wells, Nevada, Paul Beban, HDNet World Report

Asya with HDNet World Report Correspondent Paul Beban at Donna's Ranch in Wells, Nevada

We met Asya at a small rural brothel called Donna’s Ranch in Wells, Nevada.  She had been working illegally on the street for years with a pimp who eventually dumped her.  Asya cried when she told us how painful that experience was.  But she chose to better herself.  She was sweet and chatty and enjoyed flirting with the truckers over the CB radio.  She smiled and batted her enormous false eyelashes and said she loved her life.  Asya was going to do this for two more years then wanted to start her own jazz bistro in her hometown of Houston.  She said it would be “groovy.”  Her friend, Simone, was a pretty blonde who had finally escaped the streets.  She said she had so many arrests that she would be in prison if she was busted once more.  She was happy here with a big huge laugh and strong opinions.  She loved to help in the kitchen and fancied herself a good cook.  She was saving to buy a house and was proud to be paying her taxes and contributing to social security.  “I do my part,” she said.

Demi, Emily, Mustang Ranch, Nevada, Reno

Demi and Emily at the Mustang Ranch outside Reno, Nevada


At the Mustang Ranch outside of Reno we met Demi.  “This is not my first passion, believe it or not,” she told us.  Demi became a prostitute to get through college and now owns a fashion boutique with her mother in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Her goal is to open one in Los Angeles.  “This is a means to an end for me to create my own life.”  Emily, stood out in a crowd.  She had cascades of platinum blonde hair and a girly dress and once made $84,000 in a month.  She was living with her grandmother and son in a car before she came here.  “I have options.  I just choose to do this as my option.”  She loves her job and her enthusiasm was palpable.  Both wanted me to know how empowered they felt and how proud they were to be Mustang girls.

Finally, at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch in Dayton, Nevada near Carson City, we met Paige and Brooke.  Paige is a 19 year old, new to the business.  She is studying nursing but hopes to become a physicians assistant instead.  She had the body of an athlete and said she participated in all sports in school.  She spent her free time trying to perfect pole dancing in the parlor and was very good at it and completely comfortable with the television camera.  And then there was Brooke.  She is a household name for her role in HBO’s series “Cathouse” and was featured in Hustler.  She was beautiful, smart and articulate.  We figured she has a career as a politician or lobbyist should she ever change course.  She came here of her own accord.  Wasn’t cutting it financially in Illinois working with adults with developmental disabilities and figured she would try something new.  “I’m using my best asset that I have been given which is myself,” she proclaimed.  Was this her long term career? “No.  I think I’m more of a free spirit than that.  When this is not enjoyable, when it’s not fulfilling, when the wind changes I’ll change with it.  Right now this works for me.  I’m having a good time, I’m making a good living, setting up a good future for myself, able to have the choice to do whatever I want.  And how lucky am I turning 30 to be able to say that.  Really.”

Paige, Brooke, Moonlite Bunny Ranch, Dayton, Nevada

Paige (L) and Brooke (R) at Moonlite Bunny Ranch in Dayton, Nevada

This was one of the most interesting immersions of my career and I came away from it with the realization that many of these women, at least in the legal brothels, are comfortable in their skin and see this as a career like any other.  They are not ashamed and seem to have a good time and they are able to look at the men who come through their doors with compassion.  Many prostitutes, believe it or not, go on to become nurses.  It was an eye opening week for me.  Each of these women made it clear to me they were doing this of their own volition.  They were in charge of their lives.  They were calling their own shots.  You can meet these young women on HDNet World Report on April 12.  See if they don’t make a big impression on you too.

For more on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.


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Rocky Mountain News Retrospective

Two years ago the Rocky Mountain News ended publication after 150 years.  The Colorado newspaper was a casualty of a changing media environment which saw the bankruptcy of dailies across America.  Recently former Rocky editor and publisher, John Temple, sent out a survey to his former staffers to see how they were faring in their careers.  Ryan Warner of Colorado Public Radio sat down with him to crunch the numbers and have an enlightening conversation on the state of the newspaper business and how things are going in his current job as editor of the EBay backed local online news source, Honolulu Civil Beat.

http://www.cpr.org/article/Rocky_Journalists_Two_Years_Later

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.


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Baseball with Dad

A warm sunny day in April gets you in the mood for baseball.  Dave Revsine’s New York Times article “Rhymes and Reasons For Father-Daughter Bonding” reflects on a shared passion for the game with his 8 year old Meredith.  It took me back to days with my dad watching the Hawaii Islanders at the old Honolulu Stadium.  My dad taught me to love America’s pastime and all its nuances.  The daddy daughter bonding over baseball is one of my fondest memories of my childhood.  It’s spring.  Play ball!

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/04/sports/baseball/04cheer.html

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Some Thoughts on Home

This month’s “More” magazine has a series of essays, by influential women authors, about the meaning of home.  “A Wanderer’s Retreat” by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni really speaks to me.  Her writing is flavorful and evocative as chai.  Her story about first loving her grandfather’s home, connecting with landscapes after his loss, then finally finding home in her own heart resonates with the wanderer in me and perhaps would even have meaning for my parents who shared her immigrant experience.  When I was getting ready to leave Vancouver and the Olympics people would ask if I was excited to go home.  It’s a complicated question.  Of course I was more than ready to see my family and be a part of my community again, but I have never considered Denver, Colorado to be home.  There are memories in every house, but I’m not attached to any of the abodes I’ve lived in as an adult.  On the other hand, each time I think of Waa Street and see the skyline of Honolulu, and the lush landscape of Hawaii that’s what fills my soul.  Folks say “home is where the heart is” but maybe as Chitra found out “heart is where the home is.”  For all of my footloose friends and readers who, like me, have moved to chase dreams around the world, perhaps this is what home really looks like.   

A WANDERER’S RETREAT by Chitra Vanerjee Divakaruni

     My father was a footloose man, so as a child I was shunted from town to town in India, a different one almost every year. Our houses blur in my mind. What I remember most is the smell of new paint and the nervousness in my stomach as I got ready to attend yet another school where I knew no one.  Home to me was my grandfather’s house in our ancestral village of Gurap, in the eastern part of India.  To my child’s eye, it was the biggest house in the world and the best (though on returning as a young woman, I realized that it was, in fact, quite ordinary.)

     The two story brick house had a long veranda that looked out on jasmine trees and gardenia bushes.  My grandfather, a retired doctor, was an avid gardener and whenever I visited him, I helped enthusiastically.  Behind the house was a mango orchard that was exciting and scary.  Rumor was, people had seen cobras there– and ghosts.  My days at grandfather’s were filled with freedom and wonder.  I went with him for long walks in the fields of mustard flowers and listened at night, in his cool, tiled bedroom lit by a kerosene lamp, to stories of gods, heroes and demons with the snarling heads of animals. 

     My family left for the United States when I was 19.  My entire first year in my new country, I wept for that house, knowing instinctively that by the time I went back to visit, it would not be the same.  And it wasn’t.  When I was 22, my grandfather died, and with him much of the house’s magic passed out of this world. 

     I must have inherited my father’s footloose nature, because I too have moved around, sometimes for my husband’s career, sometimes for my own, to Illinois, Ohio and a succession of cities in California.  Now we live in Texas.  Perhaps my willingness to relocate comes from being an immigrant: Once you give up your first home, once you suffer through that initial heartache, giving up one more house doesn’t seem to matter so much.  I lost faith in man-made structures and became attached to landscapes: the windy expanse of Lake Michigan, the wide flowering of buckwheat trees, the ancient redwoods and the curve of the Pacific, the water oaks bordering shady bayous that harbored egrets.  Yet I couldn’t hold on to them either. 

     As I grew older, I began to yearn for a permanent home.  Even after we’d been in Texas for seven years, I still wondered if permanence could exist in this sublunary world. 

     One day, by fortunate blessing I discovered meditation.  Through it, I began to feel the quiet center within, filled with light and the deep comfort of belonging and being loved.  This is what I’d always been searching for in all those houses and gardens and all the illuminated beauties of nature.  And all this time it had been in my heart, waiting patiently for me to turn to it: the home of all homes.    

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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The Faith Club Part 4

Over the course of reading the book “The Faith Club” many things resonated with me but one statement from Ranya, the Muslim woman, sums things up.  “Once you can see things from both sides you’re on the side of compassion and humanity.”  Another thing that impressed me was a bit of wisdom from my friend, Cheryl, during a walk last weekend.  “Don’t judge a religion by the people who practice it.”  How simple, yet how profound, these statements are.  Cheryl’s remarks reminded me why I strayed from religion in the first place and Ranya’s thoughts reminded me why I came back.

As a high school student, attending Episcopal School and singing in a Catholic choir I often asked myself if there was room in Christianity for a more open minded view.  Surely there was more than one path to God.  I struggled with the notion of a God who condemns those who don’t accept him or causes good people to suffer.  I recall when I was producing television at KAKE TV in Wichita, Kansas, we had a family with many children appear one day on our noon talk show.  There was love and joy all around.  A short time later we were shocked to learn that a fire had swept through their home and taken the lives of several of their children.  One of my colleagues remarked that God must have been punishing them.  I shut her out.  God reveals himself in many ways but he doesn’t kill babies.  I’ll never believe in a God of vengeance.  To me that notion belongs to fundamentalists and extremists who monopolize the dialogue and make the possibility of understanding impossible. 

But by closing my mind at that moment wasn’t I disrespectful of her ideas, however farfetched?  Could we have possibly understood each other better if we had dialogued on the subject rather than agreed to disagree?  That’s what is so impressive about the women in “The Faith Club.”  Over time they realized that there were more things that united them than divided them.  They were able to embrace the faiths of each other, put it out on the table and recognize a God of all humanity.  Suzanne, the Christian woman, described religion like college degrees.  “One person might earn a BA in literature while another earns one in history.  They’re equally educated, though differently educated.  The real test is how they apply that knowledge in their lives.”  I’ve finished reading “The Faith Club” and as I come to the end of this high holiday journey of faith I’m committed to going out in the new year with my mind more open.  There are connections and contradictions in all faiths and I must not only listen but also hear.

And I must remember that if I am open, God shows up in the most unexpected places.  The truth doesn’t only reveal itself in church or temple but sometimes under the stars at night.  During my high school years I sang in a choir called Na Kani Pela which performed every Sunday at Our Lady of Peace Cathedral in downtown Honolulu.  During the summer before I went to college we went to Makawao, Maui for a concert.  It was one of the last times we would all be together as a group and as we had done so many times before, we sang.  The song that night was a Latin hymn called “O Magnum Mysterium.”  As we began our harmonies a silver rainbow appeared in the sky and when we finished it slowly faded away.  It was quite miraculous.  I will always believe God was there that night reminding me to recognize the beauty in all faiths and remember the universal truths that connect us to one another and our humanity.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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The Faith Club Part 2

My son, Kyle, was born with a bump on his head and it terrified me.  As a first time mom I was certain he would become gravely ill and I would not be able to hang on to him.  Perhaps it was the postpartum imbalance of hormones but I found myself crying in the shower.  Then and there I surrendered.  I conceded I could not do this parenting thing all by myself.  As a new mom there were so many things out of my control.  How could I keep this tiny person safe?  I asked God to help me.  It was the most direct communication I ever had with a higher power.  The bump went away just like the doctor said it would, but it was a new beginning in my walk with God.

I have not been the most observant person.  Walk with God, I’ve told my children.  That’s all that matters.  But it does create a sense of “religious homelessness.”  Suzanne, who is Christian, used that phrase in the book “The Faith Club” to describe the difficulties faced by Ranya who is finding her way as a Muslim in America.  Her family was chased out of Palestine and she was unable to find a mosque that felt like a fit for her family.  I too, have felt rudderless along the way.  Organized religion has seemed rigid to me.  I love the pomp and tradition, the music and the fellowship, but I never really feel at home in any one house of worship.  I can be as inspired in a church as in a temple.  So I’ve chosen a more spiritual journey.  I’m a Jew but I find meaning in all the faiths of the world.  At their heart aren’t they all about goodness? 

As a high school student at St. Andrew’s Priory in Honolulu I drove Father Blackmon crazy with all my questions.  Why does God let bad things happen to good people?  A virgin birth?  Are you kidding?  He finally told me that some things you just need to believe.  But no one faith seems to have all the answers.  It was impossible for me to understand why my friends Orin and Bekki lost their seven year old son, Brian.  Or why the young twenty something rabbi could not offer me comfort when I lost a pregnancy and fell apart in his office.  Or what it meant when I saw my deceased father in my room with his arm stretched out to me shortly after his death.  In the book “The Faith Club” Ranya talks about how you just say a prayer and you can become a Muslim and chart your own course with God.  I like that idea.  We can shape our relationship with God.  We can see God in the beauty of the universe.  In the unconditional love of a mother, a child, a dog.  Or even in a bump on the head.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.