Living In Hawai'i

There was a local radio show called the "Price of Paradise." As everyone knows, Hawaii is expensive, but students somehow survive and get hooked on paradise. Here are some economic basics and fun things to do.

Rentals -- Students generally rent rooms in homes and apartments, or sometimes they rent whole houses. Because taxes are high here, many homeowners around the university rent out rooms or houses. One person might rent a house and then rent to others as a manager. So don't be surprised to find a variety of sublet deals that are on and off the books.

Rooms go for $450-$650 a month which may or may not include utilities. The lower priced rooms include a shared bath and kitchen. On the higher end, you might get your own bathroom, maybe a balcony ("lanai"), or a private entrance. Each of these amenities increases the price. Modest studios or one bedroom apartments are about $900-$1200, with the price varying greatly by neighborhood. Two bedroom houses can be found for approximately $1700-$2000. Location, location, location is the key to the price. Manoa, the wealthy residential area north of the university, is considered prime land, while apartments in touristy Waikiki tend to be noisy and cheap(er).

A booklet, called Handbook for the Hawai'i Residential Landlord-Tenant Code, is a valuable resource from the state's Office of Consumer Protection. Basically, tenants are expected to pay one month's rent as a deposit, which must be returned two weeks after vacating. (But getting your deposit back from a manager who rents from someone else can be problematic, even if you have one of those stationery store contracts that looks legal.) Usually landlords ask for a six-month minimum stay, but some rentals are month-to-month. The booklet includes rules about increasing rent and making repairs. For a fee, you can purchase a copy by calling 586-2634 for information.

Students do a lot of moving around, looking for cheaper and more convenient locations, often at the end of the school year. There are bulletin boards around the university advertising for roommates, often female and non-smokers. The university no longer has a service of posting rental notices, so students search out bulletin boards in coffee houses and grocery stores near UH and in Manoa Valley. The newspapers that run ads are the Honolulu Advertiser, Honolulu Weekly, and Ka Leo O Hawai'i, the school paper. To locate the rental, TMK O‘ahu Street Map Book is a ring-bound street map that is very handy, whether you are driving, walking or taking the bus.

There will be competition for the better rentals. An excellent way to put yourself out in front is to make an introductory packet about yourself for the prospective landlord. It should include a cover letter about your background, income, former rentals, and educational plans. To this, attach any letters of recommendation from former landlords, employers, professors and even your electrical and telephone company, which you have gathered over the past year. Proof of income cannot hurt. The landlord must decide among many college students based on quick interviews so this packet can make all the difference.

Neighborhoods. For someone new to Hawai'i, it is difficult to know which neighborhoods are close to the school when reading a newspaper ad. The island is grooved with valleys that go into the mountain ranges. Each valley and nearby flat area has a name and a bus line. If you are facing the entrance to UH, looking from left to right, these are the neighborhoods that students populate: Makiki, Punahou, McCully, Manoa (UH), Mo'il'ili, St. Louis Heights, Palolo and Kaimuki. Waikiki is in front of the university, about 15 minutes by bus away. Transportation is a major consideration for students selecting a rental. St. Louis Heights is a very steep hill with bus service that often runs only once an hour. If you can visit Hawai'i before you move here, an excellent way to see these neighborhoods and get spectacular views is by taking the valley bus lines for round-trips. But when you finally move and are house hunting, it is worth it to rent a car for a week to track down rentals quickly and run all those errands for settling in.

Over the mountain. Some students live on the eastern side of the island, called the Windward side, in the towns of Kailua or Kaneohe (KA-NEE-O-HAY). The Pali Highway goes through tunnels in the Koolau Range to that side. Housing is cheaper and more rural here, but it is only workable if you have a car. Commuting by bus takes 1 1/2 hours each way with the last bus to some areas going over the hill at 9:30 p.m.! With your own car, the drive can be 1/2-1 hour depending on traffic. Some grad students, who live there, only come to school a few days a week and do most of their work at home on computer.

"TheBus" -- For information call 848-5555 (often busy) from 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Their website has route maps and bus schedules. The main buses which go by the university are #4, 6,18 and the "A"-City Express. From the airport take the #20 bus to Ala Moana (shopping) Center where the main bus terminal is located. This is about a half hour ride and often crowded. TheBus frowns on passengers taking too much luggage, so try to slip your bags under the seat or sit in the far back; the bus driver may refuse to take you if you have too much luggage. Unfortunately there is no bus information office at the shopping center. From there take bus #6 to the university. Notice that there are two #6 university buses. #6 "University" loops around the school, while #6 "University/Woodland" goes past the school and up to the Manoa neighborhood which includes the residential area of Woodland. A taxi from the airport to the university is pricey, about $20-$30. Call around, some companies offer discounts to UH.

The state's bus system has won many awards. It certainly is clean, orderly and air-conditioned. The people you meet on the bus are often friendly and courteous. And the best part is the price -- you can buy a monthly pass for $40 with unlimited rides. Individual rides are $2 which includes one free transfer with each cash fare. You can go around the whole island, about four hours. The downside is that it doesn't run after 9:30 p.m. to many residential areas including Manoa, making going to a movie or party problematic. And you spend a lot of your life waiting for it. It took one student two hours by three buses to get to the airport from Manoa, a trip that takes 20 minutes by car.

Hawai'i ID and Driver's License -- Many students get a Hawai'i ID so they can have some local identification but it is becoming harder to cash a check with a Hawai'i ID because of fraud. To get the ID, you need a social security card and birth certificate stamped by the county you were born in. The requirements are strict, so check before you make the trip downtown. You can get a social security card through another government office.

A more useful identification is a Driver's License, whether you plan to drive or not. The Hawai'i Drivers' Manual sold at grocery stores has the rules for the test. The process takes a few hours and the motor vehicle office is inconveniently located, about 40 minutes by bus from UH. You need to bring a social security card. You turn in your license from your former state when you get this one.

Students can use this identification to show they are residents and get small discounts at parks and some nightclubs. Old timers are called "kamaaina" (pronounced Kaa-Maa-I-Na), meaning a child of the land. But the term is used rather loosely, and students can claim this status for discounts.

Buying a Car or Moped -- Cars are plentiful and "relatively" cheap. One student commuted from the Windward side in a $300 clunker that lasted her a year. Reliable used cars are about $1500-$3000. No fault insurance is required. You must get yearly car checkups. Also the process for getting insurance and proving you don't have tickets on your record is rather frustrating and lengthy. Lots of students sell mopeds (about $800) and motorcycles by posting signs on campus. Mopeds have several advantages -- you don't need insurance and you don't pay parking. But they get stolen regularly and accidents are fairly common in Hawai'i's speedy traffic.

Medical Coverage -- The university offers student health insurance with several options. You can expect some changes in the plan and rates every year. The university also has a Student Health Services office which provides a variety of services. The School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene offers teeth cleaning during the fall and spring semesters. Contact the Dental Hygience Office at 956-8939 for more information.

Pets -- This is a very difficult state to bring a pet. Fortunately, the state has reduced its quarantine period from four months to one month for pets coming from the mainland. The pet station is about one hour by bus from UH and then a 15 minute walk up a hill. It is very difficult to find a rental or house share situation which will allow pets. Most rental contracts forbid pets. Although managers might be sympathetic to animals, they don't want to get in trouble with the owner. This pet rule appears to be much stricter in Hawai'i than in other states, where landlords are willing to take extra deposits for pets. The rules are a bit more relaxed on the Windward side of the island but then the commute for a student is particularly difficult by bus. Having said all that, if you have a beloved pet that is part of your family, you will manage to overcome these obstacles. Some students have found studios in Manoa which allowed pets under certain conditions. They have promised to keep the animal locked up during the day and to use the Advantage flea program as persuasions.

Large Stores -- Hawai'i has Safeway, Foodland, Sac and Save, Wal-Mart, General Nutrition Centers, Starbucks, Longs, Costco, Daiei, Sam's Club, Ross, Macy's, Sears, The Gap, Banana Republic, Salvation Army, Goodwill Industries, Borders Books, Barnes and Noble, Office Max, Office Depot, and Kinko's.

Food -- One of the biggest expenses for students is food. Expect to pay 30% more for groceries, and lunches regularly run $7-$10 at small cafes. Plate lunch, a local favorite, consists of two scoops of rice, a scoop of macaroni salad, and a tasty meat or fish dish for about $7-$9. Hawai'i is America's largest consumer of Spam.

Some Fun Things To Do

The free Honolulu Weekly newspaper has a very complete schedule of activities. Also the Lonely Planet Travel Survival Kit: Hawai'i is an excellent guidebook for low budget travelers. Some less traveled places of interest to Anthropology students include:

Hawai'i's Plantation Village is a replica of 30 houses and other buildings of immigrant farmworkers. It has won architectural awards and is supported by the ethnic groups which have houses there. The tour guides are often descendants of early laborers and have their own stories to tell. Few people visit the village but it is well worth the $13 fee. Call 677-0110, bus #43.

Iolani Palace was the residence of Queen Liliuokalani, who was imprisoned there for nine months after being tried for treason. The palace tour, given by trained docents, provides insight into the overthrow and the current sovereignty movement. A fee is charged for tours. Call 522-0832.

Mission Houses Museum, close to the Iolani Palace, has the early homes of the New England missionaries including a wood house brought from Boston by boat in the 1800s. Fee $10; $6 for college students. Call 531-0481.

The Polynesian Cultural Center, run by the Mormon Church, puts on some amazing, although expensive, productions, acted out by students from Brigham Young University. It has been the focus of several UH papers about the representation of Polynesians. Some rental car companies give discount coupons for this Center and Sea Life Park. If you are renting a car to find your new residence, you might take in this production at a great savings. Call the Center at 293-3339.

Chinatown, aside from the unsavory reputation of its redlight district, is known for its historic buildings and bustling markets. Some Southeast Asian UH students take the bus there once a week to buy the freshest and cheapest vegetables on the island. Several art galleries are located in Chinatown including Ramsay Galleries, which features detailed quill and ink illustrations by the owner. Several organizations give tours of Chinatown; so check an up-to-date guidebook for details.

Ala Moana Beach Park is a local beach where residents go for large family outings. Located on the other side of Ala Moana (shopping) Center, this extensive beach loops around Magic Island and is a great place for a stroll, especially on holidays.

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is basically an aquarium you can swim in. Although a reef shark once made the bay its home, this beach is a wonderful place to get a close look at tropical fish in calm waters. It is free for residents. Bus 22 goes there from Waikiki, but try to catch it farther up the line because it gets packed and won't stop.

Ghost Tours, while not everyone's favorite thing, are a terrific way to understand Hawaiian history. Top notch two-hour tours are offered of about five Oahu cemeteries, covering genealogy, religion, art, and tales of old Hawai'i.

Honolulu Botanical Gardens. Oahu is dotted with five botanical gardens which cover divergent landscapes including Koko Crater and forested ravines between mountain ranges. Only one, Foster Botanical Garden, charges admission. It helps to have a car to get to several of these, but they are little-known treasures.

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