Downtown Honolulu is notorious for becoming a ghost town on weekends.

The high-rise cubicle workers depart every Friday evening to their homes in Kapolei, Mililani, Kailua, Hawaii Kai or wherever, not to return until the mad rush on Monday morning.

Most bail out as early as they can, but some hang around … for a while. After a few beers at Bar 35, or shared pupus at the latest trendy restaurant, they too leave Honolulu behind for a couple of days. Gone and forgotten.

There are a growing number of people, however, who never leave. I became a resident of downtown several years ago, downsizing from a large home in Wailupe Circle to a two-bedroom condo.

The mangoes and avocados in Chinatown are just one draw to living in downtown Honolulu. Keith Rollman

When I worked for the City and County of Honolulu, I used to look out of my window in the Frank F. Fasi Building at the high-rise in which I now live and wonder if that wouldn’t be the way to go. My commute from Aina Haina to my office took only about a half hour, but the daily round trip added up to about five hours a week (not counting the unnecessary side trips and distractions).

In the six years I’ve lived downtown, I’ve recaptured a staggering 1,560 hours of time (or 65 days) for doing things more stimulating than burning bio-diesel along Kalanianaole Highway in a VW Jetta. I use the bonus time for noble endeavors like drinking at Ferguson’s, street photography and writing.

Lifestyle Adjustment

Living downtown required some lifestyle adjustments, but most of them have proven to work out for the better.

I decided shortly after moving into my downtown condo that I would forgo a car and simply revive my 1980’s Bridgestone MB-6 mountain bike. I attached a plastic basket to the cargo rack converting it into a mini urban pickup truck. Since making this commitment to two-wheeled transportation I’ve logged well over 2,000 miles — much of it illegally on sidewalks, but without a single pedestrian injury.

Another consideration with close-in urban living is how best to hunt down provisions for your refrigerator. What if you really want a decent mango — or local avocado?

While our gentrified up-and-comers might drive to a Whole Foods or maybe the fancy Safeway on Beretania Street shopping for fresh produce, most would not think to venture back into the presumably abandoned downtown. They think that all of downtown, like First Hawaiian Bank, is shut down with the lights out.

However, a couple blocks Ewa of Bishop Street, Chinatown remains alive and kicking. Swarms of people mill around the open markets off of King Street around Maunakea Marketplace.Like the mice partying around the Christmas tree in “The Nutcracker,” this is their town when no one else is around.

And, their fresh produce is better than yours. It’s like one huge farmer’s market, much of it with the look of local, garden-freshness.

Chinatown is a busy shopping market with many elderly Asian folks smoking and going about. Tim Huynh/Civil Beat

When I’m craving a good mango or avocado I could easily peddle to the Pali Safeway, or even the one on Beretania, but I’ve become enamored with the Chinatown market experience. It’s closer and way more interesting.

When you move around slowly (pushing a bike) you see things that you would miss driving a car. You get to make eye contact with the old man inside his traditional Chinese Medicine shop, and contemplate the odd assortment of items in his window.

All the little shops are open and there are many household gadgets that I cannot identify and brooms of a strange design that I have never seen.My impulse buy was a couple of traditional bamboo toys including a surprisingly accurate bean gun with a bamboo barrel and spring.

Even the homeless seem more alive and engaged on weekends.  The slumbering lumps we pass by on way to the office have re-animated, and talk and laugh.

In less than 10 minutes I had purchased my choice of exceptional examples of avocado and mango. But, unlike a pit stop at Kahala Whole Foods, there is more to do afterwards than desperately trying to locate your car in the parking lot. I managed to kill another hour just nosing around.

Chinatown on Sunday is a bold expression of Hawaii’s accommodation of multiculturalism. The Maunakea Marketplace is not dissimilar than, say, Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok or the Shilin Night Market in Taipei. You are not in our familiar yuppie weekday downtown; you are in an exotic and very different world.

There is a lot of non-English being spoken and people aren’t glued to their smart phones. This is a vibrant, living city, in many ways more genuine that the one we plod through during the workweek, and many people in Hawaii don’t know it’s here.

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