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When the Price of Paradise Means Not Coming Home
Oahu-born Paul Arinaga enjoys the fine beer in Belgium, but he yearns to return to Hawaii. He just has to figure out how to get a handle on Hawaii's cost of living.

About the Author

  • Paul Arinaga
    Paul Arinaga is a writer and communication consultant. He is the author of Heart Matters and co-author of The SmartPresenter: double your impact and halve your preparation time. Paul was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, and has since lived in Japan and Europe. He currently resides in Brussels, Belgium. He is an avid rock climber, mountaineer and musician, and the father of four children.

An article that helped inspire this one

The high cost of living doesn’t only affect people living Hawaii. It also affects people who grew up in the islands and want to go back. I’m one of them.

I’ve been contemplating moving back for years, decades even.

I once did return, for a year, and I was very happy. But I had to leave again for family reasons. Unfortunately that was a long time ago.

For the past 13 years I’ve been biding my time in “exile,” in Belgium, trying to make the best of it in a foreign land — far away from many of the things and people I love.

This country has wonderful things about it. There is great chocolate and beer, but it’s also often cold, wet, and grey.

Paul Arinaga sips a beer in Brussels

Paul Arinaga sips one of the many local Belgian beers available in Brussels.

Courtesy of Paul Arinaga

And few people here have discovered the “aloha spirit,” except after a couple of drinks.

Now that my youngest daughter (from my first marriage) is finishing high school, I can consider finally moving back to Hawaii. But the high cost of living scares me.

It often seems like the only people who are secure in the islands made their millions elsewhere, have some of the few very good jobs, or have an income source that doesn’t depend on the local economy, like international consulting or an online business. Some people do well through inheritance.

As for me, I will wait another year, at the least, while I try to secure one of those rare quality local jobs or set up a way to earn off-island income from Hawaii.

Connections - Paul Arinaga after a bike race in the islands

Paul Arinaga, second from left, and friends after the Dick Evans Memorial Road Race.

Courtesy of Paul Arinaga

Despite Belgium’s drawbacks — which include some of the highest income tax rates in Europe — this little country north of France offers excellent universal healthcare and high-quality education.

This is the positive side of those high taxes, and it benefits nearly everyone. These are “comforts” that one doesn’t give up easily, even if they come at a cost.

On the other hand, like a lot of people who grew up in the islands, I feel “aloha ‘aina.” I don’t just want to return for the nice weather, to be near family and for the relaxed lifestyle, which doesn’t apply to the people who work two or three jobs.

I feel a deep sense of love for a place I am deeply connected to when I am there.

Paul Arinaga on the streets of Brussels

A Hawaii local on the streets of Brussels.

Courtesy of Paul Arinaga

From a distance, and during my visits, it has been frustrating and upsetting to observe how Hawaii is being over-developed. Our two greatest assets — natural beauty and the ‘aloha spirit’ — seem imperiled.

The Hawaii I once knew may not exist much longer — at least not on Oahu where I grew up.

That gives me a feeling of frustration and sadness — frustration because I am not there trying to protect what remains of the Hawaii that I love, and perhaps even to improve the situation, and sadness because it may be a losing battle.

But I want to return to Oahu.

In the end, life is about making trade-offs. I will probably accept a higher level of financial insecurity to finally return to the islands.

Being able to contribute to the community and re-connect with the land and the people would make it worthwhile.

Being happy in Hawaii depends to some extent on what you value. Of course, people need a minimum standard of living, whatever that may be for them, but Hawaii has so much else to offer besides just material comforts.

So, that’s my story: No great suffering in terms of economic hardship, just a yearning to come home.

Do you have a story about the human impact of the cost of living in the islands, whether about you or someone you know? If so, click on the red pencil button share it through Connections or drop me a note at epape@civilbeat.com.

And join Civil Beat’s Facebook group on the cost of living in Hawaii to continue the conversation about this story, or to discuss broader practical and political solutions.