(or Why I love Hawai’i)

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, Asian American Village Contributing Editor


Things you can pick up at the Longs Drugs in Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawai’i:



  • Hot shredded fried cuttlefish legs!
  • Okara
  • Natto
  • Poi
  • Kombu
  • Kampyo (dried gourd strips)
  • Taegu (spicy prepared pollock)
  • Poke mix
  • Gobo tenpura
  • Tofu
  • Kamaboko (pink and white fish cake)
  • Furikake rice seasonings (various flavors and brands)
  • Inari sushi (Cone sushi) tofu pockets (aburage)
  • Nori
  • Teriyaki nori strips
  • Wasabi powder and paste
  • Powdered sushi vinegar mix
  • Hana ebi (red and green dried shredded shrimp)
  • Kim chi—(many many kinds and brands)—and Kim Chi base too
  • Takuan—yellow pickled daikon
  • Pickled ginger, plums, cucumbers, scallions, and red radish
  • Aka Umeboshi and Koume (pickled plums)
  • Nappa zuki (pickled mixed vegetables)
Spam and rice together on the same shelf! And…
  • Nasubi zuki (pickled eggplant)
  • Sanbai zuki (pickled radish)
  • Spiced Ogo with Maui onions
  • Soy sauce
  • Fish sauce
  • Teriyaki sauce
  • Sesame oil
  • Rice vinegar
  • Sushi rice vinegar
  • Vietnamese hot sauce
  • Black bean hot sauce
  • Hot mustard
  • Hoisin sauce
  • Adobo sauce
  • Korean barbeque sauce
  • Roast duck sauce
  • Chinese dried sausages
  • Stir-fry sauces
  • MSG
  • Dried rice noodles
  • Dried bean thread vermicelli
  • Ramen/saimin (many many kinds)
  • Fresh and dried noodles (pancit)
  • Dried red azuki beans
  • Dried green mung beans
  • Dried wood ear fungus
  • Dried lily flowers
  • Dried shrimp
  • Sesame seeds
  • Bamboo shoots
  • Baby corn
  • Water chestnuts
  • Five spice powder
  • Tempura powder
  • Panko bread crumbs
  • Haupia mix
  • Tapioca
  • Coconut milk
  • Soymilk
  • Canned lychees
Miso soup, egg drop soup, hot and sour soup, saimin soup base, etc….
  • Coconut sport (Macapuno)
  • Coconut gel (Nata de Coco)
  • Halo-Halo (Fruit mix)
  • Sugar Palm Nut (Kaong)

Chinese and Japanese style curry sauces…
  • Mama Sita’s Sarsa Ng Lechon Atbp.
  • Hot banana sauce
  • Achote oil (Annatto oil)
  • Frozen steamed buns (cha shao bao or Manapua)
  • Frozen shao mai (dim sum)
  • Senbei rice crackers (many many kinds)
  • Arare rice crackers (many many kinds)
  • Dried fish and squid snacks (many many kinds)
  • Dried mango with li hing mui powder
  • Dried guava with li hing mui powder
  • Chan pui and li hing mui (dried plums)
  • Li hing mui powder
  • Flavored seeds
Umm…Wasabi Shrimp chips…?


  • White Rabbit candy
  • Pocky sticks
  • Green and genmai tea
  • Guava, passion fruit, and pineapple juice
  • Boiled peanuts and wasabi iso peanuts
  • Taro Mochi and manjur
  • Disposable wooden chopsticks
  • Regular chopsticks
  • Fancy chopsticks
  • Kid chopsticks
  • Musubi molds (various sizes and shapes—long, short, triangle, flower shapes)
  • Bamboo sushi rolling mats
  • Rice paddles
  • Noodle bowls
  • Rice bowls
  • Kid bowls
  • Lacquer bowls
  • Serving bowls
  • Tea sets—tea pots and tea cups

(several styles from which to choose – Chinese and Japanese)


  • Bento boxes—pretty lacquer ones and plastic Tupperware types
  • Little white good luck nekko cats
  • Japanese mugs
  • Shonen Jump and other manga comic books
  • And “Got Rice,” “Got poi,” and “Ai’ya” bumper stickers …
  • And kids’ coloring books with Asian Pacific Americans in them …
  • And Hawaiiana gifts, stationary, bags, travel mugs, lunch bags, photo albums, cards, etc. …
  • And dried black and shitake mushrooms…


And not just one of each, but a wide selection of flavors and brands!  Plus much, much more!

It’s not that I mind driving to the other side of my town to shop—stock up, really—at my local Chinese grocery store in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I don’t mind making the extra trips to the Japanese store for Japanese things, the Korean store for Korean things, the Indian store for Indian things, the Thai store for Thai things. I don’t mind carrying back a suitcase full of groceries every time I go visit relatives in California, Vancouver, or Toronto (and hand-carrying back the delicate pea shoots). I just think it is so cool that in Hawaii, all things Asian are so normal that they are everywhere, anywhere.  You do not have to hunt for them, they are stacked up in the middle aisle of the Longs Drugs, they are sitting at the check-out counter of the 7-11, they are at the farmers’ market and at the Walmart!  They are not segregated in the “International Aisle,” but right out in the open and mixed in with everything else; so you can find coconut milk next to Otter Pops, kimchi next to hot dogs, senbei rice crackers next to Wish Bone Thousand Island Dressing, and most poetic of all—Spam right next to rice (for Spam musubi, of course!).

I am as giddy as a kid at Disneyland, grinning uncontrollably as I walk up and down every aisle, exclaiming repeatedly, “Look! I can’t believe they have this too!”

People really start looking at me crazy when I start snapping photos.

It is here in the embrace of absolute normalcy and plenty that I suddenly realize how lonely I am in Michigan, where the basic necessities of my everyday life are segregated to a mysterious and faraway place, a specialty store on the other side of town, the “International Aisle” of the supermarket, even “International Night” at my children’s elementary school. I am tired of singing and dancing and always being the one to teach  others about our culture(s) and justify how we are not weird. Sometimes I wish I could just live my life without having to think about culture—sort of like all the random things you buy on whim at your local Longs Drugs after you’ve picked up your prescription.



Other Recent Readings by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

  • Names and Expectations
    During her summer get-away in Hawai’i, Frances observes what our names do not tell us about each other

Of Related Interest @ Amazon


Photographs by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Michigan and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is currently an acting editor for IMDiversity.com’sAsian-American Village, where she writes most frequently on culture, family, arts, and lifestyles topics. Her articles have appeared in Pacific Citizen, Asian Reader, Nikkei West, Sampan, Mavin, Eurasian Nation, and various Families with Children from China publications. She has also worked in anthropology and international development in Nepal, and in nonprofits and small business start-ups in the US. She is also the Outreach Coordinator of the Ann Arbor Chinese Center of Michigan and a much sought public speaker. She has four children. She can be reached atfkwang@aol.com.

IMDiversity.com is committed to presenting diverse points of view. However, the viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at IMD.