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The art of comfortably wearing a lei


“Ugh, that is so pretentious,” I thought. Lei were around many necks on the airplane as we left Honolulu for Guam. No one looked around to see if they had been noticed, they went to their seats smiling to themselves. “What’s the big deal?” I wondered but didn’t dare say it out loud.

The Mnuw bar and grillTwo weeks later, my husband and I spent our last tropical evening in the Crow’s Nest Bar of The Mnuw Bar and Grill, a beached wooden ship on the island of Yap, Micronesia. It was the end of January and no one was looking forward to returning to the rain, snow, down parkas, wool pants, and closed toed shoes.

We found ourselves in conversation with a guy who shared, what sounded like, inside information about the island and its residents. I leaned forward and asked “Who are you and how do you know all this?” A woman in our party blushed at my question. I didn’t care; We wanted to hear more.

It turns out he was the assistant harbor master, an American married to a Yapese woman. Among other things, we discussed

  • the use of Betel nut: children start to use it when they can climb the tree and get their own;
  • the Japanese occupation that began in 1914, they ran their side of World War II from this island and were never benevolent occupiers;
  • and the famous Manta Rays, each are named and beloved by all.

080115Folded 20 dollar bill 650 (3)Everyone brought their best gossip, jokes and tricks to the table. Q. What does an engineer use for birth control? A. His personality. To learn how to fold a $20 bill to show exploding twin towers please look to your left. Warm humidity, rising twilight, and good beer mingled with our need to grasp the last of this exotic place.

Finally, our group boarded the bus and began the short trip over uneven roads to the airport. Hotels employees, whom we had relied on every day, swayed down the aisle with armloads of lei and put one around each of our necks. “Goodbye, We are so glad you stayed with us,” they said.

I was stunned. I finally had a lei. At the airport, our American friend met us with his own lei draped from wrist to elbow. With moist eyes, he introduced us to his wife, whom he had picked up on the way to meet us, and placed other lei around our necks. We blubbered our goodbyes with hugs all around. The fragrance of fresh flowers wafted up into a sweet cloud around our heads.

We smiled to ourselves and went to our seats. I understood the big deal about lei as the plane taxied then rose into the inky, star-filled night. Now, when I see lei around someone’s neck, I know someone cares for and values them.

You can experience evenings on the deck of the Mnuw Bar and Grill by going to the Manta Ray Hotel on the island of Yap in the Country of Micronesia. The website is: http://www.mantaray.com/ and the U.S. phone # is: 800-348-3927 (800-DIVE-YAP)

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