Jason Cooper

    To Nuuanu/Waikiki from Kailua

    Jason, whose name was changed to protect his privacy, is a commercial photographer.

    How long have you lived in Nuuanu and where were you living before this?

    I’ve lived here for 12 years, but I’ve lived in Honolulu since I was about 12. My parents moved here from Kansas and I grew up in Kailua, which is on what you might call the northeast side of Honolulu.

    What part of the island is Nuuanu on?

    Nuuanu is near the center of the island just north of downtown Honolulu. Despite that, WE are living right up against the mountains and it’s kind of secluded.

    What’s your home like? Is it a house or condominium?

    It’s a five-bedroom house.

    What’s Nuuanu like as a community?

    Nuuanu is a very old community. The King of Hawaii used to come here in the summer because it’s cooler here due to its geographic location in what’s called the Punchbowl. For example, it’s usually about ten degrees cooler here than it is downtown where my office is. As to the “feel” of this neighborhood, believe it or not, there is still some association with the older Hawaii when people talk about this area. It’s generally associated with what you could call “old money,” although that is certainly changing. What is here are a couple of gated communities. They are older, probably dating from the 70’s. And then there are quite a few older houses built in the 60’s, which is when my house was built. In my particular neighborhood, I think the best word for the ambiance of this place is to say it’s cosmopolitan, which is probably a good way to describe Hawaii in general. For instance, one of my neighbors was born in India and on the other side of me is a woman of Japanese decent. And, as I said, I’m from Kansas. There are also all different income levels in this area.

    Did you have your heart set on the Nuuanu neighborhood? Why did you choose it?

    No, not really. It was more a function of finding the right property that is close to my work. Even though Nuuanu is pretty much isolated, it is only about two and a half miles from downtown Honolulu. It’s about as close as you can be to the city and still be sort of outside the city in the country.

    Is Nuuanu more of an urban or suburban neighborhood?

    Well, this feels more like the country out here, even though it’s close in. When people think of Nuuanu, they do think about it as being out in the country.

    Do you have many concerns about crime where you live?

    No, not really.

    Do you have children and is daycare easy to find in Nuuanu? And how would you judge the quality of the schools?

    Well my children are pretty much grown (I live with my 18-year-old son), but I do know that there is a very well-developed childcare system in Hawaii. I think this is because in most families both parents tend to have jobs — and it’s been that way for a long time. So I think that’s why there are so many childcare options in Honolulu. I would tell people that there are many different options to choose from as far as childcare goes. As far as the schools go, I think they are better than most people would say they are. There’s also a thriving private-school community.

    Was it hard to meet people when you moved to Nuuanu?

    I had no anticipation of it being hard to meet people and it wasn’t. But I would like to say that people here — and I think in Hawaii generally — are always cordial and respectful. But there is also a tendency for people to keep to themselves to a degree. I think this is because living on an island where space is at a premium, houses here tend to be smaller and closer together. This, I think, causes people to both want and respect privacy because of the close proximity of your neighbor. Don’t get me wrong. People are not standoffish or rude by any means. I speak to all my neighbors on the street and things like that, but everybody also is respectful of each other’s privacy. I think this also has to do with the Asian influence here. There is more of Asian feel to Hawaii as far as cultural norms.

    Where do you work in Honolulu and how is your commute back and forth to work?

    I work in downtown Honolulu and my commute is not bad at all. For one thing, I’m only a little more than two miles from my office. And the other thing is that I tend to go in to work at off-peak hours.

    What would your advice be to the newcomer about transportation and commuting in Honolulu?

    I would tell them that while the traffic can be bad, you’re never that far from anywhere. Another thing is that Honolulu has an excellent public transportation system. It’s called TheBus, and I believe it’s been rated as the top system in the United States.

    How has the real estate market in Honolulu changed since you bought your house?

    Well, I would say that it’s fluctuated quite a bit since I’ve been involved with the market. I’ve had a property since about 86 – a condo in Waikiki — and over that time period, I’ve seen a general upward trend. But from any, say, five-year period to the next, it has varied by as much as 30 percent, I’d say.

    How do like the quality of life in Nuuanu?

    I love it. I think the quality of life is the most compelling reason to live in Hawaii. The real estate values are maybe too high, I think. On top of that if you are looking to have the typical house with a big backyard and maybe a pool — which you could easily afford for what the average Hawaiian house costs — then Hawaii is not for you. But I come from Kansas and the weather there — with the cold winters and hot summers — that’s tough living in my opinion. Hawaiian living is relaxed, and I think the tropical weather has a lot to do with that. As well, I think that people here have an acceptance of different ethnicities and lifestyles, which is a real plus. I think that comes from the fact that everybody is a minority in Hawaii. Finally, there is the great natural beauty of the place.

    What surprised you most about moving to Nuuanu?

    Nothing, really. The only thing I would say is that living right up against the mountains there are potentially more natural hazards. I’ve never seen this, but my neighbor did tell me that a boulder rolled down off the mountain once before I moved here. It didn’t hit a house or anything, but when I heard that I was a little surprised. That didn’t occur to me when I moved here.

    What would you say is the one can’t-miss event or activity that a family in Hawaii should look forward to?

    I think definitely the beaches. There are so many and each has qualities of its own. So I would advise people not to confine themselves to one beach.

    What places should you avoid in Honolulu if you don’t want to see a lot of tourists?

    Waikiki. But I really don’t have any problem with tourists, and I don’t think most people living here do, either. Most people understand that tourism is the lifeblood of our economy, and so they are very accepting of people who visit here.

    Do you find Hawaii and Nuuanu specifically an expensive place to live?

    Sure, by the standards of most places on the mainland, it is expensive, but that is one of the compromises you make to live in paradise. The real estate is expensive, and you will not get as much house or acreage for the money that you will get on the mainland. Food and other necessities are also high, but that’s obviously because almost everything WE need has to be shipped in from the mainland or other places. I don’t know if this is good or bad, but recently Walmart has located here, and that might put downward pressure on prices. But I don’t’ see how Walmart will alter the cost of living here much.

    What’s your favorite restaurant in Honolulu?

    That would be Chef Mavro, which is on the fringe of Waikiki. I think Chef Mavro is from Provencal in France. The menu is a set menu, which means that when you order, you are ordering a full dinner with multiple courses. Each course is paired with a different wine. It’s definitely a dining experience, and you can plan on it taking a couple of hours. So it’s not an eat-and-go kind of place.

    Is there anything you don’t like about living in Nuuana or Hawaii?

    Well, I don’t have this complaint, but I hear it a lot — especially from people who are from New York City or Los Angeles or places like that. They complain that there really isn’t much of an intellectual community here, and that is paired with the criticism that people aren’t “professional” enough. And they are kind of right. If you’re very ambitious and into your job, this probably isn’t the place for you. In my line of work, it’s like that. I know a number of other photographers and they are not tremendously ambitious or competitive. For that matter, neither am I. Islanders would say, on the other hand, that the people who make these complaints are workaholics. And I guess I agree. To Hawaiians, your job is not the most important thing in your life.

    What advice you give to people who are house hunting in Hawaii, especially in the Nuuanu area?

    Persistence is very important. And also lower your expectations, but I don’t really mean that in a bad way. I think that the average price of a house in Hawaii is over $500,000. That kind of money on the mainland will get you a large house with maybe a pool and a two-car garage. Here, that money is going to put you in a house that is probably 20 to 30 years old. You’re going to be living very close to your neighbors — easements are extremely small. It’s very Asian style. And also someone moving here should be aware of the general cost of living here. Another thing is you need to be prepared for a different culture. There is a big native and Asian influence on this culture. It’s inevitable that the culture is different because no matter what your ethnicity is, you are going to be a minority here. I find that to be a good thing. Some people might not. And so people considering a move to Hawaii should be ready to adapt to the culture.

    Do you have an anecdote that encapsulates your experience in living in Nuuanu?

    Let me tell you about my relationship with a couple of my neighbors. That will do as well as anything to give you an idea of what it’s like to live here. On one side, there is a man from India. He is a professor and came here after being a professor in Madison, Wisconsin, for a number of years. I think he and I are good friends, which might seem unlikely. But to me, it makes perfect sense because WE are really a couple of Midwesterners and WE think a lot alike. On the other side of me, is an older lady of Japanese ancestry, a really nice lady. She has dog, and I see her most days either walking the dog or going to get her paper. We talk; We’re cordial. But I really don’t know her that well, only that she is a quiet person who likes her privacy. So you see, living here is a mixture of friendliness and reserve or a respect for privacy.

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