Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I Want Candy

Halloween in Hawaii is the same odd combination of scary stories and sugar rush that it is elsewhere in the world.   Although it really fascniates me how a Celtic festival of the dead, Samhain, could evolve into a modern confection extortion racket.    The Celtics believed that as Samhain was the beginning of the "darker" half of the year, it was the time when the barrier between the world of the living and the world of the dead was thinner, and it was a time to tell tales to your ancestors.   In this sense, it is almost similar to Chinese Ching Ming, or Japanese Obon, except that neither of those festivals are remotely macabre, and celebrate ancestors rather than demonize them.   But Halloween has evolved considerably from its pagan worship days.   Here in Hawaii, both ghosts and candy are given our own local flavor.

Hawaii has always had its share of ghost stories.   We are actually a very richly spiritual place, and sometimes you can just feel the mana in the air after a cool rain, or standing on the lava rocks with the sea spray in your face.   So it should be no surprise that we've got so many ancient legends and stories.   When I was in high school, my skin would shiver every time I would walk the campus at night.  My favorite boulder, where I would sit and have lunch, for example, turned out to be an ancient heiau, and there were stories that it would transform at night and walk down to the ocean.   As an old boarding school, people always told stories about the girl who hung herself in the stairwell, and if you looked in the 3rd story at night you might see her wandering the halls.  

But it would take the mastery of Prof. Glen Grant, from UH's Department of History, to really solidify the various scary stories of Hawaii and have them emerge onto a sub-genre of their own.   Reading his Chicken Skin series or his Obake Files series were always the scaries things to read, because every place mentioned was some place you were familiar with or relatively close to your home or daily routine (it is a small island after all).   While on the mainland, Halloween is filled with Hollywood horror characters, like Dracula or Frankenstein, in Hawaii, it is the nightmarchers or the faceless obake that really sends shivers down your spine.   Even though he's passed away, his influence can be seen everywhere, such as in the Polynesian Cultural Center's Hauted Lagoon.

Besides having our own genre of scary stories, Hawaii has its own style of sweets, popularized by the various ethnicities that have worked our plantations.  They aren't necessarily associated with Halloween, but I would always be most excited, if my Halloween haul included a piece or two of our own candies.   And where would you find the real local style snacks?   The crack seed store of course.   Honestly, I don't understand how neither Bourdain nor Zimmern made it into a crack seed store while they were here.   Other kids on the mainland don't have the same rush of memories of small kid time like we get whenever we walk into a crack seed store.   If the expression were coinned in Hawaii, it wouldn't be "kid in a candy store", it would certainly say crack seed store.  Everyone has their favorites.  When I was little, I always loved the Crack Seed Store, on the corner of Waialae and Koko Head.  When I was in high school, being in Manoa, I would visit Kay's Crack Seed, in Manoa Marketplace.   When I was little, I also went to Chinese school, with 2 boys whose family runs the Crack Seed Center in Ala Moana, so I am quite fond of them as well.  But probably the cheapest place to buy crack seed in bulk (besides the ones you can get at Costco), would have to be Wholesale Unlimited.  

Ironically, despite the tons of different varieties of crack seed the different stores have, and even though Li Hing Mui is the flavor that is most popular in Hawaii, the one I have always liked the best, is the imported "uncracked" whole seed plums called Chun Pei Mui the best.  I remember my Goong Goong always having a bag of the blue and white wrapped plums around (although sometimes they were red or green colored labels).  Because they're individually wrapped, you can unwrap the outer layer (like any other candy wrapper), open the clear plastic layer inside and just pop them in your mouth without getting your hands dirty.   They were also wet, which I liked better than the dried seeds like red or white Li Hing.   They were whole seeds, so you don't have to worry about seed fragments.   And they were always nicely sweet (never had to worry about it being too sour or salty or strong the way Li Hing is).  

Besides Chun Pei Mui and other seeds though, there were always a ton of other things you could get from a crack seed store.   Similar to crack seed, were the flavor of Chinese Haw Flakes.  They were like fruit roll ups, but a little more rigid, and they featured a Chinese fruit instead of the standard Western fruits.   Of course, as a little kid, never knew that the fruit was Chinese Hawthorn.   I just knew I liked the taste.  As a little kid, I also liked the disk shapes.   Years later, when I was learning calculus, and we were finding the volume of a cylinder, using Itegration to sum the areas of the circular cross section, I always thought of it as a sum of infinitely thin Haw Flakes.

Haw Flakes
It's funny, I was thinking looking at a Costo jar of "Chocolates of the World" the other day.   It had Belgian chocolates, Germain chocolates, French chocolates, and Swiss chocolates, yet no one ever mentions the Japanese chocolates.   But I always like Japanese chocolate among the best, because they tend to be the smoothest in texture, and most even in consistency.   This is especially true of the Meiji brand of chocolates.   It's always a toss up, whether you like Glico's Pocky Sticks or Meiji's Yan Yans more.   Both have a very light, crunchy, even texture.   But I always liked the fact that with Yan Yans, you are able to control the amount of chocolate (or strawberry or vanilla) on each stick.   This means that you could save up for a massive chocolate payoff at the end.   Besides that the chocolate on Yan Yans are smoother and creamier than on a Pocky.  Sorry, but American Twix can't even compare.

Meiji's Chocolate Yan Yan
If you don't feel like having chocolate, I always like munching on honey boros (or as my wife calls them, "nup nup"s) too.   They're fantastic when you're a kid, because they're sort of the opposite of pop rocks.   Whereas pop rocks will explode in your mouth, honey boros will just disappear.   Right after the initial crunch, they will completely dissolve and disappear in your mouth, leaving only a sweet memory.

Honey Boros
The Japanese also make the best gum in the world.   Whereas kids my age on the mainland would fondly remember Bazooka bubble gum or Pal bubble gum, my favorite was always the small Japanese squares of Fusen gum.    For one thing, their bubble gum was much softer than any American equivalent.  The sweetness seemed to last longer, because of the softer texture.    Besides, you would always get some kind of temporary tattoo in the wrapper, usually of someone resembling Kamen Rider.   You just can't beat that.

Fusen Gum
All other snacks aside though, there were two candies you could get a the crack seed store which were the epitome of Hawaiian candies.   One was Japanese the other was Chinese.   Both featured yummy, transparent, rice paper wrappers which would disolve to nothingness in your mouth.    Something I thought was so cool.   In fact, I would try to trim off the excess rice paper and eat it all by itself first, before eating the candy.  The Japanese one is of course, Tomoe Ame, while the Chinese one is, White Rabbit.

Tomoe Ame Candy
Tomoe Ame was so beloved by writer Stan Sakai, that he created a character called Ame Tomoe in his famous Usagi Yojimbo comics.   Tomoe Ame features a fruity chewy center (although I could never distinguish which fruit it was.   It also had the advantage of a toy in each box (just like Cracker Jacks).   But for me, my favorite candy was always White Rabbit candy.   I just loved the creamy milky center inside.   It was like a Tootsie Roll, but a bit firmer and with a creamy milk taste instead of chocolate.   Poor White Rabbit had to undergo a product recall a while ago, as dairy products in China were found to be contaminated with Melamine (a substance used for making plastics that could cause renal failure).   When it came back on the market, in order to avoid the stigma of the tarnished White Rabbit name, they began marketing it as Golden Rabbit Creamy Candy.   Additionally, the Golden Rabbit was made using milk from Australia instead of China.   But it tastes pretty much the same as we remember it.

Golden Rabbit Creamy Candy
White Rabbit Candy will also have a special place in both my and my wife's hearts, because it was also the favorite candy of her snowy, long haired, hapa-persian cat, Snowflake.  Snowflake was just beautiful, as she was hapa, and had the luxurious long white hair of a persian cat, but didn't have the smashed stubby face.  When I was little, I always wanted a cat that looked just like Snowflake, so when I first came over to my wife's (then girlfriend's) house, I immediately took it as a sign of pre-destined romance.   For my wife, Snowflake was a friend, confidant, and familiar for 20 years, and her approval of me when we were younger is among the things that sealed the deal for me.   Snowflake would love to eat small pieces of White Rabbit candy, and whenever we taste it now, we will always think of her.

My Firstborn's First Halloween
Besides, our own style of scary, and our own style of sweet, Hawaii's sizable Asian population also makes one thing different about our Halloweens.   Halloween isn't just an opportunity for wearing a costume, but an outlet for anime and sci-fi cosplay.   When my first son was ready to dress up for his first Halloween, we had to of course uphold this tradition, and my wife made him a fantastic Kikaida costume.  Just the thing for wandering around the neighborhood, avoiding nightmarchers, and collecting Tomoe Ame and White Rabbit candies in.


  1. You forgot to mention Dia de Las Muertos. I think the ancient Aztecs pre-dated the Scots.

  2. FUSAN GUM was my childhood favorite bubble gum, at my village, East Java, Indonesia. Now, I became a fantasy pictures collectors!