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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

JUST ONE THING CAN CHANGE YOUR WHOLE LIFE

It's indeed a scary thought, but one thing (incident, person, whatever) can change your whole life.  Accidents, plane crashes,  war, lottery...  If Pearl and I had a child soon after we were married on the Big Island, we could well still be in Naalehu.  Life would have been totally different. Better?  Maybe.  Worse?  Most probably.

In 1962 Philip Dick wrote an alternate-history novel, The Man in the High Castle, where Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan won World War II.  Amazon will this year release the third season of a different society based on this book.  Life is eerie and disturbing.

Yesterday featured my lengthiest blog ever of the Kakaako outdoor mural museum.  I wondered last night what my life would have been if the Kakaako camp I lived in was not converted to warehouses, and how different my life would have been under those circumstances.  

I was a sophomore at McKinley High School when my family had to move, and we did to Kalihi.  My bond with the gang I grew up with was forever severed, for now I caught the bus to school.  It was a close group of around eight individuals.  The one furthest from school started the walk to school in the morning.  By the time we all made it to campus and our homeroom, we were perpetually late and had to return for an hour of penalty at the end of the day.

In a way, this was symptomatic of gang life.  We were good friends, and there was not any particular pressure to do wrong.  They did drink screwdrivers and most of them smoked, something I avoided with no particular disfavor.  They all grew up to be good citizens, my best friend, Kenneth, who went on to run Horimoto Fish Market and another, Richard, graduated in electrical engineering from the University of Hawaii.  No one became a convict, and I don't think anyone used drugs.  Interestingly enough, much later in life I joined them for occasional dinners, and I was the only one who drank and smoked (an occasional cigar).

In those days in our high schools, the more capable students were placed together in English-Social Studies, declining to the lower performing classes according to demonstrated capability.  I was not in the top group.

In the eighth-grade comprehensive tests, I had scored in the bottom 20% on the verbal portion.  My math scores had always been okay.  I took the practice College Board test early in my junior year and scored below 300 (low of 200 to high of 800) on the verbal section, confirming my incompetence.

I think it had a lot to do with two teachers, Mildred Kosaki in English-Social Studies and Sueko Hirokawa in Science.  They must have seen something in me, affecting my whole life.  In one year I somehow made perfect scores on various exams, improved my Scholastic Aptitude Test to 600+ in verbal and near 800 in math, won various national awards, played third singles on the McKinley tennis team, was elected (my first and last attempt at vieing for any office) vice-president of the senior class (and the only reason why I won was that I was running against three girls who somehow split the vote in my favor) and got accepted at Stanford University.

The next 60 year period was an amazing true fantasy.  However, if my family had remained in Kakaako, I probably would have gone on to the University of Hawaii, and I would guess into engineering, for my older brother got a civil engineering degree from there.  I would have found a job at Pearl Harbor and gone on to a life of relative leisure, as many of my high school classmates did.  Nothing wrong with all that, and only if I succeeded.

What Stanford did was instill confidence.  Under this alternate-history circumstance I would not have gone on to a PhD and full professorship in engineering, and certainly not have:
  • worked on laser fusion at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
  • spent time at the NASA Ames Research Center on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
  • served three years for U.S. Senator Spark Matsunaga in Washington, D.C. where I was involved in original legislation for the creation of wind energy, ocean energy and hydrogen legislation for the nation and world
  • become director of the Hawaii Natural Energy 
  • co-found the Pacific International Center for High Technology Research
  • gained for the University of Hawaii national centers in hydrogen (Department of Energy), seabed resources (Department  of Interior) and marine byproducts (National Science Foundation)
  • created the Blue Revolution
I almost surely would not have met Pearl, my wife, nor by now flown more than 2 million miles on Star Alliance.  No dozen times around the world, no published books and no blog site.


At the age of 77 and in my 19th year of retirement, what a blessing to still have an office at the University of Hawaii Manoa Campus.  In a few days I leave for Japan, where Kyushu University is paying all expenses for a simple plenary talk about renewable energy.


Then in mid-February, the World Aquaculture Society requesting a presentation on the Blue Revolution at their Paris Hotel gathering in Las Vegas.  What a life, setting the tone for the future of Planet Earth and Humanity.  Something that would not have happened had my family not been kicked out of Kakaako more than 60 years ago.

On the other hand, of all the ironies, I could well today nevertheless be living at 15 Craigside.  The camp in Kakaako where I grew up had 95% Oriental people.  15 Craigside has about this percentage.  I would still be living life my way.  

No difference at all.  Yet, I still think some of the seeds I planted in my actual life will improve the World in wonderful ways, a legacy that would not have been possible had I stayed in Kakaako or Naalehu.

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