Emily Chan

San Francisco based writer and poet Emily Chan shares with us her experience traveling the islands. A collector of languages and dialects, Chan fell in love with pidgin and has since been extensively researching.

Words: Emily Chan | Photography: Annie Nguyen

“PARADISE” is a pouch of trail mix on your seat-back table,

Allotted in vacuum and stated so sterilely:  

A blend of chalky curls of wasabi, nori-ed crackles

and petrified post war mythology.

ALOHA is in the intercoms en route to paradise, invoked like spirit

And uttered, like a tick, to vacancy and dangling

From the rear view mirror of your rental car.

SCENIC is a hot tub-full of old White dads,

wooly torsos and barrel arms a-molting

heaps of tropically reddened skin.  

Versing you in mainland matters of private equity

and the flimsiness of Suze Orman’s financial doctrine,

and trying to set you up with their flaxen-headed sons

“just over by the grills” available to guests only.

You, feeling suddenly appraised and like a lil Asian somethin, somethin.  

BACULUM is the scientific word for “whale penis bone”

Which you digest along with other lingual delicacies

while you breakfast on a complimentary buffet of

Pancakes somewhat half-assed and sopping

Wet with flung ocean and all-you-can-pour Aunt Jemima’s,

Shoveled down with plastic cutlery and SPF-steeped pineapple,   

Teetering, spilt onto your naked torso toasting

in hot choppy pursuit

of those pods of baculum

and their according, evasive


DISTANCE is what you feel

tracing ancient floes

of lingual particles

deep in the manapua and de broke mouts.

Diaspora unfurling from Pidgin tongues.

And wondering whether it’s arrival or departure

you’re tasting.

FOODLAND is where women in hairnets chat in Tagalog

behind heaps of fish and ziti.

where nearly fuschia linguicia sits by the Lil Smokies

where mounds of plastic-wrapped musubi

grow molten and archaeological under heat lamps,  

where the ethnic aisle seems oddly redundant.

ORIENTALIZATION is what you wonder worriedly might be the origin of the term Happa.

ORIENTALIZATION is the origin of these delicious-ass cream cheese wontons.

PANORAMIC is the setting on everybody’s phone atop this mountain.  

PANORAMIC is the poke selection at Foodland.

DISTANCE is what you feel, hilariously,

When the local kids at the beach tell you to fuck off

When you tell them encouragingly

to bump that M.a.a.d City

a little louder.

PIERCING is the grandmother dressed in Hospitality Hibiscus filigree,

mopping resort sweat up at an obscure hour,

While children at home idle at dining tables

over undone homework.

PARADISE is distance.

PARADISE is commodity.  

PARADISE is amongst the lucky cats

perched on the fryer at McDonald’s

—watching over baskets of trans-pacific nuggets—

gleaming beatifically

under patina of fry grease.

In the corner liquor store packed with old pickled things,

engulfed in a great cloud of Li Hing.

Where snap-backed youth slop pounds

of octopus and kimchi into Styrofoam palettes

for all the aunties.

On Haupia sheet cakes at Costco

celebrating the births of 10-year-old congregants


waiting to be taken to someone’s backyard and eaten

after the Wii boxing and all the Corningwares of inherited recipes.

When decasyllabic street names resist European cartography.  

With chill Oba-chans loitering, in front of the public library.

Next to a woman on an old bench, watching light wend

through the steppes of the parking lot taro paddy she grew

“just for my family” she explains,

while she shows you a camera roll full of her baby girl’s drill team meets.



On a cracked and narrow street,

A crumbled travel agency  

promises trips to mainlands and motherlands.  

Trips elsewhere.

Palm trees and crystal-watered beaches,

All the while saving their dusty Windows screens.

PARADISE is somewhere.

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