1941: Kapoho Hawaii
Two young ladies, recent graduates from Teachers College, University of Hawaii, are sent on their first teaching job to Kapoho School.
They were in the same Chinese sorority on campus so they were not complete strangers. Beatrice Ing’s father, after checking out the site of the school, bought a hand gun for his daughter and taught her how to use it should anyone try to rape her in a place so isolated from civilization. Teachers were housed in buildings called Teachers’ Cottages, about three miles from the village.
Pina Tam, her roommate, would be my sister Janet’s 2nd grade teacher. Kapoho School consisted of three classrooms with two grades combined in each room. They began teaching in September and two months later, their lives changed as did the rest of Kapoho and the world. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Beatrice’s gun was immediately confiscated as were all weapons in the village. It was returned to her before she left the islands at the end of the school year. She would never teach again.
Kapoho School was closed and became the headquarters for the Army. Beatrice and Pina were housed in the principal’s home, the Campbells, and taught in the then Japanese Language School. Their lives, like the villagers, would be closely monitored by the military.
Beatrice and Pina and their fellow teachers spent all their salary on school supplies. They drove out to Hilo every weekend and bought crayons, coloring books, and cheese and olives, to educate the palate of the children. The children turned their noses up at cheese, but olives would become “holiday food” reserved for Christmas and New Year’s Day in many of the homes.
I was five then. My bachelor uncle spent many an evening at the cottages, under the pretense of taking papaya and bananas to the young teachers for their breakfast.
My book, Kapoho, Memoir of a Modern Pompeii is published.
Beatrice read of the book in the Honolulu paper and ordered a copy from Barnes & Noble and asked her daughter to pick it up.
We met over lunch last November in Honolulu and she confirmed many of my memories after Pearl Harbor. Beatrice still plays the stock market and just recently gave up her driver’s license. She held my hand and said, “I never thought, in my lifetime, that I would ever meet a real author.”
She took the lei I gave her to the gravesite of her husband and left it there in a heart shape. “You are the only one I know who will know the stories I have about Kapoho,” and so we talked and shared stories.
Pina’s daughter, too, got in touch with me and a few weeks ago, both women met after all those years in Kapoho. They are 96 years old today. Pina is doing well, inspite of her dementia.
I celebrate and honor both women today.
Pina Tam Lee and Beatrice Chang Ing
96 years old. 2013. Honolulu Hawaii