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Vacancy Alert!

In front of Hawai’i Theatre March 2020 and May 2016

Right after moving to Hawai’i in 2016, I used to walk in the busy part of the city. Most of the time, it was me standing in one place, trying to test my patience and getting the shot I want. Such type of place for me was sitting on the sidewalk in front of the Hawaii Theatre. When I took the photo on the right-hand side I had a concept in mind that talks about Hawai’i homelessness. I have numerous shots from the same place but this one I chose as it sketched what I wanted to throw to the audience.

4 years after I went back to the same place knowing this frame might give me what I want again. I went back several times after I took the homeless shot but I never found the “Hawaii” symbol dimmed. As statewide shutdown began on March 20, I started to see a drastic change. Even though the first couple of days, people were being ignorant about the severity of the pandemic but as the number of positive cases went up the ladder, people became sensitive.

In the beginning, Waikiki was still the recreational hub of both residents and tourists. Ignoring all the incoming warnings, they were seen socializing massively. My first walk during the pandemic was in Waikiki, and I saw Honolulu City Council putting up caution tapes which weren’t enough for the mass to enter the beach areas.

Waikiki beach was full of people. My first walk on March 18, before the Hawai’i government, decided to shut down O’ahu.

Waikiki beach was full of people. My first walk on March 18, before the Hawai’i government decided to shut down O’ahu.

People ignoring the social distance measures in the Waikiki Beach during coronavirus pandemic on March 20, 2020.

No social distance was visible as I continued my walk that week. Cheap flight tickets opened up the gate for some tourists who only dreamed of coming to Hawaii someday. Some local residents voiced out their anguish against the incoming tourist about spreading the virus.

People posted tormenting comments against the tourists gathering in one of my Instagram posts. Whether its the tourist to be blamed or not, the situation started worsening after that week.

The first positive case was found in Hawaii about a month ago from April. I think the virus was found later in Hawaii than other US states. Stay-at-home order was issued by Gov. Ige which started from March 25. University classes were still going one when within a day notice, everything transited online.

I took this photograph at the airport on March 5, when everything was calm and quiet. Only certain international tourists were arriving at the airport wearing face masks. This photo was for Ka Leo’s coronavirus issue on March 10. Everyone in the newsroom knew something was about to happen, but we were all confused about taking the next steps.

As a student, my situations drastically changed after the university decided to shift all the classes online for the rest of the semester. In one hand, I couldn’t find effective ways to complete my business assignments which required interactive engagements and another hand, I was looking to do stories regarding the pandemic. Finding quotes and getting consent to photograph someone in a bizarro time like this was not only just challenging but very uncomfortable to approach someone.

A UHM mechanical engineering student packs his luggage before he moved out of Gateway hall. Although it is unsure if the students will get a refund, they are still moving out to go back to their respective homes.

I stood in front of the dorms for hours to find students who were leaving the campus for the rest of the semester. While some of them were willing to give a quote, most of them were rejecting. Photographing someone was then a straight no from the other side. Although one evening I was able to find someone who took me upstairs to show me his packing. He and his three other friends were moving back to American Samoa and not returning to Hawaii until the end of summer. He requested me not to show his face in the photo.

The empty terraces of the UHM gateway hall after the university decided to go online for the rest of the semester.

UHM Hamilton library librarian Jonathan Valencia works in the library front desk wearing protective gear and maintaining 6-feet social distance.

Kids playing on the open space of Maharani Cafe at King St., Honolulu, HI.

With the stay home order, public places including the restaurants were off limit for the public. I was doing a feature piece for Ka Leo on how the restaurant business was losing customers. One morning one of my family members got a call saying that an Indian restaurant in King St. wasn’t getting rice in the nearby supermarkets. For Indian food, rice is a staple item on the menu. So not getting the rice was an issue for them. I made my way to the restaurant when I found out they finally got a hold of rice in a supermarket on the west side of the island. The restaurant was open for taking out only but amusingly I saw kids playing inside the open space of the restaurant.

Chris fetches the take out box from the restaurant closet. He has been working for Maharani Cafe for a long period.


End of March, Honolulu began to be a dead city. With the “stay-at-home” order, people weren’t seen as socializing as much. As of April 13, Hawaii has 504 positive cases, with 9 deaths.

The life force of Hawaii is intervened.

Currently, we are facing Hawaii which is the opposite hand of what anyone could think two months ago. No tourists posing for a selfie, barely anyone is sunbathing on the beach and most importantly no rush hour in the highways.

A man passes by wearing a mask on the overpass.

I took this photograph while out for a run during the mandatory stay at home order by the government. There was barely any car on the highway around 5 pm whereas normal time it would have been a deadlock.

A person wearing a face mask rides the bike in Waikiki on April 11, 2020. Within a short period Waikiki faced a massive change in traffic. People weren't allowed to be in the beach, in the public parks and restaurants. Surfers are still seen in small amount.

Approx. three weeks have passed since we were ordered to work from home. On Friday, Honolulu City Council announced a trial nighttime curfew on O’ahu from 11 pm to 5 am on the easter weekend. What shocked me was the desolated streets of Waikiki.

Thankfully, there are still plentiful food supplies. Even though most of our freedom is still available, it is confined. People are being fined for trespassing to hikes and public parks. People including me are being called out for wearing no masks.

To note, 310 Hawaii residents have recovered from COVID-19.

While it seems blissful for us to walk along the empty beaches, surf on the waves and cook food during quarantine, a whole year shut down can be round the corner.


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