John Heckathorn Reports...

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Heckathorn poses with the staff of Spats, where he spent a night trying to keep up with the professional waiters, 1985.

[At the end of the night] I’ve had a great time, proved that I could do it and not dropped anything. But I’ve served six dinners in an evening. Normally a waiter at Spats will serve 30 to 40. A good waiter makes it look easy, but it’s not. Next time your waiter is late with your coffee, have some sympathy.

 

On Where We Get Our Fish Dinners

“Catch of the Day,” Dining, February 1984, Heckathorn’s first dining column, following a fish from the Kewalo Basin fish auction to its final destination—on his plate as “Chicago-style” mahimahi at Nick’s Fishmarket:

The fish auction is loud and wet. Trucks pull up with the catch; the fish are hosed down and loaded onto flats, which are pulled into long rows along the warehouse floor. The floors are washed constantly. Most people wear rubber boots. … [T]he main activity is centered on a small knot of men who follow the auctioneer down the wet rows past the flats of gleaming ahi. … Within moments the bidding for this particular fish is over. One broker looks at the other as if to say, “If you’re fool enough to pay that much for it, take it.”

 

On the Rebirth of the Hawaiian Language through Immersion Schools

“Can Hawaiian Survive?” April 1987

The Punana Leo school in Kalihi looks like a normal preschool. Fifteen children between the ages of 2 and 5 sit in a circle around their teacher, singing songs, reciting the numbers up to 20 and the days of the week, listening to stories, asking and answering questions. But the children are speaking Hawaiian, the only language Punana Leo allows. The two teachers, both from Niihau, conduct the preschool entirely in Hawaiian 10 hours a day, five days a week.

The total immersion method seems to work. None of the children knew Hawaiian before enrolling. One boy, in the school for only a few days, stumbles as he tries to recite. But the rest of the kids, some only a year or so past baby talk, are fluent in a way that is discouraging to anyone who has tried to learn a second language as an adult.

There is ample evidence that bilingual preschools are good for children, stimulating their mental development and making them more comfortable with abstractions and more flexible in their thinking than one-language children. But that is not the point of Punana Leo preschool. “We’re saving the language,” says teacher Florence Nicholas. “That’s the important thing.”

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