Field Guide: Our Consuls

Kamaaina may not have noticed, but Honolulu is home to a surprisingly diverse number of consulates.

The consulate of South Korea: safeguarding regional peace, globalizing bi bim bap.

photos: kristin lipman, cody kawamoto and david croxford

The first foreign consul in Hawaii was a trouble-making Englishman named Richard Charlton, who instigated the 1843 occupation of the Islands by rogue British sea captain Lord George Paulet. Consuls in Hawaii today represent 38 nations. They handle visas, help with lost passports and—thankfully—no longer get Hawaii embroiled in international diplomatic crises. We examined a cross section of Honolulu’s varied consular corps to get a sense of what else they do.

William Paupe

Consulate of Kiribati

The Republic of Kiribati is an island nation with one of the world’s lowest GDPs,  and a retired State Department official named William Paupe serving as its consul. Kiribati belongs to the United Nations, but has no ambassador in Washington, D.C., and it’s not an easy place to fax, so Paupe fields a daily stream of UN-related faxes seeking Kiribati’s vote on this or that resolution. “I’m actually running an embassy here,” says Paupe, who works out of a tiny rented office near the airport. Students from Kiribati come to Hawaii to study at Brigham Young University, and Paupe helps with their immigration paperwork. When fishermen from Kiribati are lost at sea, Paupe serves as liaison with the Coast Guard, and when one of them winds up in jail (“Usually it’s a stabbing,” he says) Paupe checks on their welfare. When yachtsmen sail to Christmas Island and neglect to call home, Paupe has to track them down. “Yachties have a great propensity for not keeping their kin notified about where they are,” he says. “I get calls all the time saying, ‘My son’s lost at sea.’ In most cases, it turns out fine.”

Consulate of Sweden

Except for the national coat of arms and two fading photos of the king and queen of Sweden on the walls, there’s nothing particularly Swedish about the Consulate of Sweden, including the honorary consul of Sweden himself. “I don’t even speak Swedish,” says James Cribley, an American. “But most Swedes speak better English than I do, so it’s almost never a problem.” Cribley’s downtown law office doubles as the consulate, where he spends maybe five hours a week on consular affairs. Each semester, about 300 Swedish students enroll at Hawaii Pacific University, and they are forever getting romantically involved with American students. Helping lovestruck Americans get Swedish residency permits is one of Cribley’s regular activities.

Consulate of the Republic of Korea

The South Korean consulate, which opened in 1949, is nearly as old as the modern democratic nation of South Korea itself, which dates to 1948. Located in a colonial-style home along the stretch of the Pali Highway known as “Consular Row,” the South Korean consulate has a staff of about 18, including a consul general, a deputy consul general, three vice consuls and one military attaché. With nearly 30,000 U.S. troops on its soil, Korea stations an attaché here to stay in close contact with American military commanders in Hawaii. The consulate also works to promote Korean culture and, its own wording, “globalize Korean food” by sponsoring events such as the annual Korean Festival and the Korean Traditional Food and Liquor Exhibition.

Vice Consul Hyun-Kyung Kim

The Mystery of San Marino

There are countries such as Japan and the Philippines that have lots of citizens in Hawaii and obvious reasons for maintaining consulates here. And then there’s San Marino. It’s 8,000 miles away, it’s the size of East Honolulu and its population is just 31,000. Yet it has a $10-million oceanfront consulate in ritzy Kahala. We were curious about this, and we called several times but couldn’t get anyone on the phone. We would have left a message but San Marino’s phone doesn’t take messages. We dropped by in person during business hours and found the gate closed. We left a note on the gate (it was a Post-it note, but we taped it on there well), and if we learn anything we’ll put it on our website. In the meantime, San Marino’s luxurious diplomatic mission in Hawaii remains a mystery. At least to us.