Directly on the waterfront, between downtown and Waikiki Beach, one comes on the handsome bayside Ala Moana Park, and, beside it, the even more remarkable Ala Moana Shopping Center, built by the Dillingham Corporation on salt marshes that were filled with coral dredged from the Pacific. The center has a 300-foot office tower topped by a revolving restaurant, but the real wonders are nearer ground level where hundreds of stores are set atop vast subterranean parking spaces. The pedestrian passes art displays and sculpture everywhere, holes cut here and there so that trees may go on through, and broad walkways roofed enough to protect from rain and sun and still leave an open, airy feeling -- a shopping center, one concludes, designed the way one ought to be. (Easily, we underestimate the importance of design in shopping centers, where many people have practically their only contact with the outside world.)
Ala Moana's customers are as polyglot a group as one could imagine -not only every ethnic strain of the Islands, but every economic class, in every dress. If there is a crossroads of the Pacific, one feels, this must be it. The center is amazingly clean, and people's respect for it is amply demonstrated by a series of open ponds, filled with huge, colorful Oriental goldfish. The opportunities for vandalism -- stealing fish, or polluting their water -- are obvious. But everyone leaves the fish alone, and one has to think there is some quality in the place, or in the Asiatic character of most of the people, that makes it so.
The stores within the Ala Moana Center range from safe old mainland choices to illustrious department stores like Neiman Marcus and Macy's and branches of Japanese department stores. Practically any product or delicacy of the Pacific Basin countries is to be found, with Oriental specialty foods among the most notable. In a store packed with Pacific handicrafts, I succumbed to buying a fleecy-soft owl-face pillow to adorn a couch at home. The tag was a surprise: it was made of llama pelt, and it came from Peru.