Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Apr 15, 2020

"Mr. Kang"

Grant Society Case File:  #3574733

The aged koa wood table hosted an entire Korean menu from Dubu Bokum to Bul Gogi. The steam rising from the local meat jun was very inviting, as was the sumptuous aroma from the different sauces for each dish.

Mr. Kang held a tiny bowl of rice in one hand. With a pair of chopsticks in his other hand, he picked different vegetables and slices of meat from each smaller dish and placed it in the small bowl.

"Help yourself," he urged me. "Don't be shame, there's a lot."

I leaned forward in my chair and looked carefully at what Mr. Kang was wearing. "I like your suit, Mr. Kang. The pinstripes are there, but they're very subtle. You can't really see it unless you're sitting as close as I am right now."

"Oh, yes," he chuckled.

ʻ I've never seen that color blue on a suit before, it's such a deep color, but it's bold too, and not so intrusive," I admired.

"You like suits, huh?" He smiled.

"It's a long story, but yes, I like suits," I smiled back.

"When I was sixteen, I worked at a printing press for a local newspaper in Seoul. There was this girl that I always saw in church, and I wanted to impress her. I was walking by a store during my lunch break, and I saw a suit that I really liked. I saved up enough money, and within a month, I bought the suit. That Sunday, I wore the suit to church, but guess what happened?" He asked.

"What happened?" I replied.

"The girl I wanted to impress came to church with another guy, and he wore the same exact suit as me," Mr. Kang shook his head and laughed.

"Wow, you saved up all that money? Did you get rid of the suit after that?" I asked.

"I'm wearing it right now," Mr. Kang winked.

"Are you serious? You're kidding, right?" I was shocked.

"I always kept myself in good shape, and I kept this suit because it's a reminder of all the struggles I went through," he mused.

"Wow, you are in good shape!" I complimented.

"Of course, you notice that you don't see too many fat Koreans around, right?" Mr. Kang laughed.

"Mr. Kang," I shook my head. "You're terrible,"

"Eh, at least have some Soju with me," he said while taking a swig from the green bottle in front of him.

"It's too early for alcohol," I protested. "But, thank you for being so gracious."

"I moved here with my wife after my parents passed away," Mr. Kang began. "I was thirty-five when I opened Kang's Kal-Bi. It was doing okay business-wise for many years. Not gangbusters, but okay. One day, something vital happened that would change my life and my business."

"Really?" I was invested in Mr. Kang's story, he had me.

"My oldest daughter was twenty at that time, she tells me that she is seeing this Hawaiian guy and that his family wanted to meet our family. They invited us to their house all the way by Kualoa ranch," he took another swig of Soju and continued. "I had my reservations, but I agreed because my children are my world. So I thought, why not at least go see?"

"So, what did you think?" I asked.

"I was so impressed! This Hawaiian boy's family was so lovely and all the food they made themself, right there in the imu! And the poi too! This Hawaiian boy who is seeing my daughter? Oh my god, what a good boy and his parents so lovely too! His father and I, we went for a walk around the property, to talk, you know? His place was huge, but the one thing he showed me was the taro patch, and he explained to me the process of planting the taro and then how they harvest and replant. Then he tells me the story of Hāloa and the first Kalo," Mr.Kang took a pause as his eyes began to water. "Reminded me so much of my parents and how hard they worked. I had so much respect for that man after that. On the way home, I gave my daughter my approval to see her boyfriend, Alika Kahawai."

"Thatʻs what changed your entire life?" I asked.

"Partly," he said. "When my daughterʻs engagement was announced, I asked Alikaʻs father for two things, one that he let me pay for the wedding. Two that he would allow me to work in his taro patch. Do you understand now?"

"No," I was bewildered.

"Itʻs okay that Kangʻs Kal-Bi is the best in Hawaiʻi, but without humility, and showing customers that you really care about them, then all it is, is just Kal-Bi. Take your order, make your plate, pay your money, and go. Once Kang is gone, nobody cares because Kang didnʻt make a difference," Mr. Kang nodded. "That has been the secret to Kangʻs Kal-Bi, and if it wasnʻt for that Hawaiian man, we would be nothing but a drive-thru attitude people. Make money, but hate our job."

I made a useless attempt to wipe away the tears which burned my eyes. " I have been to your place many times."

"Oh yeah?" He was surprised.

"I usually come in late after work, near closing time. You and your wife always pile the food on," I chuckled. "I remember one night, I only had enough for a drink, and you jokingly scolded me. I apologized and promised that I would come back the next night and get a big plate. Right then, you made me a massive plate of kalbi, and you only charged me for the drink. I was experiencing Kangʻs secret, and I didnʻt even know it."

"Can I ask you for a favor, Mr. Kapanui?" His voice was down to a whisper.

"Of course," I replied. "Anything,"

"Please, can you go outside and ask Alikaʻs father for one more favor?



Mr. Kangʻs family gathered in the back yard. Most of the younger children fell asleep in their parent's arms. The rest of the adults indulged in a light lunch and drinks while having conversations about everything and nothing. Everyone stopped what they were doing once they saw me coming down the back stairs. Mrs. Kang and Deborah, the Kangʻs oldest daughter, approached me.

"Please tell us itʻs good news?" Deborah pleaded.

"It was one thing when my husband was alive, but now that his ghost is haunting the house? I hardly get any sleep," Mrs. Kang was exhausted.

"Mr. Kang wants to ask a favor of Mr. Kahawai," I answered.

"Hun," Deborah waved at Alika. "Go get dad,"

A minute later, the senior Kahawai, his son, Deborah, and Mrs. Kang were huddled in an impromptu circle, discussing the terms of Mr. Kangʻs request. There was not a dry eye in that gathering.

"Of course," Mr. Kahawai swelled with pride. "Itʻs not even a question."


Somewhere, on this serene afternoon in a Kalo patch in Waikane, the spirit of Mr. Kang, Byun-hoon is beaming with pride. His grandson, Maui, and his granddaughter Malia offer a Hawaiian chant while they spread his ashes in the far east corner of Tutu Kahawaiʻs loʻī. It was Mr. Kangʻs last request of Mr. Kahawai, from whom he learned a life long lesson.

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