Thursday, December 17, 2009


One of the phenomenon’s of the ancient world was the Oracle at Delphi. Delphi is located in central Greece along the slope of Mount Parnassus where three tectonic plates meet and numerous faults intersect venting fumes from deep within the earth. The Oracle, an older woman chosen from the local villages, sat over a crack in the earth where the gaseous emissions from the rock put her into a trance that allowed her to foretell the future and answer questions. Visitors from around the Mediterranean region and even Egypt came to consult with the Oracle about their future, families, aspirations, when to declare wars, when to plant crops, and how to deal with famine. From 1400 BC to 390 AD, pilgrims to Delphi could make an appointment with Oracle and after paying a fee, hike up a path, file one by one into the temple, and get earthly-emission-based advice.

Stories of the Oracle’s renowned visitors and powerful advice abound. Over a span of 1800 years the Oracle advised notables such as Aegeus, Cadmus, Herakles, Oedipus, Perseus, Xerxes, Lysander, Philip II of Macedon, Cicero, Nero, Hadrian, Diocletian. The Oracle also declared Socrates the wisest man in Greece, to which Socrates said that if so, this was because he alone was aware of his own ignorance.

When we visited Delphi many years ago and stood near the vent, we felt dizzy and light headed after a while. It is very similar to how we feel after being in heavy VOG (volcanic emissions) here on the Big Island. Exposure to VOG affects our state of mind and makes the modern world feel far, far away. On days when it is really thick, it completely obstructs our view of Hilo Bay by whitening it out leaving visible only wisps of grey colored clouds that encircle the trees and houses. The VOG mutes the sounds of passing cars and bird songs making it seem like our ears are plugged. It feels like we are living on the Isle of Mists visited by Odysseus. On the really heavy VOG days we wonder if it was like this in final days of Pompeii and we are about to be buried in 30 feet of hot ash.

The VOG reminds us that the earth is a living thing. When the sulfur burns our eyes and throats we find it easier to mediate, easier to contemplate life, and gain a sharpened appreciation of the small but wonderful things in life like seeing blue sky and taking another breath.

Monday, December 14, 2009


Every year we enjoy reading the yearly predictions for the upcoming Chinese year and about the animal associated with the year. After plodding along, tightening our belts, and keeping our collective noses to the grindstone, the current year of the Ox will be coming to a close in February. Chinese astrologers claimed that last year’s hard labor would restore our losses from the previous year. We’re not sure how much the hard work helped, but the recent stock market rally helped.

Now we are prepared for the roar of the arriving Metal Tiger year starting on Valentine’s Day (February 14, 2010) which astrologers say will bring upheaval to the world through turmoil, short tempers, and unpredictability. In Hawaii, many business owners take the predictions of the Chinese year seriously and some have told us they expect it to be a tough year for them. Some Tigers, like Tiger Woods, may already be feeling the upheaval.

The upcoming 2010 Tiger year has the element Metal associated with it which is why some call it the year of the Golden Tiger, from the perspective of gold money, while others call it the year of the White Tiger. The White Tiger is connected to the symbol of jinx in China, so some Chinese believe the year will not be good.

The metal element is not a good for Tiger, which prefers wood, fire and earth elements, so the prediction is that Tiger and metal will be in conflict and restrict the Tiger from freedom, causing it to be a challenging year for those born in the year of the Tiger. India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), and South Korea consider the Tiger their national symbol, so 2010 may bring big changes to those countries in particular.

The animal associated with the Chinese year a person is born supposedly predicts how the year will be for each individual based partially on the relationship of their birth sign animal with the year’s animal. The Snake and Monkey have difficult relationships with Tiger, so they may have a challenging year. Tiger’s friends, Horse and Dragon, may find the year to be invigorating and successful. The year of the Tiger is associated with the earthly branch symbol, a system built to track time using observations of Jupiter, which some predict bodes well for real estate.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


During the past decades we have been amazed at how much difference a small move from one place to another can make to our enjoyment of living. We found that differences in prices, lifestyles, jobs, and opportunities between neighborhoods in the same city or county can be substantial. During times of great economic prosperity, the trouble of moving has not always been worth the small benefit gained by shifting between neighborhoods or areas. But in times of swift economic contraction, like we are currently experiencing, rapid changes in regional economies can make the inconvenience and cost of a move well worth it. If you are mobile, you may find that a region nearby has lower costs, greater employment opportunities, and better living conditions. These same economic upheavals can change a neighborhood from safe and cozy to noisy and violent and cause previously unaffordable neighborhoods to suddenly lower rents. Some of our moves have resulted in us having to trade something dear for moving to a lower cost area – like our safety – but most of our moves gained us much more than we lost. Overall, we have found that taking notice of regional economies and having the freedom to move between them has had financial benefits as well as greatly increasing our quality of life.

When we moved to Silicon Valley in 1996, we arrived as the region was recovering from a downturn making housing cheaper there than it had been for over a decade. Some of it was luck, but some of it was due to our calculations of the cost and benefits of one location over another in order to find opportunities to reduce our debts and improve our quality of life. For over five years we had been visiting Silicon Valley, always calculating the daunting amount we would have to earn to live there. In the mid-1990’s, it changed and we realized that housing prices had dropped enough and wages had gone up enough that the area was suddenly affordable. We calculated that the wages and benefits for our skill sets were so much higher in comparison to what our same skill set was worth in New Mexico, that it was suddenly far cheaper for us to live in Silicon Valley. Ten years later, the scenario completely changed and the wages and opportunities in the region for our skill set were in no longer sufficient to allow us to pay for even a downsized lifestyle.

Now we are focused on studying the regional economies of the Big Island of Hawaii, each with unique living situations, costs of living, and cultures. Two years ago when we moved to the Big Island, we calculated that it was about 50% cheaper to live on the east side of the island than the west side. Over the past two years, the reduction of visitors and loss of tourism jobs have dramatically changed the economic situation on the west side of the island. Since the eruption of Kilauea in March 2008, the west side has also had to deal with a cloud of volcanic emissions (VOG) causing many residents to move back to the mainland or over to the east side. During the same time frame, the east side’s economy has been bolstered by the increased enrollment at the University of Hawaii in Hilo which has bumped up rents and federal earmarks and state funds that have supported research, institutions and increases in Hilo jobs. Though it is hard to compare Kona rentals with Hilo rentals due to their differences in age, setup, and expenses included in the rent like grounds maintenance, water, sewer and garbage, we estimate that west side rents are off 50% or more from when we were looking at rentals there two years ago.

The combination of factors that have resulted in Kona’s regional economy changing so dramatically reminds us of the situation we experienced in Silicon Valley in the mid-1990’s and we believe will result in new opportunities for the west side of the Big Island over the next decade.