June 5th, 2014
For three years, designer Nake'u Awai has hosted Tea and Talk Story sessions from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Sundays at Na Mea Hawai'i/Native Books at Ward Warehouse.
The event features a different Hawaiian-culture guest each week, and started as Awai's way of adding an extra dimension to his volunteer duties at the store.
"I just go through my phone book and call one of my friends, or I'll meet someone interesting and ask, 'Why don't you come down and talk story?' I never know where the conversation will go. We just start talking,” he said.
"Sometimes it's just me and my guest, but I get the benefit because we talk about things from 20 years ago and I learn something that I didn't know."
Anyone is welcome to listen in while enjoying a simple tea service and a scone selection from local bakeries, at $5 per person. Guests slated to join Awai the rest of the month are are:
» Sunday: Lorna Pacheco, lau hala weaver
» June 15: Reyna Keeaunui, kumu hula
» June 22: Lelea'e, artist, actress, singer and granddaughter of feather artist Marylou Kekuewa
» June 29: Brian Tolentino, ukulele player and member of Side Order Band.
Last weekend, Awai welcomed local Ming's Jewelry expert Linda Lee, a collector of the jewelry pieces for about 17 years. You can read more about her collection in a story I wrote seven years ago.
The company was started by artist Wook and Shay Yung Moon in the early 1940s. Sterling silver and ivory pieces that would have sold to downtown Honolulu's office workers for about $4.80 to $14.80 at the time now fetch hundreds of dollars.
One of the questions that came up was the value of signed vs. unsigned pieces. Lee said she generally has no trouble authenticating unsigned pieces which come up often because there were no rules in place in the mid-20th century, when speculation regarding collectibles was not on many individuals' radar.
"They only had one stamp so if the stamp was in Hilo and they were working in Honolulu, they just signed it by hand."
The handwriting varied from beautiful flourishes to jagged scrawls, depending on who was working on it.
"The signing wasn't important then, as long as Ming's was open."
The last Ming's store, on Fort Street Mall, closed its doors in 1999, and that sent patrons rushing to buy up the last remaining pieces. The advent of online buying and selling helped propel prices over the years.
In addition to the talent Mr. Moon showed in his hand-carved, hand-painted pieces, he was apparently also a superb marketer.
He dubbed junk jade that no one else wanted "water jade" to give it cachet, which gave way to the name "Moonlight Jade." Occlusions, or flaws in the stones, were christened "clouds," a more evocative, heavenly description that made the pieces more desirable.
No doubt he would be a contender for marketing awards if he and the business were around today!
Na Mea Hawaii/Native Books is at Ward Warehouse, 1050 Ala Moana Boulevard. Call (808) 596-8885 for reservations.
Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.