Tiki Redefined

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Tiki means a lot of things to a lot of people. At its root, the word Tiki refers to a god or idol, a symbol. As a purely American pop culture creation, Tiki was started in the 1930s in Hollywood as an escape. It borrowed heavily from Polynesian culture, including a love of tropical island motifs, music, and of course the carved statues know as Tikis. This phenomenon grew after World War Two through the 1950s, culminating with the statehood of Hawai’i in 1959.

There are those who accuse the Tiki movement of gross cultural appropriation. If you look at the Tiki of the 1950s and early 1960s, they may be right. I’d like to think it wasn’t intentional, but people during this time period used images and customs of Polynesian culture in somewhat insensitive ways. Everything from hotels to bowling alleys were decorated to look like tropical hideaways, often bastardizing Polynesian names and displaying garish versions of Tiki gods, all in the name of perpetuating the myth of an escape from reality. It was way over the top.

This in part led to the demise of Tiki culture in the late 1960s. The Summer of Love generation replaced their parents’ rum-fueled escapism with their own form, powered by drugs and free love. Not only did they see their predecessors’ ways as square; they also were offended by the artificial feel of it all. The hippie crowd was a back to nature movement, and they saw Tiki as a disgusting misappropriation of other cultures that was shameful.

This view of Tiki culture exists to this day in certain circles. Some people find it tacky and insensitive, but I believe they’re missing the point. Don’t get me wrong: I realize that our grandparents’ Tiki was 1950s kitschy Americana at its finest, and I can appreciate it for what it was – a slice of Mid-Century pop culture. The resurgence of Tiki that started in the 1990s was different from the original form from half a century before. Yes, we were very interested in how everything became so popular in the first place, but modern-day Tiki enthusiasts are digging a little deeper.

The work of people like Sven Kirsten, Leroy Schmaltz, Josh Agle, and Jeffrey Berry unearthed the original roots of Tiki pop culture. The study of Polynesian culture, from architecture to the varying forms of Tiki gods, helped identify the source material for American Mid-Century versions of these forms. Artistic depictions of Tikis became more genuine. Exotica music and its original creators came to be better appreciated as vinyl treasures were resurrected from the dustbins of history. And the history of Tiki mixology traced the lineage of these mysterious rum drinks to their origins in Caribbean bars, and fueled a resurgence of these craft cocktails as their secret recipes were decoded.

All this is to say that I believe modern Tiki is a form of cultural appreciation, not appropriation. I personally enjoy and have a deep respect for Polynesian culture, which includes knowing the difference between the peoples of Hawai’i and New Zealand and all islands in between. I appreciate the fact that most Tiki drinks were derived from recipes created by bartenders in Jamaica, Cuba, and across the Caribbean, and that most of today’s great rums still come from this part of the world.

And all Tikis aren’t created equal. A Ku from Hawai’i is very different from a Moai from Rapa Nui (Easter Island), which is in turn half a world away from the Maori carvings of New Zealand. My favorite Tikis come from the Marquesas Islands, and the one actual wooden Tiki statue I own was carved by a man in Kaua’i in the Marquesan style.

If you want to learn more about Tiki culture and the appreciation that is the modern Tiki revival, please check out the following books that serve as indispensable reference guides to me:

Sven Kirsten: The Book of Tiki

Douglas Nason featuring SHAG and Leroy Schmaltz: Night of The Tiki

Jeffrey Beachbum Berry: Potions of the Caribbean

In the mean time, please check out these respectful depictions of Tiki carving styles from different Polynesian countries. Mahalo.

All photos below taken from Night of The Tiki.

Hawaii – Ku (God of War)
Rapa Nui – Moai
New Zealand – Maori
Papua New Guinea – Mwai mask
Marquesas Islands – Fertility Tiki

24 Hours in Orlando

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Prelude

So, this time last week, I was attending my company’s annual sales conference at The Marriott World Center in Orlando FL. It was the usual over-the-top event full of business reviews, strategy sessions, panel discussions, and an awards dinner (where I did not win…again). The highlight by far of the conference for me was the keynote speaker, Neil Pasricha. Neil got his start writing the blog 1000 Awesome Things, and he has now published many books including You Are Awesome, which all of us at the sales conference were given a copy of. I enjoyed his presentation so much that I went up to Neil afterwards and got him to personalize my book. We also discussed blogging in general, my blog and podcast, and I gave him an A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge sticker (I keep these on hand for just such an occasion). He said he would check out my sites. Thanks Neil!

The first two days of the sales conference featured miserable weather. Wednesday and Thursday it was in the mid-50s, overcast, rainy. Not exactly the escape a Pennsylvania guy was looking for in Orlando in January! Fortunately, the weather turned on Friday – 70s and sunny. The conference ended at noon, so this was perfect timing for the events I had planned. As most of my colleagues boarded taxis headed for the airport, I munched on my box lunch and waited for a ride of a different kind.

The real fun was about to begin.

Friday 24Jan2020

1:00pm. My brother from another mother George Borcherding arrived at the Marriott World from his home in Jacksonville FL. George is a fellow Disney and Tiki enthusiast who also happens to be a Walt Disney World annual passholder. He travels to Orlando at least once a month to get his Disney on, which usually includes a stop at our happy place, the Polynesian Village. Since I don’t live in Florida, I don’t have an annual pass, so my trip to Walt Disney World for a half-day visit would cost me a pretty penny. How could I justify this expense?

Here’s how. Last December I won the championship of my buddy Chris Benton’s fantasy football league. Not bad for my first year in the league! This is a 12-team league with cash prizes for 1st and 2nd place only. In addition, the champion gets to host a pretty sweet trophy. The cash prize was more than enough to cover the cost of a 1-day park ticket, a 1-night hotel stay, food and beverages, and spending money for souvenirs. So, why not? I earned the right to spend this found money on some great memories.

1:30pm. George and I drove to the Baymont Inn to check in, then travelled to the Hollywood Studios parking lot, where we boarded the new Disney Skyliner headed for EPCOT. I hadn’t been to WDW since they opened the Skyliner, so this was a nice treat and a cool way to fly to our ultimate destination.

2:00pm. We arrived at EPCOT, where the International Festival of the Arts was in full swing. Truth be told, the main reason I wanted to stay in Orlando for an extra day was to attend this event, where my Tiki friend and Disney Master Artist Kevin-John would be debuting his two new It’s A Small World art prints. I had my eye on the Polynesian print, and KJ was going to be at the event from 3-5pm today signing his art. We had an hour to kill.

George and I decided to cruise through the World Showcase, where they had tents set up for all of the featured artists at the festival. Although Kevin-John was my main attraction, I had also discovered another artist when browsing the festival’s website: Eunjung June Kim Atellier. June Kim had 4 works she was debuting this year, and I love them all, but the one I really wanted was Happy Orange Song. We found her art in the Wonderground Gallery tent in front of the Germany pavilion, and I bought the big print I coveted and postcards of the others. Sadly, June Kim wasn’t at the festival this week to sign her art, but I will track her down in the future.

2:30pm. We still had a little time to kill before seeing Kevin-John, so George suggested we do a little drinking around the countries. We started with a Tokyo Sunset in Japan, which was a tropical, Tiki-like concoction. Then we moved on to England where we tried some whiskey flights. I went Irish, George went Scotch. We timed our stop in England perfectly, as the typical 15-minute Florida rainstorm passed through while we stayed high…and dry.

3:00pm. The time had arrived to visit with Kevin-John. We wandered over to the Canada pavilion, where the main artists tent was located. When we got there, only one couple was in line in front of us, so we only had to wait about 10 minutes for our chance. George and I both bought the Small World – Polynesia print in the tent and had them ready for KJ to sign. I had brought an orange Sharpee for the occasion, which he gladly used. Kevin-John was gracious with his time and genuinely glad to see us. I think he spent 15 minutes with George and me, talking story and signing our art. I felt bad for the people in line behind us, which at this point had swelled to over twenty people deep. Everyone was in a good mood, though, and it turns out George and I knew many of them anyway, or at least they knew who we were. Ah, Tiki celebrity!

3:45pm. After we finished with Kevin-John, it was time to head over to EPCOT Future World and go on some rides. Sadly, this part of EPCOT is really torn apart right now, as they are renovating much of the park. My wife’s favorite fountain is gone; MouseGears is closed and ready to be demolished; much of the walking area is inaccessible as large walls have gone up to hide the mess. It really is only a 1/2-day park right now.

Fortunately we had FastPasses for Soarin’, the one must-do ride at EPCOT. Although I really miss the old ride, which featured scenic California, the new ride is pretty cool as you fly around the world. Thank goodness they didn’t change the pre-ride queue and briefing video, where Puddy still calls the shots. “Nice work, Pal.”

After Soarin’ we had FastPasses for Living with The Land and Spaceship Earth, but we didn’t need them, as both standby lines were less than 10 minutes. That was a good thing, as our half day at EPCOT was nearing an end and we had another happy place to get to. I bought some souvenirs for the family and as dusk fell, we hit the road.

6:30pm. George and I got back on the Skyliner, flew to Hollywood Studios, hopped in his Honda Pilot and drove back to the Baymont Inn, where we unpacked and got ready to head back out. At this point we switched to an Uber, as there was going to be some Tiki drinking involved tonight. No sense driving the rest of the night.

7:30pm. We arrived at the Polynesian Village Resort, our happy place and final destination of the day. I hadn’t eaten anything since that box lunch at the Marriott World, so we went to Captain Cook’s, where I ordered the Hawai’ian flatbread pizza while George chowed down on some pork fried rice. We sat out on the terrace on a beautiful evening, listening to music and enjoying the water wall.

While we were eating and chilling, we met up with some off-duty cast members and their friends. George knew everybody, as he comes here a lot! By the end of the evening, I would know them too. George also touched base with Skipper Nick, who was working at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto tonight, and put our name on the waiting list to get in.

8:00pm. George got a text from our friend Polly Allsmiller, who was hanging out upstairs at the Tambu Lounge with her husband Rich. Walter was tending bar tonight, so we headed up to get the best Mai-Tai on property and say hello to our friends. I had met Rich and Polly the last time I was at The Polynesian. They are wonderful people and tell amazing stories about their times at Disney, both in California and Florida. The Allsmillers are genuine ohana and I’m so glad we got to spend time with them!

8:30pm. George got a text from Skipper Nick that our table was ready at Trader Sam’s, so we finished up at the Tambu Lounge and headed back downstairs. Rich and Polly joined us as we settled in for a long evening of Tiki drinks and merriment with friends and cast members. Trader Sam’s is more than just a Tiki bar – it’s a Disney Tiki bar. If the Enchanted Tiki Room and the Jungle Cruise had and alcoholic child, this place would be it. I’ve spent quite a few evenings here, and I hope I get to spend many more. I’ve also made quite a few Tiki friends here over the years, and tonight just added to my ohana. This truly is my happy place.

Saturday 25Jan2020

12:30am. After closing down Trader Sam’s, we headed back upstairs to the Tambu Lounge to hang out with Walter and the rest of the Polynesian cast members as they closed up shop for the night. By 1am George and I hailed an Uber and headed back to the Baymont Inn, where we called it a night.

Denouement

9:00am. I had woken up a little earlier than this, but George was still sleeping, so I quietly packed my suitcase and headed down to the lobby for some breakfast. George was staying in Orlando until Sunday, and I was flying home today, so I didn’t bother him this morning. I ate my breakfast and called an Uber to take me to the airport. Aloha, George, and thanks again for hosting me for the day! I love you, bruddah.

10:00am. I arrived at MCO with lots of time to spare, as my flight wasn’t scheduled to take off until 12:50pm. I had heard horror stories from my colleagues flying out the day before about long lines getting through security. I didn’t want to chance it. On this Saturday morning it only took me about 15 minutes to get through security, so I had time to kill. I started reading Neil Pasricha’s blog, which is really good. It inspired me to read his book, the one he had personalized for me two days earlier. I finished it 3 days after I got home, and enjoyed every page. I can’t wait until his new book comes out, which he teased us with during his presentation at the sales conference.

After a leisurely lunch at Ruby Tuesday in the airport terminal (not many choices here), I boarded the plane heading back to Newark. So long, Orlando. Until we meet again.

1:00pm. Wheels up as I reflect on the past 24 hours. This truly was a wonderful trip, albeit a short one. It really made me happy to be able to see such wonderful people and do such fun things in the course of one day. I’m glad I took Neil Pasricha’s advice to spend the 20 minutes (well, maybe a little more) to write it all down. The 20-minute replay truly does give you the chance to relive the happiness, and will continue to do so every time I read this blog post. Mahalo, Neil. And George. And KJ. And Rich & Polly. A hui hou.

Ohana Means Community

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Last weekend, I ran into an old friend at a concert. I know George Mowrer from the church we used to attend together and from some men’s retreats we enjoyed. Lately I’ve lost my desire for organized religion, so I hadn’t seen George for a while. He asked me if I had found another church, and I told him no, that I was giving that a break for now.

George and I are Facebook friends, so he knows of my Tiki obsession. When George asked me what I was doing to be in community, I told him my Tiki ohana was my community. He asked me to explain that to him, and I tried the best I could before the concert started and we shifted our focus to the music. I’m afraid my explanation must have been pretty disjointed. I will try to explain it better now, so if you’re reading this, George, this is for you.

My Tiki ohana is both real and virtual. I’ve written at length about the many aspects of it (Who’s Who In The Tiki Ohana): artists, builders, chroniclers, musicians, mixologists. I’ll now talk about some of the specific people I’ve gotten to know well, some in person, some virtually. I feel blessed to know these folks, as they truly make up a wonderful community for me.

Beth Lennon. A/K/A Mod Betty, Beth is the creator of Retro Roadmap, a really cool website devoted to spotlighting vintage and retro places across the country with the hope of preserving them. Years ago, Beth came across my A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge page and reached out to me to talk about Tiki. She noticed that there was an interconnect between my world of Tiki and her world of Mid-Century Modern, one that we’ve explored ever since. I invited Beth to come up to Bethlehem so I could show her Steel Stacks; she and her husband Cliff Hillis both came up and we immediately hit it off! Cliff is a musician, a singer-songwriter who is very busy in the Philly music scene. He brought me a copy of one of his CDs as a gift, and I gave Beth a SHAG art postcard that reminded me of her.

Over the years, we’ve crossed paths on many occasions. Beth came back to Bethlehem for a Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica concert I helped organize at Steel Stacks; I spent time with Beth and Cliff at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale; and I helped Beth organize a Tiki weekender in Wildwood NJ, the MCM/Doo-Wop capital of the East Coast. It was at this Wildwood event that I met many people I’ve gotten to know in the local Tiki ohana, folks like Robin Cammarota-Nicholson and Michael Hirsch.

Michael Hirsch. Michael lives in New York City, but his parents live in Allentown, so he comes to my neck of the woods often. Michael has been to my Tiki Lounge a few times. He is an architect by trade, and he is passionate about historical preservation, having written a book on Doo-Wop architecture. Michael organized a tour of historically significant landmarks in Wildwood during Mod Betty’s Tiki Weekend. He also is involved with the Society for Commercial Archeology and brought a few of his SCA friends to the Tiki Lounge the last time he visited.

I’ve seen Michael in other places besides Wildwood and Bethlehem. He and I broke bread together at another Retro Roadmap event at the Village Diner in upstate New York, where I also met his parents, Anita and Syman. It turns out the synagogue they attend is literally across the street from my house! Michael also met my friend Bruce and me at The Polynesian, an upscale new Tiki bar in Manhattan.

Robin Cammarota-Nicholson. Robin is another New York City resident I first met at the Wildwood Tiki Weekend. She and her husband Ken live in Yonkers, but Robin travels the world in her job with the American Council on Germany. Everywhere she goes, Robin searchesm out Tiki hotspots to try out. Although I haven’t seen her as often as I’ve seen Michael, I did run into Robin at a Surf Music weekend in Asbury Park NJ and at a pop-up Tiki bar at Boilermaker NYC, where the bar was taken over by Tiki mixologist extraordinaire and historian, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry.

Jeffrey Berry. Jeff “Beachbum” Berry is one of the most influential people in the Tiki revival movement which began in the 1990s. He has published multiple books on Tiki cocktail recipes and history, travels the world as a Tiki drink ambassador, and opened his own restaurant and Tiki bar, Latitude 29, in New Orleans. I first met Jeff at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale, where I attended his symposium on the dark days of Tiki drinks in the 1970s. I found him to be personable and kind, with no ego, as he spent time talking with me as if I was the only person there.

The next time I met The Bum, he took his generosity of spirit a step further. My sister Anita and I visited Latitude 29 while in New Orleans on some family business. Jeff agreed to do an interview with me for my podcast before we sat down for dinner. He was articulate, genuine, and a wonderful historian during our talk (you can check out this interview in my podcast episode here: Panda’s Tasty Jambalaya). During dinner, Beachbum Berry came to our table and shared a new drink he was working on with us, asking our opinion on it. What a nice gesture from a great guy! I consider it an honor to know Jeff Berry personally, as he is the most accessible and humble of the Tiki titans. Mahalo, Bum.

Steve Seifert. My wife Jess first introduced me to “Tikiman” Steve Seifert, who created a wonderful website dedicated to WDW’s Polynesian Village Resort: Tikiman Pages. Our family are Disney junkies, and The Polynesian is my happy place. Jess began following Tikiman’s website and Facebook page to keep up to date on all things Poly, which helped us better plan our vacations there.

Over the years, Tikiman has asked his followers to contribute to his website, whenever he knew somebody was at The Polynesian and he was looking for on-the-ground reporting. I helped Steve out when our family was on vacation there in 2014. In return, he helped publicize my blog posts through his audience, as I was blogging daily durning our stay (WDW Polynesian Day 1) and Tikiman’s followers took my readership into 5 digits!

A few years later, Tikiman decided to host a get-together for Tiki friends at the Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto in The Polynesian Village. It was really cool to meet him in person, along with seeing other members of the Tiki ohana like Jim Hayward, Scott Deeter, George Borcherding, and Kevin-John Jobczynski.

Kevin-john Jobczynski. I’ve gotten to know and appreciate a lot of Tiki artists over the years (Tiki Ohana: Artists, Tiki Ohana: Artists, Part Deux), but I’ve only actually met a very few of them. Josh Agle was the first, and I’ve documented my interactions with him before (Stalking SHAG). One of my current favorite artists is Kevin-john Jobczynski, who has become somewhat famous as a Disney Master Artist.

I was fortunate to meet KJ at Tikiman’s gathering at Trader Sam’s, where he debuted a new art print created especially for the event. I had previously purchased a piece from him entitled Mai-Tai Sunset, which was one of KJ’s earliest Tiki-specific pieces of art. How cool that he printed it on a piece of driftwood with a bamboo frame and rattan matting! This print, along with several other Kevin-john works, hangs proudly in the Tiki Lounge.

George Borcherding. Like me, George Borcherding is a huge fan of Tiki. I first got to know him via our online interactions, but I have now spent enough time with George in-person to consider him a true friend. All of our meetings have taken place at The Polynesian, which certainly isn’t a bad place to meet. A Dole Whip and a Captain’s Mai-Tai are great reasons to get together!

 

 

 

 

 

 

George, like me, has his own home Tiki bar, which he puts a lot of work into making special. I’ve never been to Nui Keoki’s Enchanted Grotto, but I enjoy following along on his Facebook page to see the latest and the greatest in Tiki decor. I believe he feels the same way about A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge.

One of these days, I will visit George in Jacksonville FL, and I’m sure he will come to Bethlehem PA too. For now, we have many memories we’ve made together at The Polynesian, from the time we met with many of our Tiki ohana at Tikiman Steve’s event, and the time we were a couple of non-Polynesian gringos crashing Auntie Kaui’s birthday celebration in Luau Cove, to just chilling out at the Tambu Lounge sipping on Mai-Tais made by Walter. And we’ll never forget being served by Skipper Natalie at Trader Sam’s, which was sadly the last time we saw her before she tragically passed away at too young an age. Okole mauna, Natalie, and mahalo, Bruddah George, for being a good friend and a big part of my Tiki community.

Panda’s Exotica Island

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Exotica. It’s a misunderstood term, unfortunately. Probably because it sounds a bit like “erotica,” which it is not. Exotica is a style of music that got its name from an album by Martin Denny. Think relaxing, island music, with plenty of vibraphone, wordless vocals, and bird calls. As if you’re in the middle of a jungle and don’t really want to get out. I consider Exotica to be one of the five pillars in the Tiki canon: Panda’s Galaxy of Sound.

The big three of Exotica were Les Baxter, Martin Denny, and Arthur Lyman. Les Baxter began it all with his Music Out of the Moon album way back in 1947, which featured the unusual sounds of the theremin to create an imagined lunar soundscape. Baxter’s music was lushly orchestrated, as he went on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest soundtrack artists. His original version of Quiet Village remains the quintessential Exotica song. Martin Denny stripped down Baxter’s sound with his version of Quiet Village on his classic Exotica album in 1957. Denny’s vibraphonist, Arthur Lyman, struck out on his own and imbued the music with the soul of his native Hawai’i, including his album Legend of Pele from 1959.

Over the years, other artists have made Exotica music, and modern artists from across the globe have picked up the torch. Ìxtahuele from Sweden, The Left Arm of Buddha from Belgium, and Gold Dust Lounge from Florida, to name a few. This playlist celebrates a timeline of Exotica from its heyday back in the 1950s to the current day. I hope you enjoy hearing it as much as I enjoyed creating it.

Here’s the playlist:

Panda's Exotica Island CD Back

Here’s the soundtrack you can listen to on 8tracks:

Owning Tiki

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I’ve been a participant in Tiki culture for about 15 years now. In that time, I’ve learned a lot about what Tiki is (and what it isn’t). First and foremost, Tiki is an escape. The many aspects of this escape – music, art, drinks, decor – have been the subject of my musings in this blog, my Facebook page, my podcasts, and my 8tracks music channel.

What I’m particularly proud of is that I have become somewhat of an expert in Tiki to those who know me. I like to think I occupy the Tiki space in those people’s minds, and they often ask me questions, send me texts and pictures from Tiki-related places, and bring me things they think I might like for my Tiki Lounge.

One of the questions I get asked most often: “Andy, how did you get into Tiki in the first place?” I got tired of telling my Tiki origin story over and over again, so I wrote a blog post about it (Whenceforth A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge?). The next most popular question I get is “Is this Tiki?” I’m not always right, but I do try to explain the difference between Oceanic Arts and Party City, i.e. legitimate and respectful Tiki versus tacky cultural appropriation.

The most fun communications are texts from friends who know my love of Tiki and want to show me they’ve paid attention to what I’ve told them. Here are a few recent examples:

Both of these texts came to me in the past month!

Finally, the most gratifying aspect of owning Tiki is when friends bring me things from their travels. I’m not talking about my Tiki ohana, as we send each other things all the time, especially Tiki mugs. I’m talking about unsolicited gifts from unexpected people and places, just because they thought of me and saw something cool. A few examples:

I love that people think of me when they see Tiki things and bring them over. It’s not the gifts as much as the thought that brings me joy. No matter what it is, I will try my best to display these items proudly in the Tiki Lounge, after thanking the givers publicly on my Facebook page. Let’s hope I never run out of room here!

To all of you who have asked me questions about Tiki, showed me you listened and appreciated the knowledge, and brought me tokens of your appreciation, I say mahalo from the bottom of my heart. You are always welcome in the Tiki Lounge for a Mai-Tai and a temporary escape to a fun place.

Panda’s Christmas Island

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Christmas Island. It is a magical place, where palm trees sway, Tiki drinks flow freely, and the music is very festive. In my version of Christmas Island, the soundtrack is made of all of the stars in Panda’s Galaxy of Sound: Surf, Hawai’ian, Exotica, Lounge, and Space-Age Bachelor Pad. It’s not exactly your parents’ Christmas music, but never fear: it will put you in the mood for Christmas. Tiki style.

This is my fifth Christmas compilation and first in 6 years. There’s a nice mix of old crooners, surf stalwarts, new Hawai’ian music, and some exotica that will leave you wondering how anybody could reimagine Christmas this way. I hope you enjoy it.

Mele Kalikimaka!

Here’s the playlist:

Panda's Christmas Island CD Playlist

And here’s a link to my 8tracks radio page where you can listen to this mix:

Pins in The Tiki Lounge

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There are many facets to the story of my Tiki journey. One angle I haven’t explored yet is my collection of Tiki pins. As I look back on the many pins I’ve gotten, and continue to get new ones, it suddenly occurs to me: these pins tell a story. With pretty pictures. Let’s start at the beginning.

2008-13, Walt Disney World

Our first family vacation to WDW in Orlando FL was in December of 2008. We were on the every 18 month plan, which saw us journeying to the Polynesian Village Resort four times between 2008-13. These were the days before Disney Magic Bands, so you carried your ID cards in a plastic pouch on the end of a lanyard. The lanyard was a perfect place to hold pins, and we were quickly introduced to the art of pin trading at Disney.

Pin trading was a family affair, as my wife and kids were really into it. I also enjoyed it, and was fortunate enough to score my first Tiki pin (the one with the black Mickey ears hat) via trade. I loved that pin, and through a little research, I discovered there were two more Tiki pins in the set. I managed to find the second one in due time, again by trade (because they no longer sold these), but the third one eluded me. Then, one day, by dumb luck, the third pin (the blue one) found me. Seriously! We were walking through Animal Kingdom, on our way to the Safari ride, when a Disney cast member came running up to me and offered me a trade. He had noticed (from afar) the two Tiki pins on my lanyard and told me he had the third one if I was interested in it. I sure was! It was karma that this missing pin found me, early on in my Tiki journey.

Besides trading for pins, we also bought our fair share of them. At first I was drawn to the pins from some of our favorite WDW rides, like The Haunted Mansion and Tower of Terror. Then I discovered pins specific to the Polynesian Village, available in their main gift shop, Bou-Tiki. They had some fairly generic (but still cool) pins, and they incorporated Lilo and Stitch into some of them, an added bonus. During our first visit, which was during the Christmas season, I also found a special Holiday 2008 Polynesian Village pin. What a great find! It turns out they put out a new holiday pin every year. I have made it my goal to get one of these special pins every year that we visit WDW. So far, so good.

2013, Disneyland

For my 48th birthday, Jess and I decided to take a trip to Los Angeles CA. My main motivation for the trip was to attend the 50th anniversary celebration of Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room, the original. We also snuck in a trip to Whittier to visit Oceanic Arts, on our way to Anaheim. Jess wanted to try Disneyland, to see how it compared to Walt Disney World, which we had been to four times already. She also had never been to California and wanted to see Hollywood and Santa Monica. We ended up staying at the Disneyland Hotel, which is where the ETR celebration was being held, and put us close to Disneyland before we toured LA.

Magic bands were just becoming a thing at Disneyland in 2013, but we still had cards to navigate our hotel, which meant another pouch/lanyard and more space for new pins! Here I focused on the pins specific to Disneyland, including the hotel were we stayed, the iconic park sign, and the rides we really enjoyed. Some rides were unique to Disneyland (The Matterhorn), some were better here than at WDW (Space Mountain, It’s A Small World), and some not as good (Splash Mountain). It was fun to try them all, and I got as many pins as I could to remember our one trip to Disneyland.

But let’s move on to the main reason for our visit: the 50th anniversary of The Enchanted Tiki Room!

I was very excited for this event, mostly because it would be another opportunity to see one of my Tiki art heroes, SHAG. Disney had commissioned him to do some special paintings for this event, and I was lucky enough to get him to personalize a print for me. I had also pre-ordered a bunch of ETR swag that I picked up at the event, including some pins marking the 50th anniversary (displayed on yet another lanyard, this one for the event!). While we were at Disneyland, we of course did the Enchanted Tiki Room, which was another attraction much better there than at WDW. The main difference is the outdoor courtyard area, which features 8 animated Tiki god statues and a stand selling Dole Whip (as captured in SHAG’s art). I hadn’t planned on getting the special pins dedicated to each Tiki god, but after seeing them in person, I had to have those pins too. All are now displayed proudly in the ETR corner of the Tiki Lounge.

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Back to Walt Disney World we go. A lot had changed when we returned for a family vacation in 2014. Magic bands had now replaced the old card system, so there was no need to wear lanyards anymore. They were building a new Tiki bar at The Polynesian Village called Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, modeled after the Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel which had opened the year before (and we got to visit a mere weeks after it opened!). They also opened a new stand at the Great Ceremonial House, the Pineapple Lanai, where you could get Dole Whips and floats. And yes, they were building new over-water bungalows out back, and for a mere $2500 a night, you too could stay there. Too rich for our blood.

Anyway, though WDW and The Polynesian were changing, as were our family vacation plans (now on a 36-month schedule), my hunger for pins has not changed. I still seek out the special holiday pin every year we visit. Although we’ve only been back twice for full family vacations, we have been back for special trips at least once a year over the past 5 years. Even though we might not be there over the holiday season, I have friends in Florida who visit Orlando regularly and can pick stuff up for me. So, for example, we took a road trip in June that had us at The Polynesian for 4 days; the 2018 holiday pins weren’t available then, but you can bet I will have one of those pins hanging in the Tiki Lounge before the end of the year!

2018, Non-Disney Tiki

So, why did it take me 10 years to realize that other folks make Tiki pins besides Disney? I don’t know. Maybe I was distracted by other art forms, like paintings, Tiki mugs, and books. Or Tiki playing cards, like the cool Tikilandia deck designed by Robert Jimenez from LA. It was when I ordered two sets of these beautiful cards that I received one of Robert’s pins as a thank you gift. Well, that pin was so cool that I had to order another right away! I decided to display these pins on a new canvas, literally – the back of my Tiki bar director-chair stool, which is made of canvas.

Not long after I got the Tikilandia pins, I next discovered the Salty Dame and PinChe Loca pins made by Megan Besmirched from Chicago. Megan is part of the great Tiki scene in the Windy City that includes Kymm Bang’s gravel art and amazing Tiki bars Three Dots And A Dash, Lost Lake, and the Witco shrine of Hala Kaliki.

Finally, my newest pins come from Gil Taimana from San Diego. He is the owner of Tahiti Gil’s South Seas Trading Co. and Tahiti Felix’s Master Tattoo & Museum. I met Gil through the Disneyland Addiction group, and his artistic homage to Disney and the Enchanted Tiki Room is quite strong. Just look at these amazing pins! They really tell a story, and if you’ve been to the ETR at Disneyland, you appreciate the story even more. Pretty powerful that a tiny work of art can do that.

Start With Why

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A few years ago, I was sitting in a meeting with my Vistage Trusted Advisors team (a professional peer review group) when our host, Lori Blatt, threw us a curveball. Instead of doing the typical host business review, Lori put on a video and told us to relax and watch it. The video was a Ted talk featuring Simon Sinek entitled How Great Leaders Inspire Action. This 18-minute video opened my eyes. I was so impressed with Simon Sinek’s talk that I went out and bought his book on the same subject: Start With Why.

In a nutshell, Sinek claims that people won’t follow you simply because of what you do; rather, leaders inspire because of why they do what they do. His examples included Apple, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Wright Brothers. It’s a compelling story that I bought hook, line and sinker. You start with why, which leads to how, and results in what you do. Sounds simple, right? Sadly, this isn’t the way most leaders think, and those who don’t project why they do what they do don’t sustain success. This isn’t only true for business; it applies in all walks of life.

So, with this newfound knowledge, I asked myself: what is my why?

I really hadn’t thought about this before, being happy learning about the great examples Simon Sinek showed me and reading the specifics of how this all works in his book. I’ve always fancied myself a leader, but I never examined what made me a pretty good one (I’ve been told that I am, so I don’t want to sound like I’m tooting my own horn here). One of the things I’m most proud of myself for is that I’m the same person no matter what the circumstance. Business. Family. Friends. Society. It doesn’t matter who I’m dealing with; I always talk and act the same way. No situation seems too big or too small for me to be myself. I’ve gotten to know a lot of great people in my life, and I can count on one hand the ones I would no longer associate with (nor they with me). This makes me happy.

And then it hit me: my why.

“I believe that I was put on this earth to enter into long-lasting, positive relationships with as many people as possible.”

Whew. That’s a tall order, it’s a good thing I’m an extrovert! But, how do I do this?

“When I meet someone, I immediately act as if I’ve known them for my entire life, and often this leads to meaningful conversations in a short period of time.”

Wow. That’s me. Ask those in my life who interact with me the most (my wife, my kids, my boss, my coworkers, my close friends) and I think they would agree. I drive my family crazy with the way I will talk to anybody, and when they ask me “who was that,” I will often answer them “I don’t know, I just met them.” This ability informs my business success as well. Although I sell energy for a living, which as a commodity business can be very price-driven, I follow a relationship sales model. I have many long-standing customers and consultants who I consider friends. They do business with me because they like me and are comfortable working with me. I may not always have the lowest price, but my service to them is second to none. I always respond promptly, tell the truth, even if it’s bad news, and solve problems as quickly as I can. Simple, right?

So, why am I writing about this in a Tiki blog?

First, it’s my blog and I like to write, so deal with it!

Second, this is a story that’s been bouncing around in my head recently, and I needed to get it out, so here it is.

Third, I’ve been documenting my Tiki journey in these blog posts, and the one consistent theme has been the friends I’ve made over the past 10 years in the ohana.

Tiki is one of my newest walks of life, but I’ve gotten to know a lot of people in a short period of time. With the advent of the Internet, Facebook and social media in general, it’s even easier to develop meaningful relationships. Take my buddy George Borcherding (pictured with me on the cover image for this post), for example. George and I got to know each other via Facebook, as we travel in many of the same Tiki circles. George lives over 1,000 miles away from me in Jacksonville FL, but I consider him a good friend and Tiki brother. We’ve gotten together a few times now, all at Walt Disney World’s Polynesian Village Resort, where we’ve knocked back many Dole Whips and Tiki drinks together. George has inspired me with his love of Tiki, and I hope I have done the same for him. Mahalo Nui Keoki, I love you bruddah!

George is the exception, as most of my Tiki friends are people I haven’t actually met. No matter. Thanks to phones and the internet, I’ve had meaningful conversations with Tiki people all over the world. The syndicated radio/podcast host in Sydney, Australia. The Tiki mug maker in Paris, France. The Tiki wood carver in Kauai, Hawaii. The musicians in Jacksonville, Miami, Houston, and Los Angeles. The artists in LA, Seattle, Salt Lake City, and Melbourne Beach, Florida. The list goes on, and I don’t want to mention all of the names for fear of forgetting somebody. If you’ve read my blog posts, you know who these good people are.

The moral of my story is this: relationships matter to me. A lot. I’m good with that, and glad to know it helps me in all aspects of my life. That’s my why.

What’s your why?

You can check out Simon Sinek’s Ted talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action

After you’ve watched the video, read the book: https://www.amazon.com/Start-Why-Leaders-Inspire-Everyone/dp/1591846447

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A. Panda’s Exotica Lounge

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So, here we go again, back to A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge for another music mix. This time I’m shooting for a compilation of Exotica and Lounge tunes, many of which I’ve only recently discovered. A lot of these songs are from the heyday of this style of music, the 1950s and 1960s. Many more are by modern-day artists who either revisited old chestnuts or created something new. All of them should fill you with a sense of escape, which is what we’re all about here in the Tiki Lounge.

Now, I’m not an artist or musician, though I really appreciate both. Where I flex my creative muscles is in writing and compiling. That’s why I enjoy this blog, and that’s why I also enjoy making music mixes. It really is an art form, mixing up other peoples’ work into something completely new.

For this particular musical collection, I have Dawn Frasier to thank for the inspiration. Dawn is an amazingly talented artist in Seattle who created the painting that is the cover of this mix. The original artwork is now hanging behind the bar in the Tiki Lounge. I also want to acknowledge some wonderful musicians who are Tiki friends of mine and landed in this mix: Jay Brooks of Clouseaux, Tony Marsico of The Martini Kings, Michael Bridoux of The Left Arm of Buddha, John Bartley of Five-Eaux, Mark Fontana of The Blue Hawaiians, Jim Bacchi of The Tikiyaki Orchestra, Brother Cleve of Combustible Edison, Russell Mofsky of Gold Dust Lounge, and all of the other musicians who made Exotica and Lounge music the treasure that we enjoy today. I hope you enjoy listening to this mix as much as I enjoyed bringing it to you. Aloha!

Here’s the playlist in case you want to see what’s in this mix:

A Panda's Exotica Lounge Playlist

And here’s the link to listen to this playlist on 8tracks:

Paradise Lost?

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So, I just finished reading a book about Paul Gaugin called Gaugin: Tahiti. Now I’m not much of an art fan, other than my love of modern Tiki artists (see Tiki Ohana – Artists ,  Tiki Ohana – Artists, Part Deux) and Edward Hopper (see Edward Hopper). I know enough to be dangerous about old-school artists. I never really knew anything about Paul Gaugin and had certainly never seen any of his artwork. When I found out he left France to pursue his late career in French Polynesia, I was intrigued, so I read his story.

Apparently, Gaugin left France because he was disgusted with the traditional art scene, culture and politics in his mother country. He hoped to find a more primitive lifestyle in Tahiti to transform his art. He also had a lust for young ladies, which he partook of in abundance in Tahiti, much to the detriment of his reputation. Many believe it took many years after his death for Gaugin’s art genius to be acknowledged in France because of his horrible character and his outspoken criticism of the French establishment. But that’s another story.

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Gaugin leaves France for French Polynesia in search of a more primitive lifestyle, an escape, if you will. Here’s why I was drawn to this story: it reminds me of Tiki escapism in Mid-Century America and it’s revival today. Gaugin was looking to surround himself with the natural beauty and color of Tahiti to reinvigorate his art. Isn’t that what Tiki does for us now, in a way? We seek an escape through music, art, libations and all things Polynesian, both authentic and faux, to get us to a better place.

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Unfortunately, when Gaugin first arrived in Tahiti in 1891, he was disillusioned by what he found. The French government had beaten him there by at least 50 years, and the colonizers and missionaries did a great deal to subjugate and evangelize the local population. What Gaugin had hoped to find, a primitive culture and people, had become a lot like what he was trying to escape in France. His behavior, both regarding his disdain of the local government and appetite for Tahitian girls, put Gaugin at odds with the Tahitian authorities. Some escape!

Tiki’s original downfall in the late 1960s had a similar story. This so-called “escape” was decried by the hippie generation as a completely artificial and unnatural world. There was some truth to this narrative. Original Tiki did borrow from Polynesian culture in a very loose sense, which some people then (and even to this day) saw as an exploitation of these native lands. Was it wrong or disrespectful to appropriate sacred carved Tikis as gods for a new culture of escapism?

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For Gaugin, his desire to get back to a more primitive state of nature had a noble cause: to improve his art. It’s sad that his own baggage dragged him down, and the colonization of Tahiti demoralized him even further. Gaugin was only human, after all, and human nature in both his own case and the French occupiers of this Polynesian paradise ultimately defeated his ideal. Broken, both emotionally and physically (years of STDs had taken a toll on his body), Gaugin relocated to the more remote Marquesan island of Hiva Oa in 1901 before passing away there in 1903.

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The revival of Tiki culture beginning at the turn of the 21st Century also had a noble cause: the rediscovery of a lost culture in its purest form. Yes, Tiki culture is as much artifice as it is art, but we current Tiki enthusiasts don’t make excuses for this or pretend this escape is something more than just that: an escape. In addition, the broad scope of Tiki culture can lead (and has led for me) to a much deeper dive into its various elements. The differences in Tiki carving styles among the different Polynesian islands. The origin of Tiki drinks from humble beginnings in the Caribbean to exotic cocktails painstakingly crafted by expert mixologists. The architecture and design of lush Tiki temples all over the world.

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Again, there is no need to make any excuses for enjoying the Tiki lifestyle. When I was troubled recently by a video mocking the American occupation of the Hawai’ian islands, my friend George Jenkins responded: “Good luck finding a square inch of this planet that doesn’t have some nasty history associated with it.” Truth. We humans have a nasty habit of fucking up our world through our greed and lust for power. But we can still be positive about Tiki and our brand of escapism, as long as we are respectful of others. Added my friend Scott Deeter: “Hawaii has a very complicated history for sure, Andy. But there is amazing beauty in both the land and the culture there. Don’t be an ugly tourist–just like visiting anywhere.” Wise words from my fellow Tiki enthusiasts.

So, while your enjoying a Mai-Tai, think about all of those who came before us in this escape we call Tiki. Paul Gaugin would be happy to join us there!

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