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MY WORLD, THREE WEEKS LATER
By Michael Matthews
March 31, 2011 -- It has been a horrible three weeks.

Half of my family lives in Japan. Our son, daughter-in-law and adorable 18-month old granddaughter, Hanah, live in Yamagata. The town wasn't badly damaged by the earthquake or tsunami, but is only 40 miles from Sendai, the nearest major city to what is now called the Tohoku earthquake.

It is a beautiful part of Japan. We went frequently and visited the many little fishing villages along the Pacific Coast. They're all gone now.

Then came the threat from the deteriorating conditions at the Fukushima nuclear power plants. That, finally, was enough to get them moving--with a big, metaphoric kick in the pants from my darling wife. They evacuated 125 miles north for five days and have now returned to Yamagata, continued nuclear threat notwithstanding.

Like just about everyone else in Yamagata, they are short of everything. The shelves of most stores are empty. Forget about finding gasoline. Rolling blackouts are a reality of daily life. There are still regular aftershocks, too, some in the 6.0 range.

But, amazingly, their spirits are high. Through the wonders of Skype, we see and talk to them every day. While talking to them after another aftershock, little Hanah just jumped up and down giggling. Her parents hung on to anything that was firmly planted. There's something to be said for the innocence of the young, I guess.

As I've mentioned, supplies are short in Yamagata, so I went shopping on Saturday here in Arizona. List in hand, I purchased flashlights, batteries, spuds, soup, macaroni and cheese and other freeze-dried delicacies. I picked up Tabasco and other sauces I thought would cover the taste of the freeze-dried stuff. I bought Crisco and vegetable oil and Kleenex. I grabbed packets and packets of raisins for Hanah. Somehow, I forgot toothpaste.

I packed them in a UPS box measuring 20-by-20-by-24 inches. Then it was my turn for aftershock. The cost of the goods inside? Just over $100. The cost to ship, via 5-7 day delivery? About $400. It would have been nice if UPS had given a discount for "care" packages to families in Japan. It would have been a great public relations move. I guess no one thought of it. Or maybe they thought it was business as usual. Or, maybe, it all reflected the difficulty of shipping into the earthquake zone. For many days after the earthquake, after all, FedEx didn't even try.

But enough of all that. This is a hotel column. And what our media has played down is the damage done to our own shores by the tsunami that rolled across the Pacific. Sadly, one of the world's most iconic resorts--and one of my personal favorites--has been wiped out.

The 50-year-old Kona Village Resort on the Big Island of Hawaii was struck by the tsunami. The low-rise resort had recently been renovated, but the tide's force was so strung that much of the property is unrecognizable. Kona Village lost 29 hales (bungalows), ripping them from their foundations. Others are severely damaged. The food and beverage outlets were destroyed. The offices and reception were destroyed. Most of the resort's 82 acres were flooded with sea water. The beach has vanished.

For all intents and purposes, Kona Village is no more. Friday, April 1, will be the last day for the resort's 200 employees. Some have worked there for more than 40 years. Will Kona Village ever reopen? At the moment, I wouldn't bet on it.

Next door to Kona Village is the Four Seasons Resort at Hualalai. It, too, was hit. But unlike Kona Village, the Four Seasons is a modern resort, built of brick, concrete and steel. The property hopes to clean up and reopen by the end of April. But the resort's championship golf courses are flooded with sea water. Need I say more?

Not far away, the Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park is a mound of debris. The fish ponds, picnic area and the pu'uhonna ("place of refuge") suffered the brunt of the tsunami's fury. Many other resorts along the Kona Coast took hits, too, and they face costly clean-up work.

Most of all, though, I will miss the Kona Village Resort. I'll miss the wonderful staff. I'll miss feeding the stingrays, Mai Tai in my hand, watching the sunset. Kona Village was probably the only resort in the world where you could truly relax. That's because it had no televisions or telephones. Not even Skype.

But, maybe, one day, Kona Village will be rebuilt and reopen. If it is, I will bring my granddaughter Hanah and show her that there's more to life than devastation.

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ABOUT MICHAEL MATTHEWS Michael Matthews has managed and marketed fine hotels around the world for more than 45 years. He spent 14 years in Hong Kong building the legendary Regent International group. He has also worked with St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton and Rosewood hotels. Matthews is currently based in Arizona. He began writing Do Not Disturb in early 2004.

THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Michael Matthews in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Matthews. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Michael Matthews.

This column is Copyright 2011 by Michael Matthews. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.