My mathematics superstitions confirmed this as it’s the golden ratio point, the point where our time already spent on this trip was ~1.6 times the time left. So thus it was a great time for us to recapitulate our Canada trip and head back into USA.
Since Vancouver was really known for the great number of Chinese settlers, 三叔母 treated us to Shanghai cuisine. Besides food, B.C. was going through their state and local elections at that time, and there were many placards along the streets with pictures of contenders for public office, many of which are Chinese too. It was ironic that sometimes we Chinese can feel uneasy in another Chinese community, when we expected it to be primarily Caucasians.
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May 2 (Thursday)
Our time in Vancouver seemed short, but fruitful nonetheless. We managed to see Yiyang who’s studying in UBC on our final dinner on the evening after whale watching, and Gregory the future policeman on our last breakfast before flying off. After a hearty home cooked breakfast, 三叔母 sent us to the airport and we thanked her profusely for hosting us and pampering us. An Alaskan Airline propeller plane elevated us for our final view of Canada.
Even though Seattle was just 2.5 hrs drive away, we chose to fly as firstly it was more economical, and we gathered that the airport re-entry might be kinder to us (vs. the road border, which we might be trapped in a jam or something). Turned out this Japanese American immigration officer was rather impolite (not rude, just impolite) in questioning us (“I just said did you or did you not exit the North American continent?”). Dear was taken a back slightly, but that dissipated when she met up with Sue-Ing, her high school friend, who took time out of work to drive us from SeaTac airport to her research lab at South Lake Union. Cho Yeow also came from UW to join us for lunch, but we only got settled into our hosts’ humble place after work, but not before we marched around Seattle Center (around the space needle and EMP) all afternoon, then joined Sue-Ing to pick up Zen from pre-school, and released the day-time nanny from taking care of Zac at home.
Earlier, I stopped by Seattle in the winter of 2009 for a short work trip, but this trip was different. The most visible change was this mini construction boom, both north and south of downtown. My last meeting in Amazon was still in PacMed, but they have since moved to Day 1 North and Day 1 South, also in South Lake Union, which we strolled to in the afternoon while waiting for Sue-Ing to end her day.
The other conspicuous oddity was the weather – it was bright and sunny (the UV hurts!) for all 4 days we were here. I finally bought Dear a pair of sunglasses wishing to have bought it earlier (especially in Niagara Falls and when we were out at sea whale watching) because it was hurting the eyes just to see. We also smirked at the T-shirt that read “Seattle Rain Festival, Jan 1 to Dec 31″ thinking, what rain? But it wasn’t funny towards the end, as the sun could literally beam you dizzy in a few minutes.
But I was dizzy before the sun even hit me. I wanted to come back to Seattle so bad, I still cry sometimes thinking of some of my life’s choices.
Once, when I was younger, I thought I could live the rest of my life here. 8 years later, I have matured a fair bit in learning how to cope with life’s demands, acquired a larger palette of life’s meaning and possibilities, and yearned an increasing amount of stimulus from my environment, social circle, and my labor. These 4 days of primarily rest time (it was a much needed breather from hectic Canada) gave me the opportunity to reflect on that thought in a new context, one that requires space and time for family, for pursuing life’s purpose, to connect wiht the present, and, last but not least, space and time to be one with mother nature alone.
I didn’t reach a conclusion. Perhaps this will be the only regret for this trip. Moreover, our stay with Cho Yeow and Sue-Ing gave me more dimensions to think about life in Seattle. You see, in the years of 2004, the people I hang out with are either software people in Amazon and Microsoft (Google was just about to get started in Kirkland then), or musicians from Puget Sound Symphony (which are by themselves also software people in the day, or UW medical professionals, or music students), or a group of Malaysians that are too small to be representative, and too young to be insightful. In essence, what I experienced was life as a software developer on H-1B visa, which to be honest, looking back and forward, was and is a very enticing life in itself. You’ve heard it before: change the world, line of code at a time, stock options, great work environment.
So although I could jump back into that narrow world (I’m confident to be able to find a way), would I? Might I? And let me ask you, dear friend or stranger, should I? In that circle, a technical career is highly respected, but outside that circle, does anyone know what happened behind the bits of electrons we curated? The mistaken thought that the world revolved around myself and my dreams gave me a potentially false sense security in doing tech, and doing it like it was 2004. At the time of this writing I still haven’t completed my first mobile app and had lagged severely behind the technology curve. Can one still practice his craft after rusting for 8 years?
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May 3 (Friday)
We set off to answer that question early in the morning by meeting Shao Wei for breakfast in Google Kirkland. Naturally, he was everything I was in 2004, perhaps even more, so I was taken aback when he started to question where this kind of life would lead to (code monkey, elusive promotion, yet free food free laundry!) Perhaps it wasn’t surprising, seeing he has already started dating Mavis, and thoughts about next steps might have frequently occurred. But if one takes away the (some say unnecessary) worry about the future, things are kinda in place – job, mobility, weekends, etc.
After we sent Shao Wei back to work, we got out of Kirkland by bus – public transport has one notable change: no more free rides in downtown, an excellent scheme that unfortunately bleeds the city government. That means, once we reach town, we had to spend the rest of the day primarily on foot.
Just like my own first exploration of Seattle in 2002, we started in Pike Place Market, to get hooked with the dizzying array of seafood, produce and art. One can easily spend one morning sniffing at flowers of every colour, try those Oh-My-God sweet fruits and cheer at the fish throwers. The pig statue who collected donations in front of the fish throwers still stood proudly to welcome us.
An excellent banjo strumming singer sat before the so called original Starbucks (1971, making it 42 years old now) welcomed us to the now totally renovated store. Gone were the places to sit down for a cup of coffee (take away only), while shelve spaces for souvenirs flooded every corner behind the counter, to satisfy the never ending beeline of customers yakking various languages and accents to come grab a piece of the American legend that has intruded their world for close to half a century. That included us, as dear bought several mugs as souvenirs for her colleagues too, as we started to “accumulate” our gifts to bring home.
From the market, we went to walk along the coast, past a little Olympic park, visiting several odd shops like the one with a real petrified mummy in the shop, several museum-like arcades that celebrate the history of Seattle being a gateway for the Klondike Gold Rush, and taking pictures with the new giant wheel, a new tourist attraction that was recently enacted. We also saw some union protests, apparently an annual affair now. There was allegedly shops with their windows broken the day before that we couldn’t be bothered to verify as there was little we understood about their issues.
Our long walk eventually brought us to Union Square, King Street Station, and back to one of my ex-office in Union Station 1. We opted for the excessive quantity Thai food in Uwajimaya, where dear schooled me into not getting the bamboo dish ever again (smells like ammonia..), and making it back in time for the Underground Tour, one of my favorite parts of the Seattle downtown experience at 1pm.
48 years since Bill Speidel started this tour, this attraction that was based on ruins and the excellent story-telling, was still pretty much alive. Even on a week day, we saw no less than 50 people in that 1 session alone (tours runs hourly for most of the day), and we had to split in to 2 groups. Our guide was a man probably in his 60s, still full of humor and wit, but lack the amplification while we were on ground level. But once we were underground, the echos and cooperative crowd made up for it, and everyone got to listen to the stories from the Son of the Profits, including some like me who heard it more than once and still found it refreshing. No one can resist a story about flush toilet rocket fountains. No one.
We spent a large part of the afternoon just resting in the Seattle Public Library. I was catching up with some Raspberry Pi book while Dear read about animals, sipping coffee, and resisting the annoyance from a self-talking man 2 seats away. I didn’t realize how used to it I am to odd behaviors until Dear pointed them out to me. Then again, instead of always trying to avoid them, I asserted that they were not dangerous, certainly not those that would assault you in broad daylight in the middle of the library.
As one of the purpose for our visit was to reach PacMed on Beacon Hill, we went back towards Chinatown and then trotted up the hill till we reached Viet Wah, which seemed to have grown (to have multiple branches), and subsequently Malay Satay Hut. I thought it was a brilliant idea to finally revisit the place after a decade to see if it was still the place it once used to be. Although I had faint memories of the owner, the rest of the staff (who all claimed to be from Ipoh…?) wasn’t familiar to me. Still, our server helped keep any feeling of home sickness at bay, as we chatted about her daughter who was in the shop with her. Even though the owner already had a branch in Bellevue, we learned that he was contemplating retiring, either closing it down or selling, as business wasn’t as good as it used to be.
One contribution could have been Amazon.com’s move to South Lake Union, as Pacific Medical Centre (PacMed) reverted into its previous state prior to Jeff Bezo’s conquering. This became apparent as we approached the main gate, the serenity of the same trees that stood before the long term care section of the hospital, the cold A4 notification so simply taped to the glass doors that once rang of conversations about changing the world that said, “clinic –> that way”, and the completely empty car park and streets surrounding the iconic building beckoned. Beacon Hill had went back to being, just, Beacon Hill.
We left glancing at the statue of Jose Rizal in a small park across the street wondering, would this place ever be revived again. It was still a building I could point people to along I-5, watching over Seattle town from the south, perhaps new stories would be carved out if/when new tenants ever move in.
After a long stroll and hike I also managed to walk Dear to where I used to stay – along the hilly slopes of Beacon Hill facing the port of Seattle, where I used to glance at the glorious sunset into the Olympic mountains. The sky would turn all the way from orange to purple, and I remembered the days when I danced to the sunset, almost barbaric and ritualistically, to the freedom that I borrowed before repaying it back to those who gave it to me.
I read many books in this cozy studio apartment, like the Life of Pi and other present movie blockbusters, cooked many dinners, like my favourite Shake-and-Bake chicken, and even written a lot (just scroll back this blog to the year 2004, 2005). It was life with intention – life with a deadline, as I knew the date I need to return from the very day I started work in this city. It was the grabbing of every waking moment to do something that I can relive in my memories and feel liberalized afterwards. It was a “gap” year: a good, ample and peaceful year.
Although I don’t have answers to whether coming back will make sense, I was thoroughly reminded that no matter where I choose to be, I need to live so intentionally, live like I only have a year for each age, as that’s indeed all that we have. The idea slowly rocked into my head as Dear and I, exhausted from all the walking, took a bus back to Greenwood.
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May 4 (Saturday)
Realizing that our intention of “resting” wasn’t materializing, we decided to “laze” at home together with our hosts who could finally enjoy their weekend, but still had to tend to their 2 children’s needs. Dear had long conversations with Sue-Ing and Cho Yeow, while I spend time typing away at the laptop.
As our host went out for a short shopping trip, we also went out to QFC separately for lunch, did some exploration and hid ourselves back in the house (ouch the sun!)
In the evening we manage to get Jeremy and Shirlene to bring us out for dinner. This was also the first time we saw their hyper-active baby Liam. I meant it when I said hyper-active – Liam was kicking and jumping non-stop from the moment we got on the car until dinner and back. It was such a challenge to calm him down!
We explored a new Ramen place Miyabi in Wallingford (hope I got this right) which catching up for all the missed years. Jeremy and Shirlene came to Seattle around the same time I left in Aug 2005, and had been here ever since. Although our paths never crossed since school was over, we could both imagine each other’s life pretty well. Now that it had started to be a routine conversation, we similarly explored life in Google and Microsoft, which end up an enthusiastic Windows Phone feature discussion session. Dear also managed to calm Liam down, a feat in its own right, by showing him nature along the walkways.
To know that Amazon was hiring for their Kindle team from Shirlene was exactly the kind of news I hope I would get a kick to find out more. Alas, I ignored asking as she ignored sending it to me – that would be the fate for every opportunity that come my way.
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May 5 (Sunday)
After a day of rest, we’re back to a full day programme, first by meeting with Yi Wei and wife Jadine (who also had a daughter) at a new branch of Bakery Nouveau up on Capital Hill, together with Shao Wei again, this time with Mavis, to introduce each other and grab some breakfast. I hadn’t heard a Singaporean conversation for a while now since we had been exclusively around Malaysians since meeting Kah Kien in Pittsburgh, and couldn’t help grinning as we attempted to catch up and sought advise.
Our next target was Ballard Farmer’s Market, which although we went together (it was Yi Wei’s regular thing), we didn’t end up meeting at the right time and parted ways thereafter. The market was exciting to see, but once you look at the price tag, it was really worth reconsidering all the direct from farm thing… Not that we are against it, in fact we love the atmosphere with music along the streets (even a Tubist doing his etudes), but it would be a luxury for a middle class family to be buying your food from here weekly.
Armed with some bread, Shao Wei and Mavis drove us to the Hiram Chittenden Locks, which I eagerly wanted to show Dear. At one point in time I was like a full time tourist guide to the locks, as I found the engineering interesting and salmon fish jumping up the locks a natural marvel.
Unfortunately, there was no fish… argh can you imagine my disappointment :/ Apparently you could only catch the salmon season if you come in July/Aug (for various species of salmons) or Mar/Apr (for Steelheads), for different species of fishes from the Pacific Ocean that returns to the fresh water in Lake Washington to breed. I held back my sadness and immersed myself in the double rainbow created by the splashing water jets for dispersing the seagulls eager to catch young salmon swimming out from the lake towards the sea.
It was still a worthwhile stop as we all watched the water level in the locks go up and down for the boats to go in and out of the lake. Limited car park time compelled us to leave the peaceful place and head towards Bellevue to pick up Jun Yang, one of Shao Wei’s friend who’s working in Microsoft Bing, for a sumptuous lunch at Din Tai Fung.
Jun Yang also brought us to Juanita Beach Park to round up the day, as we watched happy families get scorched in the burning afternoon sun while submerging in the icy cold lake. We called it day late afternoon and returned to Greenwood to pack. We were grateful to both Shao Wei and Mavis for making an effort to keep us well travelled despite the lack of any concrete plans and the lack of fortitude on my part. Perhaps it had been too long a long time since we started our journey, which resulted in me simply going with the flow.
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May 6 (Monday)
Going against the flow, Sue-Ing took her morning off just to accompany us for the remaining hours before our mid-day flight. After dropping Zen Zen to pre-school, we took some post card pictures at Kerry Park on Queen Anne, before heading to Top Pot doughnut, the donut chain that Obama allegedly likes. We thanked Sue-Ing all the way to the airport, as she personally sent us off, and even though she kept saying she wanted to host us better, I thought she had done more than enough to provide us company and perspectives that we would otherwise not have.
We bid Seattle good bye with our classic blurness, as Dear and I got lost after lunching (BK!) at the airport and had to run to a different terminal due to a gate change. I ran too fast and got into the inter-terminal train while she had to wait for the next. The smirk from the face of the pilot who stood next to me and told me that we were still in time was unforgettable.
We decided to hold each other’s hand more tightly for the rest of the trip.