USA: Sleepless in the City of Rain

3 – 7 August 2016

Every state in America has a different feel to it and after leaving the City by the Bay, we landed in Seattle. The drive to our hotel located in Bellevue offered us a short tour of the landscape in this seaport city – unlike the dry golden hills in SF, everything is green and lush here.

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As the largest city in the Northwest region and Washington State, it is one of the fastest growing major city in the US. Similar to the history of Australia and Canada, cities in the US were previously inhabited by the Native Americans way before European settlers called it home. Seattle is one such example and only gained its modern day name in 1852. An interesting note here is that the word “Seattle” is derived from Chief Si’ahl of the local Native tribes.                                                           IMG_2202

Due to being surrounded by nature and being a seaport city, the city’s first major industry was logging then it became a commercial area. It was also the gateway to Alaska during the Gold Rush. The end of WW2 saw growth returning to Seattle and as the Headquarter of several major companies from Boeing to Amazon to Microsoft, these software, electronic and technology companies not only injected some healthy economic energy into the city but also increased her population.

August in Seattle is beautiful – blue sky, white clouds and warm sunshine however, I was told by our US colleague that this only happens for a few month in the year. The reason? due to its geographical location, precipitation frequently visits the city which is why I like to dub Seattle as the City of Rain. From weather statistics, at least 0.25mm of rain falls on 150 days. It is cloudy 201 days and partly cloudy 93 days. When November hits, the city averages even more rainfall. So in the end, it feels like my French exchange days ( I studied in France for a whole year in the city of Caen where the joke is that the city is always rainy and gloomy) – I’m back to another rainy city: it’s like living life in reverse.

Apart from our business trip, we also went to a few attraction sites. Since we stayed in Bellevue, we headed to Redmond to visit Microsoft’s Visitor Center. Although some might perceive MS as rather old-school, it is nevertheless another great corporation up there with Apple. In fact, my earliest memories are the internet connection tune,the Windows startup tune and all Microsoft related products. Of course, there is also that wonderful Nokia phone, those flip and slide Motorola mobile phones and who can forget about the great blackberry? Apple with their iPad, iPhone, iWatch and laptops has taken over much of my childhood gadgets and although touchscreen and other sassy devices are the “Must-Haves” in our modern times, I do miss that old-school feel. So without any doubts, I was happy to drop by MS’s Headquarter in Redmond which features the usual souvenir stores, information stands and showrooms for hands-on experiences.

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I went to see the Space Needle twice- once during the day by myself and once at night with a colleague. Although the view of Seattle would be better during day-time, night-time can be just as different and nice. The 20 minutes drive from Bellevue took us through the fairly empty streets of the otherwise busy Seattle.

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As the top attraction in Seattle, the iconic Space Needle is more in my view like a UFO especially when the surrounding trees hides the base of the tower.

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Built for the World’s Fair in 1962, it is 184 m high, 42 m wide and can withstand strong winds and earthquakes up to 9.1 magnitude. There were too many people even at night time so we really didn’t have the time and that urge to go up to see the skyline when there are other free places in Seattle to catch the skyline ( Kerry Park and Queen Anne Hill). Also, not to be rude but since I’ve visited a lot of high rise buildings, the height of the Space Needle and that “amazing” view does not score high enough to be on my “Must-Do” list. After the night-time visit, we headed off to pick up on snacks at a local supermarket and parked our car at a public car park. Once we finished with shopping, we went back to find the place closed. Stay in China long enough and you will find the concept of car parks and malls closing before midnight to be totally strange. So there I was with my colleague: stuck outside with groceries while our car was locked inside. I just laughed at that awkwardness and as we tried to call the office, the nice lady who saw us earlier let us inside so that we could leave. As I apologized and explained how this is our first time in Seattle she smiled and made sure that we left in one piece. Two tourists locked outside a car park – now allowed in by her kindness made me grin for that whole night. When we insisted that we pay for the after-hour services, she smiled and said: ” Enjoy your night and enjoy Seattle.” Thank you for such kindness! So for that particular night, we headed back to our hotel in Bellevue and instead of being annoyed at missing a turn and spending 5 extra minutes + 5 extra turns on the highway, we laughed the whole way back. What a wonderful way to end the night and to pay it forward, I will always remember to show that similar kindness to others as well.

Before parting ways with my other colleagues, we headed to Bellevue for some shopping and it was great to see people gathering together for a chess tournament as well as cute shops and a nice blackboard for kids to pass time. Of course, I couldn’t help but draw doodles on it. I’m shameless.

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I spent my last Seattle day walking around trying to find a post office so that I could post some letters and postcards however, the four post office were all closed and strangely empty. I know that it’s a Sunday but surely there got to be one post office in downtown Seattle with someone there to take in my letters right? WRONG! A bit frustrated with the lack of efficiency, I decided to spend the rest of the day walking out some more sites and to find a free place which offers a great view of the city’s skyline. The waterfront with the giant wheel overlooks Elliott Bay. The aquarium and IMAX is right there along with restaurants and pathways for casual strolls. I was more interested in the various Piers.  Although they are aging and many have been replaced by other constructions, I feel that piers should be preserved to not only remind visitors of Seattle’s past shipbuilding industry but also to add some historical feel to the ever changing waterfront.

IMG_2118IMG_2124Pike Market is just a short walk from the waterfront up some very steep hills. Opened in 1907, it is one of the oldest continuously operating markets for farmers in America. I was wrong to think that this place will be quiet since there are so many people there. I took a short walk around the market area before finding some postcards. I spent the rest of my time thinking about its past  which is a lot more interesting than its current crowded and commercialized state. The structure of Pike Market is interesting and nothing major has changed . There are different levels and areas which features a variety of shops. The upper street level contains fresh food products, fishmongers and craft stalls. This sort of market is just like the weekend markets in Caen where you buy fresh food from the farmers. If you think that it is just a market, a tourist attraction  and close to the first Starbucks then you are wrong since it is also the home to those from low socio-economic backgrounds. I think it is fantastic that these people are well looked after by the city.I took one glimpse of the waterfront then dashed off to Kerry Park which offers the best free view of the Seattle Skyline! Located up on a hill and amongst the neighborhood, this little park is a great place to just linger and relax: something that I need. 

After my last day in Seattle, I met up with  Ms Cao* ( that ideal colleague) and we headed off to the airport for our flight back to Shanghai. * I was hesitant and a tad too shy to say hi when I first met her since she was in complete work mode. Focused, talented and a go-getter, I enjoy working with her and considering that she keeps me sane when work drives me insane, it was a pleasure to go on a business trip with her.

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Goodbye Seattle…perhaps for now