12 Sep 2004

seattle, wa + vancouver, bc

first of all, i owe Francis a shipload of gratitutde for letting me crash at his place and wasting his whole long weekend keeping me company and even driving to vancouver. thanks heaps buddy! i hope to see you soon in uk or aust!

seattle is a lazy kinda place. underneath the quite and calm exterior, is the heavy commercialism with huge american firms like the most famous microsoft and boeing, to big-brand web firms like expedia and amazon, to the mcdonalds of coffee, starbucks.

i arrived from portland by greyhound coach to seattle. the coach station was confusing and disorganised. they did some token bag searches, they didn't even bother looking at half the bags i had, so i don't even get why they have the bag searches at all. the "gates" which you board the bus by are confusing, and the drivers themselves get the gates confused, so you always have to be alert in case you miss a bus or something.

i got on a 1:20pm bus that takes 3 hours to get to seattle. the bus isn't exactly the cleanest and well-maintained bus in the world, but it wasn't too bad. the corresponding greyhound station made the portland one look like the buckingham palace. this one was in a run-down neighbourhood with fights breaking out and people spitting here and there, asking for money, etc. not exactly the symbol of seattle.

francis came around to pick me up in his flashy RX-8 and we walked around somewhere near pike place, a seafood market around here. there wasn't too much to see, we tried to find the first starbucks but failed miserably to find that a coffee shop called "seattle's best" actually had more stores than starbucks.

we then met up with some friends of his who work at microsoft and had dinner at this family italian restaurant, where the portions were huge (like one dish could serve 3 people.) there was a table with a sculpture of the pope's head in the centre of a round table. i'm glad we didn't sit on that table, or the one right in the kitchen. that turned out to be the cheapest dinner i've had since i arrived in the US.

we then moved on to have dessert at a fusion japanese restaurant. i had some deep friend green tea ice cream. let's just say i prefer my green-tea ice cream cold. we rounded off the night going up to one of his friend's place to play some poker after having an excited discussion about "matt the mouth" on ESPN's coverage of world series of poker. i talked about texas hold'em the other night.

the second day, we went to do some site-seeing. of course i had to go to the space needle of seattle. francis wasn't so keen to go up, but i persuaded him to go even tho it was only 20-30 storeys up, not actually much taller than a typical residential block in hong kong!

after that, we trodded (actually drove) along to pike's place/market or whatever to resume our search for the first starbucks. we found it tucked away somewhere. i had to take a picture of it in my small world coffee t-shirt. speaking of which, the t-shirt got recognised when we were walking around seattle public library by some microsoft research nerd. anyway, seattle public library is an amazing place. it's actually designed to work and look nice at the same time. if i were to build a house, i'd build it something like that. there was a floor that was totally red, ceiling, floor, walls, lights, etc. there was a fluorescent yellow staircase and escalator. finally the main catalogue was organised in a spiral instead of floors, so it could ease expanding. there's even a brochure i picked up in the library about why it was designed like it is. kinda like my designing with spaces report i did for gen-ed at unsw.

we ended up having dinner at some posh restaurant by the sea with mark, one of francis' friends. they had a microsoft card and we pretty much got half price for the meal. however, the food was pretty ordinary, at least my dish -- looked more like chinese seafood than western seafood.

on the third day, we drove to canada and had fun. you'd of read the exciting day i had with canadian braindead customs, so i don't want to talk about it again. anyway, we went to richmond, which is close to vancouver, but like a huge chinese suburb. there are malls after malls of chinese restaurants, shops and shopping malls. i even had 雞蛋仔 (mini-pancake-eggs)!! and it was cheaper and nicer than in HK!!

so we then went up to vancouver after some dumpling noodles. there is a main street called, robson st. we had a wonder around there. there was a place where there were two starbucks on opposite corners of a road junction. i think that is another end of the universe that lewis black described.

there were more starbucks in vancouver than seattle -- such irony, if i knew what irony meant. but using that word makes me look smart. in the afternoon we hung out around the beautiful english bay. i'd say that vancouver is nearly as beautiful as sydney, trendy yet relaxing. we ended the day with some all you can eat sushi! mmm yum.

so on the fourth day, we were just chilling around seattle. we went out with francis and serena to yum cha in seattle's tiny chinatown. actually, the proper name is chinatown slash international district. its great to let every country have a slice of this small piece of land. its actually quite close to the seattle NFL and MLB stadiums. we then went down to the university of washington that actually looks like a campus (like all the other american universities, and unlike cambridge.) wrapped up the day with some ice-cream, some seattle apple shop hanging out, some touring of evil central, and then some nice sushi, the last i'm going to have in the next 12 months!

on the fifth day, it was a day of flying, all the way from seattle back to london via new york. delta seems to issue boarding passes using fax paper. i got into secondary search line where they check your shoe and stuff, i think i'm on some blacklist. the flight to new york was 5 hours. (oh btw, the guy in front of me in the security checkpoint had a sony vaio TR-1) and when it came out of the x-ray machine, it dropped on the floor. lucky it wasn't mind. the guy operating the x-ray machine was basically half-asleep.

one thing i like to complain about US airports is this system called "smartcarte." so they want you to pay US$3 for the right to use a cart to ship your bags around. the only thing that does is make money for suitcase makers. because that just means when you have a choice for suitcases or bags, you'll always want to get some wheels on it just so that you don't have to pay these guys. but the other interesting observation is that if you're patient enough, haul your luggage all the way out to the taxi stand, and there you have many abandoned carts that have already been paid for. so here's a tip for you all -- dont pay the BASTARDS!

another interesting tip if you are flying out of JFK on BA (terminal 7), there is a uber-secret security checkpoint right opposite the BA first class check-in. i had the honour of being psuedo-upgraded. i let a couple of people ahead of me in the line to check-in (these guys were about to miss their flight), and the line manager (i guessed his title) was impressed and allowed me to skip the line and go to the first-class checking which is on the other side of the terminal (i initially thought he was trying to take me to get stripped searched because no sober and sane person would be giving up their place in the line for others). right after checking in, i look around and there's a secret entrance to the boarding gates, but hell, they allow anyone to go there, so you can skip the massive lines with the general security boarding gates, and consequently, that was the only time i didn't get treated like an extremist and not get my shoes checked. because, you know, if i was a terrorist, i wouldn't even think of flying BA first class. blasphemy!

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