Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Seattle Central Library: Fashion x Architecture

So, just when you think you're about to read another post on architecture or libraries....



Wait! That's fashion? What?

That's right, I'm merging! 

After a long year of authoring two blogs (and doing a half-ass job of it) I have decided to merge my blogs into one platform. This way, I save myself time and trouble, and I am able to combine the two loves of my life: traveling and fashion.



Actually, the two really go hand-in-hand. Think of the themes...What to wear when you travel...How to pack lightly but still have a different outfit everyday....What other people wear abroad...



Ok, I don't pretend to be an authority on the subject, but at least now I don't have to justify segregating my interests or decided what to post where.

So, back in Seattle, I was just finishing up a business trip and when I stepped out of the conference at the Renaissance hotel in downtown, I happened upon the 200-million-dollar  Central Library of Seattle. I hadn't planned on stopping by, but as soon as it was light out the next morning I made my way over there.

At first glance, it reminded me of Harpa in Reykjavik, a giant asymmetrical glass kaleidoscope.







Inside it was even more impressive. The ground floor was extremely spacious with tall ceilings and natural lighting.

Computers by the entrance

Cafe and gift shop

The fiction section


I absolutely love love love the use of neon! The yellow escalators were unreal. I felt like I was walking through a set of Beyond the Black Rainbow, or some other trippy futuristic film.



That is an installation built into the wall on the left side.


Enter: the spaceship


One of my favorite places in the entire library was the Red Room. It felt like being inside a heart. In a way, this room reminded me more of Harpa, whose concert halls were that same alarming red.


Entering the red room

Inside the beating heart


The library is 11-stories tall, and floors 6-10 are called the "Books Spiral." Basically, you can walk from  the tenth floor to the sixth floor without going down one stair. Instead each floor is tilted slightly like a ramp, so you slowly descend in a spiral until you hit the 6th floor.







The top floor does not boast the best view of the city, but it is a cathedral of lights and shapes.

That's someone's office. Jealous?



A view of the "living room" from above

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Nothing to Envy and Why I'm a Total Jerk



This is one of those photographs that catches you off guard. 

 There I am, posing across the table in a sunny patio cafe with my cute little cocktail, decorated iphone, and  big sunglasses like a picture from a bad dating profile.
Now I'll be the first to admit that I look like another shallow diva, but there's just one thing amiss with this image. 
The little tote bag resting on my lap unintentionally reveals a book inside, with the words "to Envy" printed on the cover. No, this isn't a fashion magazine, it's Babara Demick's biographical account of several North Koreans. Here's the cover:



I became absolutely enamored with this book while in Hawaii. When I travel I always bring something to read. No, not just to combat boredom on the plane, I truly love reading in unfamiliar places. Once I spent an entire week in Hong Kong reading The Windup Bird Chronicle. Usually I prefer fiction, but just before I left for Hawaii I had seriously OD'ed on North Korea. To give you an idea, these were my indulgences before I left:

Books I read:
The Tears of My Soul by Kim Hyun-Hee
Long Road Home by Kim Suk-Young
Aquariums of Phyongyang
Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden
The Reluctant  Communist by  Charles Robert Jenkins


Documentaries I watched:
Crossing the Line
Seoul Train
Vice Guide to North Korea
Kimjongilia
State of Mind
National Geographic: Inside North Korea


I was knee deep in everything North Korea. 
I suppose that, as an East Asian Studies major, I realized what an alarming gap I had  towards the end of my academic career. Our classes focused primarily on countries of "economic and cultural importance" to the U.S., ahem, I'm talking about China, Japan, and South Korea. I'm sure it would be quite challenging to cover everything "Asian," given the ethic, linguistic, cultural, economic, geographical diversity in what we call "Asia," but come on people, the fact that everything I know about North Korea I had to learn from the above mentioned books and documentaries is just sad. North Korea is every bit as important as South Korea, and but I suppose that it's not taught in many colleges because we just simply don't know enough about North Korea. Pretty much everything we know is what we are told by those North Koreans who escaped. And what we do know is horribly depressing, at best.

So, as I was reading about censorship, brainwashing, starvation, and forced labor from a lawn chair on the beach in Wailea, or sometimes from the balcony of my condo, or often at Coffee Bean where I usually had an afternoon read, I realized that the juxtaposition of the lives of the people in the book to my own life was just too absurd:

People eating bark off of a tree; me fretting over my weight after binging on spam musubis.

People being forced to do manual labor for 16 hours a day; me sleeping into until 2:00 pm then wondering what to do for the rest of the day.

How can we both be living on the same planet? It's all too unreal to comprehend. Because of the stark contrast in what I was reading and what I was doing, I had a major existentialistic crisis in Hawaii.  
What do I do with my life now, knowing that so many people are suffering? 
Am I just going to go on drinking cocktails, getting fat, and goofing off on my iPhone until the end of time?

Well, obviously not. But then what?

Maybe I'll mull over this question tonight at the bar, or the gym. What the hell else am I going to do? Life here goes on the same here, even if I am changed. But sooner or later,  after those cocktails, I've got to do my part to improve the quality of life in this world. Gotta give a little after taking a lot. 

This has actually prompted me to look at several volunteer/internship opportunities abroad.  I don't know where this will lead, but somehow, in some way, I want to improve the quality of life for my fellow human beings. Got any ideas? Send 'em my way!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

McDonald's Japan: UPDATE


Hey, before this gets old, I've got to let everyone know that there are new burgers at McDonald's Japan, and they promise to be grosser than ever.

Above: meet the Beverly Hills Burger, part fo the Big America series. 

Beef patty, egg, onions, "avocado sauce" (is that guacamole?) and caesar salad 

The "salad" part makes it healthy....yeah sure. 

Does anyone above ten years old really get excited about food this bad?
Seriously...I'm getting too old for this shit. 




Sunday, November 4, 2012

Reality Check: Saint's Alp Teahouse

Alright, I have to remind myself that it's time to stop reliving my foreign fantasies and settle for a nice dose of reality. 

Here is what I'm doing now.... 

Enjoying a delicious bubble tea at Saint's Alp Teahouse in Chicago. I've been traveling quite a bit for work lately, but not the kind of traveling I like to do. I recently had some down time in Chicago and am taking advantage of this precious opportunity to relish in bubble tea heaven. I have been dreaming of this place ever since I went to their New York location back in 2009. 

It's a funny story how I heard about this place, one of those things I like to call, chance happenings. 

As part of my research on racism against Asian Americans,  I was reading an article for class on the plane to NYC, and the author (a journalist) casually mentioned that her interview with the article's informant took place over a bubble tea at Saint's Alp in NYC.  Seeing as how I was about to arrive in New York imminently with no solid plans, I jotted down the name of the place in my notebook and decided to check it out later. 
What the hell else was I going to do? 
I hadn't done any research on the right places to go in NYC, and I wasn't yet savvy on Yelp, so I didn't think to go online and check ratings. I just decided that if the place was good enough for a journalist to conduct an interview, it was good enough for me. 

 On the second day in New York I visited this tiny cafe near NYU and fell in love. The bubble tea was thick and frothy, the tea eggs were savory, and the pork chop rice meal was divine. I went back every single day until I flew home.

I became a regular fixture at the Saint's Alp in New York, sitting in a corner, writing for two to three hours while knocking back one bubble tea after another. When I heard they opened a location in Chicago's Chinatown, I became all the more excited to relive my experience.


The Chicago location was quite a bit different than New York City. First of all, it's much more like a restaurant than a cafe. The menu was surprisingly more robust than what I remember it being in New York, though that could have changed since 2009. It was also not nearly as busy. I got a large booth to myself, and there were only ever a few other customers besides me. It was nice, but I miss the crowded chaos of the NYU location. Writing in a crowded cafe and an empty restaurant are too entirely different experiences.


The food was pretty much as I remembered it, frothy bubble tea, tea eggs, chicken wings, pork chop. God how I wish there was Taiwanese food in Portland. 

After all is said and done, I love the Saint's Alp in NYC way more than Chicago, but I love Chicago as a city way more than NYC. What's to be done about that? Well, at least I got to experience it for a brief time this fall. 








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