Monday, August 29, 2016

Suzzallo Library: the best place to write in Seattle

Not only does Seattle boast one of the coolest public libraries in the country, but it is also home to the University of Washington's Suzzallo Library Reading room. 

This gothic-style cathedral is one of my favorite places to write in the city. On a weekend, the room is devoid of all but the occasional tourist, coming in to take an instagram pic and leave. Fortunately talking is prohibited in this room, so you barely notice the tourist silently slinking in and out. 

I go to Suzzallo every time I'm in Seattle, so I've photographed the reading room many times throughout the years. This remains to be one of the most beautiful libraries in the world and one of my favorite places to write. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders

I passed by the Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders every day on my way to Artisan, my favorite cafe in Chiang Mai. The nondescript building makes it easy to miss, and I would have overlooked it were it not for the mosquito silhouettes in the iron fence or the name etched into the concrete nearby. 

The entrance on the ground floor recedes into darkness. Is this a real place? Is it open? All questions that go through your mind when you approach the doors. The answer to both is, of course, yes, and upon opening the doors you are greeted kindly by the welcoming staff. 

I'm not sure what I was expecting to see. A lot of dead bugs, perhaps. And that expectation was surely met. I think I expected the museum to be an ode to scientific research around insects. Indeed its founder is one of the leading experts on mosquitos in the world. I thought I would learn a lot about malaria and mosquito-born diseases, as the installation on the first floor promises. But there were curious other things to observe....

WTF is happening here? Mermaid elephant with boobs?

Oh, ok, dead bugs. That's more like it. 

Ew gross, nevermind

a big hoarder's dream

What I did not expect was the ode to mother earth, the crystals, the religious overtones, the love of life and nature, and perhaps most surprising: the family portraits. 

The museum is the product of the lifelong work of Dr. Rampa Rattanarithukul. She is not only a world renowned expert on mosquitoes, but also a loving fan and admirer of them. Throughout the museum is a series of commissioned paints of landscapes, woman in tantric poses, and portraits of herself and her family. But each painting features another companion, that of the beloved mosquito. 

Can you spot the mosquito in each painting?

mosquito on the flower

mosquito in the trees

mosquito on her leg

mosquito on the modesty leaf

mosquito on the holy book

mosquito on the water

mosquito riding a horse

mosquito family

mosquito companion

meditative mosquito

mosquito gaze

Dr. Rattanarithukul's love for mosquitos and all life can also be seen in the literature in the museum. A printed note hangs on the wall next to dead bugs in glass displays:

Notice how Nature and Insect are respectfully capitalized. Who is this sign intended for? Is it supposed to make the tourists feel better about all the death they are looking at? But I suspect it may be more to ease the conscience of the researcher, who would not want the bugs' deaths to be in vain. 

Perhaps the greatest lesson is that all life is sacred at the Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders. Thank you Dr. Rattanarithukul, for your work and for this valuable lesson. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Seattle Day 2

Second day in Seattle and I'm debuting my new thrift store finds from the Ave. This entire outfit (except the bag and shoes) was compiled from my purchases for the day and cost a grand total of $45. 

Here I am walking around Green Lake in central Seattle. 

Hat: thrifted
Blouse: thrifted Marc by Marc Jacobs
Tank: thrifted
Skirt: thrifted H&M 
Bag: ippolito
Shoes: Ether

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

What Did I Eat in Dallas?

Living in a foodie city like Portland, with so many world-class restaurants, one would imagine I have every culinary wish my heart desires. While it's true that I am spoiled with great restaurants in this city, food is perhaps the only thing about Dallas I truly miss.

When I began planning my weekend in Texas, the first list I made was of restaurants. Mind you, Dallas has never been nationally famous for its food, unless you consider portion-size something of notoriety. Furthermore Texas is probably only known for its barbecue, which is not even a food I really enjoy or crave. So what could I possible want in Dallas?

The restaurants on this list are nostalgic. They are the best food memories from my teenage days. Alright, so La Madeline may not be the best French cuisine in the world, and Taco Bueno is certainly not the best Tex-Mex in the world, they are still pretty decent and possess a great deal of sentimental value to me. With so many places to choose from and only three days in Dallas, I could not eat at every one of my favorite places, so these photos reflect the very best of the best.

  1. Food I wished I had but didn't:  Mint Restaurant. Great Vietnamese-Thai cusine, but I just didn't have enough time. 
  2. Food I had but wished I didn't: BBQ ribs.I guess I'm not a true Texan after all. 
  3. What should have been on the list: afternoon tea at the Joule! 
  4. Biggest surprise: How crowded WAffle House was at 2:00am on Saturday. 
  5. Most delicious meal: Sweet Georgia Brown. Almost makes me want to go back...

Taco Bueno
My favorite Tex-Mex fast food chain since birth. My top picks are always the beef quesadilla, tamale platter, and nacho salad. 

Sweet Georgia Brown
If you go to Dallas and can only eat one meal, I would tell you to eat at Sweet Georgia Brown. It's kind of a long drive from the city center, and you will probably have to wait in line, but this is as soul food as it gets. With gigantic portions, one order may end up lasting you for days anyway...

Waffle House
The 24-hour breakfast chain serving "cheese grits" (which is a paper cup of grits with a slice of partially melted American cheese on top) is a 2:00am default of mine. 

Gorgeous and delicious Indian vegetarian buffet at a Hare Krishna temple. This is my go-to place for spring and summer months, so I can sit in their outdoor patio surrounded by the beautiful garden. 

La Madeleine
A cafeteria-style French restaurant with the best Chicken Caesar salad (is that even French? who cares). 

Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse
Ribs are staple food to order when in Dallas, but ironically I never ate BBQ or ribs when I was living in Texas, but now it feel like a requisite for any tourist.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Vampire Masquerade Ball 2016

This year I attended Portland’s annual VampireMasquerade Ball for the first time. I have been following the ball on social media for years and dreaming on attending, and this year was my chance.

Usually the ball is held in March, when the air is cold and the sky gets dark by 8:00pm. But this year the ball was postponed until June. Usually a mild month in Portland, that day it was over 100 degrees and I was in full Victorian regalia. However, a late sunset afforded me a lot of time to get ready and take pictures before the ball.

At the ball you can see all kinds of goths. Some are in full monster make-up and costumes. Some are Victorian, Renaissance, Edwardian, or wearing other period-pieces. Some are futuristic with latex dresses. Some wear vampire fangs, some have giant headdresses, and some definitely spend six months creating their outfits for the night.

I procrastinated and did mine in one weekend. The most time consuming part of the whole endeavor was deciding what I actually wanted to create.

  • TIME: I didn’t have time to do a super detailed dress with trims and lace and perfect fit.
  • BUDGET: I didn’t have the budget to do something lavish that I was only going to wear once or twice. I needed to create something in pieces that could be worn on the street
  • BODY: This excuse is lame, but I didn’t have the body I wanted for a more fitted/sexy dress. I had put on a little weight in the winter that I didn’t lose, and I didn’t want to create a fitted dress if my fit was going to change in a few months.

Design ideas:
  • COLOR: As much as I love black and wear it as much as possible to stand out in crowds, I was afraid that if I went all-black for the Vampire Ball I would get lost in the crowd. I wanted to stand out, so I decided on a white base.
  • SHAPE: I settled on a Victorian design with puffy sleeves and a ruffled skirt with a simple bustle.
  • COMFORT: I needed to be able to dance in this outfit and wear it for a minimum of 6 hours without needless suffering or having it fall apart, so it needed to be comfortable.
  • COST: Due to budget, I decided to make the top and skirt separately, so that I could wear them as separate pieces with street clothes. We’ll see how I pull that off….
  • ACCESSORIES: I didn’t have the budget to purchase new gloves, purses, hats, jewelry, etc., so I needed to create something that would compliment the things that I already owned.

I spent hours scouring the internet for Victorian dresses and reproductions and looking at pictures of other gothic balls to see how people would be dressed. For weeks I did all this research and still had no idea what  I would make, until I came across these pictures:

I loved the polka dots and they are so unexpected for that era; I almost didn’t think polka dots existed in the Victorian period. I decided that this is the dress I must reproduce. White will make me stand out, and the polka dots will be surprising and fun. Thankfully this material was available at a local fabric store, and I spent about $60 on 8 yards of it.

I got to work on the bodice first, since I knew that would be the most complicated piece in the ensemble and it would take me a few tries to get the fit right. I cut up an old bed sheet to use as my muslin, and I made four muslins before deciding that the pattern was good enough to use for cutting the real fabric (it’s still not perfect). One thing that needed a lot of work for the sleeves. I underestimated how large the pattern of the sleeves would need to being order to produce the ruffle effect. Even after I cut the fabric, I had to alter the sleeves numerous times to get them right.

The skirt was easy except that it was just a lot of fabric and sewing. I used a drawstring to tie the waist, so I can adjust it if I lose weight in the future. I made an underskirt that can probably be worn on the street, and a long overskirt with a train that’s just for bustling.

My accessories were all things I had in my closet:
  •  a 1950s pill box hat from a vintage store, which I’ve owned for at least 10 years
  •  gloves from a department store (also worn in high school)
  • a broach from my grandmother
  • a jewel purse also owned in high school, worn belted at the waist (like they did back then)
  •  a veil I bought in Japan when I was 18
  • a parasol I bought at a costume museum, also when I was 18
  • My hair and make-up turned out really nice on the day-of, even though  it was 100 degrees and I have no AC, and pretty much sweated it off as soon as I put it on

Hair and make up in the works
The ball starts at 9:00am and finishes around 2:00am. Before I attended I thought I might get bored and wondered how I would entertain myself for five hours. Fortunately I was totally wrong in that assumption. I had so much fun I felt like five hours was not enough. I spent the whole time catching up with people I met at parties and goth clubs, comparing and complimenting outfits, dancing, watching the areal shows, waiting in line for photos, getting drinks (I had 4 or 5 cocktails), and going through the buffet line twice. There were also a number of vendors on the first floor, so I did a bit of shopping as well. Five hours was not nearly enough time to see and do everything and chat with all the people I wanted to see.

I am so excited to for next year’s vampire ball and I can’t wait to begin working on my dress. Better start now!

The Gambia: Photo Diaries from the City

Although I flew into Banjul, I spent very little time there. Most of my time 'in the city' was actually spent in Banjul's sprawl...