Monday, December 22, 2014

Living 15 Lives

A flight delay and the 2.5 hours from Seattle to Los Angeles meant I could easily finish Claire North's 'The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August'. It's the genre I love. Claire North, is really Catherine Webb, who is also known as Kate Griffin, one of the greatest fantasy writers I'm a huge fan of. This is not an unfamiliar plot. But it's terribly enjoyable because of the way it is narrated. (Reviews here, here and here.)

Originally Harry August, he lives lives over and over, physically as a normal human being from birth to adulthood to death. He's not immortal, he dies. But his memories of past lives stay with him from the moment he attains consciousness. Apparently by age four, for most. So he's not prescient but by virtue of having lived over and over again by being born in different eras, he's aware and remembers historical and economic events. He's a kalachakra, or ouroboran. There's a club of people like him, called the Cronus Club, with this unique ability and composition. He's rare among his type because he's also a mnemonic. Most will get dementia and start to forget by the time they hit a few hundred years old in terms of memory age, not physical age. He never forgets.

[Well, kala and chakra respectively refers to time and cycles, derived from Vajrayana Buddhism, which is still practiced in mainly Tibet. Ouroboran references 'ouroboros', the Greek symbol of a serpent eating its own tail, like the phoenix or scarab, depicting re-birth, or return.]

For the first 10 lives, it's all about Harry August's personal lives, birth, growing-up angst, his personal studies, formal education, acquisition of knowledge, also perhaps forming his character and accepting what he is. The eleventh is when it starts to get exciting when he finds out about someone destroying kalachakras and trying to change the history of the world. He gains a nemesis who's a fellow mnemonic, Vincent Rankis. That was when Kindle told me I was 30% through the story. Okaay. The only way to kill a kalachakra is to prevent one from being born. To kill a foetus in-utero. That's why his mentor warned him to never reveal the specifics of his birth. Of course at some point, the world would be in jeopardy of ending, Cronus Club members are being exterminated and terminated, and it would be up to Harry August to save the world. 

The Cronus Club in my fifteenth life was not the Club of my first eight hundred or so years. Its members were coming back, those who had survived Virginia's purges. Those who had been forced to forget were now on their third lives, and the messages were slowly trickling back through the generations - the Club of the twentieth century is back, and we have dire warnings for all. Messages were received in carved stone from the 1800s, enquiring after us, asking what had happened to the Club to cause the twentieth century suddenly to go so quiet. The messages from the future were darker, passed down from child to pensioner, whispered back from the twenty-first century. 
In our last lives, the voices said, the world was not the world we knew. Technology had changed - time had changed - and many of us simply were not born. We haven't heard from the twenty-second century at all. We have no idea what happened to them. Please leave your answers in stone. 
So the effect of our calamity rippled forward, spreading its wave through time. I dared not give an answer to the future Clubs, not even a time capsule sealed for five hundred years' time. The risk of it being discovered by Vincent in this time, of him learning how close we were to pursuing and punishing him, was too great. I would not risk the safety of everything I had sought simply out of compassion for a century I had not seen.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Hey Los Angeles

The last few visits to Los Angeles (LA) were made when I was barely of legal age to drink in this town. Those were purely outings to theme parks meshed with some rather torturous family trips, and quite a lot of meals at terrible Asian-American diners. Mexican food was awesome. But from what I remember of LA and well, what I've seen on tv aren't enough to entice me to return as a tourist. My favorite memories are of California's natural parks and mountains. You know those. I'd return again and again.

Between the man and I, over the years, we've somehow separately accumulated good friends who're now residing in LA. This trip is pretty focused- stopping by to say hello to the friends. Coming into town from the airport, fresh out of Seattle, LA is jarring. Between the airport baggage claim to the hotel room, to have five people cheerily tell us "Oh I'm an actor/in film school/going to be an actor", there was no doubt that we had indeed arrived at Hollywood stronghold.

[And TSA decided to lose two of my locks on a domestic flight. I knew it!]

It's also like we brought the rains. They kept saying SoCal doesn't storm. It did, with hurricane-force winds. But the flat desert city of LA and beyond aren't made for storms. Widespread power outages, mudslides, rockslides and floods hit SoCal. And schools were closed for the day. Lake Tahoe saw seven-foot waves and instead of skiers, the surfers caught those waves. Heh. It cleared up and is forecasted to rain for the rest of the week. Much needed to break this drought. California needs to replenish Lake Mead four times over and build up their groundwater reserves again. But the rains are comforting; reminds me of Seattle. I love that.

Overlooking Sunset Boulevard and far in the distance, Santa Monica beach.

Porters & Stouts

I avoid lagers and pilsners. And witbier. Prefer darker ales of brown or amber. Clearly I wouldn't bother with Guinness here. It'll never be the creamy dessert version that's fantastic in northwest England and Ireland. Love stouts- oatmeal, vanilla, peanut butter, chocolate, coffee whatever. Love 'em rich. A glance at the photos confirmed that I'm drinking pretty much nothing but porters and stouts this trip. There're the hearty WA porters and the seemingly lighter CA stouts. Perhaps it's something to do with the weather. The cold made the idea of a porter or a stout more attractive.

Beer calories are stacking up of course. But it's not as if I'm having oily pub grub or burgers along with a drink. Hate deep fried pub grub. Don't think I've had fries here at all. The beer belly is firmly tucked in without a sign of it threatening to spill out. It's kinda balanced out by sessions of barre and pilates and plenty of walking. The man makes a conscious effort to go to the gym every other day. Muahahaha.

Hanging out at the friends' mean that beer is always present in the fridge. Pale ales work. Even better when it's a stout and poured into a cold glass on a chilly evening seated next to the fireplace. These are evenings when one pint makes for a satisfying drink. And that would be all that's required to make a great night out.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Byeeee Seattle!

Very pleased I could tag along with the man on his work trips to King County. I'm not particularly entertaining company inflight though. I kinda sleep through each sector. Hehehe. In Singapore, it's easier to partition out alone-time. On vacations, the man has gotten used to me portioning out alone-time as well. We don't do well with seeing each other 24/7. These work trips are a fabulous way of finding a balance in terms of our time together.

Like I said, in this season of life, Seattle is my favorite US city. Love the vibes and food, love the sunshine and its green and blue, love the grey and the rain. It was gorgeous simply skipping through the streets in the rain. The rains aren't monsoon-style pelting down. The light sprinkling or a drizzle is almost magical. An umbrella works occasionally, but a parka or a raincoat is best for a sense of liberation. Feel the rain. It's thin, cold and kinda refreshing. Tropical raindrops at home are fat, juicy and warm. Both are nice. Just different.

We'd have to find another trip to take a jaunt up to the mountains. King County has so much nature that it's impossible not to embrace it. Importantly, the humans are cool. Our friends are awesome. Each experience in the city is something new and generally welcomed. I can always find positivity in most things. It's not difficult to see a city through rose-tinted lenses when we're tourists. Even better when we gain extra time to understand more about it.

See ya again Seattle.

The holiday gingerbread display at Four Seasons Hotel Seattle.

Hanging Out With Many Humans

Ate out lots of course, but on a long trip, it's always nice to sit down to homecooked meals. Except we know how much effort and trouble it takes to prepare a meal. So we're pretty wary when invited to the friends' homes for a meal during this season. Don't want to put them out with all the trouble.

Also mindful about asking people out because it involves arranging a babysitter, shifting regular schedules to accommodate our dates, and traveling up to an hour to get somewhere. Most people don't live in downtown Seattle and on this trip, we opted to stay in a downtown hotel. We'd rather be the ones traveling out. Silly Uber is extremely idiotic with its terrible public relations management, controversial corporate and customer policies. But it's really useful to us here. It's easy getting around because of the convenience of an uber ride.

Can't believe how the friends took time out to meet us regardless of the rain. I think everyone's used to it. Even more fun when stumbling across friends-who-don't-live-in-Seattle at random cafes, and found time to stay for a cup of coffee and discover we would be heading to the same gigs in the evenings. Love how each date simply falls into place fairly easily.

It's amazing how many firm friendships exist in this city, old and new. Buddies of two decades, acquaintances of a few years, and friends whom we've forged strong ties through shared experiences, and new links which we would like to meet again. These are renewed upon each visit. Makes coming here so much happier. So glad we made it to your city. Thank you so much lovelies. It's always great hanging out.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Bloedel Reserve

Hopped onto a ferry to Bainbridge Island in Kitsap County. Head downtown to Pier 52 and one could just walk on to the ferry or drive/cycle/bike onto the ferry. Unfortunately we didn't drive, so we couldn't do any major exploration to Fort Ward Park or Fay Bainbridge State Park. The island has zero public transportation available, so please arrange your own. The parks all have campsites with restrooms and fresh water. It would be nice to come back here in an RV for the weekend.

The murder on San Piedro Island in Puget Sound from David Guterson's 'Snow Falling on Cedars' is based on actual events that happened on Bainbridge Island. During World War II, under President Roosevelt's order, Bainbridge Island Japanese-American families were among the first of 120,000 to be sent to internment camps during World War II. 227 mostly American men, women and children from Bainbridge spent four years in an Idaho camp. Now, most families living on the island produce berries. Loads of lovely berries. I would like to come here in spring or summer to walk its Fairy Dell Trail.

We're not prepped for any serious trail walking. Took an easy stroll within The Bloedel Reserve. 150 acres are more than enough for us to explore before sunset. There're little trails in the woods, a Japanese garden and a reflection pool, and of course Prentice Bloedel's (of MacMillan Bloedel Timber Company) former residence from 1951 to 1986. The Reserve is a labor of Bloedel's love for landscaping and architecture.

As luck would have it, on the day we went, it poured. At least it was 12°C, not -2°C. The winds were fierce. No problem. We were in weather-resistant clothing, bags and shoes. Tech gadgets went into waterproof pouches and securely fastened within another waterproof large pouch. It meant we couldn't walk with phones or cameras in hand. No worries. As it is, I whip out the camera and the phone too often. Instead, we walked faster with our eyes to the horizon, taking in the scenery, and committed every sight to memory.

A convenient 35-minute ferry ride to downtown Seattle, Bainbridge Island has only approximately 25,000 residents. I guess internet works great. Our cellphones had top-notch data speeds. Saw much green, and felt the slower pace of life on the island. There's nothing much going on and that's precisely what's lovely about it.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Handmade Cards and Tags

Wrote all my Christmas cards in Seattle and sent them out. The first batch got to the recipients safe. Woohooo. Let's hope the second batch gets to where they need to go. Started Christmas shopping really early this year. Had loads of gifts to lug along this trip which had to be bought in Singapore. Needed gift tags.

Lyn of littlebluebottle was making cards and gift tags in a meaningful effort to raise funds for Radion International. The non-profit is run by Eugene Wee. Immediately ordered a bunch. Orders are closed now. But she does make these lovely cards whenever an occasion rolls around. Check her blog for updates! I've arranged for various mail items and parcels to be forwarded to Seattle. So glad that Lyn completed the tags and cards so fast for delivery to the Singapore address that the package ultimately got here just slightly after Thanksgiving. Perfect timing.

Opened up the envelope and sighed with delight. I didn't specify any desired designs beyond checking out what had been posted online. Was fine with the designs and colors of the papers. It's the holidays after all, and multi colors ought to be present in presents. Left it to Lyn's artistic eye. Once wrapping and writing and all that were done, I had a problem. Whatever ordered weren't enough! Kinda miscalculated how many humans would appear and stuff like that. I usually stock extras, but this round, because I'm not home, I didn't cater for that. Aiyah. Seattle stores has gorgeous handmade items too, but I particularly want some gifts to be Made in Singapore.

I should have doubled the order, Lyn. Oof. Thank you so much for the personal touch this season!

Westward & Little Gull

Headed out to brunch to Wallingford at the uber chic Westward & Little Gull. Located along the north shore of Lake Union, the restaurant boasts of marina views and easy vibes. Love the wood, blue and white. We went for brunch once, liked it so much that we've gone back twice for lunch and dinner.

An apple-wood oven churns out fish, chicken and smoked clams. The kitchen could sure cook. Chef Zoi Antonitsas incorporates many Greek influences into Northwest flavors, giving rise to a menu that many of us love. The first visit was at brunch and we were blown away by the quality of its food. Loved the wood oven baked bagel with house-cured wild salmon gravlax and labneh. The man couldn't stop raving about his wood oven roasted chicken hash with root vegetables, ras el hanout and poached farm eggs. Decent offerings of beer on tap.

A grey morning (what's new, Seattle) in a warm and lovely restaurant made it perfect to kick back with coffee after to chill out with the friends, nattering about nothing in particular, googling bits and bobs, sharing laughs and everything under the sun drizzle. Seattle's rains don't disturb me. In fact, I quite welcome it. Didn't even flinch when it rained for four days straight. Makes me treasure that one day of bright sunshine and blue skies all the more.