Saturday, September 30, 2006

An evening in "Hweh-deu-roul-weh-eeh..."

...or "Federal Way" as most people know the suburban city, located halfway between Seattle and Tacoma.
"Hweh-deu-roul-weh-eeh" is an appropximate rendering in English of how Korean-speakers, in the Korean alphabet, write out "Federal Way," since there is no "F"-
sound in their Han-gul script.

So I'm almost over my cold, and as a get-well field trip, my wife and I decided to go out for Korean food tonight. (The chili and garlic quotient in that cuisine practically make it medicinal.) The centers of Korean commerce in the Puget Sound area are in three places: the Shoreline-Edmonds corridor north of Seattle, the Lakewood area just south of Tacoma, and just twenty minutes from us in Federal Way (incidentally, my wife's home town). Scattered among Wal-Mart, Target, and Barnes and Noble are a healthy concentration of Korean restaurants, stores and salons.

So we had our 'fix' of garlicky redness.
We ordered one of our favorites: 'soon-too-boo,' which is a spicy stew of soft, fresh tofu with mushrooms, chili, garlic, and a choice of other items which might include seafood or meat and vegetables. It often is served boiling hot in a stone bowl, into which you break an egg, which cooks as you stir it around with a garnishing of toasted seaweed...Serious comfort food and it'll kick a cold right out of you.
(This photo is not from the restaurant, but from my mom's house, when she made some for us when we visited her a few months you an idea of the UN-subtle coloring of Korean cuisine...)

It's hard to spell out Korean food in English and not have it sound like a scary disease when you read it outloud..
Perhaps the phonetic unfriendliness of the menu is one reason why Korean food hasn't become as popular as Chinese and Thai food...Some examples of the scary spelling of other Korean staples are:



"kimchee" (probably the most familiar word)
So, yeah, if you don't know what those things mean, I can perfectly understand why you would be afraid to order anything!

But other Asian restaurants also have their fair share of delightful spellings...
A couple of my favorites are: "crab delighted"--yeah, sound
s like fun!
and: "wanton soup"--watch your morals as you slurp there...

And that brings me to one of the joys in life for my wife and me: Engrish.
'Engrish' is that special brand of fractured English that appears in all manner of printed form in East Asia, on public signs, t-shirts, advertisements, and readily available on our side of the Pacific--on packages of exported food products.

So after dinner, we drove across (yes--drove across; one cannot walk across the street in suburbia, alas...) the road to a huge new grocery store: "H-mart." The business, housed in what was formerly a mainstream American mega-grocery-store, is an Asian-foodie's dream: cheap, exotic produce, fresh live fish, and yes--full of Engrish-labeled products. I love Federal Way's international strip-mall-ambiance: I can go to Barnes and Noble and then go to a supermarket that makes me feel as if I were in downtown Seoul. (As for the name "Federal Way," well...I don't love that name so much--who came up with that name for a town? I mean, for a road maybe, but for an incorporated city? come on--where was the imagination? Well, if you say it the Korean way--hwehdeuroulwehee--it sounds kind of exotic, eh?)

Among our purchases were a couple of candy items. I just had to scan them and so I submit them to you now:

These chocolates are from Japan:
"Couple Chocolate"...

In case you are having a hard time reading the small print, I'll write it out here:
"Very pleasant time.

When it gets along with the
important person.

Appreciate it slowly, please."

I guess the candy manuracturers wanted to give some relationship advice...

And now, from Korea, are some walnut candies:
"A Walnut Village"

Again, I'll retype the small print:
"So long as the world exists,
the most beautiful and most
profound taste we can
experience is the
joeun candy." takes a village to understand

that, eh?

( I just found out that it's possible on this website
to click on a picture to see a bigger version,
so go ahead if you want to read the small print...)

A couple more things that caught our eye tonight we didn't buy, so I couldn't scan them...
but I have to mention them:
"HotMate" spicy rice crackers...(only for married folks?)
"SexyMild" mauve-colored cosmetic face powder...(no, wouldn't want to be 'wild,' just 'mild'...)

In today's increasingly globalized world, why learn Spanish, French, or Mandarin?
Everyone should speak Engrish; the world would be a much punnier prace...

While I'm up...

...I guess I'll post a few more photos.
I'll balance out the rainbow-vibes
with some volcanic views...

And since one of the reasons for this blog is to process Before- and After-Nicaragua thoughts, I should include some landscapes of our Nica-life and our post-Nica-life...

So, here's a view of San Cristóbal, the tallest active volcano in Nicaragua, about 30 miles to the NW of León:

I happened to have my camera with me while running errands downtown one day. (6 mar 2006) It was a clear day, so I thought I'd take a few minutes and go up the steps of the cathedral bell tower to enjoy the view, and while I was up there, ash began belching out of the mountain. It only lasted for about 15 minutes, and then it calmed down...

A couple of weeks later, I saw it erupt again, but this time, just steam:

León is a safe distance away from San Cristóbal...but nearby is Cerro Negro:
It's appropriately named, no? "Black Hill" 1850, this was flat land--dry tropical forest and savannah...but in that year, black sand and ash began to burp out of the ground...and today it's a 1500'-tall pile of hot blackness. Weird to think of the town being older than the volcano, eh? (One of the craters is below, taken Jan 2006) Several times since 1850, Cerro Negro has blanketed León with tons of ash and sand...
...which is ironic, since the whole point of locating León in its current location was to get away from such threats. Around 1520, the Spanish founded the original city of León about 30 miles to the SE, on the shores of Lake Managua, in the shadow of the Momotombo volcano. (below, along with its 'baby,' the volcanic island of Momotombito) About a hundred years later, the city was destroyed by earthquakes and then covered by volcanic debris. (The ruins were unearthed only a couple of decades ago.) And so León was relocated to its current site.
As recently as the mid-1990's, Cerro Negro has erupted, and Momotombo still has enough geothermal energy underneath it to produce 10 percent of Nicaragua's electricity...yep, Nicaragua--it's hot...

And now, in our post-Nica life, my wife and I can look out at a visually more placid evening scene:

But the towns near the base of Mt. Rainier regularly have evacuation drills. Rainier is not likely to erupt à la Nicaraguan volcanoes, but if it were to heat up suddenly, its glaciated slopes would melt, potentially causing miiles of catastrophic rivers of mud to flow--"lahars", they're called...

Good-ol' terra firma...
September is a month...

...of rainbows.
(Don't worry...Reallly, this is not going to be a corny posting, full of saccharine platitudes à la Thomas on...)

I've been home all day and evening with a nasty end-of-summer cold. Not enou
gh energy to go out, but too listless to sleep. Dayquil had my head in a fog all day, and Nyquil hasn't kicked in yet...
Stuck here, then, I finally got around to reorganizing some things, including dealing with a pile of photos in the corner of the spare room--old pictures from my pre-digital days that I've wanted to scan into the computer for months now...

Looking at all these images, I came across three photos of rainbows, all taken coincidentally in the month of September, but in very different places.

Like most children, I guess, I was always fascinated by rainbows--how could something so substantial-looking be so ephemeral? Growing up in in the rainy climate of northern Germany, so many childhood days were punctuated by the bands of color in the sky...and then when we lived in Arizona, the summer monsoons that would march across the high desert would leave behind them impossible combinations of rainbows and lightning over the distant mountains...

Occasionally during evening commutes here in Seattle, I've actually been thankful for rain-induced gridlock, allowing me to safely stare at a rainbow off to the east as the sun peeks out from a suddenly clear western sky...
But so much better than glimpsing a rainbow while driving is to be at home and to look out the window and see the luminous arc of color...and to have a camera.

Despite Seattle's reputation of being a place where life is lived under everpresent grey, the truth is that summers here are mostly DRY. The grass turns brown under a cloudless sky; mediterranean flora flourishes. This year was the driest summer in years--over 90 days with no significant rainf
all. But, last week fall arrived, and the rain fell...
and one evening, as the sun fought back, we got a glimpse of t
his double-rainbow from our balcony:
(Who knew that Renton could be so scenic?)

That view reminded me of an evening years ago, at the beginning of my year in France. I had the surprise of coming home from the grocery-store, and looking out my window to this view:

I couldn't have asked for a more perfect moment to take a photo of the Paris skyline. There was literally gold at the end of the rainbow--the golden-domed roof of the Église des Invalides, where Napoleon I lies buried. (Emperor worship is alive and well, even in staunchly secular and republican France) The following spring, when the leaves grew back, the view of the Eiffel tower was obscured by the foliage. And now, the building where I lived has been torn down, I've heard...So this particular view, hélas, is no more...

Well, that was way back in the twentieth century...

Closer to now--September of last year.
In western Nicaragua, as in much of Central America, the rainy season (what they call 'winter') lasts from May to November. Usually that means sunny hot mornings that produce towering clouds that explode in afternoon downpours, and then after the brief cool respite, a steamy evening...But one m
orning we awoke to the loud drumming of rain on our tin roof...As we finished breakfast, the rain let up, and then voilà:
The rainbow conveniently ends, as you can see, in a treetop full of red llama del bosque blossoms...No pot-o'-gold in Nicaragua, but plenty of flowers in the wet season...

Who knew that Day- and Ny-quil could inspire one to post rainbows?
A coincidence of the calendar, that all these photos were taken in September...
...which ends today.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

En el principio...

The first attempt was in May of last year. It was che
esily titled: "In the blogginning."
(Hey--it was 3 a.m., and the mind at that hour is easy prey to facile word-play....)
Here it is, then:
Fighting to conquer caffeine with chamomile, I find myself flying into the insomniac's world of the blogosphere... After reading a respected friend's blog for a few weeks now (you know you you are...), I've decided to join the online verbosity... S. and I are moving to Nicaragua in a few weeks, so here we go--perhaps this will be an easier way to communicate with YOU, the readers... I being presumptuous, assuming that my words will be worth your time? and...should I wean myself off my e-mail habit of using "..." all the time? and whuddabout those smilies/icons? ;-) Onto new things then, as I sit amid the pre-moving chaos...
That was as far as that nascent blog ever got.
(I decided to stick with sending e-mails from Nicaragua.)
Today, then, is the 'delayed birth'...

Trying to figure out what to write--what is this genre of 'the
blog' anyway? Hmm...not really a letter, not really a column, not really a diary...although many blogs out there try to be those things.
(Has there ever before existed such an easy outlet for instant publishing?)

Blogs are not really essays--at least not in the high-school English-
class sense of the word...
But the original Essayist, the writer who coined the term, would feel perfectly 'in his skin' were he alive today.

Montaigne. Good-ol' Michel didn't write stuffy five-paragraph-e
ssays back in the 16th century. The logical-but-boring format that tyrannizes high-school-writing today would have horrified him; a criminal misappropriation of the word "essay." (Interestingly, the original word simply meant 'an attempt.')

Picture our writer, sitting in his circular library in the tower of his family chateau...but with a laptop. Instead of penning his comments on parchment, he would have blogged his errant, but not rambling, thoughts.
Spouting off. About whatever. Getting on one train of thought--to hop on to a passin
g train going in the opposite direction, but on parallel tracks...or to hop off altogether, rolling into a grassy field and lying down to look up at the stars...or the smog. The title being but incidentally linked to the content. Maybe. Commenting on his own writing...on that of others...on current events...on annoying acquaintances...on the unbearable repetition of history...on new scientific discoveries...on the absurdity and sweetness of it all. (There are good modern translations of Montaigne out there now...check the monsieur out...)

From Montaigne to me, now...(blogs are, after all, by their very nature, narcissistic, no? at least a little...)
I am not, alas, perched in a book-lined castle-tower. My computer sits on a particle-board table. But there are books next to me...and our apartment is perched on a hillside--with vi
ews of suburbia steadily encroaching on farmland and forest, Mt. Rainier looming over it all...

...After our year in Nicaragua, my wife and I are back in the NW, but no longer living in Seattle. Just south of it, now. Situational whiplash--living on Capitol Hill for five years, then the poorest country in Central America, and now in Renton. Surreal contrasts.

Several months ago, while sweating in front of the t.v. in Nicaragua, we watched news coverage of the various pro- and anti-immigrant demonstrations that were taking place in the U.S. Living again in Gringolandia, in an area that is decidedly more diverse than either León, Nicaragua (where I was the "chinito") or Capitol Hill, makes me think about the realities of modern immigration.

Twenty-first century immigration is no longer a story of urban immigrant enclaves: 'arrivederci' to the Little Italies of the inner-city past and 'nee-how' to the ethnic niches of the suburban present.

Here, for example--most dry-cleaners in strip-malls here are owned by Koreans. As are the teriyaki-joints. (I have NEVER seen a teriyaki-restaurant actually owned by Japanese. Ever.)
Taxi-drivers are either Punjabi or Ethiopian.
Doughnut shops are Cambodian.
Manicure/pedicure salons are Vietnamese.

The construction workers building the new and idylically-named subdivisions ("The Park at Village Woods"...where's the park? where are the trees? and the village?!) are are the gardeners in the neighborhoods that are already built.
And just down the road from the IKEA store is the "Great Wall Mall" where you can have Bubble tea in a Taiwanese deli or buy fresh Durian from the 'Ranch market'...

Immigrants now are as car-dependent as the rest of us...although I have seen head-scarfed Ukrainian grandmothers bravely attempting to cross 6 lanes of traffic on foot...

Renton may lack the chic-factor of Seattle's core, but it is far from being 'white-bread'...(not that there's anything wrong with that...)

Time now to get a bite to eat. Maybe I'll have some phó...or something from the taco-truck down the street from the kosher Punjabi place...