In 2013 I visited Hong Kong for the first (and so far only) time to do some interviews. I did some sight-seeing over the weekend and took way too many pictures. Here are my 92 favorites:
Guy approaching me on the street with a ragged bouquet of flowers: “Hey, buy some flowers for your wife?”
Me: “No, thanks. She’s 3,000 miles away.”
Guy: “That’s cool – I just pulled these out of a dumpster.”
That was 10 years ago in Seattle. I talked to him for a while and he told me he used to be able to make a decent living as a street performer, but no one carries cash anymore, just cards. The florists usually destroy the flowers before dumping them, but sometimes he could salvage a few.
He’s just one of the Seattle characters I remember from my three months there in 2005. I had just left the soon-to-be-bankrupt Delta Air Lines and started work for a little software company in Pioneer Square, Seattle. I was going to be their first remote (non-Sales) employee, so they had me come out for three months of training to play it safe.
I flew home to Atlanta every other weekend to see my family. It’s one of those things we look back on and can’t believe we had the energy for it. But it set me up for an alternating dream-nightmare (usually dream) job for the past 10 years and I now only remember the fun parts of my 90 days in a strange land.
The company put me up in a cheap furnished apartment in Belltown, about a mile from the office. It was called Marvin Gardens, after the Monopoly square, and it has since been replaced by high-rise apartments. It was across the street from what the locals called “Crack Park” due to its history of drug deals. They were trying to turn it into a dog park. I met many of my neighbors when the fire alarm went off at 3am. They were interesting folks, but I guess we all are at that hour.
Buses were free in the downtown area, but I preferred to walk the mile to and from work. I rotated through a different avenue each day and got to the point where I could time my pace to catch nearly every Walk signal at the crosswalks. I got to know some of the regulars on the streets: The Guy Who Yells At Traffic Lights, The Guy Who Yells At Trash Cans (my wife met him when she visited), and The Guy Who Yelled At Me, “Why. . .are you . . . so . . . BAAAAALD?!”
I survived on canned soup and yogurt from Rite Aid and Ralph’s, went to a couple of Seattle Symphony performances, saw Flight of the Conchords in concert, and visited every possible tourist spot at least twice.
I tipped a whole lot of street performers:
The Seattle library was a frequent stop, mostly to get classical music cds from their huge collection.
I hosted a co-worker from India for a weekend in Seattle and took him to Specialty’s Cafe for [seriously the most amazing] cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate, The Daily Dozen for powdered donuts, Grand Central Bakery for pastries, the Seattle Center for beignets, and Le Panier for an authentic pain au chocolat. I didn’t realize the theme until he remarked, “You really like sugar bread, don’t you?”
Mae Phim Thai was a little restaurant not far from the office and we ate there at least 50% of the time for lunch. Their cashew nut chicken is pretty much the best thing ever. The servers got to know me as the guy who always ordered “zero stars” (no hot spice). Even zero stars got my armpits tingling, but it was a good hurt.
I knew it was time to head home when the Christmas decorations started going up on the buildings and I quit being able to see the Space Needle through the rain and fog.
Seattleites are sensitive and defensive about their weather. If you complain about it, they’re likely to express gratitude that it keeps people (implied: people like you) away. I was there as more than a tourist but less than a local. I like the place. Better than Portland, anyway. 😉
The first time I went to India, in 2008, I picked up the paper and read about monkeys that were raiding villages and stealing food and medicine. I’m pretty sure I read that they were stealing human babies, too, although now that I try to find an article online about it I’m having a rough time finding a reliable source. Jet lag was pretty bad that first visit, so maybe I invented that part or I was reading the Indian National Enquirer.
I was staying at the 32nd Milestone Hotel in Gurgaon, a few miles from New Delhi. As I settled into bed, a leopard gecko scurried up the wall. On my way back from breakfast in the morning, two monkeys were blocking the hotel entrance until someone chased them off with a broom. That’s when I knew I would be back to visit often.
Monkeys are fed and protected at temples dedicated to Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god. One of the most famous of these is Galta Ji in Jaipur, a few hours’ drive southwest of New Delhi. National Geographic has a series called Rebel Monkeys (Monkey Thieves in some countries) about the troop of 60ish rhesus macaques that live at Galta and maraud Jaipur.
We had trouble finding it — there were no tourist signs (which was great because we were the only tourists there) — but our driver asked a guy on a motorcycle who led us there several miles through the rain. Better than GPS.
We bought a bag of peanuts at the entrance and paid 200 rupees (about $4) to be able to use our cameras. The buildings were cool and there were a few monkeys wandering around. It was pretty ok, but not amazing.
Then, we heard a bell ring.
Suddenly, dozens of monkeys appeared from the rocks surrounding the area and rushed down the hill. It was feeding time. The priests distributed fresh fruits and vegetables as monkeys lined the steps and chomped away.
They mostly ignored us as our camera shutters clicked furiously. Once the fresh food was gone, some of the monkeys would pull on our pant legs to get peanuts from us.
It was exhilarating, a highlight of my time there. The monkeys were very accustomed to humans, so I don’t think it was much more dangerous than a petting zoo, but it felt like they could go King Louie on us at any moment, which added to the excitement.
Photo gallery –
I enjoy a good sign. Here are a few that caught my eye.
I have no Irish blood in me. Well, maybe a few drops – about the proportion of insect legs the FDA allows in chocolate.
But for some reason I’ve long felt drawn to the place. Maybe it started with that old Disney movie, Darby O’Gill and the Little People, with the pretty Irish girl. A few years later, Fiona Ritchie’s voice enchanted me on Thistle and Shamrock on Public Radio and I began collecting music by De Dannan, The Chieftains, Planxty, The Dubliners, James Galway, Mary Black, and Maura O’Connell. In a Jackson Hole bookstore I found a cassette tape of Irish Reels, Jigs, Hornpipes & Airs played on the acoustic guitar by Dave Evans, Duck Baker, and others. In high school I discovered Van Morrison and The Pogues, and tried unsuccessfully to convince my band director that we should learn Fiesta for pep band.
Ireland by Frank Delaney burned itself into my mind as I listened to the audiobook on my walk to and from work. How The Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill was another fascinating read (listen).
Last week I finally had the chance to visit the country that has intrigued me for years. I had about a day and a half of free time surrounding a business trip to Dublin. I picked up Rick Steves’ Ireland travel book, downloaded a few apps and podcasts, and came up with my tourist agenda on the plane.
At checkin, the Delta agent asked if I knew why baked beans in Ireland have only 239 beans. “Because one more would be 240”. (Try pronouncing it with an Irish accent.) I normally lack appreciation for scatalogical humor, but that one got a laugh.
My hotel room was 533, which I loved to hear pronounced as “Five-Turty-Tree”.
The highlight of the trip was Newgrange, a large tomb built over 5,000 years ago (about 3,200 B.C.) by neolithic people. It’s older than Stonehenge and The Pyramids. There are a series of mounds in the Brú na Bóinne area, many of them designed around the sun. The morning of Winter Solstice, a beam of sunlight illuminates the passageway inside the tomb for 17 minutes. Other tombs are designed for other solstices and/or sunsets instead of sunrises. It was a strange and spiritual experience, more emotional than I expected.
The Book of Kells
The Book of Kells was also amazing. It’s an illuminated manuscript of the four New Testament Gospels, created in about 800 A.D. The monks had a good time with it, decorating letters and paragraphs and margins. They made a few mistakes, accidentally repeating at least one full page, running out of space at the end of some lines (and finishing them off in space above), and making the most beautiful spelling errors ever. The attention to detail and artistry that went into it is incredible.
Musical Pub Crawl
I finished the trip with a Musical Pub Crawl on Friday night with about 50 other tourists. Two musicians took us to 3 pubs and played music and told stories for a couple of hours.
If you’re looking to cram a lot into a short stay in Dublin, here’s what I did –
Day 1 (about 8 hours)
Landed at 9:30am, left luggage at the hotel, and got into the city before noon.
– Dublin Castle tour
– Chester Beatty library with very old Bible manuscripts from Egypt
– Trinity College tour, which includes the Book of Kells. The “Turning Darkness Into Light” exhibit is excellent and I recommend taking the time to watch the short videos that show bookbinding and calligraphy methods.
– St. Stephen’s Green – fun people watching here.
– Grafton Street – it was really entertaining the first time I walked it, full of street performers. When I revisited (twice), it was a disappointment, full of only tourists and shoppers
Day 2 (about 3 hours in the evening)
– O’Connell Street – I followed the Rick Steves guided walk and saw historical monuments and buildings, including the General Post Office where Patrick Pearse read the Proclamation of Irish Independence and kicked off the Easter Uprising.
– St. Patrick’s Cathedral – I didn’t pay (6 Euros) to go inside, but the park is nice. Jonathan Swift’s burial place
– Christ Church Cathedral – This was another 6 Euros, and I was out of cash, so I walked around outside. The cathedral choir was the first to perform Handel’s Messiah in 1742.
Day 3 (about 12 hours)
– Newgrange and Hill of Tara tour (10:20am – 4:30pm)
– Quick visit of the Garden of Remembrance while waiting for the bus
– Merrion Square – The Selfish Giant and Oscar Wilde monuments. There was a college group here doing a photo scavenger hunt, which entertained me.
– Wandering, eating
– Temple Bar – very touristy pub area with lots of street musicians
– Musical Pub Crawl, meets at the Oliver St. John Gogarty pub in the Temple Bar area
There were two additional things I wish I could have fit in: