New food: bubble tea

March 30, 2011 at 12:35 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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At the end of our block there’s a cute little cafe called Oasis Tea Zone. Practically every time I walk by it is absolutely jam packed with young Asian people talking and playing on their cell phones.  Now you might wonder just exactly what kind of tea this place sells to attract such a crowd all the time. Well, the answer is… every kind. Case in point:

The most intimidating menu ever

The most intimidating menu ever

Seriously, this menu is practically designed to make you feel stupid. But stupid in a special kind of way… culturally stupid. I’ve been to a lot of coffee shops in my life, and many of them have had big menus. But at the end of the day those menus were filled with things I could understand. Beverages whose characteristics and names made sense. This menu, however, is filled with odd and mysterious things with names that sound benign — they’re in English, anyway — and yet they give you no clue what you actually might want to order: taro milk tea? Chocolate barley tea? Pudding milk tea? Milk pudding? (What’s the difference?) Or perhaps you’d like to go with something that’s chilled: winter melon tapioca juice? A refreshing coconut greenbean slush? Or maybe an almond snow or a green mungbean shaved ice. And while you stand in the undoubtedly long line waiting to order, you look up at this imposing sign and try to figure out the nagging questions: how is slush different from snow or shaved ice? Is pudding milk tea the same as milk pudding? It says pudding is a topping, too — how does that work?

And as you sit there pondering, you hardly notice that you’re slowly stepping closer and closer to the counter while the Asian teens in front of you quickly order and pay. And then, in one horrifying moment, you notice that you’re next in line with no idea how the menu even works, let alone what to order. The people behind the counter don’t always speak English very well — and with their usual clientele, why should they? — but in just a moment you’re going to be holding up the line and all eyes will be on you. The eyes of multitudes of Asian high schoolers who, in your mind, are perhaps wondering how this white girl strayed so far from the Starbucks around the corner.

Some of these are simple and undaunting

It’s time for evasive action. You abandon your grandiose plans of understanding the menu and which drinks are drinks and which are pudding and which are toppings. You’ll have to find out next time. “Surely,” you think, “there are items on this menu that I can understand.” So you scan down the list until you find something benign: almond milk tea. You like almonds, you like milk (kind of), you like tea. So you tell the friendly proprietors and then wait for them to call your name.

 

And everything’s fine. Nobody laughs, everybody is friendly, and they just treat you like all the rest of the customers. While you’re waiting for your almond milk tea to arrive, you look around at the couches and tables and realize that there are actually a few other people there who aren’t Asian teenagers. And that nobody is looking at you and wondering why you aren’t drinking a venti grande latte half caff macchiato. They’re just having grand old times with their friends and phones.

The tapioca pearls

Anyway, once you get over that stress, the almond milk tea is pretty good. It’s often called “bubble tea” because of the marble-sized tapioca pearls that get dumped into the bottom of the glass. Because they’re so large — and chewy and pretty good, actually — bubble tea is served with a super-wide straw so you can suck them all up into your mouth while you’re drinking it. It’s a little strange the first time — and maybe the second and third — but it’s actually very delightful.

 

This past weekend there was a breakthrough in the unending menu mystery: we went to Oasis with our Chinese friends, Terry and Eva! (As we walked in, Eva whispered “I always feel so old when I come in here!”) I was super excited at the impending understanding and I eagerly told Eva that I had about 300 menu-related questions for her. Happily, during our lengthy stand in line I had many opportunities to find out everything I wanted to know. Also, to my great relief, I learned that things that are green-bean flavored aren’t American green beans. They’re mungbeans, which are apparently quite common in Chinese desserts. When I explained to her that “green bean milk tea” sounded a lot like “broccoli milk tea” to American ears, she thought that was pretty hilarious.

Anyway, keep your eyes open if you’re interested in trying bubble tea. There were places that sold it in both Atlanta and Austin, and it’s probably not too hard to find in other parts of the country as well. (I wouldn’t expect quite such a daunting menu, however. I attribute that to Oasis being in the middle of Chinatown.) Just pick one that’s a flavor you like and you won’t be disappointed. Or, if you want something less sugary, go for the original flavor: “royal” milk tea. It’s far more refreshing than the ones with the chocolate or almond or whatever flavoring added on. And if you’d like to try it but don’t have the wherewithall to try one yourself, just come visit us in Seattle and I will be your bubble tea guide. Because really, it’s very simple.

My delicious royal milk tea with delicious tapioca pearls

 

 

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Video: Nano versus a crumpled-up paper bag

March 27, 2011 at 9:47 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Nano enjoyed this crumpled-up bag during her convalescence after getting fixed. The video shows her doing about the same stuff throughout, so there’s no need to wait for a spectacular finale if you aren’t already enjoying the beginning.

Elvis Jong Il

March 26, 2011 at 10:13 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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At Uwajimaya the other night we saw this guy who looks like Elvis or Kim Jong Il. He and his lady friend were the only people seated– it was going to close soon — so I had a difficult time getting this photo without attracting attention. I took three or four, but most came out pretty blurry. This shot will have to do.

Elvis Jong Il

 

In other news, one day recently Blake and I went to one of our favorite Hong Kong bakeries in Chinatown. We’ve been going there for months, and Blake visited nearly every day when Amazon was right across the street. He always gets the same thing there — a cream cheese bun — and the girl who works there is always nice to us.

On this particular occasion, the place was super crowded and Blake had to wait in line behind three people to get served. (Waiting at all is extremely unusual.) When he was finally next in line, he overheard the girl in front of him order two cream cheese buns — the same thing he always gets (though he gets only one). So the bakery girl checked her little food-warmer and announced, “Oh, I’m sorry, I only have one left.” Blake, still not yet at the counter, was crestfallen. After all that wait! So he started reviewing the bakery case to find a suitable alternative. When it was finally his turn, he said, “No more cream cheese buns, eh?” But the bakery girl smiled a big smile, leaned over, and whispered, “No, I saved you one! I didn’t want you to wait all that time for nothing!” We like her. =)

Snow in Chinatown (in February)

March 25, 2011 at 10:01 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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In February we got an impressive amount of snow in the span of about two hours. I went out with Nano and Pico for a little while to enjoy it, but unfortunately I couldn’t manage both of them and my camera. As a result, all my street photos were taken with my iPhone — and in low light, even — so they’re really not my best work. I think they’re neat, though, so I’ll include them anyway.

After I dropped the dogs back off at the apartment, I grabbed my real camera and went to the tea garden with my tripod to see if I could get some neat shots. I was pretty pleased with the results. =)

The city looks so surreal with the snow and the sodium lights

Our neighbor's apartment and the snow

The King Street gate in the snow (Is "gate" the right word? I don't know.)

Nano is camouflaged

A Chinatown dragon with King Street Station in the background

The tea garden in the snow

The tea garden with Blake's old building in the background

Our spiffy arch. It looks so cool in the snow! The girls in the distance are making a snowman.

Building a snowman (I don't know who this is.)

Lunar New Year in Chinatown

March 24, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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A poster for the festivities

Lunar New Year was actually quite the celebration here. Aside from a big festival that occurred a couple blocks from here — albeit in some very cold rain — it was really a neat experience. Uwajimaya was packed, of course — mostly with Asian people buying (what I assume to be) various traditional new-year foods. There were lion dances and dragon dances and fireworks and people throwing cabbages up in the air. (I’m still not really clear on the reasoning behind the cabbage tossing.)

Aside from that, though, I was amazed at how many businesses got into it. The bookstore around the corner had rabbit t-shirts  (since it’s the year of the rabbit), all kinds of stores had rabbit tchotchkes (keychains, figurines, dangly things to attach to cell phones, pens, erasers, mirrors, etc.). And even the Wells Fargo here had a sign on its door offering a new-year-themed rabbit piggybank if you open a new account. Maybe that was a nationwide campaign, but I certainly have never seen anything like that any of the other places I’ve lived.

The dragon/lion dances were fun to watch. After seeing one up close one weekend, we were surprised to be awakened the next weekend by the bang-bang-banging on a gong/drum thing. When I looked out the window, I could see another lion/dragon dance occurring a block away, complete with flags and fireworks and banging. From our third-floor window, I was able to watch them walk up and down each block. They’d stop from time to time at one business or another and then the banging would change tempo and more fireworks would go off. Then, ten minutes later, they’d slowly march down another street, around another corner, to another business. And then more banging, more dancing, more fireworks. It was neat to see.

…for a while. I woke up from it around 11, and by 12:30 the magic had worn off. Then at 1:30 it had really worn off, and by 2:30 I was really ready for them to stop (which occurred around 3). As it turned out, somehow the lunar new year celebrations spanned three whole weekends. You can imagine my surprise when I was awakened the next weekend by still more banging and dancing and fireworks. Fortunately, that was the end of it. An experience I was glad to have, though really I would have been glad if it lasted 1/10th as long.

Anyway, please enjoy these lion/dragon dance photos!

(PS: A lion dance is two guys in a lion suit. A dragon dance is a bunch of guys holding sticks that form the dragon’s body like the legs of a caterpillar.)

Dragon dance in the rain

More dragon

A lion

The procession that occurred for the next two weekends. (This photo taken from our apartment.)

Old news: our dogs are cute

March 23, 2011 at 9:20 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Yep, that’s about it. Please enjoy the photos.

As they've gotten older, the dogs have started getting much cozier

Nano enjoys sitting on laps

Somebody put some dog toys on Pico. (Those oven mitts are what we use to play-fight with Pico -- he knows he is allowed to bite the gloves but not our un-gloved hands.)

One night I left this blanket piled in my office chair before bed. By morning, Nano had put it to good use.

That didn't last long

The dogs like it when Blake naps

Olympic peninsula: part II

March 22, 2011 at 9:16 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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When Dad and Sylvia visited, we took a day to check out the Olympic peninsula. Since we knew the rain forest was too far a drive for a single day trip — Mom and I learned that the hard way back in November — we decided to limit ourselves to the famed Hurricane Ridge and Dungeness Spit which are north of Olympic National Park. So we departed comfortably early — 10ish? — boarded the car ferry to Bainbridge Island (across Elliot Bay from Seattle), and drove about 90 minutes to the entrance to Hurricane Ridge.

This was just after the ferry departed Seattle and was facing the Olympics to the west. Fun fact: the Olympic mountains are named for Mount Olympus, which is the highest peak in the range.

When Mom and I attempted to visit Hurricane Ridge, the road up the mountain was closed due to icy conditions. With the toasty 45-degree weather in February, however, we thought we would surely be fine. And, in fact, that very morning I checked the National Parks Service website and made certain that it was open that day. So you can imagine our surprise when the friendly park ranger told us that nobody is allowed up to the ridge unless their car has snow chains on! Apparently the weather up there is so volatile that snow storms can appear in the 45 minutes it takes to get to the top, so chains are required until well until the spring — no matter how dry the road is. As we considered our options, the ranger helpfully gave us a pre-made list of all the stores in town that sell snow chains as well as their phone numbers. Hilariously, it also included the stores’ return policies! I guess every auto-parts store in town does quite a booming snow-chain-rental business.

Lake Crescent looking calm and serene

Unfortunately, we didn’t really have time to mess with the chains. We were going to have exactly enough time to do Hurricane Ridge and the spit without any extra delays, and adding the whole chain procedure would have put at least another hour on our schedule. So instead we headed over to Lake Crescent — which I always want to call “Crescent Lake” — which is a stunning glacier-carved lake in the middle of the Olympics. The drive out was beautiful, and I guess we’ll just have to see Hurricane Ridge some other time.

The highway along Lake Crescent

Next we drove over to Dungeness Spit. A spit is a landform whose creation is sort of hard to describe — I tried and failed to find an animation that I could use to demonstrate it here — but it looks like a very long and thin peninsula of sand that sticks off the end of a beach. This spit is the longest natural spit in the US at 5.5 miles, and I don’t think it could be more than 100 feet wide. The town of Sequim (pronounced “squim,” the locals told us) is home to Dungeness spit, and it’s a pretty spectacular-looking place. (Uncoincidentally, Sequim is also home to an annual Dungeness crab festival.)

The coast near Dungeness Spit

After that we headed home since it was getting dark and the parks were closing. That drive back east from the Olympics is always a little tiring: it’s 90 minutes of uninteresting darkness followed by a sleepy 25-minute boat ride. Doing it again with Dad and Sylvia (after doing it with Mom) made me realize that I will probably become very knowledgeable about this area in not that much time. I learn new stuff whenever somebody comes to visit, and that’s certainly an impressive place to show people. I suspect it won’t be long before I know which gas stations have the cheapest gas and the nicest restrooms — as I did on the frequent drives between Austin and Houston. But it’s really quite beautiful, so I definitely don’t mind going out there over and over again. =)

The spit itself

A seagull near Dungeness Spit who's ignoring the fantastic view and instead looking at me. Stupid bird.

Not news: We’ve been busy

March 21, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I saw this neat compass/map thing on the sidewalk while walking in Belltown. (A Seattle neighborhood.) Neat, huh?

I’m back from my little blogging hiatus.  We’ve been busy with nothing in particular — we went on vacation in January, my mom visited, a while later Dad and Sylvia visited, I visited my aunt in southwest Washington, my aunt visited us… and then in the background the regular things in life that make everyone busy.

However, as a result I now have almost three months’ worth of interesting things to tell you about! Over the next few days I’ll try to make some updates with old news that’s new to you: all the fun stuff that’s happened. In the meantime, here are the things that are kind of news for us:

  • Blake turned 29 earlier this month and I turned an aged 31 in January. Pico turned a less-aged 6 on March 11. (Nano will be 1 in May.)
  • Seattle’s finally starting to warm up a bit. For whatever reason, it’s been unseasonably cold this winter and we’ve had lots of snow (“lots ” = six or seven days). The coldness has also lasted longer into the year than usual, so we’re just barely breaking the mid-50s finally even though we should have reached such balmy temperatures in early March. I am ready for summer. Happily, though, the hillsides are turning green and the daffodils are blooming with reckless abandon and little flowers are starting to appear on little trees. It’s nice.
  • For the last month or so Blake’s been working on a website that he hopes to launch in the next several weeks. He’s been working very dedicatedly — is that a word? — almost every night and every weekend since he began it, and it’s finally approaching the end. I’ve been helping him where I can by doing a lot of graphic design work, which has been fun. My contribution to the project is totally dwarfed by his, though, so it’s really his project and not mine. (Once we get closer to launching I’ll describe it in more detail.)
  • In the last few months I’ve come down with a pesky case of patellofemoral pain syndrome. Although it can be caused by lots of different things, in my case it’s apparently a result of unbalanced complementary muscles. Apparently two different muscles ought to pull on my kneecap equally in opposing directions, but one of mine is way stronger than the other. This results in my kneecap getting pulled in a direction it shouldn’t be, and that’s what’s causing the pain. For the last couple weeks I’ve been visiting a physical therapist regularly to strengthen the weaker muscle, and it sounds like I should be back to normal in a few more weeks.

Anyway, that’s all the big news. (“Big” is a relative term.) Stay tuned over the next several days for anecdotes and photos. =)

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