Sleepless in The Caffeine City, Seattle

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Long before the mass popularity of Microsoft, Starbucks and Amazon Go, Nora Ephron romanced the world with her classic hit “Sleepless in Seattle”. The perfect on-screen’s love chemistry between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan combined with the soulful duet of Celine Dion and Clive Griffin weaved an everlasting love story in the hearts of millions. It was through this 1993 movie that I formed my first and lasting impression of Seattle.

26 years later, I am finally here. And it was the lure of Amazon Go that brought me to Seattle. Chowpo was extremely excited to show me around, after all, she grew up in Seattle.

 

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I was very lucky to be blessed with great sunny weather during my visit as Seattle is one of the wettest cities in the world (and heavy downfall is generally expected between January and May). We visited Seattle’s most popular Instagram sites, the Snoqualmie Falls Park, the Space Needle, the Museum of Pop Art and Kerry Park.

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There is something unique and charming about Seattle. Perhaps its buildings and its people. Or maybe it is the weather and its spacious lush terrains. It is like falling in love with an old typewriter or a vintage car, I just can’t describe the feelings in words. I had a very good cozy feeling about this city of old-&-new and it intrigued me to stay longer. Good gracious, what kind of “charms” they put in the Starbucks drinks here? I am started to get addicted to this small city.

We visited the first Starbucks shop at Pike Place Market where I bought many souvenirs for my friends back home. It was a small shop filled with busloads of tourists.

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Chowpo then brought me to an unusual tourist attraction at the lower alley of Pike Place Market. It was the infamous grossest Gum Wall. At first, I thought it was fun but the pungent smell of gums and sight grossed me out. And being a brainwashed and law-bidding Singaporean, spitting chewing gum and vandalizing public properties are offenses that carry heavy, painful penalties, I didn’t even think of leaving my mark here. (I left that place with one big question – why aren’t there any ants on the wall??)

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Thanks to the connectivity of social media, I met up with my childhood penpal, Venina & family (our second meeting in 30 years!) and cousin Bin in Seattle! What a small world!

When I told Chowpo and my cousin Bin that I am meeting my penpal in Seattle, both of them asked me the same question separately, “You mean meeting a friend from Paypal?” I had to repeat it was a penpal. And their next question was “What’s a penpal?” (Yes, you can imagine my long unhappy face. Can’t blame them, I bet my son didn’t know this term too! Sigh….)

Venina was my first penpal. (I only had 2, one from Indonesia and another from Tripoli, Lebanon whom I lost contact) Venina and I connected when I was only 10-11. We first and last met in Singapore when I was 14 years old. We lost touch when she moved overseas and we managed to reconnect back on MSN and later Facebook. Till date, I still keep all the letters she sent. This is our second meeting in 30 years! And she is happily married to a wonderful doctor with 2 lovely boys! We met at Starbucks Reserve Roastery at Pike Street. Never expect to meet my penpal in Seattle! It was one of the best things that happened to me here! (Thanks for reaching out on Facebook and it was great meeting all of you, my old pal!)

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Our next stop – meeting Cousin Bin at Seattle’s must-visit iconic site. Housing over 40,000 plants, the iconic Amazon Spheres are impressive with its pentagonal hexecontahedron panels. The spherical domes are more than just a gigantic greenhouse, it houses Amazon staffs and a discovery center, Understory, literally at its first story.

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Cousin Bin and I went next door to visit the world’s first Amazon Go shop where we attempted “deliberate shoplifting”, in the hope of breaking its unmanned system. We sneaked products discreetly into our pockets and left the shop. For 2 days, I tried numerous methods and failed. No matter how carefully I concealed the products from the ceiling-mount cameras, Amazon Go knew what I took. There is no way to trick and confuse the 2-year old system.

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A day before we flew back to Hong Kong, Chowpo insisted that I should visit Vancouver as it was only a short 3-hour drive away. Our journey was affected by heavy fog that blanketed the entire highway. Driving through the thick fog and icy road at night was something new for us. It was a scary experience for me because the visibility was less than 20m away. Chowpo is an experienced, calm, confident driver, despite my worries and fear, she got us to and fro slow and safely.

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I had planned another surprise meeting in Vancouver. Earlier that morning, our ex-colleague, Raymond messaged me for a meetup. We planned to surprise Chowpo at her favorite Hong Kong cafe but it was closed. Finally, Raymond turned up and gave Chowpo a fright at the food court. What a pleasant surprise!

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It was great to see Raymond after so many years! 5 years to be exact! He gave us a short tour around town. Due to the heavy fog, we didn’t spend too much time in Vancouver City. I was trying to get back to Seattle before nightfall. We had a 2-hour tiring hike at Capilano Lake and headed back to Seattle. We were so exhausted and hungry by the time we crossed into the USA. We took a short dinner break at a Starbucks cafe by the USA border.

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On our last day in Seattle, Chowpo brought me to another unusual tourist attraction. It was an underground city tour of old Seattle town which was burnt down a century ago. We spent an hour walking through old underground tunnels, immersed in historic and haunting stories about Seattle’s founding pioneers.

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On our way to the airport, we made one last stop at the most instagrammable site of Seattle, the Gasworks Park. We had another beautiful view of Seattle city from the other side of the lake. The sun was setting and it was time to go.

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Looking forward to coming back soon. Hopefully, with my family, old folks and kid to experience Seattle hospitality and charm.

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