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.

Didi said the darndest and funniest thing!

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Like all the trips before this. It was impromptu, unplanned and last minute. It all started during a family reunion dinner in Singapore when Didi spoke to me about his passion for programming. Somehow that dialogue continued after I left for Hong Kong. After a few exchanges of messages with my sister (and with the blessing of my tech partner in Ho Chi Minh), the entire family (including my parents) flew to Ho Chi Minh!

Thanks to Didi, a small chat triggered an overseas family trip. For a long time (except for CNY), we haven’t been traveling as a complete group. The last time when all of us had a holiday like this was back in 2008 when my sister family and parents visited me in Hong Kong. Wow, that was 10 years ago!

As it was such a last-minute trip, tickets were extraordinarily expensive. To avoid paying a ridiculous extra HKD2500/pax for the tickets, it was more worthwhile for us (from Hong Kong) to fly in 48 hours before the arrival of my sister family and my parents. We had 2 extra days and saved over HKD4,000!

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This is our 2nd family trip to Saigon this year. We were here with my mother and aunties in June. Felicia and I spent our first day in Ho Chi Minh City fully in the hotel working. We were trying to clear some work before the arrival of the others. We had booked a big service apartment right above the most popular city mall, Takashimaya in District One. Food and shopping was just a stone’s throw away. We hardly left the hotel at all!

On the 3rd day, I went to pick up my sister family and parents at the airport. This is Jovel’s family first trip to Vietnam and they experienced several unpleasant events at the immigration. As expected, Vietnam’s stuffy hot weather and the congested messy traffic didn’t give them a good impression. It was a good thing we stayed at the Sedona Suite at Saigon Center. It provided good comfort for them to slowly get used to the city’s harmonious rhythm. There is an unwritten logic within this chaos. It takes one sometimes to feel it.

Right after we checked in the folks at the service apartment, my partner sent 2 cars to pick up the children and adults to the tech lab. For the next 3 days, we are going to park our children there to pick up some basic coding fundamentals. Hopefully, through their limited time at the lab, they learn something useful.

It started well with the robots. My partner taught the kids how to program simple body movements and dance moves. In less than 1 hour, the kids mastered the logic and got bored. Before I knew it, they were throwing balls in the meeting room. My poor tech partner didn’t know what to do with them. And that was just the first day.

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While the kids were at the lab, the adults explored the city. I brought my sister, my brother-in-law, and dad to the usual “must-visit-touristy” sites. Their favorite place – local SUPERMARKET! At VivoCity, my dad bought a carton of local beers! Yes, one big carton of 24 cans beer! When I questioned the feasibility of bringing so many cans of beer back to Singapore, my sister exclaimed: “We plan to finish all of these here! Come drink with us brother!” With that, that terminated all my excuses to sneak out at night. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop me from bringing them (both adults and kids) to the notorious sleazy Little Tokyo. Nope, the men didn’t get any chance to experience “special massage” but we had the best Japanese ramen there. Even Didi verified that.

It was our session at Little Tokyo when Didi said the darndest and funniest stuff. When my brother-in-law and I were walking in the alley, a couple of beautiful skimpy-dressed massage girls approached us. Didi (who is 10 years old) became very protective and tried to shield us from the girls.


Puzzled by his act, I asked Didi “why you did that?”
He replied, “Because my dad is taken, I cannot allow any woman to touch him if not, I will push the girls away”. I then asked him what if these girls approach his grandfather (my 70-year-old dad), he instantly said: “Okay, no problem!” I asked why the double-standard, he explained “Old people must enjoy themselves before they…….” and he gave me a finger gesture that depicts “death”.

We laughed at his reply. And then, I asked “what about grandmother (my 70-year-old mum)? If a group of young handsome men approached her, is that okay?. Instantly he gave me a comical puzzled expression. That was as good as shouting “stupidly impossible” to my face.

“No lah, why would handsome young men want old auntie?” and that was Didi’s most direct nonchalant reply. Including my mum, all of us burst into waves of laughter! Too bad my sister wasn’t there to witness her very talented boy!

Vietnam has a strange charm over her visitors. In less than 48 hours, both adults and kids forgot about the chaotic traffic and indulged themselves in shopping. Staying in the heart of the city, we were just 5-minute walk to any major shopping markets (Saigon Square and Ben Thanh Day/Night Markets) and local coffee shops. On their last day, I booked them a half-day trip to Cu Chi Tunnel. I don’t think the adults enjoyed the tour as much as I did. My dad has a phobia of dark tunnels as he has a fear for worms and snakes. And Mum cannot walk too much due to her weak kneecaps.

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It was also a good time for me to return to Vietnam. Besides work and attending a few meetings with my partners, I got to replenish my favorite ceramic mugs. I just broke one a couple of days before the trip.  (I love those handmade ceramic mugs made by Amai Saigon. Feels very organic and uneven, earthly but polished. Check it out here.)

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My family reunion in Vietnam ended so fast. It was a very rewarding trip with friends (Kelvin) and family. I got to work (with Tai and Tu) and meet new clients while traveling with my family. This trip, I got to spend more quality time with my brother-in-law (James) and Didi. Indeed, we had such a great time together!

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Sorry, it took a little longer to finish this blog and vlog. The entire blog and vlog were shot using Huawei Mate20pro phone (NOTE: this is not a paid blog for Huawei). I think I made a mistake by not selecting 4K in the setting. Some of the videos were quite blurred and bad. Most of the photos are acceptable. Guess convenience does come with a price. Overall, the phone replaces all my heavy gears. I must say it is quite good for a casual vlog. Enjoy!

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