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Monday, August 10, 2015

State of the Union

A few observations made during the two weeks that we've been back in the United States:

1.) People are nice. Clerks are always wishing you a great day, police officers point you in the direction of their favorite seafood restaurants and drivers are courteous. OK, so being friendly to customers is part of the job, and were I a young African-American male, I would probably be extremely careful in my interactions with local law enforcement. But after having driven in Taiwan and China for the last several years, it's wonderfully refreshing to be in a land where cars stop to let you cross the street on foot or to pull into traffic from a side road when you're driving, and where traffic laws are actually regulations, and not just guidelines.

2.) Talk to strangers for a few minutes, and you're bound to walk away with their life stories. Like the woman who struck up a conversation at the Bremerton ferry terminal after overhearing my wife and daughter conversing in Mandarin. Within five minutes, I learned that she had lost a child and would be resuming dialysis treatment. It seems there are a lot of lonely Americans who need to open up to strangers. It's times like these I miss that Japanese reserve.

3.) I don't ever want to live within a large American city. The walk from the ferry terminal in Seattle through Pioneer Square to the International District passes through a gritty area populated by the homeless and the panhandling, and laced with an aroma of urine. I never felt threatened, but it was a stark reminder of how this country still hasn't placed solving its urban ills at the top of its list of things to do. Sure, there are lots of hip, gentrified neighborhoods with great cafes, restaurants and shops, but residents always have to keep a list in their minds of streets and areas to avoid. Tōkyō 東京 (and to a lesser extent Taichung 台中) spoiled me when it came to urban living.

4.) Last Thursday's debate was yet another example of how ridiculous the Republican party has become. There was a time long, long ago (during the early years of the Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan administrations) when the right was the only source of fresh political thinking. Now the reasonable wing of the GOP has all but withered away, and being conservative is synonymous with a Fox news-promoted anti-intellectual, anti-everybody who isn't a white, Christian male viewpoint of the world. As the makeup of the country continues to change, the scared white men will eventually fade away from the scene, but they'll go out kicking and screaming, doing a lot of damage to America's standing in the rest of the world in the process.

On a more personal level, here are a few of the things we did this past week:

Bremerton is defined by the large Puget Sound Naval Shipyard located on its waterfront. Should this facility ever close, the local economy will be devasted:



We don't plan on visiting Seattle too often on this trip. The only excursion there we've made so far was to the International District to do some shopping at Kinokuniya Bookstores and the Uwajimaya supermarket. On the way from the ferry terminal we stopped for lunch at a Thai restaurant. Later, Amber and I snacked on a taiyaki 鯛焼き. You can take the boy (and girl) out of Asia, but you can take Asia out of the boy (nor his daughter):




Walking through Pioneer Square hasn't been the same since Elliott Bay Books left the neighborhood back in 2010:



One institution still around is Ivar's, where eating clam chowder while being eyed by greedy seagulls is a time-honored tradition:





I never get tired of the views from the ferry of Seattle's waterfront:



On another day, we drove to Bainbridge Island. On the way, my daughter wanted to see  the Suquamish Museum, with exhibits on the culture and history of the Suquamish people. My child is bi-cultural; both her cultures weren't exactly understanding of the indigenous people of the lands they colonized:




Winslow, once the biggest city on Bainbridge, is a pleasant burg of boutiques, galleries and upscale restaurants. Convenient ferry connections to Seattle make it a popular weekend destination, though it was relatively quiet in the middle of the week when we visited:



Our area is blessed with many well-maintained parks. All is not perfect in paradise, however:




This commitment to setting aside land for parks means there are numerous paths to explore. While they could hardly be described as hiking trails, they provide convenient opportunities to take what the Japanese would call a グリーンシャワー:



The weekly Bremerton Farmers Market in the Evergreen Rotary Park isn't particularly large, but it has a good selection of foods, fruit and vegetables. We purchased some blueberries, cucumbers and green beans, while I had myself some turky chili for dinner. Pamela wants to go back to try some barbeque, while Amber has her eye on some homemade ice cream. Like many farmer's markets, it's an idealized version of small-town Americana, only in this case situated next to the ocean:





I took a walk through the streets of Bremerton one morning while the girls relaxed at home. Though the city has invested a lot in recent years by building condos and developing tourist attractions along the waterfront (including the Turner Joy, one of two destroyers allegedly attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats in August 1964, which led to the Tonkin Gulf Resolution and the later commitment of ground forces in Vietnam), the downtown is still block after block of mostly closed shops, a depressing sight that is especially contrasted with its backdrop of mountains and Puget Sound:




The Admiral Theatre is a good example of what has happened to the downtown areas of small American cities after people fled to their suburban homes and Walmarts. A photo from 1956 showed a busy street scene; now the theater survives by playing host on the nostalgia circuit. Three Dog Night's coming to town soon:



If you've ever wondered where the phrase "Give 'em hell, Harry" originated, now you know. Truman stood on the balcony of the brick building in the picture below: 



Poulsbo is another small town that survives by catering to the tourist trade. Bakeries, galleries,  restaurants and others play off the Norwegian theme (the town was founded by Scandinavian immigrants after "securing" the land from the original Native American inhabitants). In modern-day America, the only way places like Poulsbo can remain economically viable after their traditional industries have vanished is by turning themselves into large boutiques. Mind you, I'm not complaining; the beer and crab cakes were good:







My favorite trail in the Bremerton area is the Clear Creek Trail (which is actually in Silverdale), which starts at Dye's Inlet and works it way inland. There are even some small hills that provide good views when the skies are clear (as it was today; in fact, the weather has been great so far, with very little rainfall, "thanks" to an ongoing severe drought gripping the western part of the United States):



One section of the trail winds it way through open fields, with old farmhouses providing a bit of borrowed scenery:



This stump is all that remains of a seven hundred-year-old cedar tree cut down by loggers in the 1800's, part of the conquest of the American west:


The view:


Though I've been treating this area as a place to explore and not as "home" (though I have a roof over my head, in many respects I'm "homeless", and have been so for quite some time), the most important reason for being here is to see family again:




 










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