Category Archives: Seattle

Step Forward For Civilization

Visiting a public restroom anywhere in the world can be a gamble. Sometimes one is pleasantly surprised: At the Icon Grill in Seattle male patrons are encouraged by a multimedia display featuring scenes of waterfalls, floods and running faucets all set to classical music.

I haven’t come across anything similar here in China but I do get a kick every time I visit JUSCO, one of the large department stores in Qingdao. Posted above every urinal is the phrase “Step Forward for Civilization” in both Chinese and English. Apparently the powers that be believe that if we men could just be a little more tidy when taking care of business the world would be a much better place.

Maybe they’re right.

Get on the Bus?

Earth Day came and went here in Qingdao without so much as a litter pickup party. It is very easy to feel discouraged about the current and future state of the environment here in China. One thing we all can do to help is use more public transportation.

Should you every find yourself in China you might be inclined, perhaps in an effort to reduce your carbon footprint, to take the bus. In my experience this can be somewhat traumatic. Maybe you just want to save money, why spend 30 yuan ($4) on a taxi when you can spend 2 and take the bus. Remember, that 28 yuan could be used for a decent meal, a couple of beers, or a whole stack of pirated DVDs. To save you the expense and years of therapy I offer this simple overview of taking the bus in China.

Of course the bus will be crowded, everywhere in China is crowded. Current estimates put the population at 1.3 billion. I think this number is a bit low, I could swear there were at least a billion people on the bus with me last week.

Just getting on the bus can be a challenge, school children and old people will scratch and claw their way along with office workers and government lackeys to squeeze through the narrow front door. If entry through the front door seems impossible it is common practice to hand you fare to someone else to put into the fare box and enter through the back door. Keep in mind that the bus may not stop completely during this process.

There is almost no chance you will be able to find a seat. This is because people who have a seat never leave the bus, their families toss water and sandwiches trough the windows as they pass by. Charlie had nothing on these guys.

Imagine yourself standing, squeezed into a contortionist’s position, you head bent against the hand rail and some stranger’s buttocks uncomfortably close to your crotch. At least you made it on and in 40 to 60 minutes you will arrive at you destination. Of course your spine will never be the same again, but you have done your part for the enviroment You close your eyes and picture yourself sitting back with a beer, watching a pirated DVD when the unimaginable happens: someone farts.

I am a big advocate of public transportation. When living in Seattle I was a proud participant in the Ballard in Motion campaign, and have to tote bag to prove it. Still, I shutter each Tuesday and Wednesday morning I climb aboard the #321 to my university teaching job.
Man in a Truck


Mount Rainier

Spring is quickly becoming summer. How is this possible? Wasn’t it January just last week? Time marches on, whether we like it or not. Weeks become months, and before you know it you’re way behind, playing catch-up.

This time of year, I often see Mount Rainer on my way work in the mornings. Its presence is both comforting and intimidating. A contradiction to be sure. As one travels south from Seattle the mountain changes from background to center-stage. It draws my eye, an unavoidable landmark. Time moves forward but the mountain remains, or so it seems.

I am really looking forward to the start of the World Cup this week. Back when “Germany 2006” was a convenient phrase I had hopes of going. Even if I could not get tickets to a game, I just wanted to be with a crowd of rabid soccer fans, close to the action. A good friend and I were in France during the 1998 Cup championship match. It was incredible.

A student of mine predicted a USA vs. Holland final, which would be great. We shall see.

V for Varsity

Last month, I went to see The Fallen Idol, a 1948 film based upon a short story by Graham Greene. The movie is about the young son of a diplomat who does all he can to protect his hero, the family butler. I had seen the film on video but was really looking forward to seeing a new print in the theater. About an hour into the movie the fire alarm went off and everyone calmly exited the theater. After standing around outside for nearly 20 minutes people began to file back in. The interruption disrupted my movie going mood and I asked for a refund. The theater staff was very understanding and gave me my money without any trouble.

Normally such a minor occurrence would never make it to Stewsnews where loyal readers usually find hard hitting news. However, it just so happens that a very similar thing happened to me, at the very same theater, last summer. That time it was Wong Kar-Wai’s Days of Being Wild. Instead of the fire alarm interrupting the cinema atmosphere it was a reel of film which was displayed backwards. This made it a little tough to read the subtitles. Again, the staff was very help and offered no resistance to my request for a refund. I suspect a conspiracy.

Behold the power of cheap books!

The semi-annual Friends of the Seattle Public Library book sale was this weekend. It is the one chance book lovers from across the city have to come together, push each other around, and generally act like jerks. Just goes to show what $1 for a hardcover will do to people.

To be honest, people were fairly well behaved, especially compared to my experience last year when several fights broke out. (not really) I did notice a lot of people with cell phones frantically punching in information. I assumed these people were resellers using services like Amazon to find out how much they could get for a particular book. There were several people with bar code scanners quickly checking the value of the multitude of books on sale. To me these people were not acting in the true spirit of the sale, which centers around filling your house with books even the library doesn’t want.

I did manage to pick up a book I came very close to buying earlier in the week, “Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story” by Harvey Pekar. He is the writer of the comic American Splendor which was made into a movie of the same name. He gave an interview/talk on Wednesday which I attended. Harvey seems like a nice guy and was very genuine.

The same cannot be said of the interviewer, a book critic for one of Seattle’s alternative newspapers. I sensed there was something not right about the guy when the woman seated next to me said “Oh, he’s soooo cute” when the critic walked on stage. His flippant and phony interview style only cemented my dislike. He struck me as just the kind of guy Pekar is constantly making fun of in his comics.

Water Project


The city is currently working on a water system upgrade in my neighborhood. For several weeks months crews have been digging up the streets around my apartment, wrapping the fire hydrants in plastic, installing strange valves, and generally causing mayhem with all things plumbing. Actually, it hasn’t been too disruptive. Occasionally I’ll spot a leaky pipe spraying water like a fountain or some strange overflow arrangement like the one pictured here. Yesterday they had to shut off my water for 20 minutes.


Giant Caterpillar Found in Seattle Neighborhood

SEATTLE- Two local men encountered a rare breed of giant caterpillar in a Seattle neighborhood on Saturday morning. The men, identified only as brothers from a well respected family, refused to comment on the large larva. Scientists speculate the insect may be related to that of the species Monsura, typically found only in Japan. Godzilla was unavailable or comment.

What really happened: My brother and I found this scarf in the alley behind my apartment building. We hung it on the gutter in case someone came looking for it. When we returned several hours later it was back on the ground. Life can be so exciting!

An aritcle about some of my students

An article in Tuesday’s Seattle P-I talks about some of my students. Last summer, I taught a class in the pool-side cabana of an apartment building in Tukwila. Most of the students were Meskhetian Turk refugees from central Asia. Now, I am teaching on campus and many of those students are in classes here as well. A reporter and photographer visited a colleague’s class last week taking pictures and talking to students. From the article, “They arrived from Russia, but they aren’t Russian. They are ethnic Turks, but they never lived in Turkey. Their ancestral home is Meskhetia, now part of the Republic of Georgia, but formerly in the Soviet Union” Here is the link:

American Made

This car is usually parked down the street from my apartment. Every time I walk by it makes me feel proud to be an American. Seattle is full of art-cars and it is always a thrill to see one on the road.

In other news, The Steelers managed to pull of a win despite not looking their best. I do agree with many Seattle fans that the officiating was somewhat sub-par. But in the end I think Pittsburgh played much better football, especially in the second half. Seattle made more than a few bad plays and didn’t manage the clock very well. Plus, anything owned by Paul Allen is doomed to failure.