Seattle is full of interesting sights, sounds, smells, and people – people everywhere, of every possible description. And the mix of cultures makes for most of the interesting things to see, do, eat, try, observe, overhear, and avoid. Today, for example, I wandered into Uwajimaya, Seattle’s Asian supersized grocery store. I happen to work two blocks from the Chinatown gate, or the “International District” as it is oh-so-correctly put in the official sources. This place is so huge and well-known, it has its own wikipedia entry. (I highly recommend, as one Google reviewer suggested, buying a durian and taking it on the light rail, just for the fun of it.) I, of course, had no clue. I mean, I knew that area was called the International District (the “I.D.” in transit parlance, as in “the ID station”). I had no idea about the Chinatown gate, and I had NO idea about Uwajimaya until I walked in the door and found myself in a wonderland of Asian (and American) groceries, fresh seafood, meats, and a bakery – complete with a food court serving hot and delicious Korean, Chinese, Thai and Japanese food.
For a person like me, who is totally into Asian food, it was heaven. They had things there I had never seen before, but even better they had a HUGE selection of everything I’ve ever spent days looking for and finally ordered online. For 99 cents you can get a huge container of baby pea sprouts, to cook or to eat raw. You can get the durian of your choice, and any number of other exotic fruits and vegetables. Taro root? Dragon fruit? Kaffir lime leaves? You betcha. You can get fresh clams of several varieties – including the infamous geoduck clam (shown left), whole cooked dungeoness crabs, steamed Tako (some kind of suckered fish, presumably octopus), and a huge variety of fresh fish, whole, or in any bit you care to take (including just the heads). The pastries were unbelievable, and the place was topped off with a convenience-case behind the deli counter containing perfectly white, pillowy soft steamed buns.
I didn’t even get to spend much time in the housewares department, where there were stacks and stacks of dishes, utensils, and – oh, glory! – bento boxes galore. There was a whole section of nothing but Hello Kitty merchandise. There were toys and chopsticks, teapots and strange snacks and candies and cute umbrellas and hair-care products whose names I couldn’t read. I can’t wait to go back with my sister and spend a few hours browsing and buying.
Each day at my lunchtime, I strike off in a new direction from my workplace. For the past few days, I’ve confined myself to heading down towards 1st Street and exploring all of the shops, eateries, galleries, and (of course) coffeehouses in a four-block stretch near Occidental Park.
Speaking of coffee, I work at the intersection of 2nd & Jackson. On the four city blocks that touch that intersection there are FIVE separate coffee places. That’s not just in my neck of the woods, either. There’s one place where there’s a Starbucks on one corner, and the corner opposite has a soaped-over storefront window where they are obviously working inside, and the sign says “Coming Soon – Starbucks!” This is a coffee-drinking town, and they don’t just drink coffee, but they savor it. They discuss it like sommeliers discussing the latest vintage. They compare notes on where the best coffee places are – not just how the coffee tastes or the price, but which barrista they prefer, who gets you in & out quickly, who has the best bakery for their breads and pastries. The first time I met the boss of the whole department, he commented on my travel mug from the coffee shop across the way (Zeitgeist): “Their coffee isn’t very dependable, it’s pretty weak sometimes. I like Tully’s downstairs.” “Tully’s is good,” chimed in my co-worker; “They’re really fast. But their baked goods suck.” “Yes,” agreed Mr. Bossman, “their stuff tastes…” (and here he paused, and wrinkled his nose and said in a tone of great disdain) “…frozen. At least Zeitgeist has a great bakery.”
Speaking as someone who dumps in milk and a packet of Splenda and doesn’t really even taste the coffee while it’s going down (just want the caffeine, yo), I couldn’t care less if their baked goods were handcrafted each morning by Belgian monks wh0 skiied in from the organic wheatfields of Waterloo on the backs of a pair of orcas. I just bought the cup because I can get 16 oz. of drip coffee for $.90 (the refill price!) if I bring the cup. And it’s right across the street from my office, and it isn’t a corporate chain. Criteria for my new personal coffeehouse: Met!
It’s been an interesting few weeks, getting here & settling in. The weather has been lovely and mellow. It was gorgeous, clear and in the mid- to upper sixties the first three days. Then it cooled a little, and last Thursday it started raining and didn’t stop (other than about a three-hour window on Saturday) until midmorning on Monday. Sometimes it rained harder, sometimes it barely sprinkled, but it was wet falling from the sky for four+ solid days. I had forgotten what that was like. I like it a lot, but I found every hole in my Converse on Thursday when I was walking around at lunchtime, so over the weekend I got a few pairs of more appropriate shoes. (No heels – the hills downtown are crazy! but that’s another post.) I need a rain jacket and I’d like to get a rain-proof bucket hat, but I haven’t found one yet that fits my giant noggin so for now it’s a fleece hoodie (the only thing I hate about rain is getting it on my glasses!) or (when it’s raining hard) a huge umbrella, which I’ve found is the only way to get personal space on the sidewalk, anyway.
I’ve got tons more to tell but it’s late and I’m still so tired. I’ve been sleeping like the dead every single night and still come home exhausted every day. The stress of the new! It will go away soon and I’ll feel like I’ve been here forever.