Pittsburgh

I’ve been in Pittsburgh for about a month now, so I’ve had time to explore a small corner of this city of rivers and penguins.

Breakneck Rocks

Breakneck Rocks is about an hour’s drive from the city in the Southwestern Highlands of Pennsylvania. I went climbing there with CMU’s club. Top roping outdoors presented challenges that I was not accustomed to from my time in sterile indoor bouldering environments. Whereas when climbing indoors, the route’s holds are clear and sparse, outdoors there are plenty of holds but they do not offer a solid grip. There was a lot of groping around to find something suitable to latch on to. Also, the bugs were annoying. A bee buzzed around the hold I wanted to use for a good minute, so I had to pause climbing. A daddy long legs crawled precariously close to my hand. Sometimes I would stick my hand in a hold and feel spider webs. Mosquitoes constantly accosted me, and I left with 10 bug bites. But otherwise, the climbs were fun. I’m amazed that humans can scale near-vertical rock faces.

Schenley Park

Schenley Park is on the southern edge of CMU. I walked along several trails, such as the upper and lower Panther trails and bridle trail. There were a lot of chipmunks and deer.

I saw the native paw paw trees. They are something of an anomaly, with a fruit tasting like something out of the tropics, yet they grow in Pennsylvania and Ohio. They are not farmed though, because the fruit is only ripe for a short period of time before quickly going bad.

Phipps Conservatory

Phipps Conservatory
Phipps Conservatory

I walked around the Phipps Conservatory a couple times because it is just a few blocks from where I live. The greenhouses are sprawling, with rooms dedicated to tropical fruits, succulents, ferns, butterflies. Chipmunks scurry about indoors, and there are frogs populating the sustainable gardens outside. There is impressive flower glasswork throughout. I enjoyed smelling the aromatic flowers.

Carnegie Museum of Art and Natural History

The Carnegie Museum of Art has an impressive collection of art from a variety of artists, mediums, and eras. Like the Seattle Art Museum, the Carnegie Museum of Art houses pieces made by big-name artists. The pieces are representative of their styles but not their famous masterworks.

Carnegie Museum of Natural History plaster fabrications
Carnegie Museum of Natural History plaster fabrications

The Carnegie Museum of Natural History has a large collection of taxidermy, geodes, and my childhood favorite, dinosaur bones. The museum feels old-school, with lots of static displays but few interactive exhibits.

One room had facades of famous buildings. Initially, it was mind-boggling to think that they could transport those huge stone faces intact, but then I read that they were plaster models of the originals, meant to give the locals a taste of European culture back when travelling internationally was prohibitively expensive.

Seattle Aquarium

My brother visited over the weekend. We walked around the city with his co-workers. Coming from conservative towns, they were surprised by the massive turnout for the Women’s March. From the Space Needle, we could see the march stretching from the Seattle Center down south into the city until the view was impeded by skyscrapers. An hour later, after taking the monorail to Westlake, we saw the march was still going strong, with no sign of the tail end.

Marchers blanketing 4th Ave
Marchers blanketing 4th Ave

We visited the typical Seattle tourist attractions. For the first time ever, I visited the Seattle Aquarium. The aquarium was definitely geared towards small children. I found it rather small. Except for a Hawaiian fish section, the species were all native to the Puget Sound. In the tide pools where visitors could touch the invertebrates, I saw a familiar sight: the green anemones and pink algae from the Olympic National Park beach tide pools. The anemones’ tentacles gripped my finger when I prodded them.

Life on the Edge tide pool exhibit
Life on the Edge tide pool exhibit

There was a fish tank modeled after Neah Bay. A diver inside the tank talked about the ecosystem and fed krill to coho salmon. At the end of the talk, the diver asked if there were any questions. A boy raised his hand.

“What’s your question?”

“I like fish.”

Jellyfish
Jellyfish

The flounder glided with an awkward sideways grace. A crab methodically ate some kind of debris off the edges of the anemone. Everything underwater was so slow and unhurried, and so colorful. There was an octopus that remained suctioned to the glass all day. A caretaker gave it fish on a stick, and it grabbed the fish with one tentacle. Otherwise, it remained immobile. The octopuses, seals, otters— they were well-fed, but their tanks were so small compared to the natural environment outside the aquarium. Where would the animals prefer to live, or did they even know any better? I enjoyed watching the otters. They had a lot of energy, swimming on their backs, diving, harassing each other. And they would laze about in a relatable way.

Company picnic

I went to my third company picnic of family-friendly fun. The company picnic is held at a farm, and though the event is tailored for small children, I have a blast!

My friend and I had a paddleboat race with two middle schoolers. We had a firm lead, but near the end we pretended to be tired. Then when the children approached the finish line and could taste victory, we cycled furiously to dash their hopes of winning. I believe no one learned a lesson from that, and life continued on as normal.

There’s a zip line, bounce houses, driving range, rock climbing. I shamelessly queued up with the five-year-olds to go on the inflatable slide, until I had an unlucky run that gave me a rug burn.

weeeeeeeeeee
weeeeeeeeeee

My favorite thing at the picnic is the animal petting zoo. There are goats, maras, bunnies. I rarely see non-humans in my day-to-day life, perhaps a garter snake in the yard or a robin. It is a reminder that the planet has such rich biodiversity, and I’ve seen the tiniest fraction of it.

Holding a chicken
Holding a chicken

Someone from the Reptile Zoo brought a van full of plastic bins. From each bin, he pulled out a reptile and told us interesting facts. For example, the snapping turtle has a bright pink tongue that it uses to lure its prey.

I enjoyed holding the juvenile alligator for the novelty of it. I thought the alligator would be dangerous to hold, but it was surprisingly mellow.

Alligator, picnic #2
Alligator, picnic #2
Alligator, picnic #3
Alligator, picnic #3

It was like holding a baby. An even-tempered baby that is as smooth as a handbag.

When I drive on Highway 2, I pass by the Reptile Zoo. Curiously, its neighbor is a BBQ joint, so we crack jokes about the kind of BBQ served there.

Pokémon Go

I work for a company that made an announcement that Pokémon Go will have a limited contribution to its earnings. The opinions below are my own.

I downloaded Pokémon Go as soon as it was released in the US. At first, I would walk around local parks, and perhaps run across a few other people holding out their phones in front of them. We would exchange knowing glances, that yes, we were catching virtual creatures on our phone. At some inflection point, the majority of the people I came across on my walks were playing the game.

Pokémon Go players at Bellevue Downtown Park
Pokémon Go players at Bellevue Downtown Park

I went to the Bellevue Downtown Park, which was thronged by players. The park’s traffic reached a peak. Someone would yell out a rare Pokémon, such as Dragonite, and a mob of over a hundred people would sprint across the park to that PokéStop.

My favorite feature by far is taking photos of Pokémon.

Jynx at Safeco Field
Jynx at Safeco Field
Gym leader of my gym
Gym leader of my gym
Vulpix at Snoqualmie Falls
Vulpix at Snoqualmie Falls
Bellsprout on a riverbank
Bellsprout on a riverbank
Krabby at Rattlesnake Lake
Krabby at Rattlesnake Lake

Eventually, I got tired of grinding for the ridiculous number of experience points needed to advance to the next level. The battle system lacks the depth that I enjoy in the core Pokémon series. So the game is uninstalled, for now.

San Francisco

I went to San Francisco for a week. During the weekdays, I had quite a bit of work, so I spent most of the time in my hotel room. In fact, the hotel room never got cleaned, because I was always there when the cleaner swung by. When the weekend came, I caught a fever. All in all, I didn’t get to do as much sightseeing as I had hoped, but I was happy to get the chance to catch up with friends.

I walked around the Mission District. Large, vibrant murals plastered the facades of old buildings and street corners. We passed lots of ethnic grocery stores with cheap produce. A man sat outside a barber shop, and sang a song in Spanish with microphone and amp. The neighborhood had so much character. As we made our way towards Dolores Park, the townhouses became more uniform, clean, quiet— the area had clearly been gentrified.

Mission Dolores Park
Mission Dolores Park

Dolores Park was packed with loungers, sports ballers, picnickers. There were people smoking weed and drinking beer in plain sight. The park had a chill vibe and an incredible view of the downtown skyline.

We went to the Exploratorium. The majority of exhibits were interactive. Parents read the information placards to learn about the science behind the exhibits, while children frantically ran around pushing levers and turning knobs. There were a lot of art pieces. These art pieces were created by the museum’s artist in residence. I was surprised that such a job exists, and I thought it was brilliant for the museum to have artists showcase scientific concepts in creative, interdisciplinary ways.

Me pushing a Strandbeest at the Exploratorium
Me pushing a Strandbeest at the Exploratorium

The temporary exhibit was Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests, or “beach animals”. They are sculptures made mostly of PVC, typically wind-powered, and move like lumbering animals.