I spent a weekend in Terranea in Rancho Palos Verdes, near LA. All things considered, I had a good time.
I tried to get into the adults-only swimming pool, but I got carded. So after going to my room to get my license, I went back to the pool and floated about. From the pool, we saw a pod of dolphins playing at the beach, jumping out of the water in arcs.
We went bouldering, and I got a massive ego boost by doing most of the beginner routes. I met a group of passionate foodies. They introduced me to interesting dishes, like baby pigeon and caviar egg toast.
We did a nearby hike at Pelican Cove Park, walking by desert shrubs, an abandoned motor, carcasses of seabirds. I didn’t notice at first, but the shore was teeming with small crabs. The crabs would scurry under rocks when they felt my footsteps. Flocks of herons flew overhead. As we neared the cove, the tides trapped the ocean water, and large swarms of gnats flew around the rotting kelp. At the cove, the overhanging cliff was worn down by erosion and looked like a burnt sienna layer cake.
And I found a geocache! The desert biota was so foreign, with its flowering cacti and other succulents, brown lizards.
Back in Washington, I found some more geocaches. There was a cache hidden within a piece of wood.
Another cache was nestled in a tree.
I found a couple caches in South Lake Union. There was a cache hidden on a pedestrian overpass.
A cache was hidden in a guardrail.
I found a few geocaches around Seattle Center. One was in the John T. Williams Memorial Totem Pole.
A geocache was at the top floor of a parking garage, under a lamppost skirt.
There was a cache in the bushes right by the Pacific Science Center.
I found a few caches in the Washington Park Arboretum. One cache was under a boardwalk.
Another was next to a tree that had been struck by lightning.
I read Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell, a discussion on what factors enable someone to be successful.
The main takeaway is, success requires preparation and lucky opportunities. Gladwell’s cherrypicked examples include Bill Gates, the Beatles, and a prominent litigator.
In the book, Gladwell claims that superstars are not innately talented, it is only by hard work that one can become an expert. Roughly 10,000 hours of practice appears to be the requirement to become an expert. He notes that people with extremely high IQs are not more likely to be successful; rather, there is a threshold where an IQ is “good enough.” The socioeconomic class of the parents contributes the most to the child’s success, more so than raw IQ.
Gladwell says there are three things that make work meaningful: autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward. Children are more likely to be successful if they have parents who perform meaningful work.
While the first part of the book is how success is granted through opportunity, the second part is how legacy makes a difference. Gladwell argues that Asians are better at math because Asian cultures emphasize hard work, and the way numbers are structured in Asian languages makes it easier to perform basic math operations. On the other hand, cultural legacy can cause issues. He cites cockpit recordings from Colombian and South Korean flights that crashed, and notes how deference to authority caused the first officers to be indirect in their emergency warnings to the captains.
The self-indulgent epilogue is the story of Gladwell’s mother, and how various chance opportunities aligned so that Gladwell could become the successful author that he is today.
I visited Amsterdam, the city of canals and over a thousand bridges. The city has a relaxed vibe and is bicyclist-friendly. The bridge railings were covered by locked bikes, mostly black-colored. The locals are generally patient, unless they’re biking, in which case, pedestrians better steer clear.
We started our walk in Dam Square.
The houses had hooks on them, for moving furniture. In olden times, property tax was determined by the width of the house. We saw the narrowest house along the canal.
We walked by several coffeeshops. In Seattle, weed is legal. In Amsterdam, weed is neither legal nor illegal. And yet, the coffeeshops somehow get stocked. But I did not partake, because I made a vow to never do drugs for my entire life. At the college I went to, the economics professors supported the legalization of drugs, to curb the violence associated with distribution, generate tax revenue, and institute quality standards.
We passed by Spui, a public square where protests often take place. Once, after a streak of rainy days, there was a protest against the rain.
We walked around FOAM, the museum of photography. The main exhibit was a William Eggleston retrospective. In the past, only black-and-white photos were considered legitimate enough to display in galleries. Eggleston changed this with his color photography. The photos on display were a selection of the thousands he took of everyday America. He used dyes to produce vivid colors and effects, as though the picture was shot with an Instagram filter.
We took a day trip to Keukenhof, where millions of flowers were in bloom. It was like the Skagit Valley Tulip festival, but on a grander scale. For example, there was a windmill like the one in RoozenGaarde, except much larger. The display gardens were elaborate. Flowers were placed into frames link 3D paintings. Tulips were arranged into a Mondrian grid. There were fields of tulips of every color, as far as the eye could see. There was even a music machine, about as large as a food stall. A man fed punch cards into the machine. Each song was a whole folded tome.
I took a day trip to Bruges, a medieval town near Brussels. That said, most structures were rebuilt and not truly from the medieval era, save for a couple pillars. Locals still live there, but if felt touristy.
The history of Bruges is filled with rebellion and general rowdiness. An example is the legend explaining why there are swans in the canals. The people of Bruges imprisoned Emperor Maximilian, then forced Maximilian to watch the execution of his friend and advisor, Pieter Lanchals (“Longneck”). So as punishment for the revolt, Maximilian decreed that Bruges would have to keep swans, long necks, in its canals.
Another story is the origin of a beer brewed in Bruges, Brugse Zot, translated as Bruges fool. To calm down Maximilian after imprisoning him, the people of Bruges threw a party for him. They also wanted funding for a mental hospital. When the request for the madhouse was made during the party, Maximilian said the town was already full of fools, all they had to do was close the town gates and they would have their madhouse. Now, the nickname, Bruges fools, is a point of pride for the locals.
At the town square, Markt, there was a mix of renovated modern buildings and old-style buildings.
One prominent structure on the edge of Markt is the Belfry. The Belfry was rebuilt after fire and expanded to be taller several times. We climbed the Belfry, pausing in the middle to see the mechanical gears that controlled the bells.
At the top of the Belfry, we had a panoramic view of Bruges.
We walked by the Gruuthuse Museum. Gruuthuse was a prominent family in Bruges. They became wealthy from taxing gruit, an ingredient in beer.
In Bruges, there is a beguinage, a community of single and widowed women. The community was self-sustaining. It produced its own food and had its own church. If someone committed a crime outside the beguinage, they could enter the beguinage for safety.
On the way back to the train station, we passed by a fair. There was a ride covered in American flags. Also painted on the ride was a pirate flag, a shark, and a topless woman. I thought this was a strange choice for depicting an American beach city.
I stayed in Brussels for a few days, sightseeing in this very walkable city.
I had to try Belgium waffles and beer. The waffles are normally eaten plain, as they are already sweetened. But like a filthy tourist, I piled on ice cream, chocolate, and berries. I ate Belgian frites cooked in animal fat. They tasted like regular French fries (burn!!!). And I sampled different varieties of beer. While Germany has the Reinheitsgebot (“German Beer Purity Law”), in Belgium there are no regulations for ingredients. The brewers can throw all kinds of random ingredients in, such as coriander.
At the Grand-Place, we saw the various guild houses and the Town Hall. The Town Hall was asymmetrical because one side was built first. So the other side has different windows. And the other side is shorter in length, to not block the road. Engraved into a wall is a monument for Everard t’Serclaes, who scaled the city walls and opened the gates to recover the city from the Flemings. People would touch the statue, since that will supposedly make sure you can return to Brussels again.
The most famous statue in Brussels is a 24-inch sculpture called Manneken Pis. It is a sculpture of a boy urinating water into the fountain. One theory on the origin of the sculpture is that it is to commemorate the boys who were piss poor. There were tanneries, and the leather making process requires ammonia. So piss poor boys would sell their pee. This beloved statue was stolen multiple times, once by a French soldier. This upset the people of Brussels, so King Louis XV returned the statue and knighted it. French soldiers would have to salute the statue when they passed it. Now the statue is dressed in different costumes each week.
There are comic murals painted on walls, such as the one below of Tintin. Belgium has the highest concentration of comic creators.
The comic below of Broussaille was controversial because of the purposefully ambiguous gender of the person on the left. The mayor forced artist Frank Pé to add earrings to make the person more feminine so that the couple looked like a heterosexual couple. To date, the mural is on Brussel’s gay alley. Belgium was the second country to allow same-sex marriage, after the Netherlands.
We walked by some interesting buildings, such as the Bourse (the Stock Exchange, now an exhibition hall), an indoor mall (Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert), the Art Nouveau Musical Instruments Museum.
We walked around Place Royale, home to museums and the Palace of Justice. We also saw the Royal Palace, extended by King Leopold II. King Leopold II exploited Congo’s natural resources, and under his authority, atrocities were committed against the people of Congo. Using the wealth obtained from Congo, Leopold II built many buildings in Brussels, earning the epithet the “Builder King.”
Brussels is the capital of the European Union. There were EU government buildings and embassies surrounding the center garden.
We also visited the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken, which are only open to the public a few weeks a year. That said, the gardens were not particularly impressive, and we had to wait in a long queue during Belgium’s Labor Day (May Day). The glass buildings were iridescent, shaped like crowns.
We were in town during a jazz festival and caught a jazz performance in a small jazz club. The musicians were not notable or of spectacular talent, but it was nice to sip on some drinks in an intimate environment. After each set, there was one extremely enthusiastic audience member whooping and cheering them on much louder than the rest of the audience, saying how great they were, asking for encores. I wish everyone could have their own hype man.