5 interesting facts about Switzerland

I went to Switzerland for vacation. As a tourist, here are things that I found interesting:

  1. King size beds are friend-zone beds. At all the hotels I stayed at, a king bed was just two twin beds pushed together. And instead of having one king-sized comforter, each twin bed had its own twin comforter.

    King bed in Switzerland
    Can you feel the love tonight? Me neither.
  2. When you order coffee, you get expresso. When I asked for an Americano, I was met with blank stares.
  3. Tips are built into restaurant prices. And most meals were ~$30 per person.
  4. Even in the cold, cafés kept dining tables and chairs outside. We ate outside, kept warm by the blankets that were provided.

    Warm and fuzzy blankets to eat in the cold
    Warm and fuzzy blankets to eat in the cold
  5. Every city I went to had an old town, a pedestrian shopping area with cobblestone streets. And every city I went to also had one casino.

    Lucerne's old town, full of new chain stores
    Lucerne’s old town, full of new chain stores

Blanca Lake

I hiked to Blanca Lake with my co-workers.

Wearing shorts and treadless sneakers, I was not sufficiently prepared, so this hike completely wrecked me. I cut my knees when I climbed over fallen logs. On the way down the mountain, I went ahead of the group. It was very quiet around me, and I sang Bohemian Rhapsody as I hiked down. I must have been distracted, because on a particularly smooth section of dirt, I slipped and rolled my ankle. There were still a few miles to go (it was steep!), and I slipped and rolled my ankle again. And then a couple miles later, I rolled my ankle yet again. My ankle was extremely swollen, but I knew there was no one to rescue me and I was solely responsible for bringing myself down the mountain, so I kept going, murmuring a profanity with each step.

Someone in our hiking party called this hike the “Trail of Tears.” I couldn’t do physical activity for a few weeks after that. This hike was definitely a hike where, when you think you’re close to the end, you are actually only halfway there. Before my next hike, I immediately went out and bought hiking boots.

Resting on a rock at Blanca Lake
Resting on a rock at Blanca Lake

That said, Blanca Lake was beautiful! The alpine lake was a teal blue from silt in the glacier water. I had never before seen a lake that color.

Batman: Year 100

I read Batman: Year 100, written and illustrated by Paul Pope. It is a self-contained comic set in Gotham, year 2039. The gist of the story is, Batman witnesses the murder of a federal agent and gets framed for it. He works to unravel the government conspiracy behind the event.
The art style is unique. Batman looks grittier and his costume design is more realistic than the painted-on costume design of other iterations. Pope did a great job conveying movement and action with his messy, flowing line work and coloring.
The plot reminded me of a spy movie. There is a lot of running away from groups of armed men. Batman even infiltrates a building with the directions of a sidekick on the line. There is no character development, only sleuthing, running, fighting, and other general frenetic mayhem. There are interesting villains with strong personalities, but they don’t get backstories and are disposed of easily. Batman is joined by iterations of the usual cast: Robin, Jim Gordon (grandson of Commissioner Gordon), a Batgirl/Oracle-esque computer hacker. The characters don’t evolve or change their moral philosophies as the story progresses, but they do make shocking revelations regarding the incident that Batman is framed for. The plot did not explore any of Batman’s psychological or physical traumas. We see him getting injured, bones broken, even shot, but he quickly bounces back and gets to work saving the day again.
The comic maintains Batman’s mythical persona, as everyone is amazed that in an age where everyone is documented, where there is no privacy, that a masked crusader still exists. Batman manages to crush everyone with raw fighting ability and low tech weapons. And his mind is as amazing as ever, able to recall events in his past with perfect photographic memory, focusing and slowing down his memories like a video player. The comic asked but never got around to explaining the real mystery: how is Batman still alive and moving spritely after 100+ years of crime fighting? Did the original Bruce Wayne figure out how to stay young, did someone else take up the mantle, or has Batman somehow transcended into a myth that defies all logic?
Overall, the comic is entertaining, but it doesn’t add anything to the Batman mythos, and the futuristic setting could have been explored further.

Lake Valhalla

I hiked to Lake Valhalla with FIUTS (Foundation for Understanding Through Students). We hiked a little more than ten miles, starting from the Steven’s Pass parking lot. The first part of the hike was on the Pacific Crest Trail. We walked a straight, narrow dirt path with hardly any elevation gain, flanked by short plants with broad leaves. In many sections, the shrubs along the trail hung over the narrow path, so that it was like walking through a field. If I were still in New Jersey, this would be an absolutely awful idea, because I would end up with a hundred ticks and Lyme disease. But thankfully, ticks are not an issue in the Pacific Northwest.
We walked through a forested area, with views of surrounding mountains throughout. We even saw a few grouse. They flew away when we approached, and since they are relatively heavy birds, their flaps were loud and thunderous to lift their meaty bodies off the ground. I can see why they’re easy to hunt, because they kept about their business until we were just a few feet away.
We reached Lake Valhalla, made some viking jokes, and took in the view.

Cedar Butte

I hiked Cedar Butte with J. The path was narrow, fitting only one person at a time. It was a lovely hike. The fall foliage was in full display, painting the old-growth forest orange. The trail was steep in sections, but overall it was a short, easy hike. At the top, we had lunch and soaked in the view of rolling mountains and blue sky.
Cedar Butte geodetic survey marker
Finding geodetic survey markers is a more intense hunt than geocaching
Cedar Butte is a few minutes walk from the popular Rattlesnake Ledge hike. We stopped by the lake, which looks absolutely surreal right now. Since last winter was pathetic and had hardly any snowfall, the lake has dried up, and now Rattlesnake Lake has become Rattlesnake pond. Massive tree trunks that were once hidden below the water are now exposed.
-_- trunk
-_- trunk
Rattlesnake Lake
Rattlesnake Lake

 

Geocaching part 2

I’m really addicted to geocaching now. Each cache takes a nontrivial amount of effort to walk to and find, so I feel very proud each time I find one.

HERE ARE SOME GEOCACHES I FOUND!!!!!!!!!!!!

This cache was on a picnic table on the shore of Lake Washington, a short walk from where I live.

Cache under a picnic bench on Mercer Island
Cache under a picnic bench on Mercer Island
Mercer Island magnetic key case cache
Mercer Island magnetic key case cache

I had some time before a Mariners game, so I walked around Chinatown looking for geocaches. This cache was hidden in an electricity box at a playground. I could tell some of the parents were wondering what I was doing, examining the electricity box so closely.

Geocachers call people that do not geocache “muggles”, since geocachers are enlightened and in-the-know that these secret stashes exist. But alas, I never got that letter from Hogwarts,

Cache hidden under an electricity box
Cache hidden under an electricity box
Seattle Chinatown playground minicache
Seattle Chinatown playground minicache

This cache was cleverly camouflaged on a telephone pole.

Disguised cache on a telephone pole in Chinatown
Disguised cache on a telephone pole in Chinatown
The log was hidden on the other side
The log was hidden on the other side

This cache was visible from far away.

Geocache in Surrey Downs Park, Bellevue
Geocache in Surrey Downs Park, Bellevue
Magnetic key cases seem to be a trend
Magnetic key cases seem to be a trend

 

 

Geocaching part 1

I recently started geocaching. The Seattle area has so many parks and trails, and geocaching is a good way of discovering them.

It was really easy to get started. There is a geocaching phone app that has a map of all the nearby caches and their recent activity (like if the cache was found recently and is in good condition). It was surprising that there are caches nearly everywhere, even in places I’ve been to many times before.

The first cache I found was at a bus stop. It took two search attempts. The first attempt, I went with my coworkers and we felt we combed the area, even checking under the trash bag and looking at the bus stop across the street. But we couldn’t find it. The problem was, we had no idea what we were looking for. We found the cache on our second attempt. It was a magnetic case, smaller than a fingertip. We were expecting something bigger.

Geocache under a bus stop bench
Geocache under a bus stop bench
Geocache under a bus stop bench
Geocache under a bus stop bench

I proudly signed my name on the log.

 

After the first find, it was easier to find other caches. The trick was to go to the exact coordinates and search for any loose object with no preconceived notion of what to look for. Geocaches can have tricky hiding places, like this one embedded in a gate.

The geocache was hidden in the gate
The geocache was hidden in the gate
Geocache on the 520 bike trail, Redmond
Geocache on the 520 bike trail, Redmond

This geocache was disguised as a rock. The rock was hollow and contained a logbook and trinkets.

Geocache disguised as a rock in Pioneer Park, Mercer Island
Geocache disguised as a rock in Pioneer Park, Mercer Island

Some caches are more obvious than others.

White bucket in Luther Burbank Park, Mercer Island
White bucket in Luther Burbank Park, Mercer Island

Vegas

I went to Las Vegas, ostensibly to play video games, but also because I had never been there before. I walked around the casinos, and was amazed by the decadence, the elaborate decor, the disorienting lack of sense of time (especially when a blue sky is painted on the ceiling). It was mind-boggling that these palaces of consumption and vice exist in the middle of the desert, occupied by throngs of tourists and generating thousands of jobs.

Strolling through an indoor garden
Strolling through an indoor garden
It's always daytime in Venice
It’s always daytime in Venice
A dress made of flowers
A dress made of flowers

I watched an aquatic acrobatics show called Le Rêve – The Dream.  The stage is a pool in the center with platforms that lower and raise from the floor. The audience circles the stage, so the sizable roster of performers create aesthetic magic for all angles. The performers had to be immensely talented in gymnastics and swimming, pulling off incredible trapeze tricks and high dives. From prop trees, ropes, and cages, they would jump and spring from branches, do pommel horse maneuvers, flawlessly execute flips. It was all very beautiful. At first I was trying to follow all the characters – the devil, the demon, the sage, the clown suitors, as they led the female protagonist on a journey through her psyche, but then I realized there was not much of a plot. Different aspects of the show and symbolism resonated with me and my friends, and we each interpreted the show differently.

Le Rêve - the dream is over, everyone woke up and left
Le Rêve – the dream is over, everyone woke up and left

Anyway, I was in Las Vegas to play Smash Bros. Melee at Evo. I had not played in a few days, did not warm up, and got destroyed. I wasn’t expecting to make it out of pools, but I was very disappointed with my performance. There weren’t a lot of friendlies setups, so we left to play some blackjack and ate a lot of good food. The food eased the pain of being a loser. I recently started watching Masterchef, so we went to Gordon Ramsay Steak to try the beef wellington. It was delicious. We went to the buffet at the Bellagio, also delicious, especially the desserts.

Beef wellington at Gordon Ramsay Steak. "This side dish tastes like SHIITake mushrooms."
Beef wellington at Gordon Ramsay Steak. “This side dish tastes like SHIITake mushrooms.”

It was fun to watch the final brackets, even for games that I do not play. The crowd was so hyped and energetic, they would cheer for any cool looking combo or surprising turnaround. These were the best of the pros, the pinnacle of their respective games. Most were sponsored. I wish I could be as good as them, but I know it would take hours of practice each day.

Anyhow, I had fun. There was New York City, a volcano, escort card distributors, Walgreens. The Bellagio Fountains was my Fountain of (Broken) Dreams, my favorite stage. Vegas was everything I expected and more.

The Life Eaters

I read The Life Eaters by David Brin. The premise of the comic is, near the end of World War II, Norse gods such as Thor and Odin suddenly appear and help the Nazis defeat the Allies. The Nazis created these mythical gods by sacrificing humans in their concentration camps. The Norse gods are not loyal to their Nazi creators, but the deities sustain themselves with war and death, so they side with the Nazis for their own purposes. To combat the Nazis, some countries kill off their own population to materialize their own regional deities. These countries, with assistance from their deities, start a never-ending conflict with each other. Meanwhile, there are rebel tribes in the Middle East that refuse to sacrifice their fellow men, and they struggle for survival, fighting invading countries with conventional weapons.

No side: Asia, Africa, nor Europe, appears to have an upper hand. But the equilibrium of war is threatened when the African nations start burning their oil fields. The deities of Africa prefer heat, while the Norse gods prefer cold. The African nations burn their oil fields to produce greenhouse gases and raise the temperature.  A scientist realizes that the Norse gods could combat this by taking the air pollution to an extreme; by detonating atomic bombs, the pollution in the atmosphere will reflect all sunlight, making the earth cold (this is also why the Allies did not use nuclear bombs against the Nazis). As if the current climate of war is not enough, the scientist fears an impending “weather war” with permanent ramifications for the planet, and he warns the rebel tribes. In a very contrived scene, the rebel groups in the Middle East all forgive each other for any past wrongs and band together. They create a power suit that can best even the deities. As the comic explicitly and repeatedly states, ordinary men are extremely strong and creative, even without superpowers and mythical abilities. A single man can make a big difference, inspire a resistance movement, overcome the temptation of ultimate power. And when people work together, their resourcefulness and strength can conquer anything. At the end of the comic, the war is ongoing, but there is hope that humanity will win in the end.

Persepolis

I read Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi . It is an autobiographical comic book about the author’s life growing up in revolutionary Iran. Her childhood is tense and perilous. Within Iran, there is the threat of religious fundamentalists arresting and punishing people arbitrarily. Marjane’s Communist uncle is executed by the fundamentalists.  Then there is the threat from outside countries. During the war with Iraq, a scud missile hits her neighbors’ house, killing her neighbors. Despite the atmosphere of fear and stifled freedom, Marjane is headstrong and not afraid to speak her mind. She attends rallies, holds illegal parties, and talks back to authority figures. In an environment where people were being severely and arbitrarily punished, I kept expecting Marjane to be punished for her rebelliousness. But she was very lucky. While her friends and acquaintances get attacked or worse, she makes it out relatively unscathed. It seemed her greatest difficulty was assimilating to a different culture during her time studying abroad, dealing with alienation and having no family support.

The art in the comic book is simple (this is no superhero comic with creative and fantastical character design). The characters, too, are simply drawn and rather indistinguishable. During the chapters about Marjane’s childhood, I often could not tell which child was her. I could not reliably tell who she was until she started drawing the mole on her face that appeared when she was an adult. The characters, going by appearances, are forgettable, but it’s their role in Marjane’s shocking stories that makes them memorable. Also, for a comic book, there was an awful lot of narration, too much telling and not enough showing. I would rather read about Batman.