Teavana and Starbucks

“Hello, you’ve reached the voicemail box of COTTIE FAN.”

COTTIE FAN
COTTIE FAN

Starbucks is trying out different Teavana concepts. All stores have an updated, brighter look. The one in University Village is a sit-down café with tea and food, à la Starbucks. The one in Pacific Place focuses on selling to-go beverages at the counter, so has no chairs for customers to sit down on. The one in Bellevue Square is closest to the old business model, where the focus is selling packages of tea and tea accessories instead of one-off beverages.

Whenever I’m at the mall, I make a beeline for a Teavana sample, then I leave without buying anything. When I’m at home, I make simple packet teas. To produce the same taste as the Teavana sample teas, I would have to buy their loose leaf tea, add the same amount of sugar and other ingredients, and would need special tea steeping tools, which is all a big hassle. So the Pacific Place model is best at making someone like me spend money.

I wonder which concept will win. Not the sit-down café. Food has a lower margin. Also, people don’t need to drink tea like they need their morning cup of joe, so there won’t be enough foot traffic.


I’ve been to the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room in Capital Hill a few times now. It’s so aesthetically pleasing. The details in the decor are impressive– sturdy wood, copper, brass, and leather, the split-flap display. All an excuse to make an animated GIF. Here’s the barista explaining how a siphon works. I was so moved by the lighting and the bubbles, that I actually took my phone out and asked the barista if I could record it!

Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room
Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room

Beautiful.

 

Cherry Blossoms and The Tales of the Heike

After three years of living in Seattle, I finally made it to the UW campus to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom. Everyone else wanted to see the cherry blossoms too; the freeway exit to UW was backed up and cars prowled the campus for parking.

My workplace has cherry blossoms by the amphitheater, but the ones on the UW campus are on a whole different scale, old and grand, with branches that sprawl high into the sky. Children ran around the muddy grass. Parents, eager for a photograph, implored them to stand still for a second and smile. A bride posed with her groom in the center of the quad, as strong winds swirled pink petals into the air. Here, there were old and young, students, everyone, enjoying the majestic beauty of the cherry blossoms. The quad was a lovely madhouse.

I took a photo of one of the cherry trees. The flowers look like they are blooming on the trunk.

Blooming cherry blossoms at UW
Blooming cherry blossoms at UW

At work, I am often reminded by my coworkers that the Japanese love cherry blossoms. With their short, transient blooms, they are a symbol for impermanence in life. It made me pull out an essay I wrote ten years ago about The Tales of the Heike. This is back when I randomly threw in big words to appear smart. I like how I write now. I use common words and my writing is clearer. It helps that my personal writing has no minimum length requirement, double-spaced.


The Tales of the Heike is a warrior tale, a dramatized account of the battles of the Genpei war and the political intrigue surrounding it. It is interesting that one of the first stories recounted in The Tales of the Heike is not about an aristocrat or warrior, but a woman, a lowly dancer named Gio. Gio’s story seems insignificant; Kiyomori’s mistreatment of her does not create any of the hostilities that precipitate the war. But Gio’s story is important in that it has a pedagogic purpose: to emphasize the impermanence of life and implicitly connect Kiyomori’s immorality with the downfall of the Heike clan.

The Heike clan and the rival Genji clan both respect warrior values; however, unlike the Genji, the Heike believe courtly tradition and aristocratic power are important too. Kiyomori’s decadent lifestyle reflects his attachment to the material and the Heike’s loss of military discipline. In the capital, Kiyomori “indulge[s] in one caprice after another” (16). He lavishly provides for the dancer Gio and her family. When Hotoke, a young and skilled dancer, shows up to Kiyomori’s mansion because she wishes to entertain Kiyomori, Kiyomori is offended and arrogantly refuses to see her, as it is against his “principles” (18) to admit an entertainer that he did not summon. The fact that his “principles” do not relate to religion, but rather who he is willing to admit into his presence, and his remark that he does not care whether Hotoke is a “god or a Buddha” (17), show his disregard for religion. Kiyomori does not seek to uphold moral values, but rather pursues his own pleasure. At Gio’s request, Kiyomori sees Hotoke. Hotoke sings a propitious song: “Since I met you, / I’m like the little pine destined for a thousand years! / On turtle-shape isles of your pond, / how many the cranes that flock there!” (18). Kiyomori is pleased by the song’s theme of longevity (pines, turtles, and cranes are symbols for longevity), because he refuses to acknowledge the transience and insignificance of his own life. In his pride he believes he is important, so much so that he does not respect the imperial family and subverts the imperial court, betraying the very people that enabled the Heike to be so powerful in the first place. The loss of support from the retired emperor contributes to the downfall of the Heike. Hotoke not only wins Kiyomori’s favor, Kiyomori “immediately [falls] in love with her” (18), showing Kiyomori’s impulsiveness and fixation towards worldly desires. Hotoke’s song is juxtaposed to the poem Gio writes when Kiyomori forces her to leave: “Those that put out new shoots, those that wither are the same, / grasses of the field—come autumn, is there one that will not fade?” (19). This poem invokes the theme of impermanence; like grass, beauty fades with age, and every person will inevitably die.

Gio reluctantly returns to Kiyomori’s mansion and sings a song at Kiyomori’s request. The song is about how even the venerated Buddha was just a mortal, so all mortals have the capacity to be morally righteous like Buddha and achieve enlightenment. But though people are capable of great good, in reality many (like Kiyomori) stray from what is moral. Gio sings “how sad this gulf that divides us!” (21). People’s unrighteous actions and desires stand in contrast to Buddha’s righteousness and detachment—this separation, this disparity in righteousness, is like a gulf. Also, while existing on earth, people are spiritually separated from Buddha who resides in the Western Paradise. Kiyomori is clearly displeased with the theme of her song, as he is the only one in the room who is not “moved to tears” (22) and he immediately dismisses Gio. Kiyomori is not trying to live morally righteous, and this song reminds him of his own capricious desires and immorality.

In spiritual and political matters, Kiyomori is an example of what not to do. Kiyomori lacks humility; he does not realize his own insignificance. Though Kiyomori’s mistreatment of Gio is minor in comparison to the punishment he deals others, his callousness towards Gio, who is innocent of any wrongdoing, is uncalled for. Kiyomori ignores Hotoke’s pleas to let Gio stay in the palace, allow Gio to sit near them instead of in an “inferior” seat, and allow her to leave. Likewise, because of his ego, Kiyomori turns “a deaf ear to censure” (16) from the general populace and even creates a group of boys to harass those who criticize him, causing resentment among the public (hastening the future decline of the Heike). Kiyomori accumulates negative karma for his excesses, and the rest of the clan is punished for it.

Gio, her sister, and her mother become nuns to escape from “further grief” (24). Hotoke later joins them when she realizes the insecurity of her own position, that one day she too will fall out of Kiyomori’s favor. Hotoke says, “What joy and delight we have in this world is no more than a dream within a dream…To revel in a moment’s happiness and not be heedful of the life to come would be a pitiful course or action indeed!” (25-26). Suffering is caused by dependence on worldly attachments, which are themselves transient. Thus, it is futile to pursue worldly desires. The women, disillusioned, turn to religion to free themselves from worldly attachments and the suffering they cause. They realize their goal should be to seek enlightenment, thereby preventing further suffering by breaking free of the cycle of reincarnation. The narrative notes how young Gio, Gio’s sister, and Hotoke were when they became nuns. It is also mentioned that Hotoke, who was admired for her “captivating… hairdo and costume” (18), shaves her head and wears the garb of a nun. For all the emphasis placed on the triviality of the material, this narrative frequently mentions the material in its descriptions of people since appearance reflects social position. Wealth, status, appearance, even years of life are cast aside in the pursuit of enlightenment, and these sacrifices are particularly moving. Though the women suffered in the earthly realm because of Kiyomori, they are rewarded for devoting themselves to the pursuit of enlightenment when they are reincarnated in the Western Paradise. This stands in contrast to Kiyomori’s burning, painful death. Kiyomori does not pray to Buddha to be reincarnated into the Western Paradise, his only wish is for the head of the Genji leader Yoritomo. For his sins and lack of repentance, he is sent to hell.

By including Gio’s story in the beginning of the narrative, Kiyomori is indirectly characterized through his actions and future events are explained. All the suffering the Heike underwent “came about because… Kiyomori… showed no respect for the ruler above or the slightest concern for the masses of common people below. He dealt out sentences of death or exile in any fashion that suited him, took no heed of how the world or those in it might view his actions… There can be no room for doubt—it was the evil deeds of the father, the patriarch, that caused the heirs and offspring to suffer this retribution!” (168). Kiyormori’s decadent living style and immorality is the karmic cause of the decline of the Heike clan—no other explanation is given. Gio’s story puts a human face on the repercussions of Kiyomori’s immorality, and gives an otherwise discordant collection of stories some fluidity by establishing causation between events.

The Proposal

I took the gondola to the summit of Crystal Mountain. My friends had to use the restroom, so I went off alone to the edge of the mountain to take in the view. Normally, Mt. Rainier would loom large and imposing, flanked by a panorama of the Cascades, but on this day there was zero visibility. Snow fell from the white void in the sky, then merged back into the white void of the ground. Nothing was distinguishable, save for the closest patch of trees.

the picturesque view at the top of Crystal Mountain
the picturesque view at the top of Crystal Mountain

After a few minutes of staring at absolutely nothing, I decided to join my friends by the restroom. But then, suddenly, the man standing right next to me got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend. The whole thing was being recorded by a photographer and a videographer. I just wanted to go to the restroom, but that would require photobombing the couple. So I slinked away and waited for a good ten minutes as the couple hugged and kissed for the cameras.

I had been looking out at the void, feeling somber and empty, and then this couple next to me had just declared their eternal love for each other and must have felt over the moon. I imagined what the pictures would look like, the happy couple against a white and empty sky. I could recreate the backdrop with my bedroom wall. When they were done, I went on my merry way to the restroom, thinking, “that was completely unexpected.”

 

Wallace Falls

I hiked Wallace Falls. It was an easy hike with only 1300 ft. elevation gain.

At about a third of the way, we reached the base of the falls. There were people basking by the river. Others were eating at the picnic tables.

About two-thirds of the way, we reached the Middle Falls, which gave the best view of the falls and the Skykomish River valley.

Wallace Falls
Wallace Falls

The final third of the hike was all switchbacks to the top of the falls. There was no rewarding view for hiking the final section. It was all trees, and since we were at the top of the falls, we could not get a comprehensive view of the falls.

We always pass the sign to Wallace Falls as we drive east on Highway 2, so I’m glad that we finally got to explore the area. But I’ll continue taking visitors to Rattlesnake Ledge, which is closer to Seattle, about the same elevation gain, and has a much better view at the end.

Geocaching part 5

During my lunch break, I went geocaching. My workplace’s campus is but a small pimple in the center of Microsoft’s sprawling Redmond campus, surrounded on all sides by Microsoft buildings. Lucky for me, there are a lot of geocache enthusiasts in the area.

It’s getting easier to find the caches, as there are only so many types of caches and so many places they can be hidden. Geocachers call this sense of where the cache is hidden “Geointuition”.

I instantly found a cache disguised as a lamppost plate, the third one I found of this type.

another cache disguised as a lamppost plate
another cache disguised as a lamppost plate

 

Across the street from work, on a derelict basketball court, there was a magnetic cache behind the hoop’s padding.

magnet on a basketball court
magnet on a basketball court

 

Near a water sampling station, there was a cache nestled at the base of a fence.

key holder cache at the base of a fence
key holder cache at the base of a fence

 

And finally, by the marsh, in an open field where people jog and fly their drones, there was an ammo box cache. Apparently it is filled with apple seed kits to take and plant, but the box was too rusty for me to open.

ammo box by the marsh
ammo box by the marsh

Coal Creek Falls

It’s snowy on the mountains, so I took a leisurely hike on the Coal Creek Falls trail on Cougar Mountain, a local hike below the snow line. The trail had very little elevation gain. Though the falls were not as impressive as, say, Snoqualmie Falls, I still appreciated having some kind of rewarding view at the end of the hike.

Coal Creek Falls
Coal Creek Falls

I took a different trail for the way back. There used to be a coal mine on Cougar Mountain, and I passed by a humble exhibit on the history of the coal mine. There was a closed off mine shaft, an old mine cart, and a board with some placards about the mining operation.

A mine cart and closed shaft
A mine cart and closed shaft

Cougar Mountain has numerous crisscrossing trails, and it’s so close! I’ll be sure to return on a lazy day.

Seattle flyover

I rode in a seaplane for the first time in my life. We took off in Lake Union, flying over Seattle and along the Lake Washington coast, over Mercer Island and Medina.

Seattle from afar
Seattle from afar
Flying over CenturyLink Field and Safeco Field
Flying over CenturyLink Field and Safeco Field
Flying over the Sound
Flying over the Sound

Then we headed into the Sound, passing over Bainbridge Island, over the Olympics. It was amazing to fly over the city, much lower than a plane. After a while, the roar of the engine, the fumes, and the turbulence in the air currents gave me motion sickness, and I couldn’t wait to land.

After 40 minutes in the air, we descended at Port Ludlow. The seaplane’s floats were pointed diagonally upwards instead of parallel to the ground, and I thought that surely the landing would be rough as the floats jammed into the water. But the landing was smooth, much smoother than on a normal plane. The water gave way to the floats, unlike the unyielding tarmac at the airport.

At Port Ludlow we enjoyed the sun and ate a delicious lunch at the Fireside restaurant. The area around the port is residential, a peaceful, quiet neighborhood of pastel townhouses. Besides a totem pole, there’s not much in Port Ludlow as far as monuments go, but like much of the Pacific Northwest, it was full of natural beauty.

The flight back to Lake Union was a short 12 minutes.

And so, that was my best lunch ever, because I took a seaplane to get there.

Geocaching part 4

I checked out the cat cafe in Wallingford. Before the cafe opened, I found some geocaches.

A geocache disguised as a book
A geocache disguised as a book
A metal plate on a light pole
A metal plate on a light pole
A rock geocache by the tennis courts
A rock geocache by the tennis courts

I also found some geocaches during lunch walks.

A camouflaged geocache under a tree
A camouflaged geocache under a tree
A bus stop shelter
A bus stop shelter
A film cannister
A film cannister

Geocaching part 3

I went geocaching with my brothers. We are getting pretty good at this, and found all the caches we set out for.

We found four caches at the Monmouth Battlefield State Park.

A tupperware geocache hidden in the middle of the forest
A tupperware geocache hidden in the middle of the forest
A tupperware geocache hidden in a clump of trees in the middle of a grassy field
A tupperware geocache hidden in a clump of trees in the middle of a grassy field
Geocache hidden in a fallen log
Geocache hidden in a fallen log
A geocache log book
A geocache log book
Geocache hidden in a tree hollow
Geocache hidden in a tree hollow

 

We also found a few caches whilst biking around town.

Geocache hidden near a sign
Geocache hidden near a sign
The geocache looked like a film canister
The geocache looked like a film canister
Geocache in a tree
Geocache in a tree
The geocache had camouflage colors
The geocache had camouflage colors
Geocache hidden between logs in the arboretum
Geocache hidden between logs in the arboretum
Lots of toys in the geocache
Lots of toys in the geocache

 

Back on the Eastside of the Seattle area, I found a couple more caches.

Geocache in Redmond, under a bench
Geocache in Redmond, under a bench
Magnet geocache attached to a guardrail in Bellevue
Magnet geocache attached to a guardrail in Bellevue
The guardrail geocache
The guardrail geocache

A Tale of Two Toilets

I was in a restaurant in Lucerne, Switzerland, a predominantly German-speaking city. I needed to use the bathroom. One bathroom door said “Toilette Damen,” the other, “Toilette Herren.” There were no symbols for men or women, so I looked back and forth between the two doors in despair.

“Damen” must be for the men, and “Herren” sounds female, like for her. So I pushed open the door that said “Toilette Herren” and saw a wall of urinals, and I immediately realized the error of my thinking. A waitress chuckled as she walked by. “Damen is for women,” she said, smiling.

I walked back to the table and told J what happened. Swiss women must be weird, using urinals, he joked. But it makes sense, he said, because “dame” means lady in German, so “damen” must be plural for ladies.

From this incident, I learned a bit of German. It also reinforced the notion that designs for signs, buttons, etc. should symbols, color, and contextual clues, not just words.