Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Amazing night in Seattle politics

Huge progressive vote in Seattle tonight. Mayor's race is a toss up. Mike McGinn, with very little money but with an electrically-assisted bike, virtually tied with Joe Mallahan. Licata holds on. O'Brien beats Rosencrantz. Yes to a big levy for low-income housing. Looking farther, King County picks the self-described progressive who called his opponent a Republican. Gay rights gain in statewide election, one of the more significant votes in the nation. Tim Eyman hammered.

Whatever may have happened elsewhere, Washington State stayed blue.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Will man bite shark? Or will it taste like chicken?

KOTA KINABALU -- Last night, we saw one of the most amazing fish markets ever, just two blocks from our hotel. Surrounding a vast collection of restaurant tables were fish tanks containing every imaginable critter that lives in water: clams, oysters, groper, lobster, etc. And yes, Shark.

I liked the idea of turning tables on those cold-blooded creeps, but if shark taste anything like dogfish, forgettaboutit.

I took a video of one little sharkey trying to find an exit from the water tank.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Almost marooned in Borneo

KOTA KINABALU -- Dark clouds were approaching the harbor at noon today when I took a launch out to Sapi Island. I swam a bit in the warm water and watched exotic fish wiggle around the corral. (One irate fish attacked me, no doubt an escapee from the fish-chew-feet salon in Kuala Lumpur.)

The clouds overhead got darker, and thicker, then dumped rain. Then came lightening. Shuttle service to Kota Kinabalu was shut down because of the risk. Were we all about to die? And how long till Sally and Michaela, shopping for knick knacks in town, would notice my absence?

Naturally, I panicked, fearful I would spend the rest of my days semi-alone on a desert island, stranded in solitude but for several dozen Japanese, Australians and French, plus a small restaurant with cases of cookies, chocolate and ice cream. No matter, panic crawled up my spine like a poisonous crustacean (I've been reading cheap novels). I looked around for a volley ball which I could name Wilson, while I made plans for losing weight, growing a beard and preparing for "Castaway II: the Sunburned Edition."

Recalling survival training I took in high school, I kept calm, placed my clothes where they would dry, developed a strategy for making fire and cooking fish. And yes, I ate a chocolate bar.

With an hour, the storm had passed and I had not starved. I might have gained a pound. Even so, I faced down the THREAT of the IDEA of death. Attached is an image of Sapi Island.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Blogging blather from Ubud

UBUD, Bali -- On our last night in Ubud, Sally and I brought the lap top and connected to the world wide web. In this exotic destination, for dinner we had chicken sandwiches. Don't you just love globalization?

I've come to realize that Ubud as some fabled destination for old-style spiritual awakening is a tad overstated, what with Rolling Stones music blaring from a nightclub and a Ralph Lauren Polo Shop just down the way on Monkey Forest Road. Perusing the local nightclub listings, I find that Ubud is one of Bali's top places to party. The hamlet is overrun with small motor bikes and cars driven by men offering you a ride. Auto fumes drifts into the restaurants. "Taxi?"

Monday, August 17, 2009

Monkey Madness!

UBUD, BALI -- Dawn in Ubud brings some unusual guests. A family of Monkeys climbed to our 2nd story room and walked about our balcony looking for food.

One large male picked up a container of water and growled at Sally when she ordered him to put it down. Having established his rank, he then ignored her, calmly unscrewed the cap and drank.

Sally woke me up and I caught on tape other members of the group.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The view from our room

UBUD, BALI -- Sally and I are now in Ubud, a town known for its artistic and spiritual character.

Proof? Mick Jagger supposedly stayed here, but not in this congested little burb but likely out in the countryside, where 5-star hotels were built for sophisticates with bank accounts.

Shown here is a photo from the balcony of our room, overlooking the pool at our hotel.

In the Department of Pandemics, I'm still feeling the ill effects of my respiratory infection.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Two feet in heaven

BALI -- Those are not Brad Pitts' feet, though the confusion is common and understandable.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Just dump the rice here on my banana leaf, thank you

KUALA LUMPUR -- We stopped at an Indian restaurant tonight where food was served without utensils or plates. The server brought rice and small bowls of chicken, beef, spices or other items that you dumped onto a banana leaf. You eat with your right hand and afterwards wash your hands at a communal sink. The only mystery is how they stack banana leaves in the dishwasher.

Not many tanning booths in this town

KUALA LUMPUR -- It's hard to find any sort of skin cream in this town with out skin whitener, often bleach.

Dining out, Kuala Lumpur style

KUALA LUMPUR -- Michaela's landlord, Soo Yoon, took us out to dinner last night in the Bangsar neighborhood. Joining us was Michaela's co-worker and housemate, Maddy, a fellow student at the University of Oregon. The slight haze in the image comes from the sizzling sate grill in the street. That sate and peanut sauce was better than what we ate today poolside at our hotel, Le Meridien. My favorite part of Malaysian restaurants: beer served in giant bottles. Yum.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Meet some children of Kuala Lumpur

KUALA LUMPUR -- Sally and I criss-crossed an ocean to meet the children served by our daughter, a volunteer at a shelter run by the Women's Aid Organization of Malaysia.

They are adorable. They greeted us with a song from their school and gave us a hand-written welcome card. They called us "auntie" and "uncle."

Roll the tape.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Fish, like weasels, ripped my flesh

KUALA LUMPUR -- We flew on Asia Air from Hong Kong and met up with Michaela, who gave us a sophisticated tour of Kuala Lumpur.

She took us to the Central Market, where at the Cute Fish Spa, 5 rm bought you 15 minutes of time with a peculiar fish that enjoys nibbling on human feet. It's supposed to be a kind of massage and after walking for several hours, I was ready to surrender my toes.

Soon as my feet went under, they swarmed, ferociously chewing on my flesh with their tiny -- and harmless -- teeth. It tickled. I yanked my feet out, as others shrieked from their own surprise. Check out the Italian guy (pictured).

I put my feet back in and watched them return. A big one eyed me and swam around and began his feast. What exactly were they eating? Sweat? Toe jam? Bits of flesh? Where was the blood?

Who cares? It felt good. And perhaps, it tasted good.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Another big thought on globalization

HONG KONG--A friend who grew apples in Manson, Washington, once complained about the vast acreage of orchards being planted in China, subsidized by the World Bank. Why would the U.S. government fund competition for our own farmers? he asked. Good question.

But on this trip, walking near the Temple Street Night Market, I spotted empty apple boxes from several grower cooperatives from Lake Chelan, including Trout-Blue Chelan. My late friend, John Picken, would have been pleased.

Finger lickin' good at the Temple Street Night Market

HONG KONG -- It's hot and humid. People semi-wash dishes on the sidewalk and serve up strange, spiney fish that eye you as you manage your chop sticks. Don't ask. It's the Temple Street Night Market. Enjoy!

A brief musing on wealth, class and coach class

OVER THE PACIFIC -- This item is being written retroactively, two days after our arrival in Hong Kong. But the memories of undeserved luxury linger.

We came here on Cathay Airways, flying Business Class, thanks to cashing in about five years worth of Alaska Airlines credit card miles. If you were to book this trip through Expedia, the price for Business would be about $4,153 versus about $1,163 for Coach. Is Business worth four times as much as Coach? Well, it's 10 times as much fun. For me, its the difference between sleep or no sleep, between 13 hours of someone's elbow in your gut, between French Champagne and seltzer, and lay-flat seats (pictured) with massaging magic fingers that remind me of La-Z-Boy recliners. (Check out Cathay's dreamy introduction to its service.)

I have one friend who prides himself on traveling around the world in coach, even as far as Africa from the West Coast. A fairly good sized person, especially when his girth approaches 190 lbs., he can't always sleep on flights but is happy to read books. To him, privation is more interesting than luxury. I once traveled with him to Limerick, Ireland, where we landed in the middle of the night and checked in to a hostel and were escorted to a crowded room full of double bunks of snoring men. Recoiled, my mind immediately went to the steerage scenes in "Titanic" and I felt the presence of disappointed ancestors who had traveled in steerage to America. To the contrary, my friend inhaled the odor of 16 men in a confined space and chuckled in the darkness. He welcomed what he regarded as adventure.

And to that, I say: nuts. I am not a greedy person. I don't envy the rich... except on a few occasions such as air travel. The rich are different from you on me. On airplane flights, they are treated to real plates, French wines, chocolates, more booze and a vastly improved chance of arriving in a distant place refreshed and ready to enjoy a vacation.

You experience these distinctions especially on Cathay, the Hong Kong-based airline with some of the best service in the world. (One exception: my daughter had a lousy recent experience; another story.) On Cathay, coach has the same hip-hugging seats found everywhere but the food in the rear cabin is excellent, the service is warm and there's an open bar with booze and good snacks for the entire flight. In Business, riding in the upper deck of a 747-400, you might want to stay on the plane and skip the beaches of Bali.

I especially enjoyed how the flight attendant addressed me by name, "Mr. Gore, would you like more champagne?" I said yes three times. Then switched to a French red for the meat course, followed by a glass of Port with the cheese service. I hadn't enjoyed Port as much since my brief days at the Bodleian. I think I made a grab a little too quick when she came by with chocolates in a wooden box. I made a mental note to blog about this extraordinary service. How could she remember my name with so many others Business?

On her third pass, though, I discovered her secret: a slip of paper taped to the service cart. No matter. At least she took the time to write it down.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Meet Hong Kong's finest tailor

HONG KONG -- Back in the early 1990s, when U.S. journalism reached its peak of wealth and global ambitions, I paid a visit here to tailor Ash Samtani Clothing Ltd. Back then, the word in the Seattle Times newsroom was, when in Hong Kong, stop at Ash for shirts, suits or a dress overcoat.

In 1991, I was on a trip to document container shipping with my friend Barry Wong, a Times photographer and a great travel companion. Barry, whose parents were born in China, entertained me greatly on that trip by pretending to not know Chinese and telling me afterwards what our translators and interview subjects had said about us.

On that trip, Barry bought a black overcoat he still wears. He looks terrific. I bought 4 dress shirts that lasted some 20 years, far longer than anything purchased from Lands End, Macy's or other suppliers. Nice fabric. Great fit. Reliable buttons. I would still wear those shirts but for the effects of age, my Hogarthian lifestyle and gravity.

On this trip, I considered and rejected a visit to Ash Samtani, minding our shrunken 401ks and figuring I lacked the time on our 3-day visit, even though the tailor claimed a world record for the fastest-made suit. But when Sally and I noticed our hotel was a half mile away on Nathan Road from Ash, we walked down. I meant to buy only a couple shirts. But driven wild by the inducements of my spouse and anxious to stimulate the world economy, instead I bought 7 shirts and three suits and got a free tie as a gift from Ash Samtani's son, Luke.

I could write a long post just on Luke's masterful and elegant process of greeting a customer, offering a refreshment and unrolling the luxury fabrics. It's all so sensual, running your hand across cashmere blends, taking in the subtle weaves and the interplay and coordinated colors, having him drap the fabric across your chest, and making all the choices you had no idea were possible: 2 button? 3? Two vents? One? None?

Whether all this time and expense is worthy of the body intended for these clothes is one thing. But another is the pleasure is meeting Luke, whose family has owned this shop in the same location for more than 50 years. The Samtanis once lived in an area that is now part of Pakistan; the British partition of Pakistan and India created conditions that forced the family to leave. Some landed in Hong Kong, where Ash Samtani, Luke's father, and others created a tailoring business. Another landed in Hawaii, where a Samtani cousin has long been the tailor of Hawaii's governors and senators.

Luke Samtani, who maintains homes in Singapore and Hong Kong, has two children. His son lived in England to study law and is now in Hong Kong studying business and computer science. His daughter lives in London, where she just took a coveted position with Goldman Sachs, a legend on Wall Street for its handsome bonuses. Samtani counts amongst his customers people in Seattle, Washington and elsewhere in the world. For years, he traveled yearly to the Westin in Seattle to fit customers but he had to give up that practice because it took too much time to travel.

The company still maintains contact with customers in the U.S. by sending Christmas cards. I've gotten a hand-signed card every year since 1991. I'm looking forward to another.

Can China Save The World?

HONG KONG -- A new issue of Time asks if China's roaring market can save the world by creating a "trickle around" effect for economies elsewhere. Of the biggest 10 economies, only China's is growing. The article raises some cautions about an economy dependent on government cash -- sound familiar? -- but notes that China is on track to overtake Japan as the world's second largest economy.
Beijing, before the crisis, was already rising, its global reach and influence expanding. As the rest of the world falters, that is truer than ever. China is not yet the leader of the global economy. But it's getting there.
Hong Kong is not the best place to see China's astonishing evolution. Hong Kong has long been a hustle-bustle city. To see the pace and scale of change, you must visit cities like Shanghai, where the equivalent of a Manhattan has been built in a decade, skyscrapers springing from rice paddies. Amazingly for such change, the architecture is good, a point made long ago by Rem Koolhaas.

Hong Kong nonetheless conveys the pulse of capitalism animating a culture and a nation. Here you see streets jammed with new cars, well-dressed business people crossing streets, jabbering into cell phones, ignoring the honks from impatient taxi drivers. You also notice a culture that sustains, side by side in jarring contrast, ultra modern subways and night markets where fortune tellers read palms and faces for signs of a person's personal and financial fate.

For the bird's eye vantage, Sally and I rode the tram to the top of Hong Kong island. Up there, the August sun broiled my skin. Smart vistors carried umbrellas as personal shade. A haze partially obscured the vista, but the image posted here shows one of the most amazing harbors in the world, China's second busiest in container shipping after Shanghai, only a relative blip in trade statistics 20 years ago.

This trip may be tax deductible

HONG KONG -- As an employee who does marketing, and whose employer logo must have drawn thousands of eyeballs just in today's walkabout in a targeted market, and whose primary purpose in crossing the ocean was to achieve said marketing objective -- I get a tax deduction out of this, right?

Monday, July 20, 2009

When Rosie's son met Angela's son -- on Frank McCourt

Long before "A Million Little Pieces" triggered new rules for memoir writing -- at least most or at least the best parts must be true -- "Angela's Ashes" charmed me and millions of other readers around the world. It was Frank McCourt's masterful telling of Angela's son growing up extremely hungry in Limerick, Ireland.

I loved that book, and put aside a lingering sense that much of it was just made up, especially the farcical description of Frank's arrival as a young man in New York. I put aside my scruples and just loved the story, the language and the blend of misery and comedy: it was pitch perfect.

McCourt, who died last weekend, told the story through the eyes of a boy who only partially took in the anguish and desperation of his mother. To feed her children, she even took to sleeping with a brutish relative.

"Angela's Ashes" provided a reminder to the descendants of Irish immigrants just why people left the Old Sod: it was miserable to have no work and no future. People had to leave. McCourt told that part with a special twist: his family came to America but returned to Ireland because his drunken father failed to keep gainful employment in the U.S. Back in Ireland, McCourt's father wandered off and Angela made do.

McCourt became celebrated as a great authority on all things Irish and his book tours brought out crowds of well wishing Irish Americans -- except for my dad who complained bitterly about McCourt and went to an event with me in Seattle just to tell him off. McCourt had committed the Unforgiveable Sin, in my dad's estimation: telling tales on your mother. And it was true: McCourt like many other writers had betrayed his mother for the sake of the story he wanted to tell. Or sell, as my dad might have said.

So sometime after "Angela's Ashes" came out, McCourt came to Seattle for an event at epicenter of all things Irish here, F.X. McRory's. I entered with my dad who began to chat people up about the disloyalty of McCourt and the outrage of his writing. The highlight of the moment was my conversation with McCourt in which he failed to hear my dad's running commentary.

I knew why my dad was angry. His own mother lost her husband (to an accident) and she raised her children during the Depression in Philadelphia with the meager wages she earned as a hotel maid. During this time, my dad and his brother Frank went door to door selling vegetables using a cart pulled by a horse named Peaches.

Though she never reached Angela's level of desperation, Rose McLaughlin Corr put two of her sons in a Philadelphia orphanage so they could be educated. One of those sons was my Dad, who remained close to his mother throughout his life, even after he settled in Seattle where he had met a former Potlatch Queen who had become a Navy nurse. As a little boy, I sat next to my dad when the phone rang and he got word that his mother had died. A few minutes into the conversation, I realized what he was hearing and suddenly I sensed the boy in the man beside me. The grief seemed to fill the room. To this day, I don't think I had observed another human being with such intensity.

So my dad just couldn't read "Angela's Ashes" as I had. And I understood.

Update: A former student of McCourt says he had an astonishing memory.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Touche, my French-food snob friends?

Pardon the clumsy headline, but I'm posting this on behalf of friends who have spent hours with me marveling at the superiority of all things French -- the beauty of their diplomats, the stylish affairs of their politicians, the cut of their clothes, their dogs in their restaurants, their gallant resistance to that recent unpleasant period of presidential leadership....and of course their vastly superior choices in food. The French are so wise, so superior, that their virtues are borne out in the very manifestation of their corporal being. You cannot find a single fat person in France. Not one. It's that miracle diet of merlot wine, bread and stinky cheese -- not a wrinkle of flab from Normandy to Arles. A miracle! Americans eat Cheerios. Why are they so dumb?

Some of this came even from friends who joined me in sneaking into a McD in Paris when pedestrian matters of finances, convenience, predictable quality and lust for a cheese burger, pronto, trumped social graces and upward mobility. (My all time favorite McD moment was in Madrid when I had tired of slow, disappointing Spanish food, especially sour butter, and just wanted an Egg McMuffin and OJ -- was a happy moment. I had another moment of comfort in Chang Mai.)

Not all of my friends betrayed their principles. One fought the pleadings of a pack of teenage boys who wanted to eat lunch at a McD in Killarney. He insisted on paying 10 times more for Irish food, which is really British food, with a side of historical grievances.

To be clear, I'm not a McD enthusiast. In Seattle, you'll find me at Dick's. In Cle Elum, it's McKean's Drive In. I cheered "Supersize Me," the movie. I try to watch my weight except when I'm within 100 yards of ice cream.

But to all my French-loving friends, may I refer you to a recent article in Slate that shows that the French themselves like McDonald's. In fact, McDonald's is wildly popular:

The company was pulling in over a million people per day in France, and annual turnover was growing at twice the rate it was in the United States. Arresting as those numbers were, there was an even more astonishing data point: By 2007, France had become the second-most profitable market in the world for McDonald's, surpassed only by the land that gave the world fast food.

It's possible the writer is wrong, brain damaged by hormone-injected burgers, shakes infused with fire retardant, and hyper-saturated fat fries. But it seems there's no denying many French love their McD.

Call this an end to civilization, a measure of how the bad drives out the good. But maybe my friends need to dial back their all-things-French hubris and acknowledge a few gaps in their arguments. But take some comfort, freedom-fry eaters. At least now that have a new point of cultural reference. We have the world's coolest president, hitting 3 pointers while wearing his wrap-around shades and karate chopping flies with one swoop. Yes we can!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Would you pay for something free? Of course!

I love the web for many reasons, including the charming mix of hucksters and customers.

Case in point: you are reading a public blog but a guy who has a Twitter account and a few thousand articles posted to the Internet on his byline.

And yet for just 95 cents -- for a limited time -- you can pay to get this information. Save time! Skip Google. Just enter your credit card number, expiration date, home address, security code on the back of the card that can no longer be read, home address, exact name on the card...and just click. In a snap, it's yours!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Exciting news! Nobody is reading what I'm writing

The New York Times reports that nearly 95 percent of blogs are fallow.

Here's the nut graph (old style journo jargon):

"According to a 2008 survey by Technorati, which runs a search engine for blogs, only 7.4 million out of the 133 million blogs the company tracks had been updated in the past 120 days. That translates to 95 percent of blogs being essentially abandoned, left to lie fallow on the Web, where they become public remnants of a dream — or at least an ambition — unfulfilled.

I find this presumptuous, coming from a newspaper read by less than one percent of readers in America, published by a company losing so much money they are selling space in their fancy new office building. Big shots dumping on the no shots. As old as ink. What would A.J. Liebling say? Piffle.

Fear not, fellow bloggers. Being read is over rated.

Better unread than dead.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Remembering Kathleen Corr on Mother's Day

Kathleen "Tot" Corr

My mom died in 1995, after a long and withering battle with colon cancer. She died in bed at home.

As an adult, I had a great relationship with both of my parents. I could go to them separately about different matters. Mom was the practical one, the problem solver who cut through the distractions and pushed me in the right way.

Raising five sons (brothers Pat and Chris not yet born when this photo was taken) certainly was not her first choice in life. In another era, she would have been a prominent figure in business and law. Trained as an R.N. at Seattle University, she and my dad both applied to law school at Gonzaga but didn't go because she got in but he did not.

As a mom, and one of five female siblings, with each pregnancy she badly wanted a daughter. Much, much later, I asked her how she felt that in 1955 again no daughter had emerged but instead a son -- me, her first red head. "Oh, I cried," she said.

Once I ran away, of a sorts, by taking the bus to the University District to observe the sidewalk hippies. She somehow found me and when I got into the car, I saw she had been in tears. I mattered to her, and I felt guilty that I had caused her suffering. In an odd sense, it was the first time I ever saw her as not just my mom but a person of real feelings whom I loved.

The greatest gift any parent can give is unconditional love and to this day there are issues I wish could share with her.

During her illness in 1995, I was working on a book so I had the schedule flexibility to visit her every day in the hospital. Watching this strong woman grow weaker was the most painful thing of my life, matched only by seeing the same thing happen to my father 10 years later.

Her death gained notice in The Seattle Times and was marked by one of those classic big Irish Catholic family masses: a crowd of priests, a packed church, and a wake at our house where one friend, an immigrant from Ireland got so drunk he began to sob which somehow caused his nose to bleed, dribbling red on a brother's white dress shirt. At first, I felt embarrassed, then amused: Tot would have liked a gathering that included all the elements of the Irish wake, especially the drunken episode that had really bothered no one.

After her death, a lot of people spoke to me about how much they admired her. She powered a lot of personal and group organizations. She pushed my dad to a professional level where he accomplished significant things for our city. One of her friends told me how much she missed her and how much she had loved her. "She was such a tiny person," the friend said. Tiny? I thought. I never though of her as short, though she was probably 5'2". So she was tiny, but she always felt big in my life. I miss her terribly.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

One letter, much difference

Mistyped by one letter my own page name and went on here. And found a person named Casey Orr, with a pretty cool web site. My favorite shots are people cutting grass.

Friday, May 8, 2009

So who were the top 10 liars in Seattle sports history?

Those and many other questions are answered in The Great Book of Seattle Sports List by Mike Gastineau, Art Thiel and Steve Rudman.

Tonight's book party ran contrary to the standard cuisine of sports writers. Instead of beer and hot dogs, it was wine and cheese. Will success spoil them?

A good book.

"Star Trek" is a hit--There's no final to the frontier

The original cast

The series survives network cancellation, awful costumes, different writers and directors, "Scotty, I need more power," plot changes overly dependent on the space-time continuum, and on and on. Yet the story line has been resonating for decades. So beam me up and answer: what's the fundamental basis of its appeal?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

World, are you there?

My first posting.
I will reserve my deep thoughts for later.