Celebrating the Leap Year in Seattle

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February 29th 2020
Published: March 28th 2020
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Mount RainierMount RainierMount Rainier

As observed from my plane seat as we left Seattle.
My spouse Jeff was invited to referee a diving meet in Federal Way, south of Seattle. As airfares were reasonable, I decided to tag along and enjoy a long weekend in the area. Incidentally, this was the same meet I followed Jeff to two years ago. Jeff arrived a few days before I did.

Revisiting a One-of-a-Kind Museum

I arrived in Federal Way mid-morning on Friday, February 28th. I decided to remain in the Federal Way vicinity that day as I wanted to revisit the amazing Pacific Bonsai Museumnearby. After checking in at the hotel, I consulted my Apple Maps app for directions for the three mile walk to the museum. When I did this walk two years ago, I walked through a slightly iffy area, and so I felt relieved when the app suggested a different route to get there. I happily set out on the alternate route, but I started feeling a little wary when I realized the route cut through a mobile home park. I felt like I was intruding, but I was also pleasantly surprised to see that the mobile homes were set in a pleasant environment with lawns and even a clubhouse with a swimming pool - a far cry from the
Pacific Bonsai MuseumPacific Bonsai MuseumPacific Bonsai Museum

This Japanese black pine was propagated by a Japanese internee in the 1940s. I was amazed how he could create such a work of art under such awful circumstances.
depictions we see on television. Sadly, this shortcut turned out to be too good to be true; after crossing the mobile home park, I encountered a fence between me and the road I was supposed to join. Ugh. I silently cussed the Apple Maps app and switched to Google Maps, which had me doubling back through the mobile home park and walking along the main roads again. The roads leading to the Weyerhauser campus (where the museum is housed) were slightly iffy but I didn't feel threatened in any way. Along the way, I noted there were quite a number of Korean businesses. In many US cities this is an early harbinger of gentrification.

The Pacific Bonsai Museum was just as amazing the second time round. This time, I paid more attention to the signage. I learned that one of the bonsai - a Japanese black pine - had been propagated during World War II by a Japanese internee. I was struck by how someone who had been detained under such awful circumstances could still channel his energy into creating such a thing of beauty. On my prior visit, I didn't pay much attention to the largest bonsai in
Underground City TourUnderground City TourUnderground City Tour

These random glass-like squares peeked out from below ground, and they were partially visible on the sidewalks above ground. Now look at my next photograph...
the museum because I didn't even think it could be a bonsai. This time, I read the description and I learned it was more than a century old and it had won awards all over the world!

After strolling through the museum, I called an Uber to take me back to the commercial hub of Federal Way. I ate seafood chowder for lunch at Ivar's (a local chain specializing in seafood), wandered around the area for a bit, and then hung out in the room waiting for Jeff to be done with his duties for the day. That evening, we drove out to downtown Seattle for dinner with his cousin. We had a pleasant time catching up over an amazing bowl of Vietnamese crab and shrimp noodle soup.

Leap Year Sightseeing

After breakfast with Jeff's diving judge friends, I took the public bus to downtown Seattle. After briefly wandering around Pike Place, I walked about a mile eastwards along the waterfront towards Pioneer Square, where I had booked a tour of Seattle's Underground City. In the 1880s, a big fire burned down most of Seattle's first downtown - a roughly two block area centered around Pioneer Square.
Underground City TourUnderground City TourUnderground City Tour

This is what the skylights looked like underground. Each little prism channeled natural light from above to light up the tunnels underneath.
Prior to that, the original city had been built on an area that had been prone to flooding, and there was no space for infrastructure such as sewers. After the fire, the city rebuilt itself one level up, and the original city went underground - literally and figuratively. The underground tour was fascinating. The docent regaled us with a lot of information about the history of the area, and what happened when the original city was built over. The most fascinating snippet of information for me was how skylights brought natural light into the underground. Descriptions of the activities what went underground - think speakeasies, burlesque shows, and opium dens - were also fascinating. Overall, this was a great tour and it was well worth the $20 fee.

After the tour, Jeff texted me to tell me he was on a long break and he was on his way up to meet me. I met him and one of his judge friends at Pike Place, where we wandered looking at the shops, the chewing gum wall, and the first ever Starbuck's. Jeff purchased a rubber chicken to replace one that was lost a few years back. It's a given
Manolin RestaurantManolin RestaurantManolin Restaurant

Locally sourced oysters to start. The rest of the meal was so good, and I was occupied chatting with Liz, Jeff, and another coach, that I neglected to take more photos. Other items we consumed included rockfish cerviche, plantain chips, crispy black rice with squid (hands down one of the most amazing dishes I have ever had), kale, and a couple others. It was great catching up with Liz too! I met her and her husband in Laos in 2017.
that he will use the darned thing to annoy me. We also encountered a drag queen booth with a sign that said "prepare to be shaded". Jeff gamely went in expecting shade to be thrown at him, but the drag queen told him she doesn't do that. Disappointed, we walked away with a photo op and a pair of sunglasses (shades).

After that, we headed out to the Ballard area to meet my friend Liz, whom I met in Laos back in 2017. Liz is the Executive Chef at Manolin and Rupee Bar. A rising star in the Seattle dining scene, she is a semifinalist for this year's James Beard awards. At Manolin, Liz prepared some amazing fare for us. The highlight of the meal was a crispy black rice dish. The cerviche and oysters were also really good. After this early dinner, we headed back down to Federal Way for Jeff to continue his meet duties.

Post-Travel Note

Some of you may have put two and two together and realized that we were in the vicinity of the United States' first major coronavirus outbreak. There weren't any significant travel advisories in place when we made this trip, and the alarm bells only sounded after we returned home. Jeff and I
Pike PlacePike PlacePike Place

This was the biggest disappointment of our Pike Place visit. Jeff gamely walked up to this drag queen, newly-purchased rubber chicken in hand, expected to get shaded. All we walked away with was a photo op and a pair of sunglasses.
have not exhibited any symptoms, and we are well past the known 14 day incubation period. We requested to be tested for coronavirus but our healthcare provider declined to test us. Our guess is that they had to ration the criminally low supply of test kits, and, as we were asymptomatic, we weren't a priority for them. Jeff and I are observing Hawaii's stay-at-home guidelines, and we are practicing social distancing whenever we leave the house, which is mostly to get groceries and to exercise. We're both working from home, and, like most other people, we are trying to get through this with as much humor and grace as we can muster. A big part of this involves watching bad shark movies on the SyFy channel (think Five Headed Shark Attack, its sequel Six Headed Shark Attack, etc.)

Stay safe, everyone. This shall pass, and, before long, we'll all be hitting the road once again with gusto and, more importantly, with renewed gratitude.

Additional photos below
Photos: 37, Displayed: 26


Pacific Bonsai MuseumPacific Bonsai Museum
Pacific Bonsai Museum

The abandoned Weyerhauser campus. It's a beautiful campus. I hope it is converted into a public space.
Pacific Bonsai MuseumPacific Bonsai Museum
Pacific Bonsai Museum

There are 59(!) trees on this bonsai!
Pacific Bonsai MuseumPacific Bonsai Museum
Pacific Bonsai Museum

If you look closely, you will see bees among the flowers.
Pacific Bonsai MuseumPacific Bonsai Museum
Pacific Bonsai Museum

Due to its size, I didn't think this was a bonsai first time I saw it two years ago. This time round, I read the description and I learned that this bonsai is over a century old and has won awards all over the world.
Manolin Restaurant.Manolin Restaurant.
Manolin Restaurant.

Jeff insists on mixing rubber chickens with fine dining.

28th March 2020

Mermaid on a diet
Interesting to see how the mermaid got thinner and more modest over the years.
28th March 2020

Wow, you’re right...
It’s sad that even a representation of a mythical creature has to conform to an ideal body image.
30th March 2020
Pacific Bonsai Museum

Amazing Bonsai!
This might well be the most beautiful one I've seen yet!
30th March 2020
Pacific Bonsai Museum

This was among my favorites too!
This bonsai reminded me that these are actual trees.
30th March 2020

Glad you and Jeff are ok
Glad neither of you caught the new virus. I've been home myself for a week now and I'm looking at another week ahead of me at home due to a cough and a runny nose. No clue if I caught the new virus or not but I'm following the official guidelines. I really wish they would test here in Sweden though as it would be nice to know if I actually need to keep isolated or not. I'm just looking forward to when this is all done and over with so that I can get back on the road.
30th March 2020

Actually, we don’t know if we have the virus...
We’re asymptomatic, but we haven’t been tested. There is an awful shortage of test kits here in the US. We’re maintaining social distance and staying home as much as we can. Like you, we want to know whether we have it. We don’t want to be the next Typhoid Mary. Take care of yourself and I hope you feel better soon.
1st April 2020

Glad you got home safe and virus-free Siewch. Seattle looks intriguing, and I like the way you got deep down to some interesting, quirky and off-the-beaten track sights there. Thank you also for the message of encouragement in these strange times, giving hope that we will indeed return to normal at some point, and will be appreciating the gift of travel again more than ever before. Take care at this time, be safe and healthy.
1st April 2020

Quirky Seattle
Seattle has lots of entries in Atlas Obscura; I would love to spend more time here and slowly check off the Atlas Obscura entries one by one. It’s a really fun city and you should visit if you haven’t already done so. Stay safe.
1st April 2020

We lived in Seattle for several years. It is a great city. I've never been to the Bonsai museum. I'll have to check that out next time I'm up there. Love the underground tour. Glad you didn't get sick. Stay safe.
1st April 2020

Bonsai Museum
I would never have known about it if we hadn’t stayed near the Aquatic Center (where a Jeff goes to hedge/referee dive meets). It’s a true gem! Stay safe.

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