It’s Really Happening

So I received my visa number today, made an appointment at the Korean consulate in Seattle for 10:00 AM on Thursday.

I am arranging my transportation to Seattle, and my recruiter called me and told me to send her my visa confirmation so that they can research cheap flights to South Korea. So unless anything comes up between now and then, it is happening. These details are basically just a formality, from my understanding. I will be moving to South Korea to teach English for one year.

It is strange when things actually fall in place and happen. You have a plan, and it is executed, but between then and now, so much happens, and your perspective changes so much. But this is a broad statement that can be applied to anything.

I was pending on going to do this two years ago, but it was not the right time I suppose. I have memories of researching the EPIK public school program while I was working my first official ESL teacher job back in the Bronx in 2008. I didn’t wind up in Korea at that point, but in Southern California. And then Israel, then Egypt and Jordan. Then I moved to Portland, Oregon, for about a year and a half. I stayed put sometimes, working as a freelance writer or substitute teacher, but other times I ventured off, to Washington, to California, to Mexico, to Canada and back.

Right now I’m finishing packing up my room. It’s beginning to look less and less like my dwelling. My boyfriend already moved out.

I went to New York for a few days to drop off some of my informal clothes and pick up some warm weather/teacher clothes. Said bye to the city I was born for an indefinite period. Back here, I’m just tying up loose ends now, counting off the days, while taking care of the boring paper work and other errands.

I will miss Portland, I really will. I’ll miss riding my white Schwinn bike, which was the first bike I really learned how to ride with. I’ll miss the coffee, the air, the bridges, the concerts, the house I lived in, the cats in the streets, the 24 hour tacos and food carts, the creeps on the bus and the endless rose and vegetable gardens. I’ll miss my friends visiting me and going on adventures. I’ll miss my lifestyle. I’ll miss Oregon, the hot springs and the breezy coast and green forests and mountains. Maybe I’ll even miss the rain.

It is definitely time to move on. I’ve wanted to do this for a while. My contract is for one year, so I’ll certainly be there for that long. The future after that is uncertain, but I hope to determine some of that when I am there. I have many vague ideas, but nothing for sure. Right now, I’ll just hang out here in limbo and wait for things to work themselves out before I board the plane.

NW Music Festival

I went to the NW Music Festival over the weekend, which was an event where you can buy a wristband and get access to a bunch of different venues around the city. It was a nice motivation to get out, as I hadn’t been out for three nights in a row for years.

I started the festival off with going to the Roseland theater Thursday night, in which there were two men wearing Indian-style shirts, each set up with a drum set, drumming along to a soundtrack. I thought it was kind of goofy. The follow-up act was Big Freedia, a flamboyant Bounce rapper from New Orleans, who was far more enthusiastic and with it.

Next stop was the Ash Street Saloon. I had never been there before, but it was a pretty fun time, the Bellrays interacted well with the audience and got all in and danced with them. Their opening band, Garotas Suecas, was some garage band from Sao Paolo that I’d been intending to see for months, so I finally got my chance.

Saturday I went through a few places. Started off at the Wonder Ballroom for the Black Lips, which were okay, I’ve seen them play better shows, especially when Nike wasn’t sponsoring them. We then biked downtown and hung out at the Ash Street Saloon for their cheap drinks, but the music was a bit whiny. Our final stop was Dante’s, so we decided to stay there for a while and wait for the bands we wanted to see, as the lines can get pretty long if you’re not already in. Thee Oh Sees from San Francisco played, they were fun to watch. The headliner for this show was the Gories, an old garage band from Detroit. I’d seen the singer play for the Dirtbombs a few times, but the Gories were great, nice and simple music and playing all sorts of originals and covers. The audience was a bit rowdy, full of leather-toters and bare-chested greasers, but a bit away from the main action was better.

The third night we went to Holocene, a venue in Southeast I’d never been to before. A lot of really well-dressed youth were there, sporting their back tattoos or tight, yellow pants, or faux- or true-fur coats. The acts all had good music, all seeming to be centered out of tangling cords or Macbooks. Big Freedia was once again the headliner, being bouncy and energetic all to a new crowd.

Though I am leaving Portland pretty soon, I will definitely miss the well-organized, fun weekends.

PDX International Rose Test Garden

After living in Portland for a year and a half, I finally made it to the International Rose Test Garden.

I have to say that I never thought it was necessary because Portland is already called the “City or Roses” or “Rose City,” or whatever, all the time. They’re everywhere! There’s a medium-sized rose garden near my house at Peninsula Park, and every residential block you walk through is bound to have at least two rose bushes growing in front lawns.

However, I was impressed with this International Rose Garden. It is situated on top of a hill in a wooded area and manicured almost perfectly.

Each bush has a different type of rose displaying its particular color to the world, whether white or red or white with red tips, or small purple ones or huge pink ones. It was an interesting experience to get up and personal with the roses and examine their lovely form and sniff what they have to offer, and compare it to other smells I have come across in my life, whether sweet tarts or lavender or perfume or sugar or cucumbers or the other rose I had just smelled.

I think the best way to experience this place is to get really close with the specific batches of roses with all of your senses and display their unique differences, and then step back a bit, walk around, gaze over some new bushes from a distance and see and smell and hear their collective make-up.

This place also made me nostalgic for a small rose garden I would frequent in Prague. This one was up a hill in a big park near where I was living, behind that psuedo Eifel Tower and before some other strange-looking socialist dormitories. I would walk through it almost daily when the weather was nice or almost nice, and do what I did at the new rose garden, by touching and smelling and observing their individual characteristics and collective whole. Gardeners would often trim this garden to keep it neat, so I would pick up the expired flowers and their thorns from their piles on the ground so that I could bring them back to my tiny, spartan dormitory for subtle decoration. I think all rose gardens in the future will always remind me of this one…

Northwest Urban Lakes

While I was in Seattle, I randomly decided to go to a place called Green Lake. I thought it would be some small pond of no importance in some public park, but I was very surprised at its reality.

It turned out to be a decent-sized lake, with people all around swimming, diving off the diving boards, sun bathing, sailing, fishing and paddling. The water was remarkably clear for it being in such a densely populated city, and its shore was lined with a path with lots of lovely trees, flowers and blackberry bushes.

I was surprised at how clean the water was, I actually got in for a bit and went for a walk, far enough that the water would not hit the tip of my shorts. Others enjoyed the park by circling the lake, and there were lots of dog walkers, parents with strollers and joggers that look like they came there a lot.

Back in Portland, I wanted to go check out Laurelhurst Park in Southeast, the urban lake I am most familiar with. Though not Greek Lake, it is a pleasant place to daze off at the brown waters and watch the turtles basking and the ducks waddling.

I was surprised to find this lake had been immensely reduced. It was locked off entirely by a steel fence, and some sign said that they were draining the lake and taking the fish out.

There was one part where you could get sort of near where the lake used to be, and this was fortunately the area that you could also feed the ducks. The sign on the fence said that the birds would go elsewhere and then return once they refilled the water, but I guess a few of them were too stubborn to move. These birds were all funneling their beaks throughout the bleak mud, to navigate their new fraction of a swimming hole that was really a small puddle.

We fed them some burger buns through and over the fence, and talked about how strange this place now looked.

Coming and Going

Come summertime, Portland turns into a new place. The sun shines, and people breeze by on their bikes, showing off their cherished cut-off clothing that they have had in storage all year, looking forward to the magic day they do not have to suffer from constant dampness.

I was sitting on the bench the other day and a woman noticed how smiley everyone had become, as they had certainly earned it. I absolutely agree with that, as I’ve visited places where it is nice all year round, and no one appreciates it. I remember when I was in school in upstate New York, the first day of sun was so cherished, and everyone was out on their picnic blankets or playing volleyball or chess in the communal dorm yards. When the sun was nearing sunset, and the shadows would encompass our space, we would always move our blanket down a few feet over and over to catch the continuous rays.

I’ve been trying to watch the sunset every night that it’s clear. I’m skipping tonight because it is cloudy. However, I did watch it from my roof three days in a row, which was quite a treat. I get a spectacular view of the sun setting over the hills of pine-infested trees on the west side of the Willamette to the West, and then an interesting shadowed view of Mount Saint Helens to the North. This volcano looks white from its snow during the day, but during sunset, it gets shades of mystical purple.

I went to the bluffs off of Skidmore Street a couple nights ago, and that was quite a scene. People had picnics already set up, and were sipping wine and eating cheese and waiting for the magic colors to appear upon the solar descent.

Tomorrow, I shall leave. Though enjoyable in this weather, I’ve been here pretty much all alone, with no one to share my experience with, unless you count my cats. I’m looking forward to my flight to New York tomorrow night. Although it’s supposed to be hot and sticky and mosquito infested, I’m excited to see new old faces. I’m excited to see the trees have turned into summer, with their full leaves in stock and on display, because I was there last in Spring when everything was just budding. I have about a dozen potential plans I’d love to turn into reality, and I hope I have more to do than I expect.

Visiting the Capital

Today I went to Salem, Oregon, to get a few documents notarized. This journey started out by us taking the MAX Light Rail to the Greyhound station downtown and waiting in a long line of tired people, before they let us know that there were no reservations under either of our names even though my boyfriend had booked the ticket the previous night.

So we then walked to Powell’s Books and sat in the cafe and managed to luckily find a rideshare off craigslist. It was fortunate that I brought my laptop! We sat there for a while and read and zoned out a bit and drank some Jasmine tea. All the while I was trying to figure out my way of getting to Arcata, CA, next week, and possibly extending my flight back here from New York, neither of which I’ve successfully completed yet.

The ride was not bad. The rest of the people were going to Eugene. I’m familiarizing myself a little more each time with I-5 South, passing places like Tigard and Lake Oswego, which were in the past a bunch of unassociated names. The driver was nice, she passed the exit of her town, Canby, and told us how she grew up on a farm there, and how Canby is just a bunch of churches, fast food places and a few gas stations. We drove through the plains of farmlands and passed random exit signs.

When we finally got to the outskirts of Salem, we talked about how it resembled so many outskirts of American cities we have seen in the past and will see in the future. The men in the car talked about their hiking trips in the woods of Montana or North Carolina, and having shock after entrance upon these anywhere locations in the USA.

It was raining heavily when we were dropped off by Capital Street. We walked by the buildings labeled by their respective bureaucracies, whether they were transportation, taxes, and finally to human services or whatever it was called. We had a productive time of walking down the dim, marble halls, finding the office and finally getting our documents stamped and signed and sealed with a gold Oregon state sticker. We then got to wait at a bus stop outside this building and stare at the Oregon state capital building, which I’ve passed on the Greyhound bus before. A bunch of school children who were on a field trip there were exiting the capital and boarding the yellow school buses, and they did not seem too interested.

We took an express bus from Salem to the Wilsonville Transit Center, where we got on a WES commuter train. I had never even seen one of these trains before, let alone ride one. We passed through some rural areas which were either green and vast or recently developed with ugly suburban houses that all looked the same. On we rode to the Beaverton Transit Center, where we hopped on the MAX, and rode it to downtown Portland, over the bridge, past the Rose Quarter Convention Center and finally to the 6 bus. This whole ride was about 2.5 hours.

It was reassuring to come back to Portland with our documents finally officialized. I hope I will not ever return to Salem again.

Waiting for Summer

It has been very rainy lately. I’m looking forward to summer but this constant rainfall and teasing so-called “sunbreaks” really make it seem like a distant imaginary thing rather than something that will be spur of the moment. Someone told me before that the real summer of the Northwest really starts after the Fourth of July weekend, but I was in denial because it was so nice around this time last year.

I have a few summer plans I’d like to turn into reality. I’m supposed to head up to Seattle for the Northwest Folklife Festival this Saturday. Hopefully I’ll be able to make it happen, and hopefully the clouds will finally give us a break. I went last year and it was an eventful time of marching around a new city and seeing a variety of musical acts and dancers I would never expect in the same place, all conglomerated under the Space Needle.

I’m also trying to decide what to do for my birthday in mid-June. There’s a concert I want to see in the Bay Area, plus I have a lot more friends there than I do here, but there are supposed to be some fun things going on around Portland as well. I suppose that is a good problem to have!

I talked to a couple friends recently and also may have some visitors crashing at my place this summer, which is always fun. It gives you an excuse to step out of your routine and actually check out the city you live in but take for granted.

I’ll also be going to New York from June 30-July 13. New York City is a wonderful place in the summer, maybe crowded and full of car fumes and hot concrete, but definitely also full of enhanced delight from the millions of people who wait so long all year to have the sun.

I want to try to make it up to Binghamton, NY, where I went to school. I spend most of my time in NYC whenever I’m back on the East Coast, but I’m most nostalgic for my past summer drives up Route 17, where you finally get out of greater suburban New York and into upstate, from Bear Mountain, then past Orange County, along the Catskill Mountain borders, cutting through the little fishing villages on the bridges over the gushing river. I’d like to test what I actually remember from that drive, from the strange names of towns like Downsville and Fishs Eddy, the Beaver-something Log Cabins all beautifully situated on a grassy incline, the bleak-looking factory town of Deposit, and then an entrance into Broome County, under a highway overpass, where the surrounding hills would magically get shorter, the skies darker and cloudier and the air more humid, until you voyage into its post-industrial decaying city of Binghamton, a strange place of so many of my memories for better or worse.

Well, the sun just came out…

Riding Around Town

Portland can be a very pleasant city to ride around on bicycle. One of the reasons I decided to move here was because I would not have to buy a car. Sure there is public transport, but the city is set up especially nice for biking, and you do not have to squish against some unpleasant people.

Riding is especially fun when it is actually nice out and you are not being massacred by the thunderless rain, trying to keep your plastic hood shelled over your head by working against the force of the wind.

I think my favorite ride in Portland is from my house to the St Johns neighborhood via Willamette Boulevard. This is a long street that goes along the carved out road on the cliffs viewing the Willamette River down below. On part of this ride, you get an opportunity to see the hills of Forest Park on the West Side of the river. When you look at Forest Park from this perspective, you get a greater view on how the short trees change according to the season, whether light green in spring or deep green in summer, or red and brown in fall or naked in winter, against the pines that firmly stand forever tall and deeply green. You also get a wonderful view of downtown Portland, in a way that is always distantly hazy, and you can see the small and vague skyline, the fields of industrial, white warehouses, the Union Pacific tracks and the assortment of notable bridges.

Once you pass the university of Portland part, you are then in a largely residential area full of gridded small houses that usually have assorted yard sales in the warmer months. Further down, you begin to see the top of the minty green St John’s Bridge in the air from the distance, knowing you are approaching your destination.

The St John’s Bridge is especially scenic to ride under and look at the symmetry. It is situated above Cathedral Park, which is a manicured grassy field with loopy paths that take one straight downhill into the Willamette River shore. Though I would not recommend swimming in this river, some people do in fact enjoy it.

The St Johns neighborhood is a satisfying place to finally lock up your bike, full of friendly small businesses and casual strollers during the daytime hours. I’m fortunate that I live close enough to but far enough from St John’s to enjoy my journey and destination at a somewhat short reach.

Industry and Greenery

Not many people realize that Portland, Oregon is a very industrial city. Most just hear about it being the “Greenest city in the US,” or some similar rhetoric. Take the wrong turn out of some beautifully gardened neighborhoods, and you’ll find many smokestacks, warehouses, cargo, factories and all the works. Most of the Willamette River is lined with factories and huge truck parking lots. Yet it is all contrasted by the abundance of beautiful greenery and flowers that magically have the ability to grow in the Pacific Northwest.

I took these pictures at the University of Portland, which is a couple miles away from where I live. They have lots of interesting views of this dichotomy.