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Seattle is a fine town, one of the prettier cities I've been to. It's a lot like San Francisco: hilly, foggy, and sitting by the Elliot Bay. The city was founded by a branch of the pioneering Denny Party in 1851, although native American has been living around the area for at least 4,000 years. In fact the name Seattle came from Chief Sealth, a charismatic local native American tribal leader. The city became prosperous shortly after establishment owing to the booming lumber industry. The city continued to grow as a transportation center during the Alaska Gold Rush in the late 19th century. In the early 20th century and WWI, the ship building industry surged and the city evolved into a company town. After WWII, Boeing's growth in the airline market again drove the aircraft manufacturing industry as well as the whole economy; the city earned the nickname of "Jet City." The latest wave of economic drivers are from the tech sector: Microsoft, Amazon, T-mobile...
Although it's known to be the rainy city, Seattle actually received less rainfall annually (37.1 inch/ 94 cm) than many other major American cities: New York, Houston, Atlanta, to name a few. The reputation instead comes from the high frequency of rain and the high probability of cloudy weather (226 days per year). Fortunately the weather was quite nice when we stayed. In fact it's so clear that we can see Mount. Rainier 54 miles away in the background of the skyline. A walk along Alaskan Way late in the afternoon, enjoying the breeze from Elliott Bay, was refreshing.
Walking on Seattle streets, I realized that I have never seen so many hippies outside of Berkeley. They lie on the street with their dogs and guitars, enjoying or contemplating life by doing nothing. Some of them even look some sixty seventy years old. What do you know, it's been four decades since the Summer of Love and Jimi Hendrix's Woodstock extravaganza.
Speaking of Jimi Hendrix, the now deified guitar hero, was a native of Seattle. However, his music actually wasn't very well-received in Seattle early in his career. Not until he traveled to Europe had he started to gain world-wide recognition as the most creative, and perhaps the greatest guitarist of all time. What's equally startling as his skill and showmanship is his peculiar death in 1970 at the age of 27, which is bizarre even by rock musician standard - he was basically chocked to death by his own vomit, after a drug overdose.
To commemorate Jimi Hendrix and Seattle's rich music culture, Microsoft's Paul Allen founded the Experience Music Project (EMP), a musical museum. The building was designed by the famous Frank Gehry and was opened in 2001. We bumped into this funky building while driving towards the Spacer Needle tower, and it almost gave me a heart attack. My God, what a disastor. In front of us was this collection of heavily deformed sheet metal boxes, stacking together with no particular order. The twisted image of the Spacer Needle tower reflected painfully on its metallic surface. From the introduction, I learned that the museum is allegedly trying to resemble a smashed electric guitar. But how is a smashed guitar supposed to look like? I suppose you can make it look like anything depending on how high you get. Anyway, this is one of those buildings I can never understand. I particularly dislike the metal racks crawling on the top. I presume they symbolize broken guitar strings? But they are absolutely redundant aesthetically and I don't see any functional use of them. I have nothing against radical design, you see, but what we got here it's just plain clumsy chaotic ugliness. To sum it up, I don't think anyone can put it better than Herbert Mushcamp of the New York Times: the building looks like "something that crawled out of the sea, rolled over, and died."
Maybe Paul Allen got the idea, because he expanded the Museum to include a Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame (SFM) in 2004.
Note: the image of Jimi (2nd pic above) was taken from http://www.cathedralstone.net/Pages/JimiHendrix.htm.
Additional note: after replaying a few of Jimi Hendrix's songs, I understood a bit better what the EMP designer tried to capture: that rawness of inharmonic high pitch and amplifier feedback in Jimi's music, the abrupt changes in rhythm, the coarse metallic feeling... the ultimate example being his National Anthem at the 1969 Woodstock. But still, Mr. Frank Gehry is not forgiven: in architecture ugliness is ugliness is ugliness, there is no excuse.
Right next to the funky metal boxes stands the most famous landmark of Seattle, the Spacer Needle Tower. Built for the 1962 World's Fair, the tower is 605 ft (184m) high and weights 9,550 tons. It's not a particularly tall building, not even back in 1962, when it was finished. But with its carefully chosen location, with no skyscrapers around, and a sleek modern design, the Spacer Needle always dominates Seattle's skyline.
Seattle skyline from the observation deck of the Spacer Needle. That water-spitting ship is a fireboat of the Seattle Fire Department.
Pike Place Market is a must-go attraction in downtown Seattle. Opened in 1907, it's one of the oldest operating farmer's market in the US. "Meet the producer" is the market's mandate, meaning the booths selling produce, flowers, and handcraft items are operated by the farmers or craftspeople themselves. It's not a very large market place, but the intimate setting and friendly atmosphere is not something you commonly found in the west coast.
The bronze piggy bank on the entrance of the market is Rachel (2nd pic below), the unofficial mascot of the market. Modeled after a prized winning pig, it collects donation for the operation of the market. The local-grown flowers are incredibly cheap (last pic).
Famous shops in the market include the Pike Place Fish Market (4 pix) near the entrance and the original Starbuck Coffee Store (last 2 pix). The fish market is known for their traditional fishmonger practice of throwing fishes around before they wrap them for the customers. The Starbuck store was an inconspicuous small coffee shop opened in 1971, but you already know the rest of the story.
Some random shots of the city.
Yichi enjoying Seattle.
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