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Seattle

view on downtown from asia town

I am sitting in a café called Panama Hotel Tea House adjacent to the hotel with the same name – a historic house previously occupied by Japanese. I don’t know the details, but this entire district is called Asia town and there are black and white pictures on the wall showing Asians standing in shops with Asian script. The owner is Caucasian but hands over documents with both hands – there is some Asian connection there as well. Anyway, did not bother to google this yet, I leave that to you guys. They don’t just call the place “historic” because of its past but also to manage expectations – no elevators, no private bathrooms, slow internet, no proper sockets. But everything is charming and lovely. I had picked this hotel primarily for its low price around 120 $, which is less than half of what was available this time Seattle. My company had approved 4 nights for this trip which was supposed to be entirely business related, but I wanted to stay longer and so paid the rest myself, relocating to this interesting location for the last 3 nights of my trip.

From what I have seen, Seattle has many different facets, ranging from Downtown area with its narrow streets and high-rise buildings à la New York City, to places such as first Avenue with its “urban classic” brownstone and stucco buildings, to upscale residential areas by one of the lakes or the ocean, to what I call Amazon town, the office building area where everyone on the street wears my kind of employee badge. Seattle even has its own beach, though I am told it is mostly too cold to do any decent swimming. Bottom line, Seattle has much to offer. Looking at the Downtown high rises from the perspective of a neighbourhood with lower buildings such as Asia town is an amazing sight because of the combination of staggered, rising buildings in different styles. I like looking at this urban monumental sculptures much more than specific buildings or museum pieces because in between that orchestra of buildings life happens. So I walk and look – a lot: My App tells me I have been walking 9.5 km during this half day alone.

Seattle is driven by the many large international companies that are based here – Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, UPS, to name just a few. With less than a million inhabitants (though it feels much more), the likelihood of any random person working for one of these companies is high. Seattle is economically successful, growing fast, and – at least by my German standards – quite expensive (though not as expensive as the Bay Area from what I hear, so it could be worse). A decent apartment would cost me about 1700 Dollars, a trusted colleague with comparable taste tells me.

The locals who have not benefitted from this development don’t seem too happy about it – during my short trip here, two locals have involved me in a conversation about how the big companies have just driven prices up, how Seattle is not what it used to be, how Amazon employees think they own the place and how they have to take up several jobs in order to afford the rent. (One of these conversations happened with an Über driver and me sitting in the back, wearing my Amazon badge and having instructed him to drive me to the Apple Store so I could buy myself a Macbook which is cheaper in the US – to which he replied “It is still expensive to most people” – that was kind of awkward). The other conversation happened with the concierge of Panama Hotel who also shared some interesting (no irony) perspectives on fascism and anti-fascism in Europe and his view on the refugee crisis.

Speaking of politics – everyone I talk to is of course against Trump and finds him embarassment and his high voter shares remain a mystery.

Another overall observation that I was reminded of is: Americans are generally a friendly, relaxed species. They are hospitable, polite, funny and generally in a good mood. Some conversations are superficial by my European imprinted taste that tends to prefer subtlety, irony and a hint of cynicism, but overall I still prefer interacting with a friendly, good-spirited person than with a grumpy, (mostly pseudo) intellectual. The American straight-forwardness and tendency to simplify which is often erroneously interpreted as a certain dumbness by European anti-Americans to me is actually an ability to grasp the essence of things and stay light about it. That is why American comedy TV shows are funny and German are not.

Time to leave this creative exercise for more important endeavours – buying myself a souvenir in Starbuck’s “Roastery and Tasting Room”, a kind of Willy Wonka factory for coffee, mixed with a coffee shop, museum shop and library.

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