Steel Bridge

On my last full day in Portland, I grab a toasty pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks in the morning – standing in line with the millions of other under-caffeinated teachers too – and head to my last few sectionals at the conference.

I have my map and my plan in my pocket, and when the last sectional is over, I bolt and head for the trams with my flat-rate box in tow. The day is overcast and chilly, but there’s no rain. That’s a major plus.

I quickly hop to the main post office – the only one open on Saturday – and drop off the box to ship home. In the parking lot I see this:

A majorly blinged-out Astro van.

Now that is a special van.

Under the pink sign.

From the Post Office, I ride the tram a few more stops to 3rd & Oak, where I can walk to Voodoo Doughnuts and Stumptown Coffee. I spot Stumptown on the right of the street, but I want to have coffee and doughnuts, so I join the very orderly queue for Voodoo Doughnuts. The neatest thing about the outside of the building is the glittery, sparkling paint on the bricks. Now that is an amazing exterior decorating trick. I think more buildings should be painted in multi-faceted glitter paint.

I am distracted by shiny objects.
The Loop, Dirty Old – , Voodoo Doll,
& Maple-Bacon Doughnuts

The second thing you notice about Voodoo Doughnuts is not only how orderly the queue is but also the vents from the bakery spewing out the scent of the baking doughnuts. As if I wasn’t hungry enough – I wanted to save room for doughnuts, coffee, and a food truck lunch – the fragrance of the sugary dough was making all of us a bit antsy whilst waiting. A couple standing behind me took several pictures of me, and we discussed which doughnuts we wanted as we waited. It was a bit like the bakery goods game in Maid of Honor.

Get in my belly.

We finally get our doughnuts, and I take the easily-identifiable pink doughnut box out to the picnic tables and dig in with everyone else. People are sporting lattes and hot chocolates and boxes of doughnuts, and it’s a friendly atmosphere outside. People are chatting and checking out what doughnuts   others got. I decided to save some more for later, so I bite into the raspberry jelly-filled Voodoo doll doughnut so that it basically bleeds all over. I have to get rid of the creepy clown-face anyway…

Oh, lovely!

After Voodoo, I go back to Stumptown Coffee to order one of their famous designer lattes, and, since it is so chilly and damp, the hot, steaming latte is the absolutely perfect way to keep warm as I explore the city. With the signature “leaf” pattern in the steamed milk, I happily accept the vanilla latte and set out again to traverse Portland.

Up on the rooftop … dude,
the reindeer paused.

Now, I’m venturing to the waterfront to walk along the river. As I near it, I see a whole bunch of tents and vendors set up – it’s the Burnside Saturday World Market, which I had hoped to find but had no definitive idea of where it was located since the cartoon map I had was so vague. This was an amazingly eccentric collection of people of many nationalities. Holy cow. I ended up wandering in the maze of tents, taking in the alternating scents of homemade soaps, BBQ, hemp, damp wool, frying veggies in a wok, funnel cakes, and smoky incense. People chattered in a mixture of languages – I swear I heard Mandarin in there somewhere – and hawked their goods. I ended up buying cinnamon sugar hazelnuts and sitting on the cold Skidmore Fountain – no longer running with water for the winter season – watching all the people around me and listening to the mountain music stylings of a folk group that sounds eerily reminiscent of Iron & Wine.

Another coffee house
Ankeny Square: Saturday World

The early afternoon sun finally breaks through the heavy bank of clouds and sort of dazzles on the river. After pushing through hundreds of people meandering around the market, I wander south along the river, finding the Oregon Maritime Museum – essentially, a large steamboat paddlewheel – and then go further south still until I come to the Morrison Bridge. I snap a few photos here and there of the bridges of Multnomah County – Morrison, Steel, Hawthorne, and Burnside. They’re scenic in a highly industrial fashion, I suppose.

Stone guardian

Walking by oneself provides many opportunities for reflection. Since there are not many people about except for a few intrepid joggers and bikers, I’m able to stare at the shimmery water and appreciate the chance to be in Portland. It may not be exotic, but it was an incredible place. Full of quirks and fun little  detours just when you thought you’d found what you’d wanted to find in the first place. I had not been particularly adventurous in Shanghai, other than heading out with others, and I wish the weather would hold out a bit longer without all the bleeding rain I’m hearing about (and now experiencing, three weeks in from the Portland trip). In the spring, my goal is to take the Metro to various stops, get off, and explore the area. What an interesting way to get to know the city!

Sunshine and autumn trees in the riverside park

One detour I hadn’t expected was the Japanese-American Memorial Garden. I spent a few years teaching about their internment during WWII, and it was a good history lesson to read the haikus carved into the rocks. For our upcoming justice unit, I’ll be able to show the photographs to the class and probably get one good discussion going too. It was a lovely memorial that few people tended to look at as they walked by. I think it’s a history not very often discussed.

One stone @ the memorial

When I’ve gone as far south on the riverwalk as I wish, I start back north again, wandering on the streetside of things to photograph the old river buildings. This takes me back up towards the market area and to the next part of my day: Old Town.

Old Town Neon

I found the neon “Portland, Oregon: Old Town” sign, and I walked into the city from there, looking for the actual Old Town section. A few blocks in, I find the buildings on the map and the tram stop. Of course, the other part of Old Town is, ironically, Chinatown. And that, of course, I never seem to be very far from.

Oregon Maritime Museum

Since it is still earlier in the day than I thought, I’m able to slow down and take my time in browsing the streets of this city section. It’s time for my third latte of the day, so my objective is to find an open coffee shop, which, it turns, can be difficult even on a Saturday afternoon. A few that I’ve passed already happen to be closed, so when I find Floyd’s Coffeehouse in Chinatown, I’m very happy that it’s open and not super-busy. I order another vanilla latte and take this one to the back of the shop, find a comfortable chair, and rest, as I haven’t sat down in close to three hours. I see several students plugging away at their laptops, and then I check out the artwork up on the walls. It’s one of those fun and hip places where cool people go. But I’m just a freezing cold tourist, so I hardly look the part. I just want a hot coffee, a comfy chair, and some time to look over my map so I don’t end up lost in the dark.

No problem!

Rejuvenated, I take off once more, finding the Hoodoo Antique Shop; I love antique stores simply for the inane historical value of some of the items,
several of which I can’t figure out its original function. A random woman tries to get me to buy an old-fashioned wooden sled, which, I’m fairly sure, will not fit in my checked luggage and would never qualify as a carry-on. From there, I find the Chinese Garden quite by accident, and when I greet a worker there, he is affronted when I try out my Chinese on him. He simply states, “I speak English” and wants me to buy a ticket inside. Since I truly can’t justify $9 (54 RMB) for a ticket when I live around several Chinese gardens in China and decide not to go in, he becomes more annoyed when I snap a picture of the stone guard outside the entrance and take off, secure in the knowledge that my amateur attempt at Mandarin is much more appreciated in China than in America.

As I bopped along the Chinatown streets, I thought of how familiar such architecture and the characters have become to me. The quiantness of them, when in America, is charming; when you can’t figure out what something is or where you are going (and there’s no pinyin!), it’s part of real life. It’s fascinating how different things have become for me.

After another hour of wandering on nearly deserted streets, I’m hungry enough now for supper. I’ve already chosen Old Town Pizza, which is in the hotel where they used to Shanghai people onto ships. I find the irony quite interesting, so I can’t resist having a good American pizza there and a pint or two of Sam Adams Oktoberfest from the tap. The building is so American frontier cool that even Wyatt Earp would be impressed. All sorts of wooden beams and wooden tables and hinges on the floor and some historically appropriate paintings and knick-knacks.

Inside Old Town Pizza

Down once more to the

I did admittedly harass the waiter a bit, poor guy, when I asked him if I could get Shanghaied. He said, “Uh, you could take the tunnel tour tonight…” and I went on to explain that I lived there now and thought it might save me an expensive and long flight the next day back to Shanghai. A rather pitiful smile later, I had my frothy Sam Adams and a large pizza with mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, chicken, and red peppers. Crispy, hot, and full of melty cheese, I was loving the atmosphere and chatting back and forth with the guy at the next table about the merits of historical preservation. Why not. Beer and pizza can start many a conversation.

Definitely a trap…door

I wrap up the rest of the pizza, gather up my bags, and prepare to return to my hotel to pack up my things for my flight on Sunday. It’s been a wonderful day of exploring, roaming, and reflecting. I’ve actually come to enjoy spending time on my own, with my thoughts, and in conversation with people I wouldn’t normally strike up a word with otherwise. In Portland, I got the unique chance to talk to some very interesting people. I learned a little bit about myself – that I like a balance between being on my own and exploring for myself and hanging out with others. I wanted the chance to go out on weekends and try out different things, and that’s something I’ve been so very happy about here. Some weekends it feels like college again, except you actually have money to spend and you don’t have all those crazy rules either. We’re building a community here, and it’s been a journey.

Steel Bridge

So, I close my trip to Portland with the resolve to keep exploring. To keep finding the odds and ends that tourists don’t see. I used to feel like I was a tourist of my own life – always holding on to that one hallmark experience as the end-all, be-all of twenty-eight years of life. I was too busy looking at pictures and scrapbooks and saying, “Oh, some day I’ll do this…” or “Next year I’ll apply…” or “Gee, it’s been seven years since my trip…” I was flipping through Facebook and seeing a progression of others’ lives. Relationships. Marriages. Kids. And I knew I needed to do something to make the things I wanted happen – and not just wait. And not follow a map. I can’t follow a map to save my life anyway, so I suppose I had to make do with going off-course.

Morrison Bridge

I’ve been told several times over the last few months – and by many different people – that I had to be brave to do something like this – just pack up all my stuff, find corners of my mom’s house to store it in, and leave on a 14-hour flight to China without a whole lot of decision. I mean, I had only three months to prep for this when others had many more. I don’t feel brave a lot of the time, only very determined to stop wishing for things and actually start doing them.

Hawthorne Bridge

After all, it’s not like anyone else was going to hit the “SEND” button on the applications for me. No one else was going to live my life. And I’m sure no one else wanted to hear me go on and on about traveling and teaching overseas when I was too chicken to apply anyway. Did I anticipate anything that’s happened in the last six months? Lord no. This time last year I couldn’t have imagined where I’d be sitting right now.

Message on a bridge girder: the new message
in a bottle.

But, in the grand scheme of things, imagination and reality are two parallel roads that won’t intersect until you build a connecting bridge between them.

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