Take to the Road

I finished reading a book today called The Songlines. Written by Bruce Chatwin, it describes his trip to Australia to learn about the Aboriginal cultures of the continent. The work, a mixture of travel memoir, fiction and philosophy, is based on an actual trip he took a couple years before his death in 1989. It details Chatwin's travels on the continent as he tries to understand the “songlines.”

The songlines are the fundamental element of the Aboriginal creation stories. At the beginning of time, the “Dreamtime”, the Ancestors created themselves out of clay and began to wander across the earth, singing out the names of everything they saw—animals, plants, rocks and streams—thus defining their existence.

The paths that the Ancestors traveled on as they sang are known as songlines (or dream-tracks), and the songs are passed down from generation to generation. When an aboriginal goes ‘walkabout’, he follows the original songline that his ancestors did. The songs are always sung in exactly the same way, as a way of maintaining the creation. If a wanderer remembers his song and does not deviate from its path, he can never get lost. The melodies along each line are constant from one end of the continent to the other. They are transferred across boundaries where one clan’s territory ends and another’s begins. The melody stays the same, even as the words would change. In addition to maintaining the creation, the songlines also act as trading routes among the clans.

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Destination Delirium

I was excited when I woke up with a plan for Friday—to find Delirium. After reading the story, some of you might think that I started out there (pun definitely intended). My quest to find the best coffee shops in the area is not limited to downtown and I had heard about a café in Gresham that was supposed to be a good one, Café Delirium (thanks Desiree). Since I’m trying to get to know Portland and the best way to get the feel for a place is to see it on foot, I decided to walk from downtown out to the café, following Burnside Street as far as I could. Google Maps said it was only 13.5 miles (it turned out to be 14.3 miles) and estimated it would take 4.5 hours. That was only half a day—no problem!

Before I left the house at 8:30am, I later saw in the paper that the forecast was for periods of rain. That made me a little nervous because I didn’t want to get soaked. Then again, living in Portland, you have to get used to walking in the rain. I wasn’t going to let it stop me. Besides, if it started raining too much, I could just step into a café along the way and wait it out. The downpours here don’t usually last too long. The drizzle does, but not the heavy rain.

It was a great morning for walking, despite the humidity. The temperature was cool, but there was no wind, so I was comfortable walking in a t-shirt, jeans and my ever-present Chacos.

Fountains and mountains, two reasons Portlanders love living here

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Wandering about Southeast PDX

It was a brisk and somewhat damp morning in Portland when I set out walking. The sun was trying to burn through the light clouds, but with rain forecasted for the afternoon, I was not optimistic that it would win. Like my last wandering, I headed eastward again, crossing the Hawthorne (green) bridge over the tranquil Willamette River. It was just before 9am when I crossed, and there was a constant stream of bicycles zipping towards me as commuters made their way into downtown. Portland is a bike-friendly city (another sustainability thing) and the mayor, Sam Adams has a reputation for advocating for bike commuting. He recently (and controversially) designated some of the city’s water and sewer funds to improving bike lanes and bike safety.

As I crossed the river, I realized that my toes were cold. That may sound like a strange observation, but since my trip to Beijing this summer, I have hardly worn any shoes other than my open-toed Chaco sandals. When I first got them, I was a little skeptical about their suitability for walking. In addition, wearing sandals seemed a little too Portlandish for me. However, after spending five weeks in Beijing, I admit I really like them. They keep your feet cool and are good for wandering for miles, especially once your feet get used to them. However, as the rainy season approaches, I don’t know if I will put the sandals away in favor of shoes or not. Might be a little too cool to keep wearing them (the weather, not me).

On the other side of the bridge I followed Clay street until it veered right and turned into Ladd Street. Ladd took me through a neighborhood of large older houses and there were massive elm trees on either side of the street, forming a tunnel overhead. At the end of the tunnel was Ladd Circle, a wide traffic circle with a small park in the center. On the opposite side of the circle I spotted Palio Dessert and Espresso House (review here). It looked like a great place to make my first stop of the day.

After a longer than expected stop at Palio, my wandering began anew. I left the café and walked up Harrison Street, which I would follow for the next few miles. Harrison, as it turns out, is one of the streets that Portland has modified to encourage bicycle commuting. There are bike symbols all along the street, and medians had been placed at major cross streets (leaving a gap for bikes) to discourage cars from traveling down it. As far as I could tell, the changes seemed to be effective. I saw many more bikes than cars or pedestrians.

Being bike-friendly

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Small-Town Beijing (Last Day, Part 1)

Have you ever had a day that you still cannot believe happened? My last full day in Beijing was like that. After finally getting to bed at 5am the night before, I woke up at 10am with big plans for my last day. There were still a couple of things I needed to buy for my family so I decided to go to the Silk Street market, a famous place in Beijing where foreigners go to bargain for cheap knock-offs of luxury brand goods. My second goal was to get a haircut. I hadn’t been to the barber in a while, and I figured that between my mediocre language skills and the natural flair for creativity that most hairstylists have, I might end up with a haircut worth writing about.

BLCU is in the northwestern part of Beijing, and the market is about an hour away by metro, a couple miles east of Tiananmen Square. (I always reference Tiananmen, because on a map of Beijing, Tiananmen sits at the center of the rectangular city that surrounds it). By taxi, it is about 15 miles (22km +/-) and I was too cheap to get a taxi by myself (A taxi costs about $10 US, and the train, $0.30). So I took the train.

There were seventeen stops between me and my destination, plus two transfers, so the trip was going to take a little over an hour. I hadn’t eaten breakfast that morning, and there was only one stop after the second transfer, so I decided to skip the last stop and walk to the market. That way I could get something to eat and see a new neighborhood (another opportunity to wander). Including the subway ride, the walking and lunch, I expected to be at the market by 1pm.

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Blue Skies!

After raining all day yesterday, the sun came out in full force today. I was delighted to see that Beijing has a brilliant blue sky. I have never seen it like that here. It was amazing to see the transformation of the city. You could easily see for miles. When you live in Portland or Boston or Dayton, it’s hard to appreciate how well you can see. Imagine living in Portland and not being able to see anything east of the Willamette from Washington park. If Portland had Beijing-type air, some people might not even know that Mount Hood existed!

Given the fact that it was so beautiful outside, I had to take a walk. It would have been better for my test score tomorrow to stay in and study, but when the air is clear, don't waste it! Today’s wander was not that exciting, but it was good exercise. I headed east from the university along Qinghua East road for a few miles until I ran into the Olympic Park.

A spectacular day at Olympic Park

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