The El Nino weather system that is sending the Siberian Express rumbling through the Midwest and Southern United States and bringing Nor’easter to New York, Boston and the New England is also bringing unseasonable warm weather and clear skies to the Pacific Northwest. We have lived in Seattle for 3 of the past 4 years, with a year off in Shanghai, and this is the mildest winter of all. For my friends and family in the South, the Midwest and the Northeast, sorry. Come visit.
Last year, Melinda and I welcomed in the Chinese New Year (of the Horse) in Shanghai, China and the next day left for Hanoi, Vietnam where we celebrated Tet, the Vietnamese version of the lunar new year. Fast forward to 2015 and we took a break from work (Melinda) and birthday celebration (me) to make a trip to the International District, Seattle’s version of Chinatown. The dragon parade, kung fu demonstration, drivers ignoring the crosswalks and throngs of people waiting on restaurant lines and jamming the streets lent a slight flavor of our favorite Asian countries.
Last year at this time we experienced our first authentic Chinese New Year celebration. Unlike CNY in America, which seems to be limited to a Dragon Parade in a city’s Chinatown neighborhood, the Spring Festival celebration in China spans weeks, culminating in the loudest night of explosions anywhere outside an active war zone. This scene is on the street corner of our apartment compound, about 11 PM; the haze of smoke from burnt gunpowder made my nose and lips tingle and my eyes water. If I wasn’t already hard of hearing the explosions would have pushed me over the edge. After shooting this picture, the young man offered me a 8″ firecracker and his cigarette to light it, but I chose to keep my fingers attached to my hands.
This winter’s El Nino has buried the Northeast in snow, frozen the Midwest and South and left those of us in the Pacific Northwest basking in warm, dry days. We have had so many ridiculously beautiful sunsets that they are beginning to blur together.
One year ago, Melinda and I flew to Hanoi for Tet, the Lunar New Year. One Sunday, in the park near our small hotel, there were many vendors, mostly women, selling toys and souvenirs. This old woman was selling small wooden toys that when you moved your wrist chickens pecked up and down. At first we walked past, but decided to go back and purchase all her toys in the hope that maybe, once all her toys were gone, she could go home for the day. A young man stopped as I was attempting to pantomime what it was I wanted from the woman; I explained to him and he translated to her, although neither one initially understood that I wanted to pay ten times what she was asking for the toys (which, given the nature of the vendor/tourist relationship was already an inflated price). When the young man understood what I intended he smiled broadly and explained to the woman. She looked at me like I wasn’t in full possession of my faculties, but eventually agreed to sell me the toys. Melinda and I took the bags and walked through the park distributing them to small children (with their parent’s approval) until they were gone.