The Fountain of Youth is in Seattle

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I recently heard Neil Gaiman tell an interviewer that getting old involved doing fewer and fewer things for the first time.

I came up with a cure for that kind of aging that involves two parts:

1. Do something you’ve done before in a new way.

2. Bring a kid who is still doing everything for the first time.

A couple days ago my four year old Quinton and I stepped out of our car culture and took the train to Seattle. (I hear Q in my head correcting me: “Not car, Mom. The VAN!)

At first, I was afraid we might not make it. The parking lot was packed, and we hadn’t left early enough for me to figure out what to do. We ran from the spot I found 2 blocks away and raced to the ticket booth where — thank the heavens above — we found a man in a reflective transit jacket maneuvering a wheelchair with a guide dog at his side. He had seen my distress at the fancy ticket machine and offered to help us, got us tickets, and told me Q was free (FREE!).

(Yes, I had tried to figure this out before. No, I had apparently not worked the websites enough to understand. I’d like to think of this as being youthful rather than uninformed, if you don’t mind.)

With his wonderful help, we even had a few moments to spare before the train came. Quinton spent the time bouncing and saying: “I’m so excited! I’m so excited!”

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As the Sounder rolled in, we climbed the stairs to sit up on the second level. At 8:00am, most of the commuters had already made it to work, so we had the place almost to ourselves.

We saw my ancient middle school Dieringer that is now a construction company along with the power station the no longer moves the waters of Lake Tapps where I grew up. I thought for a moment how often I saw the trains go by when I was in school (long before the Sounder came to be). Looking at the world from the train’s side twisted my perspective just enough to make the whole scene familiar but strange – like a new old experience.

The country rolled by and I loved how easy it was to get to Seattle without traffic jam stress. Another family climbed on board at Sumner with excited kids and content parents and grandparents. Quinton eavesdropped and was impressed that they were talking about ‘not burning gas.’

“Burning gas!?!” he said to me, loud enough to let the family know he heard.

From King Station, we took the link to Westlake and then the monorail to the Armory (which I still want to call the Center House).

We played in the Children’s Museum, then the fountain and then the museum again until one o’clock when the museum lost it’s appeal to me (not to Quinton – he could have stayed there longer if I could have taken one more round on the fake mountain looking at the plastic bugs under fake rocks).

 

We made our way back to Puyallup, stopping at the Magic Mouse Toys in Pioneer Square (Buying ANOTHER truck. Sigh.) and Uwajimaya in the International District.

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The 3:12 train back home was just about perfect. We got back exhausted and pleased with ourselves. Quinton is already planning our return trip.

It wasn’t international travel. But it was an adventure. It felt like doing something for the first time (complete with the edge of fear that we might get lost and stranded) – a way to be young again for me and to finally get on one of those trains for Q. Mission accomplished.

Even if you don’t have a kid around to egg you on, I strongly recommend looking for new ways to do old things. The adventure will add a zip to your days.

Mother Tongue Tuesday (on a Wednesday again): Korean

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Korean Primer

I’ve worked with many Korean students over the years, but woven throughout my life I’ve also been blessed with many Korean American friends.

These lovely friends have touched my life in ways large and small. One lady came to my house to teach me her language. A professor friend once helped me write an essay when I was in high school. Other friends invited me to their sheep ranch in the Green River Valley and took me to festivals where I had sweet bean deserts.

When I was young my mother’s best friend was another nurse whose two young boys became marvelous violin players. We once went to their immaculate home where we had won ton soup the mother made without any packages, and then we listened to her boys play for us. We were all delighted and crushed when those boys were accepted at Julliard, causing the family to move away to the East Coast.

These friends and students I have known have had an inner strength that allows them to move forward. Once a Korean friend from church was attacked in her tutoring business. Even though she probably weighs half as much as I do, she put up a tremendous fight. I pitied the fool with a knife who thought he could rob her without consequence.

When I think of the language these amazing friends all speak, I am always most impressed by the alphabet my friend started to teach me.

Once a king in Korea decided to reform the ridiculously complex Chinese-based character system Korea used at the time. King Sejong worked in the 1440’s to devise an alphabet called Hangul with 28 symbols, spelling the different sounds of Korean. Some call it a syllabary instead of an alphabet because the symbols represent syllable sounds.

This logical and simple writing system has dramatically increased literacy for Korea. If you’d like to read more about one of the youngest and (in my opinion) best writing systems in the world, check out this excellent article in The Economist. English spelling could use a little reform like this, too.

Other Korean Tidbits from the UCLA Language Project

  • Korean grammar is complex enough to hurt my head. While it does not use articles or plural nouns, it has a variety of ways to change its verbs including markers for the social status of the speakers. It uses 7 different cases for nouns, including the usual nominative, accusative, dative, genitive and others I had never heard of before.
  • It uses Subject-Object-Verb word order.
  • It is technically a language isolate but many scholars argue that Korean should be included with other Altaic or Uralic languages like Japanese, Turkic and even Finnish.

Famous Korean Americans 

Michelle Wie, golfer

Toby Dawson, freestyle skier

When I went to Germany many years ago, I felt a bit less homesick sitting in the McDonald’s, sipping coffee. Almost 15 years later, I traveled across the world in the other direction to China. It amazed me how at home I felt in the Korean restaurant down the street from my apartment.

After meeting the remarkable people who speak Korean, spicy noodles and won ton soup had begun to feel like home.

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A Racoon Ignoring Us from Above

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“It’s way too big to be a squirrel,” I said as I looked in the tree.

My teenaged son and I were camping near Shelton, WA and sitting by the fire he had been thrilled to build when I had noticed a creature settling into the branches above us.

We kept staring and squinting at it until Kieran decided to go down the trail by the row boats to check it out with more of the evening’s light.

“It’s furry, Mom. No way it’s a bird,” he said.

By this time whatever it was had settled in for the night and wasn’t moving. I thought the fur looked like a raccoon but we couldn’t be sure. The larger-than-a-squirrel-but-not-ugly-enough-to-be-an-opossum thing was doing an excellent job of ignoring us.

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A few years back we had camped with my sister and her kids in the same place with her little dog in a tent. We woke after midnight to find ourselves surrounded by raccoons circling the tent, hoping for a chance to munch the yapping little chi weenie who was barking with his whole body the way tiny dogs do.

So I wasn’t surprised this recent trip to see a masked face staring out from the branches when we checked the tree an hour later. He still did not seem to care if we saw him or not and tucked his face back in before I could manage a picture. I never knew raccoons slept in trees but this spot looked perfect for him. If I hadn’t seen him settle in, we never would have noticed his sleeping arrangement.

My son and I have seen the most amazing creatures when we stop our busy lives for a few moments. This particular member of the wildlife gave me the feeling that those we don’t notice might be too busy to notice us either. But, busy or not, I won’t soon forget that mask or his perch above us.