Portland East: From the silence to the noise

Sitting on a bench in the Lan Su Chinese Garden, tranquility floods the air. It’s so quiet you can hear the fish splash in the lily pond and the breeze whistle through the bamboo. Although we’re in the middle of Chinatown, and there are many tourists of all ages here taking pictures on their smart phones and iPads, they move respectfully through the rooms and gardens.
The brochure tells us that meditation, discussion and storytelling were popular activities in Chinese gardens. This garden was built by Chinese artisans from Portland’s sister city, Suzhou.  Doorways and windows form views within views, the paths are paved with rock mosaics, and Lake Tai rocks rise up like sculptures throughout the garden. Plants range from bonsai trees to japonica, plum, bamboo, and silk. Inner rooms and terraces showcase Chinese paintings and calligraphy while soft music plays in the background. A teahouse offers a taste of Chinese tradition.
Volunteers do much of the work at Lan Su. The garden, located at 239 NW Everett St., hosts many special events, including lectures, concerts, art shows and tea tastings. People rent space for weddings and other occasions. For more information, visit the website at http://www.lansugarden.org.
In town on business, I stayed to see a little bit of Portland. From the garden, I drove south along the waterfront, looking for a spot to sit and write and relax. Ironically, I wound up at another garden, the Garden at South Waterfront Park. This too, according to the brochure, is meant to be a meditative space beside the Willamette River. Well, the garden is lovely. Lots of paved paths wind in and out of the plants, the brochure tells you what the plants are, and I found a great rock to sit on just above the water. Not far down the path, a young woman was already busy writing. I watched speedboats, sailboats, and a guy standing on a surfboard. I remembered a past trip to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry just across the water. I relaxed on my rock and got out my pen.
But this not a quiet, tranquil space. It was hot, about 90 degrees. An endless stream of people jogged, biked, and walked along the paths, half of them staring at their cell phones. From up the waterfront a ways, a rock band pounded the air with drums and bass.  And because we were under two of the city’s main bridges, the Marquam and Hawthorne bridges, the traffic roar was so loud and constant I could not hear speedboats zooming by. Quite a contrast with the Chinese gardens and with the forest where I live.
I retired to the cool dining room at the Lil’ Cooperstown Bar & Grill, where there were TV screens showing sports everywhere I looked, and the music was a little loud, but the food and the service were great.
Portland has many faces. These are just a taste of those on the east side. I hope to explore many more parts of Portland in the future.

What are your favorite east Portland spots?

Tourists Invade the Oregon Coast

It’s Labor Day weekend, time for the Oregon coasties to hide while tourists take over the town. Most of us moved here to get away from crowds, to escape stop-and-go traffic, cities full of strangers, and long lines at restaurants, stores and gas stations. We like our small-town setting where we can move around freely, never wait in line, and always run into someone we know.

So does everyone else. The Oregon Coast is one of those places people go for recreation. As a result, from around Memorial Day to sometime after Labor Day, the place is packed with visitors. Every other vehicle crawling down the highway is from somewhere else. Lots of those vehicles are slow-moving RVs and big trucks towing boats, but even the little cars slow us down as the drivers gawk at the sights. I’m thinking okay, it’s the ocean, it’s a bridge, it’s a lighthouse, take your picture and move along.

At the grocery stores, travelers fill the aisles, not knowing where anything is and having to confer on every purchase. Shall we have corn with that? What kind of cereal do you like? Me, I’ve got my list, and I’m still in my church clothes. Let me get my food and go home. 

I drove through Nye Beach yesterday to take pictures and found nowhere to park. Visitors wearing shorts, leading children and dogs, and snapping pictures with their cell phones, clogged the sidewalks and spilled out of the eateries. Great sweating masses of visitors stared at the ocean. I surprised a couple kissing on the stairs by the Visual Arts Center.

I want them all to go home, but like everyone who lives here, I know our economy depends on folks from out of town coming here to spend their money. They stay in our motels and RV parks, eat our food, fill their vehicles with our gas, and buy our glass floats, thereby enabling the local kids to have school clothes and me to buy groceries. I get it.

Like a large portion of Oregon Coast residents, I moved from a place people leave for vacation to a place where people come. My husband and I were tourists here, too. We walked on the beaches, visited the lighthouses and aquariums, shopped in the gift shops, and ate in the restaurants. We fell in love with the place and resolved to move here someday. And then, like so many Californians who first came as visitors, we sold our house and drove the big rental truck north.

Now I have the nerve to resent all those tourists. Twenty years ago, I was one of them with my California license plate, slowing down traffic to take pictures. I must try to embrace these wide-eyed tourists as just like me. So come, let me show you my beautiful home. Then, either learn to drive the speed limit or go back to wherever you came. And by the way, put away the cell phone. Why drive hundreds or thousands of miles if all you’re going to see is your iPhone?

Tomorrow, the local kids are going back to school. Soon the weather will turn, the tourists will trickle away, and we will reclaim our town. But today, I’m staying home in my little piece of paradise.