Friday, February 23, 2007

The Splendor of Portland and its (Distant) Environs

The only other time we visited Portland was way back in 2003, when we chaperoned our D to University of Oregon, Eugene. It was early fall, and we were fortunate to see Portland at its best. Well, according to the second-hand accounts from my brother-in-law anyway. Then we visited most of the popular nature sites within a couple of hours’ drive from Portland.

In the mountain category, there are Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens, its truncated cone-like remain from the famous eruption of May 18, 1980 is a sight to behold, a consequence of the earth bursting at its seam when its interior rumbled to a boil. The barren hillside where lush forest once stood bears testimony to the unforgiving fury of nature. Read more about the ensuing Volcanic Monument erected in remembrance of the epic geo event here where this picture, which happened to be taken in the same year as our visit, was taken, including a spectacular shot of the mountain spewing out gigantic plumes of volcanic ash in its throes.

Then there is the Bonneville Dam and Lock straddling the Columbia River. Since 1938, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been operating and maintaining the Bonneville Lock and Dam for hydropower production, fish and wildlife protection, recreation and navigation. It is the only engineering accomplishment that we visited then where we looked in amazement at the giant turbines that convert the energy latent in the swift flowing water over the drop into usable electricity, a process known as hydro-generation that emits nothing to the atmosphere, in addition to being a veritable renewable source of energy, unlike the coal- and oil-fired power generating plants that contribute to greenhouse-induced global warming. Read more about it here including a fish cam.

Moving toward the Pacific, we also visited the Columbia River mouth jetties (as part of the technical tour during the Coastal Structures 2003 conference that I attended but my wife followed the tour as well as part of the spouse program), the town of Seaside, and drove along the Pacific Coastal Highway, taking in all the coastal panorama/vista that the Oregonian coast has to offer, including making a stop at the coastal town of Tillamook and its famed Ice Cream factory.

What we missed was the Portland downtown area, save a cursory survey on a cable car ride. For some reason which escapes me now, I also passed up the chance to visit the Chinese Garden in which the conference dinner was held. But not this time.

So fast forward three and a half years to Feb 17, 2007. The scene was the downtown waterfront area on the bank of the Williamette River. It was one of the rare days during this time of the year when the Sun decided to call the shots.

The river side promenade was awash with people doing their own thing. There was even a man doing his bicycle tricks, but hardly drawing any notice from the revelers that were just there to relax.

Occasionally, a boat would sail by, its stern-roller fixture seemingly from another bygone era. Incidentally, the white-capped mountain in the background is Mt. Hood, the highest peak in Oregon.

Williamette River is famous for its many bridges that seem to criss-cross haphazardly. Here is one of them, the Hawthorne Bridge, a steel bridge finished in 1910, is “Portland's oldest surviving highway bridge, a lift bridge, and is one of the oldest surviving lift bridges in the world” according to this website of Portland bridges.

Now, the highlight of the self-guided downtown tour is the Chinese Garden snuggled in the heart of China Town. The front portal, which separates a small open square from the road, boasts of a pair of the mystical Chinese animals. The portal itself is lined with Chinese calligraphy, both front and back.

Beyond the small square and seemingly guarding the wall of the garden, is a perforated stonescape that towers over the visitors, providing a kind of prop to the tree that bears the plum blossom, a species of flower that is known to sprout with a flourish in winter and arguably one of the two acclaimed national flowers of China (the other being the peony).

The garden is replete with verandahs, crossings, and old-style rooms reminiscent of historic Chinese architecture (I was stumped by a question from my D as to the significance, whether out of utility, feng shui, or asthetics, of the outward and upward bending of the roof edges. Help, anyone?) and d├ęcor, with all manners of plants lining the pebble-embedded walkway (sort of like the reflexology stone paths back home), and bonsai and other ornamental potted plants tastefully dotting the interior areas.

Not to be missed is more Chinese calligraphy inscribed on the interior pillars and overhead lintels, the words evoking a sublimate state of mind: serene and carefree, at least momentarily before reality hits.

There is a tea house for tea connoisseurs to savor the tranquility of tea drinking culture. But our party was too numerous to be accommodated at a single table and we were reluctant to be seated apart. So that will have to be partaken in a different time. We also missed the lion dance display slotted for noon, but I think only Dan has yet to see one in action. We will make sure that his trip to Malaysia, which is as yet unscheduled, will overlap with the CNY period so that he could be awed by the prowess of Malaysian lion and dragon dance troupes, which I recall have earned world acclaim.


Chea-Yinn said...

The Chinese garden was a delight! It probably would have been even more of a delight in warmer, sunnier weather. Some friends had even inquired as to whether or not we were having our wedding pictures done there, so it seems to be the typical thing for newlyweds to do.

During the annual Asian Festival in Eugene a few years ago, I was lucky enough to catch the Lion Dance, which was performed by some Chinese students from local schools, I think. Ah, I do miss the music! The best one ever was during CNY, and I think we were at Grandma's house in Johor... And the lion dance came inside the living room! That was years and years ago, though.

Say Lee said...

That would be Paloh, reachable after a very winding stretch of road.

And yes, the CNY atmosphere is especially pervasiave in small towns, or rather, chinese new villages where tradition stands strong.