For me there are three Seattles. There's the Seattle where I grew up, the Seattle where I attended graduate school, and the Seattle I tried to move back to in 2008. The first two of these Seattles were good. The third? Not so much.
In 2003 I was inhabiting the second of my three Seattles, with my wife and older daughter. My older daughter was three, and her younger sister wouldn't appear until 2005. At that point I'd lived in Taiwan for three years.
Those first three years in Taiwan were very eventful. During that time I taught in a private kindergarten. I also studied Chinese at Tunghai University. Yet despite these two things - or perhaps because of them - I worried about my future, and how teaching without a degree in Education might influence my future in Taiwan.
I applied to a few graduate programs in the States, and settled on Seattle University because it started sooner and ended earlier. Seattle U wanted me to take a few classes at a community college before formally accepting me, and I readily agreed to do this, with the expectation of starting the graduate program in the fall of the following school year.
My wife, eager to work, quickly found a job in a hotel downtown. She took the bus to and from her hotel some of the time, but when she got off work late I insisted on driving her home. It was easier than worrying about what might happen between her hotel and the nearest Metro stop.
I thought about getting a job for a while. But between my classes, staying up late to pick up my wife, living with my parents, and childcare issues there didn't seem to be any point. I knew from the beginning that I'd be returning to Taiwan after graduation, and I also knew I'd have little trouble finding a job over here, so aside from the cost of three plane tickets money was never a problem.
While I was attending classes, and often when I wasn't attending classes, our daughter attended a Lutheran daycare in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood. Neither my wife nor I are Christian, but we still got a kick out of her sudden need to say grace before meals. "God is great, God is good" and all that. At three years old she soaked up English like a sponge, and when not learning how to be a Lutheran she absorbed plenty of English from Sesame Street, The Wiggles, Teletubbies and whatever else she was watching at the time.
My classes at nearby Shoreline Community College were ridiculously easy. My schedule was light, and when not busy with school I took my daughter to local parks and shopping malls. Chuck E. Cheese was a big one for us. Chuck E. Cheese was huge.
When both my wife and I were free we'd go exploring. Sometimes we'd head down to Tacoma and try to find out what people did there. Sometimes we'd head up to Vancouver B.C., always eating Chinese food and always buying trinkets downtown. Stanley Park in B.C. was a favorite destination, as was Alderwood Mall, north of Seattle.
During vacations we'd go even farther, either camping or staying in hotels along our route. We wandered around the Washington and Oregon coasts, northern California, Idaho and Montana. North Cascades National Park was great in the summer.; we'd spend days and days up there. There was also Spring Canyon near Grand Coulee, a good place to swim year round.
My most vivid memory from that year is Christmas. Our daughter was three, my parents were delighted to have a grandchild present, and we got to watch my daughter unwrap gift after gift while the rest of us got pleasantly drunk around her. I remember going to the "beer store" on Christmas morning, and buying twenty different kinds of beer for all the people in the house. We drank, we talked, and as far as I know everyone had a good time.
That was over 17 years ago already. Hard to believe it's been that long. I miss those times, and I miss the people we used to be. But maybe the way I remember it isn't way it was at all. Maybe I'm just seeing it differently because I'm a slightly different person. Who knows?
All I can say is that it was a good time in my life. I was in my late 20s, I was happy with who and where I was, and I knew where I was going. And just a year later I'd be done with graduate school, and on my way back to Taiwan. Two years in Seattle passed us by as if they were only two months.
Most of all I remember that three year old enjoying Christmas in her pajamas. That three year old, by the way, is 20 years old now. That three year old is now a 20 year old college student, just eight years shy of my age in 2003. And look at what a poor Lutheran she's become! She hasn't said grace in 17 years!
I feel sad to say it, but that three year old is long gone. Of course I see her outlines in the 20 year old person who visits me every weekend, but they're just the outlines mind you, nothing more. It's the same with Seattle, where we spent those two years. In the present city I can see the outlines of the place and the time I remember, but many of the people, places and things I associate with that city have changed, or else disappeared altogether.
I've changed too. That 28 year old guy I used to be is still around to some extent, but he's obscured by all the things that happened after, all the places he hadn't been, and all the life he had yet to live. There's a certain sadness in this realization, but then again we're all still here, right? We all have something to live for, and that's a cause for celebration.