A quick trip to Hong Kong

In 2013 I visited Hong Kong for the first (and so far only) time to do some interviews. I did some sight-seeing over the weekend and took way too many pictures. Here are my 92 favorites:

Seattle a decade ago

Guy approaching me on the street with a ragged bouquet of flowers: “Hey, buy some flowers for your wife?”

Me: “No, thanks. She’s 3,000 miles away.”

Guy: “That’s cool – I just pulled these out of a dumpster.”

Flowers at Pike Place
Flowers at Pike Place

That was 10 years ago in Seattle. I talked to him for a while and he told me he used to be able to make a decent living as a street performer, but no one carries cash anymore, just cards. The florists usually destroy the flowers before dumping them, but sometimes he could salvage a few.

He’s just one of the Seattle characters I remember from my three months there in 2005. I had just left the soon-to-be-bankrupt Delta Air Lines and started work for a little software company in Pioneer Square, Seattle. I was going to be their first remote (non-Sales) employee, so they had me come out for three months of training to play it safe.

I flew home to Atlanta every other weekend to see my family. It’s one of those things we look back on and can’t believe we had the energy for it. But it set me up for an alternating dream-nightmare (usually dream) job for the past 10 years and I now only remember the fun parts of my 90 days in a strange land.

The company put me up in a cheap furnished apartment in Belltown, about a mile from the office. It was called Marvin Gardens, after the Monopoly square, and it has since been replaced by high-rise apartments. It was across the street from what the locals called “Crack Park” due to its history of drug deals. They were trying to turn it into a dog park. I met many of my neighbors when the fire alarm went off at 3am. They were interesting folks, but I guess we all are at that hour.

Space Needle reflection
Space Needle reflection

Buses were free in the downtown area, but I preferred to walk the mile to and from work. I rotated through a different avenue each day and got to the point where I could time my pace to catch nearly every Walk signal at the crosswalks. I got to know some of the regulars on the streets: The Guy Who Yells At Traffic Lights, The Guy Who Yells At Trash Cans (my wife met him when she visited), and The Guy Who Yelled At Me, “Why. . .are you . . . so . . . BAAAAALD?!”

I survived on canned soup and yogurt from Rite Aid and Ralph’s, went to a couple of Seattle Symphony performances, saw Flight of the Conchords in concert, and visited every possible tourist spot at least twice.

I tipped a whole lot of street performers:

The Seattle library was a frequent stop, mostly to get classical music cds from their huge collection.

Very French Bakery
Very French Bakery

I hosted a co-worker from India for a weekend in Seattle and took him to Specialty’s Cafe for [seriously the most amazing] cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate, The Daily Dozen for powdered donuts, Grand Central Bakery for pastries, the Seattle Center for beignets, and Le Panier for an authentic pain au chocolat. I didn’t realize the theme until he remarked, “You really like sugar bread, don’t you?”

Cashew nut chicken, no stars!
Cashew nut chicken, no stars!

Mae Phim Thai was a little restaurant not far from the office and we ate there at least 50% of the time for lunch. Their cashew nut chicken is pretty much the best thing ever. The servers got to know me as the guy who always ordered “zero stars” (no hot spice). Even zero stars got my armpits tingling, but it was a good hurt.

I knew it was time to head home when the Christmas decorations started going up on the buildings and I quit being able to see the Space Needle through the rain and fog.

The Space Needle in the winter
The Space Needle in the winter

 

Seattleites are sensitive and defensive about their weather. If you complain about it, they’re likely to express gratitude that it keeps people (implied: people like you) away. I was there as more than a tourist but less than a local. I like the place. Better than Portland, anyway. 😉

The Sarcastic Child’s Friend

On Sunday we try to do things other than watch TV and play on the computer and iPods. The kids are pretty good sports about it, but sometimes you can see some mild resentment come through in the pencil and paper artwork they have to resort to without electronics. Here’s something Kid #2 drew on a lazy Sunday morning when she was about 8:

My mom won't let me go to church
My mom won’t let me go to church

 

A couple of years later, she and her sister created this parody of the Church’s magazine for children, The Friend. They actually really like the magazine and meant no disrespect here, but they’re sarcastic little creatures.

Cover page with girl getting hit in the head with a beach ball
Cover page with girl getting hit in the head with a beach ball

 

Letters from readers and a hint about the hidden CTR ring
Letters from readers and a hint about the hidden CTR ring

 

Figure out the prophet or apostle based on phrases that kind of sound like their name.
Figure out the prophet or apostle based on phrases that kind of sound like their name.

 

I like that both Britney and Tyler wrote in.
I like that both Britney and Tyler wrote in.

 

Can you find the hidden CTR ring?
Can you find the hidden CTR ring?

 

This page might be funnier to a 10-year-old.
This page might be funnier to a 10-year-old.

 

I guess they were learning about D.A.R.E. in school at the time.
I guess they were learning about D.A.R.E. in school at the time.

 

This page was probably inspired by Uncle Shelby's ABZ book, by Shel Silverstein
This page was probably inspired by Uncle Shelby’s ABZ book, by Shel Silverstein

 

Inspirational missionary stories
Inspirational missionary stories

 

Comic about the devil's fruit
Comic about the devil’s fruit

 

Nephi's Courage, replacing only "Nephi" with an icon.
Nephi’s Courage, replacing only “Nephi” with an icon.

 

Maybe we should let them do more electronics on Sunday.

 

Notes on the Book of Esther

Last year I had the best calling in the Church: Gospel Doctrine teacher, during study of the Old Testament. I wrote out fairly detailed notes for each lesson and figured I’d post some of them here in case they’re helpful to a future teacher. 

Esther is an interesting book. It doesn’t read like the rest of the Bible. It’s one of two books (along with The Song of Solomon) that doesn’t mention God, although it does assume a sense of guided destiny and it mentions fasting. It’s the only Old Testament book that wasn’t found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

It also has some historical issues – for example, Mordecai would have to be over 100 years old for the dates to work out right. It’s possible that it started with some historical events that were passed down orally and someone eventually wrote them down, mixing up a few dates and names in the process.

Let’s start by reviewing the characters involved in this story.
Ahasueras – king of Persia, also named Xerxes (Greek) – has a palace in Shushan, the capital of Persia, 482 B.C.
Vashti – First queen
Mordecai – Esther’s cousin (2:7) who raised her after her parents died – Jewish
Esther – Second queen – Hebrew name Hadassah
Haman – Agagite, main villain

Chapter 1 – The Party
King throws a big party to show off his wealth, lasts 6 months (v. 4)
Then they have a 7-day feast, all the guys in palace garden, all the women in the royal house.
v. 8 – all-you-can-drink

v. 10 – At the end of the 7 days, the king wants to introduce his wife to his guests. He sends for her and. . . she refuses to come. For some reason she didn’t want to leave her party and join a drunken brawl in the garden.

The king is offended and asks his counselors (wise men) what he should do about it. v. 17 – they tell him he needs to come down hard because as soon as the women of the city find out the queen disobeyed the queen, mass chaos would ensue. So, the king writes a royal decree that says Vashti is no longer queen and her royal estate will go to another (v. 19)

Chapter 2 – “The Bachelor”
Chapter 2 describes what’s essentially an ancient version of the reality tv show, The Bachelor. The king’s servants find young women throughout the land to compete for the position of queen. One of these is our hero, Esther. She and her cousin Mordecai are Jewish, but Mordecai tells her to not let anyone know about it. Once they gather all the contestants together, they get to live in the palace and get massages and beauty treatments for a year (v. 12).

The king meets with one woman per day and doesn’t invite any of them back. Until he gets to Esther. v. 17 – love at first sight! Another big feast to celebrate the new queen. During this celebration, Mordecai uncovers a plot to assassinate the king and tells Esther to tell the king. The plot is foiled and the plotters are hanged.

Chapter 3 – Enter the Villain
Haman was a descendant of Agag, which I’m sure you all remember from 1 Samuel. Agag was king of the Amalekites, which were the group Saul was commanded to completely destroy – but Saul got in trouble for holding on to some of their animals, claiming he wanted to use them for sacrifice. So, Haman had likely inherited a deep hatred for the Jews.

Haman was promoted to some high office by the king and everyone was supposed to bow to him. Mordecai refuses and Haman decides it’s time to kill all the Jews in the kingdom. He was apparently prone to overreaction. He convinces the king to write a decree stating that all Jews shall be killed on the 13th day of the 12th month of that year.

Chapter 4 – Mordecai tells Esther to talk to the king
Mordecai panics and tells Esther she needs to tell the king she’s Jewish and get him to reverse his decision. Esther says (v. 11) that she’s not allowed to speak to the king unless she’s invited in by him, and that hasn’t happened in a month. Violating this rule is punishable by death. Interesting relationship.

Mordecai points out that Esther will be killed as well and then says, v. 14, that this might be the whole purpose of her becoming queen, to save her people. Esther asks Mordecai to have the Jews in the city fast for three days and then she’ll approach the king. v. 16 – “If I perish, I perish”

Chapter 5 – Esther approaches the king
The king is fortunately happy to see his queen and holds out the golden scepter as a sign that she is permitted to approach. She proposes a banquet for the king and Haman. At the banquet, she seems to chicken out and proposes a second banquet. v. 9 – Haman is stoked that he got invited to the banquet. He brags to his wife and friends (v. 12) that no one else was invited. But his happiness is stifled as long as he sees Mordecai alive (v. 13).

Haman’s wife, Zaresh, said, “You know what will make you feel better? Build a giant gallows (75 feet tall) so you can anticipate the hanging of Mordecai. Then you’ll be able to enjoy your second banquet.” (That was kind of paraphrasing v. 14.)

Chapter 6 – Mordecai is honored
The king has insomnia and asks one of his servants to read a history book (yawn!) to him. In it was recorded the fact that Mordecai saved the king’s life way back in chapter 2. He realizes that Mordecai was never honored for his good deed. Then Haman shows up, with really bad timing. He is excited to tell the king about the awesome new gallows he prepared for Mordecai’s execution.

In v. 6-9, the king asks what would be the best way to honor someone. Haman assumes he’s describing his own reward, so he says he should be put on the king’s royal horse and paraded through the city. v. 10 – the king says that’s a great idea and asks Haman to honor Mordecai in just the way he’s described. He goes home to tell his wife about it and the king’s servants show up to take him to the banquet.

Chapter 7 – Banquet #2
Haman joins the king and queen at the second banquet and Esther reveals that she’s a Jew and the king’s decree means her own death. The king asked how this happened and Esther pointed at Haman across the table.

The king is so angry, he goes out into the garden. Haman decides to plead with the queen and follows her into her bedroom and falls on her bed. The king walks in (v. 8). A servant (who must not have been a fan of Haman) reminds the king about Haman’s 75-foot gallows and the king says, “Hang him on it.” (v. 9)

Chapter 8 – All is Well
Mordecai takes over Haman’s position, the king can’t reverse the decree but he makes a new one that the Jews can attack the people that were going to kill them.

Chapter 9 – Vengeance
The Jews attack their enemies and in v. 19 they designated the 14th day of the 12th month as a feast day. This is called the Festival of Purim (v. 26), which is still celebrated by many Jews today – it falls next on March 4-5. They exchange gifts of food and drink, donate to the poor, eat a big meal, act out the story of Esther. They have noise-makers to boo every time Haman’s name is mentioned. They used to even burn Haman in effigy.

So, that’s Esther.

What’s the purpose of this story — what is the author trying to teach readers? Any thoughts on what we can learn from Esther’s example?

Trying to deal with life in exile. They can still influence and improve their situation. Heroes still exist. Individuals still have a role to play — the guided actions of one can affect many. And a little hope for vengeance.