the end of this blog.

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I’ve always imagined life has some poetry to it and perhaps that’s why it’s fitting that my last post before this spoke about death and closure. I’ll make this post short because I’m sad to let this blog go but also excited to be launching two new blogs. I’ve realized that I want to tighten my message and make my posts more readable, both for my future self but also for those who do follow my content. I also recognize I’m at an interesting point in my life, where I am closing a huge chapter and making an intentional effort to move on to the next chapter. It’s more appropriate then, for me to modularize these experiences and refer back to them as necessary.

So here they are…

For my Travels and my thoughts on the wider theme of Wanderlust, join me at Wanderlust with Rovik – https://wanderlustwithrovik.wordpress.com/

For my continued thoughts on life, the universe and any short creative pieces I write, follow me at Magic in the Space Between https://magicinthespacebetween.wordpress.com/

With that,

goodbye, dear blog and thanks for the memories.

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let’s talk about death

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Content Warning: I talk about some pretty morbid topics, not because I necessarily want to but because it’s become important to process some recent events.

Last week, after an already incredibly emotional series of events, as I was waiting to board my plane to London, I found out that Eric Judge, my fraternity brother and someone I always respected and looked up to had passed away. If you have read my post about pain, then you’ll know exactly what my body and mind went through at that point. I had to find a space, sit down and try to calm myself before I got onto the plane, because I had lost someone I cared about and the realization that I would never see them again hit me. This time last year, my paternal grandfather passed away of old age, and I remember feeling a reeling sense of shock. Now, my body knew what death of a close one was and immediately reacted emotionally.

Eric was one of the first people I met in my fraternity as I began my education process and immediately I knew he would play an important role in my understanding of Lambda Chi Alpha. Yes, he was known as the frequent caps player and the teacher of all things beer related, but he was also a brother in the most expansive form of the word. He would celebrate everyone who joined the organization, and he would shut down anyone who spoke poorly of another brother without regard for their dignity. It’s weird to speak praises about those who have passed only after they left, especially knowing that he was in Chicago and I only spent one other occasion with him before his incident. I wish I could have told him all of this – how I respected him and how my time in the US was made that much more special because of him. I will remember him dearly. Eric, this is my way of processing your death. I tried speaking to friends and family, but it helped little knowing that I had lost someone I cared for. My friends mean the world to me and it’s horrible that the cosmos wouldn’t give us any more times to celebrate our lives.

Eric’s death made me all the more resilient in speaking my truth to others. I am no longer ashamed of being honest and spontaneous in my expression to those I care about. It’s naive for me to claim that as we get older, death will be a more commonplace occurrence because so will marriage, birth and all kinds of other celebration. I am entering a portion of my life where the innocence of living is eroding and I have to choose how I interpret the things that happen around me.

There is a part two to this post, one that I feel I must write although I’m not sure how to write it. As if Eric’s death wasn’t enough to dampen my mood, as I landed in London I saw on the news that there was another terrorist incident in northern London. The cities I plan to visit – Berlin, Brussels, Paris – are also no longer strangers to acts of terrorism. I am literally living in a time and place where the concept of chaos is close and familiar and I have to adapt to the fact that I have to choose daily to live my best possible life. I have to also choose more than ever to be cautious, alert and smart about things around me.

But there’s this weird what-if question that remains. What if I do die? I know, I know – the human psyche is afraid of the question. It’s one of my biggest fears in life – my mortality. It’s very much why I continue to do the legacy work that I do. I feel like I should start thinking about it though, not to give the enemy any upper-hand in mental victory, but to give it the intellectual space it needs to provide insight. I immediately thought of my family and my close friends, the ones who actually do care for me the same way I cared about Eric and maybe even more. I immediately thought of the same pain crashing through them and felt awful myself. I want my life to speak for itself, my values and my character to continue beyond my existence. I want my conversations to have lasting impacts on the people I had them with. I want people to keep believing in a community that supports itself and is resilient.

Ironically, even considering the impact of my death made me so much more committed to fighting to live and to fight the forces that threaten my or any of my loved ones’ existences. There’s so much more work that needs to be done on this planet and no one should be able to steal that opportunity from us. I also recognize that the issue is so complex because of the politics involved. Terrorism only seems real because it happens in cities with people of actual power, but attacks happen in other parts of the world including Syria and Iraq, by countries like the US and UK. People all over the world are dying because it seems easy to detonate a bomb. Death is becoming a stranger topic until it hits someone close.

That has to stop. This desensitization to death has to stop. We need to feel emotionally connected to every aspect of the human condition and that means recognizing that it’s completely wrong that people have to die for acts they were never responsible for. I am carrying and will continue to carry this pain. I have a few ideas of how to move towards addressing these problems and am making efforts towards them, but I hope everyone who reads this recognizes they have that power to change their perspective on death in the world.

this is a perspective shift.

make a difference.

austin + san antonio : where i saw so much burnt orange

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Welcome to Texas, or as it’s known in my childhood – Cowboy town. I’ve said this before but the US is really more of a conglomerate of different states than one unified country, which provides it an ample set of advantages and obstacles. Texas is one of its most distinctive states, with some even calling it a country by itself. To be fair, I discovered on this trip that at one point, Texas actually was its own self-governing country for a while. In fact, that was just the tip of a very large iceberg on how complex Texas’ history and legacy was, and I was just about to discover it. I started my trip by flying into Austin and taking the airport bus downtown.  One of my favorite things about the city is how well planned the public transportation is.  You can take buses everywhere for a flat price of $2.50 per 24 hour period.

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The most iconic sight in Austin has to be the State Capitol. It’s almost like the center of gravity of the city, with its large stature imposing onto Congress Ave, the main road of Austin. It’s probably one of the biggest state capitols that I’ve ever seen and has a beautiful park surrounding it for a peaceful walk. I definitely took advantage of the ambiance for some quiet time.

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Austin has done a really good job of balancing its urban buildup with parks and natural expanses. One of my favorite parts of this effort is Lady Bug Lake on the east side of the city. It’s one of its largest water bodies and people frequent the area for all kinds of water sports such as stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking. Had I more time, I would have definitely wanted to hit the water too.

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If you’re looking for more of Austin’s restaurant and commercial life, head down to South Congress, which is literally south of Colorado River and Congress Ave. There’s a bunch of cool street markets, craft stores and amazing restaurants. I took a walk up back to the bridge crossing the river and stopped at a bunch of stores just to see what was being sold.

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I would also plan the trip back up to the bridge to align with sunset, because one of Austin’s coolest attractions is the flight of the bats. At sunset, all the bats that lie underneath Congress Bridge come out in a swarm.

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This is a hazy sight of it. I couldn’t get a good shot because it was storming and I really didn’t know what I was expecting and how to prepare my camera for it, but trust me when I tell you, it is one of the most memorable sights I’ve seen and I’ve seen some cool stuff around the world. The wait can be rather frustrating because the bats literally do what they want but I made some good conversation with the hundreds of people also in anticipation.

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Another cool place to check out is the Barton Springs. You have to pay a $8 fee to enter the actual pool where the water comes from naturally heated springs, but you can also swing through the children playground to this creek-like area. The actual pool is top-optional so note that when you’re heading there. Austin has a bunch of cool secrets like these.

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And then of course, what’s Austin without 6th Street. Austin is known as the live music capitol of the world, and the areas surrounding 6th street do host some of the liveliest pubs and bars I’ve seen in a city. There’s a bunch I liked including Jackalope, Blind Pig Pub and Bull McCabes (which is actually on Red River St). Grab a beer, chill out and dance with other tourists/locals. It’s a ball of a time. One place I highly recommend is the Midnight Cowboy speakeasy which needs reservations well in advance but does tableside cocktail preparations.

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Before I go on to talk about food, we must talk about food trucks. Austin has the most food truck parks I’ve seen in an US city, probably comparable to Portland. These are where some of the best food is dished out and it’s a lifestyle here to eat out on outdoor benches because the weather is always warm. I love love loved this.

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One of the places you MUST make your way to is La Barbecue. It’s a 2 hour wait if you just swing by but if you pre-order a week in advance, you can just come up and collect your order and pay immediately. The beef brisket is heavenly and is some of the best I’ve ever had in my life. It’s really depressing because I don’t know if I’m ever going to have such good brisket in a while. Their sausages are also really well done, with the meat mix being spot on and spicy. I also was a big fan of their potato salad.

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The most recommended place to me was Torchy’s Tacos. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but Austin is famous for multiple things, and Tex-Mex is top on that list. Torchy’s is the epitomy of that celebration with savagely unique taco combinations and a mean queso dip. I’ve had comparable tacos in my travels around cities, but I will admit their queso is unbeatable. I personally liked their Green Chile Pork taco the best.

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Another recommendation I’ll provided is for Gordough’s. I couldn’t make it out to their Public House where they serve ~donut burgers~ but I made a stop at a food truck and had one of their most populat donut dishes. I can’t remember what it’s called but it has whipped cream and fresh strawberries on a light fried donut. It was so good, but so sinful. Texan food isn’t known for being light but I didn’t know that so I was very overwhelmed quickly by how dense the food was. Make sure you take note of that, if not you’ll leave a few pounds heavier for sure.

Having seen Austin, I heard I had to check out San Antonio while I was nearby, so I booked a Greyhound and went out.

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San Antonio is an absolutely beautiful city, and a lot more historically tied if you ask me. There’s a lot of events that happened around the area and the buildings and roads seem to reflect that. The centerpiece of the city though is the Riverwalk, which is a long expansive river that is banked by restaurants and bars. At some points, there are dams, bridges and even this performance area. You can take a boat cruise tour although I opted to walk the whole way and pick up on tidbits that the tour guides were sharing.

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On the upper level lie more of San Antonio’s historical features, the most important being the San Fernando Cathedral. It is one of the oldest cathedrals in the US and has the architectural brilliance to show for it. I loved just walking around and admiring the stonework gone into the church, and the best part was that because I came on a Sunday, service was going on and I could peek into the stunning interior.

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If you continue westwards from the Cathedral, you’ll come across the largest Mexican Market outside of Mexico. This market has all kinds of stalls selling crafts, goods and memorabilia. There are also live music performances and talent shows.

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Of course there’s a whole array of Mexican street food to choose from. I would say you’re gonna get more authentic Mexican food here than actual Tex-Mex which was a big thing for me because I’ve discovered a love for Mexican food since coming to the US. I’m really going to miss having easy access to Mexican food now that I’m out of the US.

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And then we come to the Alamo, the highlight of my trip. From the memorable warcry ‘Remember the Alamo’, this area is a historical tribute to the complexities of Texas’s politics. The main building is actually a shrine of sorts to those who sacrificed their lives to protect the Mission (monikered ‘The Alamo’), but the whole campus holds artifacts and exhibits explaining how people fought over this area. It’s really an exciting and sobering visit, and completely meets the hype. It’s also completely free.

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In San Antonio, I only had one meal, but this meal probably is as classic as it gets for my travels. I didn’t really want to drop a pretty penny on the Riverwalk restaurants but I also wanted good food. I basically camped outside the San Fernando church and followed those people who escaped church service early to reserve seats for lunch. I followed them to the nearby Poblano’s, which is a Mexican cafeteria that serves platters that are so affordable. I really had a hearty taco meal with chulapas here. Man, this was as good as it got for Mexican food.

Texas was an adventure and a ride. Be prepared for a very different part of the US when you cross these borders. There’s so much more I wish I did, like catch a rodeo or visit the famous Hamilton pools, but alas I must await my return to this exciting state. I will be back, Texas.

hooah.

the roles we must play

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The Fujiwhara effect describes the phenomenon when two nearby cyclonic vortices (I am aware my title picture is not of a cyclone) orbit each other and close the distances between the circulations of their corresponding low-pressure areas. It’s really a fascinating thing to watch – a dance of sorts between two chaotic, unpredictable elements that ultimately lead to a blending. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently – a product of the void left after graduation and a bunch of other significant events recently – and I’ve been wondering about how I’ve chosen to interact with people around with me and what that says about me.

When I was in middle school, my class tutor wrote in a note to my parents, “People will feel the wake of Rovik’s crossing”. I was 14 when this was written, but it has since stuck in my head. I never comprehended what that completely meant till recently when I realized that I was definitely leaving a presence behind, not in an egotistical ‘People will miss me’ kind of way, but in the manner that I’ve always aspired to – a legacy that is evidenced in tangible change created. More important to me though was recognizing how I got here, as a matter of introspection.

Perhaps the biggest thing about myself that I realized is that I’m a provocateur and activator. Just like a cyclone, I choose to be bold, overwhelming and a force to be reckoned with, simply because I come with a hope to bring change and evolution. I choose to disrupt because too many things gone undone have been regretted by the quiet.

But what about everyone else? I recognize my role but I also recognize it isn’t everyone else’s. It’s team-building 101 – know who’s on your team, understand their skills and recognize the roles they will play to take advantage of their strengths. That’s simple enough.

How about if we extend it to inter-personal relationships in general though? Here, there isn’t an engineered effort to drive synergies. No, we’re forced by life to encounter people and choose if we want to be friends with them or not. But while we may start to piece together their personalities and characters, we inevitably also build a dynamic between us. These dynamics are again tied to the roles we have traditionally assigned to ourselves. So if two cyclonic characters meet, there will be a collision that causes a new set of chaos. If a cyclonic character meets a quiet calm sea character, you can expect some pain to be felt. If a cyclonic character meets a sturdy rock, you can expect erosion and challenge.

But the roles must be played, both for the individual’s sake to stay aligned to their character as well as for the sake of advancement of the existing state.  Things must move forward, and the roles people play will assign the attributes to the progress created. This metaphorical way of looking at things helps me understand why people do the things the way they do and how things evolve out of moments of collision. Other cyclones are rare to come by, and when you do meet them, history has taught me to brace full on for the impact.

hooah.

 

 

may we never forget these days

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This post is emotionally wrought with stories of nostalgia, themes of reflection and thoughts on moving on. This isn’t a sad post, but neither is it necessarily an extremely happy one. But that is also how I feel right now – at the perfect state of bittersweetness.

I’ve heard how college changes your life. I’ve heard how it’s the best four years of your life. I’ve also heard how you make some of your best friends here. I’ve seen all of that come true, especially as the past month unfolded itself. I find myself at a really important point in my life, wanting to give it the time and space it needs to fully affect me as it should.

I’ve learnt so much about myself the past 3 years, constantly facing challenges and having to evolve as I learn more about the world around me. I came into college with a head bigger than it should have been. I had completed some significant chapters in my life, but it wasn’t experience that beget opportunities, but humility and curiosity. I learnt that vulnerability is where you are fully taking in what is around you because you have fewer guards to stop you. For example, when I signed up to produce a musical, I walked into rooms, shut up and learnt from others before speaking my part. I learnt to trust the knowledge of the community and my peers, and that made me even more important as a collaborator and manager.

It is also this humility and curiosity that stopped me from judging people who were different from me, something that is almost endemic to the conservative Singaporean psyche and allowed me to connect with a fascinating diversity of people. I am so so happy I got the opportunity to come to Chicago, which is the crossroads of culture, politics and experiences in the US. The days I’ve spent just wandering the neighbourhoods and the nights I’ve spent traversing the beautiful urban landscapes of the city will always be etched into my memory as some of the most classically romantic points in my life.

Before college, I thought I understood what friendship was and what it stood for. A step backwards, I was also a very angsty teen growing up. I really thought I was undeserving of love, that I was someone who had to claw his way up in every situation he was in and prove his utility to earn a place amongst others. It’s a huge part of the underdog story I had to live as a part of growing up, both as a minority and an immigrant. But in college, again in the past month, I’ve seen my real friends take their place and make their love for me known. I’ve felt my heart explode a thousand times over as I feel emotionally connected to the people who have surrounded me for the past few weeks, months and years. I’ve felt distraught as I realise that this chapter is ending, that this story is taking on a new turn and that the cruelty of the life will not allow me to have the privilege of being just a five-minute walk from any of these people. But I’ve also felt the showers of affection. The more I give myself away, the more I get back and the more honest I become, the more connected I become to the people around me. I’m leaving college having a vastly different understanding of friendship and love, and I really am standing on a bittersweet intersection of this realisation.

I am a product of my experiences, my character and the people who support me. I have never felt more connected to life itself, to the wider ways of the universe. I will always be that kid from Singapore, the one with dreams bigger than he can handle, but I will also always be your friend and loyal companion if you choose to be mine. I will take every adventure on with you, and I will promise that our memories will be laced with surreal moments.

These are my transformations in college. may we never forget these magical days and may we always remember who we were at this point in our lives.

hooah.

we are complex.

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Recently I celebrated my 24th birthday and I’ve asked myself what changes I’ve seen in my life so far. I’ve gotten into the hobby of watching the world evolve as we speak. It’s very much being conscious of the changes that are happening around you and the dynamics that build into them. It’s also being aware of the complexities that intertwine our lives. It is a fair truth that the world belongs to those who engage in these complexities – of growth, love, passion and many others. But these complexities give both immense joy and tragic pains and I’ve experienced both in the past few days.

This will be a short post for the most part, not because not a lot has happened, but because so much has happened that cannot and should not be written. For the first time in a while, these records will have gaps that are intentional and there.

Now, immense joy. I’ve recently felt the true sensation of bliss in my life. Time and again, I’ve sought out the gem of happiness (pure, unfiltered and lasting) and I’ve sought it in various places. This is why I travel, why I write, why I try to solve problems. But I think the moment I felt bliss was when I felt love, in all of its forms, when I didn’t earn it. Love that was bestowed upon me because I was who I was and furiously committed to that. Love that was enveloping and entrapping. From my family that has been there since day 1, to my friends who have taken the journeys with me, to the cosmic sense of the world that has shown me its beauty, I have felt love in consecutive waves that built upon each other and it is beautiful. I am so grateful for these stranger things.

But tragic pains also are part of the parcel of existence. I stay conscious of the fact that too many good things beget one bad thing, and while there’s no rationale for that belief, it keeps me wary. I stay wary that others are complex and are on their own paths, and sometimes in my attempt to understand their complexity, I can misstep. I stay wary that the world is built on tensions between dualistic forces and sometimes we got caught in the midst of them. I stay wary that sometimes pain is an energy by itself, and it can inspire thought, empathy and progress. Emotional pain drives itself to the soul, lunging at the core safeties that we’ve built for ourselves and tears them apart. It drains you of your energy for the quickest moment, leaving you a vessel, but then provides you the option of response. How one deals with pain show probably some of the most defining moments of their character, especially if it is tied again to the understanding of our lives. I have felt pain recently and it was excruciating, but it was honest and truthful and the most connected I’ve felt to my humanity in a while. These too are stranger things.

We are essentially dancing all throughout our lives, between moments of joy and pain. Some are stumbling through, and some ride the waves, but everyone is in their own complex performance. But the dance cannot be beautiful without the tension, and it cannot be interesting without the momvement, and so dance we must, and dance we shall.

hooah.

the seattle travelogue – welcome to emerald city

In the range of regions in the US, the Pacific Northwest is a favorite amongst anyone who wants to see the future of American cities. My previous trip on the West Cost stopped in Portland, and I was still itching to see Seattle, the emerald city. I finally found the opportunity to make my way there in April.

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Seattle is a beautiful city and ranks high on my list as one of the most liveable cities I’ve been to. Aside from the rainy winter weather, Seattle has everything going for it – from a young progressive population to a beautiful natural backyard. From Kerry Park, you can get a sick view of the city and skyline including glimpses of the snowcapped Mt. Rainier and the Space Needle.

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The downtown area that caters to tourist basically revolves around the Seattle Center, which I honestly accidentally chanced upon during the walk down from Kerry Park. This area is a futuristic one with Glass Gardens, exhibitions, and other interesting sights. I’d say it’s more telling of Seattle’s commitment to being a city of the future and a meeting place of minds than anything else.

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One of the best things you can probably do for yourself while in Seattle is to find a way to do something at the Lake Union, the lake that stands in the middle of the city. The lake is absolutely beautiful especially with the mountains in the backdrop and the sun setting. You can do sports activities, ride a yacht (if you just so happen to own or rent one), or as I did, grab dinner by it. This is at White Swan Public House. 

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I normally keep food recos for the end, but while we’re here, I’d say this restaurant’s main merit is its location and vibe. It’s charming and heartfelt, with good shellfish such as this clam poutine, but its service tends to be slow.

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Another place that is worth the visit is the Starbucks Reserve Roastery, where Starbucks shows its chops as a legitimate coffee producer. The place is divided into a coffee tasting area, a cafe, and a publicly viewable roastery.  You can talk to professional coffee roasters about the variety of blends and methods to extract coffee. It’s slightly sad that every other Starbucks in the world tends to be just sugary concoctions without the same appreciation for the coffee bean, but this was slightly redeeming.

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I’d definitely recommend getting some flight from the menu. I got the cold brew flight, with one being a nitro version and they were really interesting profiles. They even give you info cards on the beans and where they come from.

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Another big place to visit in Seattle is Pike Place Market. This is near the main downtown area of Seattle and is another tourist hotspot, although if you’ve followed my travelogues you would know I love markets anyway.

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There’s a decent amount of goods here from flowers to spices to spreads. What’s especially captivating is the wide array of seafood that is freshly caught from the Pacific Northwest. I didn’t manage to get a good picture but there’s a shop that’s famous for throwing seafood between its folks when you order something, so if you’re willing to drop a dime just to see the act, definitely go for it.

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It’s probably worth taking the side-step to talk about some real issues in Seattle, beyond just the sights. Seattle has a huge problem with homelessness, and it becomes obvious once you walk the streets and look away from the mountains and straight onto your sidewalks. The city is largely filled with white upper middle-class to upper-class people, especially with the tech boom from Amazon and Microsoft, and it’s displacing people fast and furiously. Even at Pike Place, there’s a viewing area that is just occupied by homeless folk and it reminds you of how different people can experience the same city in vastly different ways. It’s worthy perspective to hold as you visit this city.

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While you’re in Pike’s Place, make the slight detour to find the original Starbucks (which isn’t that interesting but worth noting of its existence) and also Beecher’s, which apparently has the best mac and cheese in the world (shown above).  The Mac and Cheese is extremely creamy but surprisingly not too heavy. You can see how they make the cheese in-house from the peering window.

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Another good area to check out is Fremont, slightly north of downtown Capitol Hill, and where most people try to live. This is where our Airbnb was and the neighborhood was just such a pleasant place to be at. On the sunny day that we were there, it’s a beautiful walk to check out the town and have food at Paseo’s, a carribean sandwich place that will blow your mind away, and grab a cold beer at Fremont Brewery.

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Slightly west of Fremont is Ballard, which is where all of Seattle’s famous breweries are. My friends and I did a bar-hop and we got a good fill of amazing beer from the likes of Peddler, Populuxe and Reuben’s. You can go for flights at each place or enjoy a beautiful pint of it’s signature beers.

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Don’t miss out on exploring the natural backyard while you’re in Seattle. Make sure you go hiking or some sort of adventuring. We climbed Little Si, which was a 2 hour hike each way (mostly because I had lost a lot of my fitness), and the trail was absolutely stunning with the different terrains we had to traverse. Again the sights are amplified with the presence of snow-capped mountains.

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For food, we’ll continue with seafood. You must appreciate the local catch including salmon, albacore, and geoduck. Moshi Moshi in Ballard is a good place to start with the sharing platter being around 60USD and the service being top-notch. It’s a small place and the neighborhood is a charming one, but the sushi and sashimi stand out as stars in this place.

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Brunch is also a big deal in Seattle, and Portage Bay is a well recommended venue with tons of gluten-free and farm to table options. I got the vegetable hash with pork belly strips and I ended up with a very filling yet healthy meal that tasted so fresh.

There’s a lot more places I didn’t get pictures of, but definitely, check out Canon (a whiskey speakeasy with great service and selection), Kedai Makan (a malaysian fusion restaurant if you miss southeast asian food) and Li’l Woody’s for greasy late night burgers. I’ve also heard Dick’s is a good place to check out for late night but I didn’t get the chance to go.

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I do want to take the time to thank Daniel and Mac for being such great hosts, showing me around this amazing city, taking care of me when I was enjoying myself too much and making me remember this city with such fond memories. I’m almost down for more adventures with these folks.

I’ll miss you Seattle and you better bet I’m coming back to visit you.

hooah.