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Archive: Arts & Culture / Spokane and North Idaho

From the air, Kauai is even prettier

Above: The bird's-eye view of Kauai's Napali Coast that I enjoyed, courtesy of Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. Photo by Mary Pat Treuthart.

The Hawaiian island of Kauai is unique. Fourth largest of the main eight islands, it is largely inaccessible except by foot or by helicopter. And since we are well beyond the days we would hike into areas that even Rich Landers might hesitate to tackle, that left only one choice if we wanted to see more of Kauai than we could view from the main roads.

What did we do? Well, everyone said that if there were one island you had to see by air, it was Kauai. So, yeah, we sprang for the helicopter. Blue Hawaiian Helicopters offered us an hour-long flight that toured the entirety of the 560-some-square-mile area, all for about $200 a head.

Helicopters have changed quite a bit since I last rode in one (Vietnam, 1969, don't ask). Along with our pilot Brad (former Army pilot, 25 years experience), seven of us were stuffed into a space that, surprising to me, did manage to offer more elbow room than your average theme-park ride. My wife Mary Pat and I sat in front between Brad and another passenger, while the other four sat in back (we had no say about the seating; it was all determined, they said, by weight).

Brad lifted off from the Lihue Airport in a fairly dramatic fashion, rushing toward a stand of palm trees at the end of the runway, before sweeping up and over the coast. The ride was smooth and far less bouncy than I expected, and the headphones we were all wearing both muffled the noise and made communication easy.

We headed west, toward the island of Niihau in the distance, and along the southern coast. As we flew, Brad explained how so many movies have used the remote Kauai landscapes. “I'm not a big movie guy,” he said just before mentioning “The Descendants” as we flew over the coastal valley that director Alexander Payne used as the site of the movie's climactic family squabble. We then proceeded clockwise around the island's perimeter, heading inland to swoop through and over the majestic valleys (especially Waimea Valley).

The high point, literally, came when — because we'd been lucky enough to sore one of those incredibly clear days so rare in Kauai — we were able to rise above Kauai's tallest peak, Kawaikini, a peak that is normally shrouded in clouds. Equally visible was the second-highest peak, Mount Walaleale, which is often listed as one of the world's wettest spots (with an annual average rainfall of some 460 inches). Brad seemed to make the aircraft stand on end so that we could get as many different views as possible.

Then we headed up past the Napali (also spelled Na Pali) coast, a stretch of some 16 miles that feature stark cliffs that rise up from the ocean like folded strips of green-and-red-tinted paper. Then past Taylor Camp, home of the former hippie haven, around exclusive Princeville, and then back toward Lihue.

You see, on occasion, bumper stickers that say things such as, “We're spending our kids' inheritance.” The helicopter ride around Hawaii's garden Island may fit that category.

Hey, I'll say, thanks for the early Christmas gift.

Kauai: From good beaches to great ice cream

Above: Photo by Mary Pat Treuthart

It’s only natural for people to dream about Hawaiian vacations, especially this time of year. For some, that kind of vacation might be the holiday of a lifetime. For others, it might mean an annual affair. Whatever, it’s one of the easiest kinds of trips for Inland Northwest residents to make.

All it involves is a short hop to Seattle and then five hours and change to the island of your choice: Oahu, Maui, the Big Island (my favorite) and the island we’re now visiting – Kauai. As for places to stay, just consult TripAdvisor. Something should fit.

However you manage it, once you’re here, the experience is likely to remain with you for life. And if you come in early December, you’re not apt to find the crowds that show up at other times of the year.

Beaches? Kauai has a number of them. From Kee Beach at Haena State Park on the north coast to Keaha Beach Park, which sits at the far western coast. We spent one afternoon walking the sands at Lydgate State Park just outside Wailua.

Restaurants? You can drop a load at one of the resorts in Princeville, such as the St. Regis or the Westin (where we ate twice at the Westin’s Nanea Restaurant and Bar). Or you can eat at any number of street joints, such as Island Taco (which sits on the main drag, Kaumualii Highway, in Waimea) and enjoy fish tacos to die for.

To die for.

For after dinner, you can eat ice cream at, say, at Pink’s Creamery in Hanalei. Even better, at Lappert’s (three locations, in Princeville, in Kapaa and Hanapepe).

One thing you can do for free, besides beach visits, is what we did this afternoon: explore Waimea Canyon. Some refer to it is the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” which is a bit of a stretch. But it is an impressive sight, even if all you do is drive to the end and walk to the overlook spots, those not obscured by fog, instead of hiking the many trails.

Free and amazing. That’s what I call a dream

They don’t call Kauai the Garden Island for nothing

Not sure what the weather is like in Spokane. (That's a lie. According to Weather.com, it's 33 degrees and snowing.) But I can tell you that today, in Kauai, the sun played tag with clouds, the rain held off, and tropical breezes made life just about perfect. Which is why I posted the above photo, which I took in Princeville, looking west-northwest as the sun dipped below the cliffs that turn into the Napali Coast.

Yeah. I'm on Kauai, also known as Hawaii's Garden Island. My wife and I arrived here following our visits to Shanghai and Hong Kong and we'll spend our last few days here, trying to soak up as much sun as we can before heading back to … the cold.

We arrived in Honolulu to a situation heavy with irony. After finding it easy to navigate airports in airports where the native language was either Mandarin or Cantonese, and not everyone we worked with spoke English, we found ourselves stumped in the Hawaiian Airlines terminal of the Honolulu International Airport. Machines, no desks with live human begins. And a curious lack of signage telling us exactly what to do. All that, complicated by jet lag, and we found ourselves wishing we were back in China.

I've lived in Hawaii. On Oahu, for four years, before, during and after it became a state. So, yes, I know it is part of the U.S. At times, though, Hawaii does feel like a foreign country. 

Despite the problems. we made our flight, which would take about the same time as flying from Spokane to Moses Lake. And barely a half hour later we were landing at Lihue Airport. Since then, things have gotten progressively better. It rained on and off our first day, and today gave new meaning to the phrase “partly sunny.” But we took our rental car for a ride, hit the beach at Haena State Park and took in that gorgeous sunset.

The day's highlight: having lunch at Tahiti Nui, the bar/cafe that was featured in Alexander Payne's 2011 film “The Descendants.” As we ate our sandwiches, served to us by a hardworking yet friendly waitress, I kept looking for signs of Clooney's presence. But, of course, he was nowhere to be seen. Nor were the stars of the some 76 other movies filmed, even if only partly, on Kauai. Such as Sam Neil from “Jurassic Park.” Kathleen Turner in “Body Heat.” Johnny Depp in “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.” Harrison Ford in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” And so on.

Later, though, as we sat on the lanai of the St. Regis Princeville Resort (no, we aren't staying there) and watched the sun drop below the horizon, I thought again of Clooney and the many movie stars who have enjoyed this paradise called Kauai. And I raised my glass to the notion that I was enjoying it, too.

Hong Kong: The press of flesh behind the headlines

It's difficult, if not impossible, to write anything about visiting Hong Kong without mentioning the demonstrations that are making headlines around the world. When we were in Shanghai, both the Shanghai Daily and China Daily newspapers were featuring front-page stories on both the Occupy Central movement and the riots in Ferguson, Mo. Yet to the average Hong Kong resident, both stories seem to share an equal sense of importance. Or, to be honest, non-importance.

We arrived here Thursday night and spent most of Friday trekking through Hong Kong's center either by foot, by cab (bad idea because of the snarl they call traffic) and subway (crowded but a whole lot quicker). And we could see little effect that the Occupy Central movement was having. We even had a long discussion on the night we arrived with the husband of a restaurant owner who said that while the majority of city residents supported the Occupy movement, an equal majority disapproved of their methods.

I'm not a political reporter, and I don't have the overall knowledge or expertise to judge any of this. I can only report what I see. And what I don't.

What I saw on Friday was a city built on an island, so congested with high-rise buildings and streets that snake over and atop one another it's hard to imagine people actually living here. The city extends across an inlet to a portion of the mainland (where the demonstrations are taking place), all area that the British had claimed and held for a century and a half before ceding it back to the Chinese government in 1997. We ate lunch at a restaurant, Dim Dim Sum, that lists Anthony Bourdain as one of its biggest fans (the photo above is over a pork roll that was sweetly scrumptious).

After lunch, we stopped by a shopping mall (the biggest I've seen outside of Dubai or Minneapolis) to get tickets to an evening showing of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1” (because what is a trip to Hong Kong, home of Bruce Lee, without seeing a movie?). Then we jumped in a cab (big mistake) to head for the station of the tram that climbs up to The Peak that overlooks all Hong Kong. After what seemed like hours, we arrived — only to wait in line for what seemed like forever. At the top, the view is magnificent, though the haze made the taking of photos pretty much a useless activity. Then we took even longer to get back down.

But after getting directions to the nearest subway stop, we piled on and two stops later we were at the very shopping center where the movie was playing. We ate dinner (pizza because, after 10 days, we wanted a change in diet) and then took in the movie — which adds a third item to the list of things I've seen and not seen.

Things I wished I hadn't seen.

Looking down on ‘Blade Runner’ Shanghai

Though we try to hit as many offbeat tourist sites as we can when we travel, we always encounter those places that are a must visit. If you go to Paris, you have to see The Louvre. In Rome, St. Peter's Basilica. New York, the Empire State Building. And so on.

So in Shanghai, that would include the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, which is where we visited on the late afternoon of our final day in Shanghai. It's the highest tower in Asia and the third highest in the world and is part of the city's famous skyline, which at night looks like something out of the film “Blade Runner.” And it sits squarely in the center of a shopping complex that is jaw-droopingly vast, connected largely by a series of elevated walkways that attract visitors from all over the world — but especially the Chinese hinterlands (which explains why, for the first time in our week-long stay, we attracted a number of stares).

The tower, which is 468 meters in height, isn't particularly easy to enter. First, we decided to pay the full price (about $36 apiece) to get full access, including going up to the highest point, which is called the “Space Capsule.” Then we stood in a series of lines that rivaled those at Disneyland for twists and turns, not to mention wait. When we finally were squeezed into an elevator, we headed up — only to transfer to a second lift, which finally deposited us at an enclosed viewing platform that offers a stunning 360-degree view not just of the city but of the entire surrounding area.

By the time we arrived, it was past sunset. And the sky, though clearer than it had been in days, was still hazy. Even so, the sight was impressive (as you can tell from the above photo). We made the circle, snapping photos (including the obligatory selfies), and then headed to another elevator up to the “Space Capsule,” which turned out to be just another, higher but smaller area with another 360-degree view.

The most impressive spot to me sits on a lower level, where you can step out on clear sections that make it seem as if you are ready to fall hundred of meters to the street. I took one step — and that was enough.

Then we began the lengthy stand-in-line exercise of heading down. If you decide to add the Oriental Pearl TV Tower to your list of Shanghai tourist activities, make sure to leave plenty of time. And unless you have a private driver, walk or take the subway away from the area to avoid cabbies who will try to rip you off (two told us that they would take us only if we agreed to pay “at least 300 yuan,” or about $48, which is not only unethical but illegal — but that's supply and demand for you).

I found myself wishing for one of those flying cars that Deckard drove in “Blade Runner.” We'd have been back to our hotel in minutes.

Jackie Chan is alive and well in Shanghai

If you had to list the top Asian martial-arts star of all time, the name most likely to come up would be Bruce Lee. Close behind, though, would be another Hong Kong native, Jackie Chan.

So, of course, we had to make a pilgrimage to the Jackie Chan Film Gallery yesterday. After taking a cab to Chanfeng Park, a picturesque tree-lined area that boasts boating and a variety of water-related activities, we found our way to the two-story warehouse that houses a retrospective of Chan's career and life.

Along with props taken from his many films, the gallery features a series of interactive stations — many of which show scenes from his films, especially those that give examples of his one-time daring stunts (at 58, he's long past doing the really dangerous stuff). It also gives a brief look at his life, from his rough beginnings (his family's sending him off to study Chinese Opera at an early age) and his more recent charity work.

Overall, it's a G-rated look at his life. And at about $25 a pop, the tickets are fairly expensive. But if you've a Chan fan, it's a must stop for the Shanghai traveler. 

Shanghai cabbies give surprisingly good deals

Every city has it own particular taxi culture, each with a specific set of rituals and rules. When we visited Paris several years ago, for example, we could never just hail a cab off the street, the way you can in New York. We had to go to certain intersections and only there would we be able to find a ride.

And we've encountered similar situations in Rome and Florence, Italy, though with the added requirement that we get in the right cab — sometimes the one that had been waiting the longest, other times (or so it seemed) the one being driven by the most senior cabbie.

In Shanghai, both rules seem to apply, though perhaps a bit more randomly. Cabs will congregate at certain spots. But if one drives past and has a green light glowing on top, it's supposed to be free. That's no guarantee, though, as some will drive right past you no matter how hard you try to get their attention. Maybe they've forgotten to turn the light off and are heading toward another fare. Maybe they really don't see you. Or maybe they just don't want to hassle driving around some foreigners whose language they don't begin to understand.

(China travel tip: It's a good idea to have your travel destination written out in Chinese characters, something that most employees at a hotel concierge desk should be willing to help with. Anyone with local phone service can download apps that will help, too.)

Whatever, we had good luck getting cabs yesterday in Shanghai, despite the fact that it was drizzling most of the day and we were hardly the only ones looking for easy transportation. (Shanghai's metro system is both cheap and easy to navigate, but its stops are inconvenient to where we are staying; if you have to walk a half hour to get on the metro, a cab could already have dropped you where you want to go.)

Our first stop was the Jade Buddha Temple, a working Buddhist monastery that was built between 1918 and 1928 (see the above photo). Its highlight, as the title suggests, is a state of Buddha made of jade, one of five that — according to Lonely Planet — had been sent back to China at the turn of the 20th century. I took no photo of the actual jade state because this was the only room where photos were banned (and I watched a guy get chastised when he pulled out his fancy camera and began clicking away). But we toured the whole temple, which took about a half hour, and — embarrassingly enough — found ourselves crashing a couple of Buddhist funerals.

Afterward, we hailed a cab almost immediately and headed across town to a completely different setting: a contemporary arts complex called ShanghART, a collection of several buildings in which serious galleries and shops displayed — for no entrance fee — the works created by a number of art collectives. Our favorite was Islands6, which featured mostly untitled works in neon and video/photo mashups making clever commentary on the clash between traditional and contemporary Chinese life.

And again, when we were through, we were able to grab a cab almost immediately. One final note: As I've noted below, Shanghai is huge. And street traffic is often a snarl of honking cars, trucks, vans and motor scooters. So trips across town can take as much as a half hour or more. One such trip cost three of us a mere 51 Chinese yuan — or about $8.31 U.S. dollars.

For offering that kind of a bargain, Chinese cabbies should be considered even more of a national treasure than any half dozen jade statues.

Yuyuan Gardens: Old China meets the Colonel

Above: Access to the Yuyuan Gardens requires you to brave your way through the crowds, which on weekends can be a formidable task.

It's not that communication is impossible in China. But it's not particularly dependable, even if you purchase high-speed Internet services or even a locally connected smartphone.

The friends we are visiting here in Shanghai are on a year-long stay (Gonzaga Law Prof. Ann Murphy is a distinguished Fulbright chair at the Shanghai University School of Finance and Economics) have their own VPN, which gives them far better access than I do through my hotel's web services. But even they have trouble on occasion accessing Facebook and Youtube and other sites that we take for granted in the U.S.

From my hotel, I can't even access Hotmail, either through my laptop or my phone. Yet my wife can. Go figure.

Ah, but such inconveniences aside, we're trying to make the most of our visit. Yesterday it rained, so we didn't do much other than read novels (I'm splitting time between “Rainbows End” by Vernor Vinge and “Tatiana” by Martin Cruz Smith), nap and try to navigate what websites we could.

On Sunday, though, we took a cab to the Yuyuan Gardens and Bazaar, which is located in what is called Shanghai's Old Town. The cabbie dropped us off just a little over a block away, yet it took us the better part of a half hour to figure out how to get inside. The gardens, which are a maze of ponds and bridges and enclosed passageways, can be accessed only by first negotiating the crowded bazaar, another string of shops, each of which boasts a vendor standing outside attempting to lure you in.

The strange aspect of all this, at least to a westerner, is that along with all the silk and spice and precious stone and jewelery shops, you can find a Starbucks, a KFC and even a Dairy Queen. Welcome to globalization.

We did get out last night, later when the rain had dwindled to a mere drizzle. And we ate at a noodle shop near where our friends live. It was one of this hole-in-the wall spots that features formica table and stools instead of actual chairs, and the menu posted on the wall had not a single word in English. But our Chinese friend, a former student of Prof. Murphy and my wife's, ordered for us — and the food was as good as anything Chinese I've ever eaten.

Take that, Col. Sanders.

Modern Shanghai still has ties to its ancient past

Above: One of the many food booths in Shanghai's Qibao neighborhood.

When you're a city the size of Shanghai, which in 2013 was estimated at a whopping 23.9 million, you're bound to have a variety of different looks. (That population, by the way, isn't just China's highest but also the world's, giving it a population density of some 9,700 people per square mile.)

Most of us think of Shanghai as that ultra-contemporary place suggested by the Pudong skyline of towering skyscrapers and neon light shows. Yesterday, though, we saw another side of the city, one that speaks of China's ancient past.

Qibao is the place that Lonely Planet calls a refuge for those tired of “Shanghai's incessant quest for modernity.” Bound by ancient gates, and boasting long alleyways filled with street-food booths and shops selling everything from kitchen utensils to rare spices to clothing, Qibao (pronounced something like Chee-BOW) is a busy-but-always-intriguing picture of the past.

We walked the length and width of the district, sampling everything from fried tofu to grilled octopus and a curious kind of coconut drink, but mostly just indulging in the bustle of Shanghai street life. This included the multicolored lanterns lighting the narrow lanes, the smells of food and the sounds of everything from singers performing for whomever would listen to the ever-present honks of motorbikes and the scuffle of shoes on the hard stone sidewalks.

No short stay can ever give you a complete picture of what a city has to offer. But so far, Shanghai — the air of which, by the way, is far more breathable than that of China's capital, Beijing — is proving to be what many claim: one of the world's great metropolises.

Walking Shanghi: a trip through Oz

It makes sense to feel intimidated by China. Though visiting this country is far easier that it was, say, 20 years ago, China is full of signs that are incomprehensible to those who don't speak Mandarin (even if many include English translations). And unlike many other countries around the world, China has far fewer resident who are fluent in English — though this is gradually changing.

So it helps that we are visiting friends who are on a year-long sabbatical here in Shanghai, one of whom speaks Mandarin. Also, we've connected with some of my wife's former Gonzaga Law School students who are Chinese.

Which is how we found ourselves, late last night, getting foot massages that made me, at least, nearly scream — both in pain and pleasure. Before that, we had spent the day at the Shanghai Museum checking out ancient calligraphy, bronzes and ceramics. We toured the People's Square, rode a tourist tram along E. Nanjing Road and hit the world-famous Bund, which Lonely Planet describes as “a designer retail and dining zone” that includes some of “the city's most exclusive boutiques, restaurants and hotels.”

The highlight: We stood on the banks of the busy Huangpu River, vying with crowds watching as the Oz-like Pudong district came alive with its glow of neon lights and gleaming towers. That's the view in the above photo.

And the foot massages? They were a treat offered by one of the former Chinese students, now a lawyer himself, that we could not turn down. Call it our little attempt to help achieve world detente — and overcome intimidation.

Tonight at Auntie’s: On the road in a vintage RV

Above: This stock photo gives some idea of the sights life on the road can provide.

If you've traveled, you know the difficulties involved with airports. The prices, the lines, the security stations, etc. So it's no wonder that some people prefer to take their homes with them on the road.

That's not to say that RV owners don't face challenges. In her memoir “Snowbirds: How a Road Trip in a Vintage RV Put Love and Adventure Back in a Marriage,” author JoAnne Bender recounts the experiences she shared with her husband driving around the country.

A description on Amazon.com reads as follows: “A woman talks her husband into buying a vintage RV, and soon the couple depart on a two thousand-mile road trip from Spokane, Washington, to the Texas border … and back. She's completely enamoured with the RV’s charming interior; he's just hoping all the rig's mechanical problems have been fixed. Along the way, they face breakdowns aplenty, but the little turquoise RV also provides bushels of life lessons and lots of aha moments—from how to navigate an older RV over hill and dale to how best to stock a motor home to the joy of seeing a flaming red sun set in a desert sky. Somewhere between the mile markers, the couple realize plenty of adventures still await them … in their marriage and in the forty-year-old RV they’ve grown to love.”

Bender will read at 7 tonight at Auntie's Bookstore. The reading is free and open to the public. For further information, click here.

Spokane Tribe of Indians Heritage Day

Join the Spokane Tribe of Indians on Wednesday, Nov. 5 at Spokane County Fair & Expo Center for Heritage Day. All ages are invited to this free, public event with exhibition dancing, a live river salmon exhibit, wildlife displays, language presentations, archeology displays and many educational hands-on areas including a beading booth.

“Heritage Day is a great way to experience the rich cultural heritage, history and contributions of the Spokane Indians to the local area and community,” says Spokane Tribal Council Chairman Rudy Peone. “With a wide range of activities, exhibitions and educational information, there is something for everyone.”

For more information, contact Tammy Kieffer of the Spokane Tribe at (509) 722-5835 or Chris Clifford of Mojo-Lab at (509) 232-0803.

Famed Santa Fe artist comes to Spokane

Dodson's Jewelers in downtown Spokane is hosting a show opening tonight featuring noted Santa Fe, New Mexico artist Estella Loretto.

Loretto, who grew up in New Mexico's Jemez pueblo, spent some time in Spokane during the 1980s, teaching Southwestern cooking and pottery. Now, she has larger, monumental bronze sculptures on display across the country, including Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American Indian, the Heard Museum in Phoenix, the Native American Center in Niagara Falls, New York, and the State Capitol Building in Santa Fe. Her most famous sculpture, of the only Native American saint, Blessed Kateri, stands outside the Cathedral of St. Francis in Santa Fe. In addition to her large sculptures, she also paints, and makes masks and jewelry.

She is returning to Spokane for the first time in more than two decades to attend the opening reception of her show tonight at Dodson's, 516 W. Riverside Ave. The reception will run from 5 to 8 p.m., and the Loretto show will continue through October.

Interested in learning more? Visit Loretto's website here.

Trivia geeks to take the stage

Trivia geeks unite.

Next Thursday, Spokane’s “best and the brightest” – and I use that term very loosely – will converge at the Bing Crosby Theater to reveal just how much useless knowledge is rattling around the old noggin.

That’s right. It’s the first Spokane Trivia Championship, to benefit STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs at the Spokane Public Library.

The event, sponsored by the Spokane Public Library Foundation, will feature teams showing off their cultural, historical and geographical knowledge. The teams represent such august organizations as Witherspoon Kelley attorneys at law, Avista, the Inlander, Lewis & Clark High School and The Spokesman-Review.

Yes, The Spokesman-Review. Yours truly is on the team, having beaten Shawn Vestal in extra innings of the newsroom tryouts for the privilege. Taking the stage with me are copy editor Michael McGarr and The Slice’s Paul Turner. And I’m warning you, we all know a lot of useless stuff.

The fun begins at 7 p.m. at the Bing, 901 W. Sprague Ave. Tickets are $12, available through TicketsWest. Children 12 and younger can enjoy this family-friendly event free of charge.

Mark Robbins, the guy from those Northern Quest commercials, is the emcee. For more information, visit the library foundation website.

Butterworth to inaugurate 2014-15 GU literary series

For the past several years, fans of literary readings have enjoyed an ongoing, annual event sponsored by Gonzaga University. The GU Visiting Writers series, which is free and open to the public, has brought such authors as Denis Johnson, Bharati Mukherjee and Jane Hirshfield.

The 2014-15 version of the series kicks off at 7:30 tonight at GU's Cataldo Hall with a reading by GU faculty member Dan Butterworth. Butterworth's latest collection of poetry is titled “The Clouds of Lucca.”

The rest of the series schedule: Oct. 21, poet Brenda Hillman; Nov. 20, writer Joanna Luloff; Feb. 18, writer Marilynne Robinson; March 25, poet Douglas Kearney; April 15, writer Michael Gurian.

For further information, click here.

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