By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Whenever I travel overseas, I found that foreigners and even some Americans don’t seem to think much about Seattle. I could be biased, but there is no other place I would rather live. They think Seattle is insignificant and unexciting, despite the growth of the city that has skyrocketed in the past few years.
My recent trip to Norway proves that strangers still carry an old impression of Seattle. I am not kidding.
Germans, Australians and even Americans (including Asians) I met, all chimed in that Seattle rains a lot. One American couple from Utah even depicted Seattle’s summer as “dark, cold, and wet.” That’s bad. What these people remember was the Seattle from decades ago, when I just arrived. It was like summer had never found its footing in the city.
Hey, when was the last time these people visited our city? Please don’t judge us by one visit, give us another chance. Come back!
Did they know that Seattle was hot as hell last week — 104 degrees and several 80-degree days in July? Are they aware that our nice summer lasts much longer than it did 10 years ago? Perhaps global warming is to blame. When we have rain, it doesn’t last as long, and the sun quickly emerges to ensure our grass is lush green and flowers bloom. Believe it or not, we actually have droughts. Sometimes, the weather forecast predicts it will rain, and then it skips Seattle and meanders its way to British Columbia instead.
Educating foreigners about Seattle
What tourists don’t know, businessmen do.
The sleeping giant has now awakened. Seattle has contributed to the world in commerce, technology, innovation, job opportunities, and arts and entertainment.
Seattle is the gateway to Beijing, the closest city to fly to in China. It is the first major city to pass a $15 minimum wage law. That’s historic. Chinese investors enjoyed a shopping spree in our real estate market, and it drove our housing prices to an all-time high. It’s still a good place to invest.
Seattle is one of the most expensive cities to live in the United States. Watch out, New York! We have two sports stadiums in town and are planning to add a third. Not many U.S. cities have first-class sports facilities.
Unfortunately, all these attributes don’t impress the strangers I met.
Still, I wouldn’t give up a chance to sell my beloved city. Frequently, I start with something they are familiar with — Seattle is the headquarters of many internationally-renowned companies, such as Amazon, Starbucks, Costco, Microsoft, and formerly Boeing.
Starbucks might be popular in our hometown, and famous in America, China, and Japan, but in Europe, it is not well-received.
“It is expensive and doesn’t taste good,” said a Portuguese millennial. It is interesting to know that Portuguese are addicted to their own espresso. So are the Italians.
There is no need for me to argue with strangers. The point is, I just want to engage them in a hearty conversation. Surprisingly, I found foreigners like to talk more about Donald Trump than Seattle.
Unsurprisingly, Germans, Italians, Australians, Portuguese, and British don’t have any good things to say about our president.
I would change the subject to enlighten my European friends about America. It’s interesting when I talk about Amazon, we clicked as they also shop on Amazon.
I then realize, I have become a goodwill ambassador not only for Seattle, but America when I travel.
For someone who has never been to Seattle, and has no clue about the city, I ask them, “Do you know [the founder of Microsoft and philanthropist] Bill Gates?
Ten out of 10 people will nod their head. “He is from Seattle,” I said. It quickly puts Seattle in a positive light.
How to engage Asians
With Asians, I refer to Gary Locke, the first Chinese American governor in the United States and U.S. Ambassador, or the late Bruce Lee to build bridges.
A decade ago, upon hearing that I was from Seattle, the first reaction from Asians I met in America and Asia would be, “That’s Gary Locke country.” He was a powerful figure in those days and a symbol of pride for Chinese in many parts of the world. After finding common ground, it was easy for us to engage in conversation.
Few Asians actually remember that Bruce Lee was raised in Seattle. If Locke’s name doesn’t evoke any emotions, I try the martial arts star to see if we can hit it off. Most strangers find it interesting that Lee is also buried in Seattle.
Also, the Chinese movie, “Beijing in Seattle,” seems to elicit more positive emotions about Seattle from Mainland Chinese. Whenever I introduce myself as someone from Seattle, I need not say more.
No problem with Canadians
The ones who know us best are our neighbors, Canadians, even though some have never been to Seattle.
“We are familiar with Seattle because it’s similar to Vancouver, B.C. You have the mountains and waters like B.C.,” said a Canadian I met. The big difference is, we Americans can carry guns and Canadians can’t.
How outsiders remember us
It’s funny that most foreigners, including Canadians, are unaware of how much Seattle has grown. Our population now exceeds 660,000, compared to 500,000 a decade ago, and housing prices and rents have soared. New construction is also booming, as visitors can see with the cranes all over the city.
My message to outsiders: Seattle has changed so much, you wouldn’t believe it.
An Australian, who complained about our rain, remembered that Seattle is the gateway to Alaska. “I will come back to Seattle for the Alaska cruise.”
Hey, that’s not fair. Seattle is not just the gateway to Alaska. To many, Seattle is a destination in and of itself. Talk about raising profiles, Seattle has a long way to go.
Our city needs to come up with better strategies and plans. It’s something for the next mayor to think about.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.