By Mahlon Meyer
Northwest Asian Weekly
Down the long corridors, inside the soundproofed rooms, you never know who you’re going to meet at KODA condominiums.
In one unit, an 81-year-old man lives with the love of his life, who he met 60 years ago and with a single glance knew she was the one.
In another lives a man, nearly a quarter of his age who plays the violin and viola at night, amazed that his neighbors can never hear him, the soundproofing is so good.
For both men, the condominium represents a culmination of sorts. The first gave up a picturesque home on a lake with an orchard in Texas. The second was cheated out of his first purchase and saw the reliability and quality of the building and its management as a godsend.
Both use the building’s proximity to the Chinatown-International District (CID) as a means to go shopping at Uwajimaya, or frequent sushi or dumpling shops and barbecued pork or duck restaurants such as Kau Kau. And both use the proximity of the site to downtown and the waterfront to exercise.
Finding connection in new spaces
The property shows that new development in the CID can, in fact, integrate into the community while bringing needed business.
From the rooftop garden, sitting in a chair, looking through the Mexican Feather grass that sprays up like whiskers, one can only see sky for as far as the eye can behold.
On grimmer days, just after the building opened last June, residents came up amidst the isolation to watch sporting events in the nearby stadiums.
“They could feel close to the action,” said Vivian Hsieh, sales and marketing manager for Da-Li Development USA, the developer.
But today, during a recent visit to the property by Northwest Asian Weekly, there is a black tie party for residents and guests in the lobby, a two-story communal space.
In the center of the affair runs a long table covered with items from local institutions needing support. Residents bid on items such as a traditional Japanese Zabuton (floor cushion) from Ayame Kai or a vase from the Japanese Cultural Community Center of Washington.
Sushi, salad, fruit, and other fare line another table as guests and residents chat in a corner. A young Asian American woman sings into a microphone as she strums her guitar.
What drew each of these residents here? From the account given by the two that were available for interviews, it was a longing for community, which it appears they have found, or are starting to.
Don, the octogenarian, asked that his last name be withheld for privacy reasons. He looked up during an interview as a young couple with a tiny baby strapped to the chest of the mother walked in.
“Oh, hi!” he said, waving to them. “I’ll be there shortly.”
The couple lived down the block, but had apparently come to know him as a grandfatherly figure.
As for Dominic Hutt, 23, the younger resident, he fell in love with the space itself—the amenities and the environment.
When he isn’t playing his instruments, he is working in the 17th floor clubhouse with a commanding view of Mt. Rainier. He works for a startup in downtown so he can bike to his office in five minutes.
“But when I’m at home, working, you can always find me up there, looking eastward,” he said.
For breaks, he takes advantage of the shuffleboard, pool table, and movie theater up there.
How they came there was providential.
Don was born in Santa Cruz, California, where his grandfather was in business drying apples with a partner to sell for cider.
A multi-generation Chinese American, he had never thought much about race except to notice that there were very few Asian Americans in his hometown.
It was not until he attended the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and traveled around the world, seeing Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam, and other parts of Asia and Southeast Asia, that he realized he had in fact been quite prejudiced to begin with.
“Growing up with those few Asian American girls, I thought all Asian women were like that,” he said. “It was not until I got to the other side of the world and saw all those Asian women that I realized Asian women could be as beautiful as white women.”
Shortly thereafter, he was on the third floor of his dormitory in Long Island one day, when he looked out and saw the most beautiful of them all.
She was Japanese. And his family had been seriously harmed by the Japanese invasion of China, including the splitting of his grandparents and, for a time, his parents.
But he asked for her phone number and promised to call her the following week. A month and a half went by.
“I got busy with other things,” he said. He was in the academy and headed for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received his master’s, and eventually he would earn a Ph.D. from the University of Arizona—an intent young man,
But she knew instantly. That night, she told her roommate, “That is the man I’m going to marry.”
Why and how did it happen? An armchair psychologist might argue that it was because she had lost her father at age 2. Her father was also in the merchant marine and went down with his ship when it was sunk in wartime.
“He was a great swimmer and great kendo player,” said Don.
So his future wife had grown up without a father, except for the haunting photographs of the slim young man in the merchant marine uniform. Now another slim young man appeared in merchant marine uniform to ask for her phone number. Was it a ghost from the past?
Age has proven it wasn’t. They have been married for 60 years and have a son and a daughter. In fact, one of them was the reason for their move to Seattle, to be closer to him in their old age.
“I can’t take care of you if something should happen,” their son in Seattle had said to them recently.
But by the looks of it, they are the ones taking care of the younger generation. As the interview ended, Don got up and went back to the lobby to find the younger couple who he had invited to the feast.
For his part, Dominic Hutt has never met Don, but after hearing his story, he said he hoped that he would see someone out the window of his unit.
Hutt, in fact, almost ended up homeless, after being cheated by a developer in Columbia City.
After graduating from Gonzaga University in Finance (“I have a history of snow shoveling and landscaping,” he said), he stayed put at his parents’ house to save money. He found a job at a startup based in Seattle, but worked remotely.
After he had saved up enough for an earnest payment, he did research and found a unit near the light rail line in Columbia City. He was all set to move in when the developer squelched the deal after the condominiums had already been built.
“The developer used the interest that people like me had in the property to get a better rate of financing and convert it into apartments.”
Hutt got his earnest money back. But he had no place to live.
When he found KODA condominiums, he was impressed with the quality of the finishings and particularly the quiet, given that it’s in an urban setting.
“I had no idea you could do that with soundproofing,” he said. He’s on the second floor, but can’t hear a thing.
On a recent tour of the building, floor to ceiling windows were revealed like angels standing with transparent wings, in each unit. What is indeed surprising, is that standing next to the material, with one’s ear against the glass, one can hardly discern a sound from the street below.
Each unit was awash in white light from the spring sky.
Because of his work and his relative newness—Dominic moved in four months ago—he has not mingled with other residents as much.
He said he is comfortable in his one-bedroom unit where he stir fries for himself with salmon or white fish and vegetables he gets from Uwajimaya.
“I love the staff, they will do anything to make your stay more comfortable and they are so friendly,” he said.
Both men find different things appealing about the location. From the top of KODA, you can see the brown comforting facades of buildings in Chinatown, like a call home.
From the other side, you can see downtown with its imposing towers which are just a skip away.
Don heads out with his wife in a totally different direction, however. On some days, he and his wife walk down to the waterfront and walk the whole length.
Twice a week, his wife teaches aerobics and Tai Chi at the International District/Chinatown Community Center (he goes, too). And on off days, they practice tai chi in the yoga and exercise room of the condominium.
Dominic, on the other hand, likes the access to Pioneer Square, which he said his friends told him used to be a complicated area, but now he finds the restaurants and coffee shops ideal.
Mahlon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.