Monday, February 4, 2013

A few days in Portland for Working Weekend at Reed College


I spent the second half of last week traveling to Portland for its second annual Working Weekend, a program sponsored by Reed's Alumni Board and Career Services Office that brings scores of Reed alums back to campus to speak to students on a series of panels about career choices and career path; there were also hands-on workshops on developing startups and producing radio news programming, as well as a sort of speed-dating like series of ten-minute one-on-one meetings between individual alums and individual students.  I began with a separate career talk to students on Thursday afternoon.  The public restroom had this interesting label which, I gather, will increasingly become the norm.



For dinner, I headed out to northeast Portland to meet my friend (and perennial host when I come in for Reed activities) Lorene Scheer and a couple of her friends at a very interesting Cambodian restaurant, Mekong Bistro (at this writing the web site is not working, but their Facebook page is here).

The Mekong Bistro menu ranges wide in different flavors and textures.  We began with two appetizers —  beef jerky, four strips of beef that were a bit chewy but also moist and nicely flavored, and the Mekong Lettuce Wrap, a spicy minced chicken cooked with diced apples and vegetables, served with quartered head of lettuce from which we would peel off the lettuce leaves, stuff them with chicken mixture and eat by hand.
Lettuce Wrap and beef jerky at Mekong Bistro

We had somewhat sour and spicy soup, Som-Law Maju Kreung, with lemongrass, watercress and pork ribs.

Som-Law Maju Kreung at Mekong Bistro

The chicken and shrimp salad with noodles and vegetables (nyum) was spicy, but the steamed catfish, served in coconut cream and curry paste and wrapped with banana leaves, was delicately sweet and cooked just right. My one regret about the catfish dish was not having a separate plate to eat it, because I think it would have been better if the portions I took were not mixing with the spicy flavors from the other dishes that we all shared family style.

Steamed catfish in banana leaves at Mekong Bistro

Nyum at Mekong Bistro

We were too full to order dessert, but the restaurant treated us to a dish of sweet rice topped with strips of custard.    Having been given a gift, of course we had to consume it -- a delicious treat.  We were only able to scratch the surface of the menu, and I look forward to visiting again on future trips to Portland.   

Although I had scheduled my plane travel based on a preliminary schedule that had the sessions for Working Weekend beginning on Friday, the final schedule had nothing until a dinner for the visiting alums with the Board of Trustees.  But i had managed to find an excellent fare for barely over $300 round-trip out of National Airport, and it would have been expensive to change it.   Instead, my host Lorene and I planned to go snowshoeing on Mount Hood.  But there was so much snow during that week that we weren’t confident in bringing either her car or my rental car without the required chains or traction tires, and Lorene's hip was acting up, so instead we opted to spend the day hiking in the Columbia Gorge.  Portland was still covered by clouds as we drove out I-84, but as we passed through Troutdale the sky turned sunny, and in the end we enjoyed sunny and unseasonable warm temperatures for our hike (upper 40's, maybe even low 50's).  We chose to hike Eagle Creek although as usual we got such a late start that we had to turn back about a mile short of the Tunnel Falls destination.  But there were dozens of waterfalls, pouring through the forests and tumbling over steep basalt walls.

Waterfall seen across Eagle Creek

Punchbowl Falls along Eagle Creek Trail

The path hugged the side of the some of the walls, and sometime we were walking directly under individual falls or could look up and see streamlets of water pouring over lichen-covered rocks onto us.

Walls along the Eagle Creek hiking trail



Eagle Creek trial going behind a small fall
Looking up at the walls along the Eagle Creek trail
Hill overlooking Eagle Creek Trail





There was several footbridges over the creek, one of them more than a hundred feet over the creek as it plunged through a narrow chasm below, and one place where we had to step over the creek ourselves. 



Chasm below bridge over Eagle Creek




I spent Saturday at Working Weekend, appearing on a panel with three other alumni lawyers engaged in a variety of practices, then watching a panel on “Law Outside the Corporate World” that featured three lawyers I know from DC.   

Working Weekend alumni participants
Working Weekend Schedule

 In the early afternoon there was a meeting of the Reed Alumni Board; among other things, we got to hear a defense by Reed Student Services director Mike Brody of a recent controversial decision by Reed’s new President, John Kroger, to cancel two classes during the January Paideia session and to demand reformulation of a third class which, supposedly, threatened the health and safety of students by providing inappropriate information about the use of drugs and the brewing of alcohol.    (Kroger’s written explanation is here).   Brody’s argument expanded on Kroger’s to some extent, suggesting on the one hand that any discussion of how to trip safely would inevitably encourage the use of illegal drugs, and on the other had that if information were to be conveyed about safer use of drugs it should only be offered by a highly qualified professional counselor instead of a hobbyist who might offer incorrect information.  I found the defense unpersuasive, but with a full agenda there was insufficient opportunity for a full discussion.    I will be looking forward to Kroger’s visit to DC next month when I expect a number of alums will be asking for a fuller explanation.  On the other hand, I could not help wondering why the students had not responded to the censorship of the classes by rescheduling them en masse without official “Paideia” imprimatur.

In the evening, I headed up to the Profile Theatre, which is having a whole season of plays by South African playwright Athol Fugard.  The theatre is tiny and in the round; the actors did a fine job.  Saturday’s performance was “The Road to Mecca,” about a woman whose artistic self-expression, a series of sculptures made from glass bottles, was threatening to her Afrikaaner neighbors.  I felt that the play started a bit slowly before the intermission, but it built to an intense conclusion.  It was a powerful end to a fine long weekend.

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