Yin-Yang and Pop Tarts


Last Friday I was cooped up all morning in my pajamas, a mad writer in the final stages of novel editing. My eyes were burning and I was barely on speaking terms with the English language.

As it was due time to see the light of day, I rode Silvie the bike through bustling downtown Portland and found some surprising tranquility.

There are things about Lan Su Chinese Garden that would normally keep me far, far away. It’s located in the city’s touristy Chinatown and you have to fork over nearly 10 bucks to get in the front door.

But, I gave it a go.



I decided to geek out and take the walking tour.

The tour guide with the cheesy Yin-Yang baseball cap almost made me change my mind, but he had me with his calm demeanor. He even told us we could leave at any time, or wander away and come back.

There were covered walkways throughout, but the rain was a soft drizzle so none of us cared about getting wet. Rumor has it that a heavier rain at Lan Su is nothing short of magical as the rain slips off the ornate roofs to create a beaded curtain effect.

It was incredible to learn the meaning of everything encompassing us—the stories and poetry, the Yin and Yang from floor to ceiling.

Bridges were designed in a zig-zag pattern to encourage the walker to slow down and absorb their surroundings.


At a leisurely pace I marveled at this island of serenity surrounded by noise and grime, lapsing into a walking meditation. Then I began to be awe-inspired by the Yin-Yang connection beyond the walls, in the way the city itself contrasted starkly with the garden.


To finish my sweet adventure I stopped into the tea house within the garden for sustenance. Before you enter there is a sign requesting guests to silence their cell phones. Um…awesome.

For my first ever formal tea experience, I chose the Golden Monkey black tea accompanied by pecan cookies.


Exquisite music struck up next to me and suddenly I noticed the man serenading us.


I purposely abandoned my Kindle in my bag, sat back and enjoyed. There was no need to do anything else but that.

When I left the garden with sweets and tea lingering on my breath, my skin still damp from the rain, and a drunken grin on my face…it all changed. The traffic jarred my senses, and so did the man who yelled at me the second I was on the sidewalk.

“Hey! What’s in that helmet? Huh? What’s in that helmet?”

A homeless man, startling the poor tourist families passing by, had a thing for my bright green bike helmet. I crossed the street and hurried over to my bike. He made a beeline for me.

Sure, it’s noon in the middle of a city. But when an unstable man approaches me, I’m on high alert. I’ve been an urban bike commuter for the past six years. As such, I have two survival plans…

Plan #1: Unlock the bike with a quickness, then ride like hell.

Plan #2: Whack the attacker with my bike lock.

This is my bike lock.


He was muttering incoherent things and flailing wildly while I unlocked my bike as quickly as I could. I realized that I would have to face him head on.

I gripped my bike lock in my right hand and stared at him without speaking.

He looked me up and down and said: “Alright.” He showed me what was left of his teeth as he smiled, then he gave me a peace-offering, which he carefully rested upon Silvie’s handlebar.

The brown sugar and cinnamon Pop Tarts.


In Yin and Yang there are opposites which cannot exist without one another. Fire and water. Male and female. Light and dark.

Perhaps me and Pop Tart Man are another example of this philosophy. Or perhaps, I just scored a bag of Pop Tarts.


39 thoughts on “Yin-Yang and Pop Tarts

  1. L.S. Engler says:

    Holy crap, that garden looks incredible. $10 well spent. I could use a little respite like that on this dreary day.

    I’m not sure I’d trust those Pop Tarts, though.

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      It really is! Much more than I could have imagined. It’s nice to venture out on a dreary day and still be around nature. That’s something I’m learning to do here, since it rains so much. I grew up with the notion that rain and gloom meant staying inside and being lazy. That gets old fast!

      Don’t worry. I most certainly did not eat those Pop Tarts. : )

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Dude, I took SO many pictures of those pebbled paths, but I didn’t want to bore everyone with them.

      It was hard to catch everything, because there was so much to look at. I’ll definitely go back there again. I’d love to be there on a super rainy day to see the dripping water roof effect.

      Sylvie is loving it here! More hills and public transportation obstacles, but she’s handling it like a boss.

  2. Carrie Rubin says:

    Well, at least it ended on a sweet note, literally and figuratively. Otherwise you would’ve lost all that zen you’d just soaked up.

    Chinese and Japanese gardens are beautiful. How fortunate you have one close to you. Your pics are lovely.

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Yeah, at first I was irritated and the zen was slipping fast. Then I reflected on the situation to see it as a learning experience. The zen came back after that.

      There is a Japanese garden around here as well. I’m planning a trip there in the next couple of weeks. I’m on a garden kick!

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Neat! Vancouver isn’t too far from us, so we’ll have to check it out one day.

      I know some cities try to have green spaces, but I think it would be awesome if a sanctuary style such as this were accessible. Definitely calms the mind.

  3. Alarna Rose Gray says:

    I love this line “I was barely on speaking terms with the English language.” 🙂

    And I’m glad to hear the altercation with the homeless man turned out ok. They are not so energetic where I live!

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      It’s true. I was feeling pretty good about my book until I stumbled across a “the the” typo that morning. In the words of the great Homer Simpson…DOH!

      You know, usually I don’t have issues with gentleman such as Pop Tart Man. He was more peppy and social than many others I have encountered over the years.

  4. Gallivanta says:

    Brilliant exposition of yin and yang. Can’t help feeling that the homeless man needed some time on the zig-zag bridge in the gardens. 😉 Wonder if it would have calmed him down?

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Thank you, sweetness! It all certainly played out brilliantly. With the $10 cover, I doubt Pop Tart Man has ever been inside. I wonder what that would be like, if the garden would change him in some way.

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      It was unexpectedly lovely.

      The pop tarts really threw me off. A part of me felt bad that he was forking over his food. Of course, pop tarts aren’t real food so they probably wouldn’t do much for him anyway. I could only guess that it was his peace-offering, the only thing he had to give me.

  5. the Jotter's Joint says:

    I love “… I was barely on speaking terms with the English language.” The garden is beautiful and you ended a peaceful day with an unexpected offering of peace. What a wonderful adventure. 😉~Gail

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Haha, yes! You know that feeling, right? I think most of us writers have given English the silent treatment at some point.

      It was quite an adventure. I think it’s one of those days that will always stay with me for some reason.

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Aren’t tea services the neatest? I must admit I felt a bit intimidated with the idea. Then, I took a deep breath and went for it! I will definitely explore more tea houses in the future.

      Yes, Portland has some epic green spaces. I’ve only scratched the surface!

  6. Roy McCarthy says:

    What a great escape from the city, a place to chill out and slow down. A pity it’s not free to all but that would probably defeat the purpose. It’s a long time since I lived in a city but tranquility must be hard to find.

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      It totally is! The gardens are pretty expensive to maintain from what I understand, so the charge is necessary to cover that. Luckily, we have plenty of free nature options for me to escape to here. I’ve been hiking in a forest less than a mile away.

  7. Sheila says:

    You made me feel that Yin and Yang with the relaxing walk through the gardens and then the sudden craziness of the city. That’s true that we can’t really appreciate one without the other.

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      It truly is! I took a hundred photos, because everything was so stunning. It was difficult for me to choose only a few for the post.

      Agreed about the cover charge. Luckily, there are many free green spaces for us to enjoy as well.

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