Book Club Travel

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 Connecting the Dots 

This is the part where I make sense of all the loose ends and mold them into a Tripping on Books weekend adventure  – so here goes. I might stay at the Panama Hotel. It’s not the Ritz, or even a Marriott, but it is historic and it places you right in the center of what we’re talking about. Or you can do what my book club did and rent a house.  We rented in the the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle. Either way – the hotel and the Wing Luck museum become your home base as you immerse yourself in everything Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet 

Sample Itinerary


Early check in or drop bags at Panama Hotel

Tour of Hotel

Cocktails and Dinner at Panama Hotel Tea Room


Breakfast at Panama Hotel

Waterfront Walk

Ivar’s for Lunch

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter of Sweet Tour

Walk down Jackson Street

Dinner and Jazz at Jazz Alley


Woodland Park Walk

Boating on Green Lake

Bento Lunch Box

Pack and Check Out

Getting Around

You’ll need a car in Seattle.  Now if you stay at the Panama Hotel there is free parking right next door to the hotel.  You’ll want to be making your way around on mass transit as well as with a car

Building the Excitement

Here’s what I would do.  Whether you stay at the Panama Hotel or not I would definitely take a tour and have the book discussion in the tea room there.  You’ll find a big beautiful table there that is perfect for a large group.  I would follow all the cues you can find in the book to make the evening special. You would have to set the whole thing up with Jan Johnson at the hotel.

Bath House Tour

In Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet:  

Henry had always wanted to go down to the lower level to see the two marble bath houses, the sento as Kieko called them. They were supposedly the largest and most luxurious on the West Coast.  But he was too scared.” 121

What to do:  First of all, don’t be scared.  The owner of the hotel, Jan Johnson, gives regular tours now.  You’ll see the belongings that were left in the hotel and the bath houses.

Starfire Lilies

In Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet:  

“Henry brought his mother a starfire lily, her favorite flower, once a week with his new found lunch money — feeling a little guilty for not eating what she lovingly prepared, but always making up for it with a flower.”  Page 14

What to do:  Of course you need Henry’s starfire lily’s for the center of the table.

Jamaican Ginger

In Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet:

“It’s a prescription for Jamaican Ginger — a secret ingredient around here.”   Page 52

What to do:  Serve Ginger beer in solidarity with Oscar Holden!

Chinese Dinner

In Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet:  

“‘I’m making my special black bean crab.’ She reached in and pulled out a wrapped bundle that looked from the size of it like fresh Duneness crab.  I’m also making choy sum with spiced oyster sauce.”  Page 146

What to do:  Make the same dinner that Samantha made for Henry and Marti. I happen to know it’s also Jaimie Ford’s favorite dinner as well.

Heung Jou

In Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet:  

He thought of that, and fought off a wave of melancholy as his son offered a toast, raising his teacup of hung you, a fermented wine that tasted more like grain alcohol.”  Page 172

What to do:   That’s easy.  Serve the fermented wine.

Dragon Beard Candy

In Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet:

I made this especially for my future father-in-law – the ice cream’s for me.  But this ” she set a plate of delicately spun white candies in front of Henry -“this is something for a special occasion.  Its dragon’s beard candy.”  Page 173

What to do:  You’ve got to find some of this, or make it and bring it.

Talking it Over

What kind of father do you think Henry’s father was?   What do you think of the role his mother played in the family?

How were Keiko’s family and Henry’s different.  How were they alike?

Talk about the Executive Order that sent the Japanese families to internment camps.

Discuss the Japanese Internment.  Why do you think so many Japanese families never went back to Seattle?

How would you describe Henry as a son.  Talk about the I am Chinese button.  Didn’t you think it was interesting the way he dutifully wore it?  How do you think Henry would describe his childhood?

Sheldon Thomas provides so much comic relief in the book.  Talk about some of his funny moments.

Let’s talk about the Mrs. Beatty who Henry worked for.  She had a strong role in his life for a short time. What do you think of her?

What do you think of Samantha?  What about the line where, Henry thinks to himself  that he had learned long ago that, “family” did not mean perfection.  What did that mean.  Have you learned that in your life?

Did Keiko and Henry they live happily ever after?

Literary Loot

There is not a lot to work with in this book when it comes to gifts and prizes.  I would keep it simple.   Here are some ideas for party favors.

Japanese Roses  

In Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet:

“He lay back on the hillside, feeling the cool grass.  He could smell the tiny Japanese roses everywhere, doting the hills with patches of yellow stars.”  Page 32

What to do:  I would get some Japanese roses and put them in planters or in little burlap bags and give them out as party favors.

Japanese Parasol

In Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet:

“There she was, in a dark sepia print of a little girl dressed in her Sunday best, sitting in an oversize leather chair, holding an ornate Japanese umbrella, a bamboo parasol with koi painted on it.”  Page 30

What to do:  You can get some koi parasols right on this link.  And while you are there you can look around for some other gifts.


In Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet:

“Can you bring us a few things.  I don’t have any paper or envelopes – no stamps either but if you bring me some I’ll write to you.”  Page 163

What to do:  Everyone loves note cards and stationery.  I would get some nice Japanese stationary to include in a gift basket.

Black Book

In Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet:

“She handed him her small black sketchbook.”  Page 33

What to do:   Everyone needs a small black book.  That would be a nice gift. You could wrap it in white paper with  violet ribbon like Henry did.


Here’s what I would do. Jaimie Ford talks about Ray Charles and Quincy Jones as two Seattle jazz greats. And he also talks about Woody Herman and Count Bessie. I would make a CD with some of their music to give out.  And I saved the best for last.

In Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet:  “Henry placed his fingers over them, sizing them up; then his hand drifted across the label, which read “Oscar Holden and the Midnight Blue, The Alley Cat Strut'”  Page 142

What to do:  Let me know if you find the record!

Interesting Links

Executive Order

President Roosevelt just signed Executive Order 9102 – which creates the War Relocation Authority.  This article in Lost Magazine by Jonathan Shipley gives a very clear description of what happened next.

Bud’s Jazz Records

The store is remembered in this column.  This article is about the closing of Bud’s.

Camp Harmony

This is a great article about Camp Harmony.

House of Hong

House of Hong gets mixed reviews.

International District

Jaimie Fox has created a video tour of the International District.  Then this link provides information about a walking tour.  And then there’s this article about the tour.

Frederick Law Olmsted

Frederick Law Olmsted built so many important public places in America. His sons then took over his business and did a lot of work in Seattle.

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