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A new day. A new adventure
Some people thought I was insane to return to America when the economy was sinking, when I could easily get another teaching job in Asia, when I expressed such dislike over New York, and when I consistently praised the cheapness, the beauty, and the kind people of Asia.
I returned to New York anyway. I was tired of traveling and the inability to hold conversations with others.
I cried a few times my first week while staying with a friend in Washington Heights. I loathed the crowds, the filthy packed subway cars, the dirty and too numerous buildings that seemed as if they wanted to topple on me and press me into the dirty, rat poop-covered sidewalk, the noise noise noise, and the people’s ubiquitous addiction to a Blackberry, an iPhone, or some other electronic device. What New York claimed as parks were as covered with people as Chinatown and sometimes not much cleaner.
I lost focus. I had trouble reading, writing, thinking, breathing, and staying in the moment, a concept I found incredibly soothing and relieving in Thailand. All I longed for were Buddhist temples, parks with waterfalls, and the casual interpretation of time that meant if people proposed meeting at 2 PM, 2:15 or even 2:30 would still be acceptable.
My well-being and mentality slightly improved once I moved into my Brooklyn apartment. I have a spacious bedroom on a tree-lined block inhabited by families. Down the street, children play basketball in a park or have field trips to the Brooklyn Children’s museum. There are bike paths on my cross streets, and I’m in close proximity to Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Library, and the Brooklyn Museum.
Although I’ve formed a comforting routine of writing, reading, applying to jobs, meditating, and doing yoga, I still don’t know if I can or ever will call New York home. Sometimes Portland or San Francisco whisper in my ear. Sometimes, places farther away. I’ve physically returned to America, but where has my mind settled? Is this a return to the past or is this really the beginning of another adventure?
(Img via I Travel East)
Upon arriving in Finland, I braced myself for an impenetrable language, difficult food, and odd social customs, but I was also shocked by the physical city. I quickly learned that knowing where to look or how fast to walk aren’t universal conventions – these are habits that each city teaches us.
The numbered grid system. You don’t realize that something as prosaic as First Avenue and 24th Street could be so brilliant until you’re standing at the intersection of two streets named Tarkk’ampujankatu and Korkeavuorenkatu, trying to find Raatimiehenkatu.
White noise. Sirens, radios, trucks backfiring, shouting matches, and the ambient thrum of radiators, air conditioners, and ventilation systems – this constant background chatter is the oxygen of city life, the thing that keeps me plugged in.
Bodegas. The equivalent here are Kioskiis, which are only open until 9pm, closed on Sundays, and they don’t sell flowers, pastrami sandwiches, hammers, bagels, kites, cake mixes, or bhangra CDs.
Street art (or graffiti, depending on your outlook). You’ll see the ghosts of a few stickers and stencils in central Helsinki, but that’s about all. I miss the visual jolt of layer upon layer of stickers and wheat-paste posters promoting hipster bands, launching clumsy political broadsides, or offering inscrutable pictures of C-list celebrities saying ironic things.
Most of all, I miss my outdoor living room. There are no stoops in Helsinki, restaurants are a special treat, and the city falls asleep early and barely wakes for the weekend. Throw in the arctic climate and this means a lot of time is spent indoors. Fortunately, my new flat is warm and roomy and, for the first time in my adult life, I have a reasonable kitchen counter. Europeans are no strangers to small apartments, yet they still shake their heads when I tell them I shared a 300-square foot flat in Chinatown (or to use the local parlance, 28 square meters).
“My god, how did you manage?” they ask.
“Just fine – I was never home.” And I wasn’t. In the mornings I’d dawdle with a coffee and a pastry in Columbus Park, watching the old Chinese men chain-smoke over fierce games of xiangqi. After work there were dinners and drinks with friends, but also many suppers alone: cheap Szechuan bean curd or a spicy cappicola sandwich in some small shoebox of a restaurant, and then onwards to a café or a park or a stoop where I’d sit with a book or my laptop. I wouldn’t get home until nearly eleven and even then I’d often take a walk to the bodega at two in the morning just to stretch my legs. There’s something remarkably reassuring about the bodega in the middle of the night. It’s an informal gathering place for neighbors who might otherwise never bump into each other – a few drunk hipsters, an old woman who can’t sleep, a couple of cab drivers, and people like me staring into the coolers, unsure of what they want or why they’re here aside from a desire to be out in public.
This doesn’t sound like a very exciting life, I know. I wish I could report that my days were a hot blur of white-tie fundraising banquets, drug-fueled after-parties, hotel rooms full of fashion models, and the other velvet rope hallmarks of New York movies. But now that I’m four thousand miles away, I miss my happy life of cafes, stoops, cheap food, and twenty-four hour everything. I was spoiled by a city that spilled out from my fire escape like an extension of my living room: an endless kitchen, library, couch, and entertainment system.
I’ve been thinking about places recently, and have wondered why all of the towns I’ve lived in still haunt me sometimes. Even though I’m more happy in New York than I remember being anywhere else. It can feel silly. While I was in Richmond last weekend, I felt little pricks of nostalgia every time I saw something that was a regular part of my life there: the rocks I used to walk along on the James River, the coffee shops I used to frequent, my favorite restaurant, even the familiar grooves in certain parts of the streets. While thinking about missing all of this stuff, I remembered something a good friend said once:
It’s true, isn’t it. And a little bit comforting /reassuring. At least we weren’t so sick of the place and desperate to leave that we have that “good riddance” attitude about it all. Bittersweet.
-Excerpted from TokyoHanna’s Blog
Nietzsche said, “Love is more afraid of change than destruction”. The love for a city, a place, a pigeon hole is so terrified of change. And the logistics is only least of the problems. It takes quite some time to fall in love with the place you’ve moved in. And once you are firmly settled in the comfort zone, it is difficult to come out of it. But then as they say, change is inevitable.
In my twenty three years of existence, I have lived in three cities. Two in India and one, in the United States. And three months in a fourth city in the United States, that did seem like a lifetime. A wonderful one at that. I’ve been away from home for six years. Or rather, away from family. Four years of bachelors in Chennai and twenty two months of Masters and job search in the US of A.
But it was a family in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was the coming together of the most appropriate four characters. Each markedly different from the other, yet united not just by their quest for a better resume, but also attitude, respect for each other and the tolerance levels. I couldn’t have found nicer room mates. Ours was apparently the cleanest house at NC State. Or rather one of the few houses that was NOT infested with bed bugs! Why? Because we cared. None of us was the quintessential grad student having no time in his hand to do some basic household chores, cook daily or eat properly. The Crest Rd apartment did not have such rules. We cooked daily, never compromised on spending for food, vacuumed the house regularly and had as minimum furniture as possible. The learning curve is steep when you start living alone trying to co-operate with a bunch of people. Most folks don’t realise that and are never ready to change themselves in a certain way.
Raleigh, as a city, is all about tranquillity. With its myriad of oak trees giving it an effect of an enclosed township within a city, it is not difficult to fall in love. For all its boastings about the presence of Research Triangle Park and a fast growing US city, it is a lot cleaner and quieter compared to other major cities in the east coast. It’s probably due to the absence of a snowy winter. But given that, the weather can get quite unpredictable and at the same time, nice in a way. A rich academic culture with three major universities in the area, I’ve always felt Raleigh is the ideal place to lock your doors and get a degree, or open your doors and start a career!
To repeat, I did not have the traditional when-will-this-end type of grad student life. Not that we had a Bessie to go to on Sat evenings, or had a popular hangout in campus to order one coffee and sit for 3 hours. No, not like that. That was still a far cry. Just that, I quite enjoyed my 22 month stay in the United States to the fullest. I think I can say that about my room mates too as far as life in a broader context is discussed. We shopped at the Indian store regularly. Every week that is. Our bills at the Indian store alone has often touched $100, for a week. Why? Because the Ghee we bought last week got over thanks to Pongal and Kesari on Saturday! Or it would be time to buy that bag of rice. Absolutely zero tolerance when it came to food. Grad students are not supposed to live like that! Thanks to a responsible, matured beyond age room mate, who had become a mentor of sorts, we had the comfort of a car from the second semester. We had our regular trips to the temple. A weekly visit to the Indian restaurant during summer when we had all the time in our hands. We went on a number of road trips. I drove some great cars that I would probably never be able to buy in my life. I enjoyed New York City to the fullest. And so on. This was also the period when my writing improved incredibly. I became more regular in the blogging circuit and the concept of blog friends started emerging. Soon there would be more readers than posts, more friends on the net than in school and more accessible to contacts online than the next door neighbour.
Such all encompassing experience has to bring a lot of good into you. It prepares you for the life ahead in more ways than one. I have had to make some important decisions over the last six months. And the wisdom behind those decisions has a lot to do with the experience in a new country, new environment and the interaction with some new wonderful people. I returned to India about two months ago and though it was not hard, it was an uneasy decision to make. The last three months in the US were spent in New Jersey. At a beautiful house with some beautiful people. I wondered why I had not discovered them earlier. Much earlier. But better late than never, and am sure this relationship has a long way to go.
Remember that you have everything to gain when you get displaced. Try as much as possible, to get lost in this big bad world. It could turn into the greatest lesson of your life.
While I’m not returning directly to the American city I lived in previous to my venture in Southeast Asia, I am returning to the country. I’ve been in Southeast Asia for 8 months, and I admit that I’m growing weary of Asia. I’m becoming tired of my inability to discuss concepts other than “Where is the bathroom?” “Do you have vegetarian food?” “How much?” with people. I miss American culture and the English language. As a writer, language is crucial to my way of comprehending the world, my ability to express myself, and the connections I can hold with other people.
When I experience a language barrier for a prolonged period of time, I feel uncomfortably unsettled and unaware of my surroundings and the emotions of others. I left New York because I wanted to experience a part of the world where the privileged didn’t reside. I wanted to learn about Buddhism, structures of other nations, the problems they faced, and meet people who functioned at a much slower, less career-oriented level. I certainly achieved all of my goals. I didn’t expect to permanently reside in Thailand, but I wasn’t sure how long my stay would last.
I’m excited to return to America where I have friends and family, where I can find English books and talk to other writers, where I can eat the foods I’m most comfortable with, and where I do see myself settling. After living out of a hiking backpack for weeks, washing many clothes in various sinks, guessing as to what will arrive when I order my food, and wandering about with large unfolded maps flapping in my face, the idea of joining a food-coop, having a physical address, and a bedroom filled with furniture I actually own is a relief.
I leave Bangkok on Sunday morning and arrive in LA, where I will stay with my brother. I’m not sure how I will react to this city, which I’ve never visited. I don’t think I’ll be able to call the city home, yet it will feel like home in so many ways simply because it is American. I’m contemplating returning to New York afterwards for the sake of finding work, sorting out my belongings, and seeing friends again. When I was abroad, I realized how depressed I was in New York.
For so many years and all through college, I thought New York was the ideal place for me. Its cutting-edge trends, its raging art scene, the glitter and excitement, the variety, and the people: direct, ambitious, intelligent, flirtatious, and hardworking, burned with lights that I envied and adored. Having lived there for 3 years, I realized how the light fades, the glass chips, the diamonds are actually hard plastic. New York suited me during one period of my life. I reflect that upon my move to New York, I was overeager, anxious, impatient, and terribly insecure. By the time I left New York, I was drained by its fast pace and trendy nature. I longed for simplicity and peace. I thought that establishing my career established my identity, which was another reason I moved to New York in the first place.
When I realized that I didn’t care about establishing myself at a company and only wanted to improve my writing, and that I needed to stop fretting over my lack of published work in in various notable zines and the absence of a work-in-progress novel in my repertoire, I no longer felt so comfortable in the glittering city. Which is why I left. I can’t blame New York for everything.
I will always long to compare myself to others, I will always battle anxiety and a desire to achieve a million things instantaneously. However, after residing next to mountains in Thailand and meeting people who never experienced the itch to haul themselves up the career ladder, I do think residing elsewhere has certainly helped me. I’m on the lookout for a new home. It’s been a pattern: I go somewhere that I think is home only to discover that it’s not. At some point, I have to wonder if home is a location or if it is simply my perception and my ability to peacefully function.
By BritinLA, British born, moved to California writes about musings on the resulting culture shock of moving to America from Britain.
In addition to my problems with dates, I have just discovered that time is also a cause of confusion. 9:30 is always spoken as “nine thirty”, using the common UK expression of “half past nine”, or “half nine”, leads to blank looks or worse missed meetings. I told one of my colleagues that I wanted to see him at half nine; this was at about 9:20. He did not arrive; having heard the word half, he had assumed that I meant in half an hour.