Urban decay

We spent today exploring the city of Detroit and saw the Saturday Eastern Market and surrounds, the remains of Michigan Central Station, the 8-Mile area of Warren, Michigan, where Eminem’s 8 Mile movie was shot, and lots of examples of urban decay. I was startled when we visited Christchurch, New Zealand, last December to see theaters and buildings completely blown out and hollow from the earthquake devastations the city suffered, but the ruins and decay of Detroit bring about a completely different sullen feeling. It’s a city that once had its heyday, and is now suffering to survive with blocks and blocks of abandoned apartments and storefronts. There were some blocks we visited where there was just weed growth galore where buildings used to stand, and the growth had gotten so bad that it had overtaken the sidewalks; the sidewalks were not even visible anymore. I’ve never seen so many abandoned, massively graffitied buildings with their windows blown out and skeletons struggling to stand.

I have no idea what it would be like to grow up in a city like Detroit, but I’d imagine that overall morale would be low. There’s an invisible line that seems to separate the city – one side seems to be slowly rebuilding with fancy hotels like the Westin and Michael Symon’s Roast restaurant opening. The other side of that line is all despair and ruins and abandoned land waiting for someone, anyone, to claim it and build on it.

Leaving home for college

We’re spending the weekend in Detroit, and we started the day at the Ford Rouge Factory and ended it with a walk around the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor campus and drinks in the area. As we walked around the campus, I thought about the way I looked at the world before leaving San Francisco to go to school in the Boston area and thought about how narrow-minded I was before.

The truth is that I think that in general, all of us see ourselves as being “open-minded” people, even when perhaps none of us really are. I’m not saying that we’re each individually to blame for our narrow-mindedness because a lot of it is based on lack of experience, which is only gained with time, and also exposure (or lack thereof) to things that are outside of our comfort zone and familiar haunts. Before 18, that’s mostly controlled by your parents and where you live. By default, your exposure is limited. But post-18, and especially post-college, we do have to accept responsibility for our actions and the way we think (to a degree with the latter… I suppose).

These are just some embarrassing examples of things I was not aware of or thought pre-Wellesley. Some seem like they are trivial or not deal breakers in terms of judging “level of intelligence,” but when I look back on these things, I can feel my face grow hot:

1. Cantonese food is not the only Chinese food there is. That applies to one province, which in the grand scheme of China, though it’s taken seriously as a top Chinese cuisine, is not the center of China.

2. Vietnamese refugees ended up all over the United States after the Vietnam War, not just California. Minority populations started popping up in places I never would have guessed before, like Texas, Minnesota, Louisiana, and Arkansas. I made friends with Vietnamese women from all of these states.

3. A Boston accent exists, as does a Bronx, Staten Island, Queens, and Long Island accent. Not just people in the South and Midwest have “accents.” I have an accent, too, apparently.

4. Burritos are not really Mexican. They are a Mexican/American/fusion-type dish. No burritos exist in Mexico unless for some reason, someone thought they’d bring it from the U.S. into Mexico.

5. The world does not revolve around San Francisco or any other place I might choose to live in. San Francisco is not representative of the rest of the country and sure as hell not the world. The Chinese population is not as big, the Korean population is not as small, and almost no other place I will ever go to will be as politically correct 24/7. There’s are great benefits to living in a city as diverse as San Francisco, but the danger behind that is that we may end up thinking it’s like that everywhere else. I’ve had colleagues in LA who did not believe me when I told them how few Asians there were in cities like St. Louis.

6. I’m going to wait until marriage to have sex, and I think most other people should, too (yes, really).

If I never left San Francisco (or California for that matter) and met people from around the country and world at the college I went to, I may not have realized a lot of these things. Yes, it’s great to have a place to call home, but it’s not great or healthy to live in my old glass menagerie thinking that what is immediately around me is the same as what everyone else has or experiences.

Good people

Ed and I used to have mini debates since he converted to Christianity that in order to be considered a “good” person, you had to be religious. I used to tell him that religious people can be good, but that doesn’t mean they are all good. You can be a good person without being religious. He vehemently disagreed with me. I would pause and ask him, do you think I am a bad person because I am not a Christian? He would always hesitate and say, no, but you need to accept Christ in your life. It was always what he wanted for me – to be a church-attending, Bible-studying Christian.

Like me, he believed that Jehovah’s Witnesses were a bunch of cult freaks. My mother and aunt are JWs, as they are modernly called today. My aunt is in town for the next four months, and she called today to let me know she is temporarily staying with her friend Maria, a JW friend who lives in New Jersey who is a complete freeloader and who said negative things about my brother being “you know…” ¬†She said this to my face. Anyone who bad mouths my brother while barely knowing him deserves to be burnt at a stake and could never qualify to be a good person. I’m refusing to see my aunt if she brings this judgmental, loser friend of hers. I wonder if she ever feels any guilt that she put my brother down now that she knows he is dead and never to come back.

More visitors

Tonight, Chris and I met up with his cousin and her boyfriend, who are traveling around the U.S. for two months. For the next month, they are renting an apartment not too far away from ours in Manhattan and will be exploring New York, as well as nearby cities. We had a lot of drinks and ended the night at Otto with even more drinks, great pizza, and pasta.

I’m generally pretty happy to see Chris’s family and friends. Among everyone I have met, they have all been very warm, happy, positive, and entertaining people to be around. What I’ve noticed, though, is that people on my side, especially my family, don’t always tend to fit those descriptors I just mentioned. So Chris doesn’t always welcome seeing them all with open arms. I suppose it’s hard for him to be excited to see them when I am not very excited about seeing them. At the end of the night, Chris asked, “So do you think we could meet up with Russell and Christine and have a night like that?”

No way in hell.

Family feelings

This morning was my last morning making coffee and preparing breakfast for Chris’s parents. They left this evening on a flight back to Melbourne via LAX, and we had our goodbye hugs this morning before I left for work. I guess this will be our usual routine – their coming in the spring or summer to visit us, and then our going to visit them for Christmas in the opposite hemisphere.

A few of my friends and colleagues have half-joked that I must be relieved that they have left; I’ll have more space in the apartment, less people to be mindful of, and no one else other than Chris to prepare morning fruit or coffee for. I’ll also have my bed back. But the truth is that this time, like last year, I actually felt really sad. This time especially gave me that sinking feeling in my stomach as I waved my last goodbye to them before I shut the door, the same sad feeling I’ve gotten when my parents and Ed left me the last time they visited me in 2011 (and before that, in 2010 without Ed). I never thought that 2011 would be the first and only time Ed would come visit and stay with me here in New York. Even when my parents have given me a hard time and picked inane fights with me while staying at my old apartment, at the end of the day, they are still my family, still people who love me who I also love unconditionally. The worst arguments will never change that.

So maybe it’s a sign that I get the same sad, sinking feeling when Chris’s parents leave. Maybe it’s like my subconscious (and stomach) are finally accepting them as a part of my real family.

Old apartment

On our way back from Lake Placid/Vermont today, we decided to conclude our trip with a drive to Elmhurst, my old neighborhood, to enjoy a last dinner together at Tangra Masala, one of my favorite places to eat and get takeout from when I lived in Queens, as it was a short walk from my former apartment. They are well known for their delicious and fiery-hot Chinese Indian cuisine, which pre-Tangra, I had never had before. I salivate thinking about their food when I remember it and get sad knowing it’s no longer a five-minute walk from my place now.

Since we were nearby, we drove by my old apartment so that Chris’s parents could see it. I noticed that our former third-floor balcony had lots of plants, tables, chairs, and other clutter-type things. Just from seeing it, I assumed and knew that the landlord and his wife probably extended their own second floor living space to also occupy the third. There’s no way that they could have tolerated anyone else living above them considering how quiet and easy going Crista and I were. I’m so happy that is so far in the past.

Mount Jo

Today, Chris’s parents, Chris, and I spent the day exploring Lake Placid, walking around Mirror Lake, wine tasting at wineries that had grapes from the Finger Lakes, and finally hiking up Mount Jo, a popular mountain in the Adirondacks. Going up, while strenuous, was a straight one-mile hike, with some muddiness, wetness, and a lot of rocks. I was hesitant at first to suggest it since I wasn’t sure how comfortable his parents would be, but Chris insisted we do it, and they were pretty willing and were really positive about it the whole time despite being challenged by certain rocks and slippery areas.

Going down was another story. There are two trails to get up and down the mountain – the short trail, which is steeper and rockier that we took, and then the longer trail, which is supposedly flatter and easier. We took the short route up and decided to follow the fellow hikers in front of us and took the long trail down. Somewhere along the way, we lost them because they were going to fast, and we ended up at a stream that went straight down. I knew we were not jumping down this stream to get back to the parking lot. We ended up hiking all the way back up to the intersection of the long and short trail and hiking down the short trail to get back down, racing against the clock since the sun was slowly but surely setting. In the end, we were all fine and relieved to get back before dark. Chris’s parents were such good sports about it and even joked about it on and off throughout the rest of the evening; I think the muddiness bothered his dad more than getting lost and potentially spending the night at the top of a mountain.

I imagined this situation happening with my parents, and I know for a fact they never would have taken it as well as Chris’s parents did and probably would have yelled at me. They’d probably hold it against me and never let me hear the end of it. That’s usually what happens when we do something “bad” in our family. We’re never allowed to forget it, and then constantly get reminded of our blunders years and years later when it was so long ago that we ourselves have forgotten.

FDR and cheating men

On our way up to Lake Placid in the Adirondacks for the weekend, Chris, his parents, and I stopped by Hyde Park, NY, to visit the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Home. He and his parents are history buffs, and they’d give us all a run for our money with the amount of American history they know vs. what us Americans struggle to retain from our boring U.S. history courses in high school.

The frustrating thing about visiting all these presidential libraries (I’ve now visited six) is that somewhere, you will find mentions of how most of these presidents have cheated on their wives, and it was basically something that was just accepted. Even after falling ill with polio and never being able to stand up or walk on his own ever again, FDR still managed to have affairs with other women despite being married to someone as intelligent, well-written, and articulate as Eleanor Roosevelt. I hate men.

My Brazilian doctor

I went to see a primary care doctor to get my tetanus vaccination today – it’s the last vaccine I’ll need before our Brazil trip. Without even realizing it, the doctor I chose is actually originally from Rio and is Portuguese, and she gave me all these tips about things to buy (those thin cloths for lying on the beach, leather shoes), things to eat (fresh fruit from corner stores, but particularly those fruita do conde or sugar apples), and… well, what not to bring. She advised me against wearing the Tahitian pearl and diamond necklace I was wearing at her office, or anything else that could be perceived as “real” or worth money, as she said that local slum guys would just pull it off my neck. She told me to leave any fancy cameras at home. She also told me not to wear any clothes that look “designer.” “If you don’t speak Portuguese, you will be a target,” she warned.

I’m sure she was just trying to be helpful since she is originally from there and would know things I wouldn’t, but this doesn’t particularly increase my excitement about visiting Brazil. If anything, it would make me more paranoid and think twice… and maybe leave Bart at home, too.

Political discussions with family

Tonight, Chris, his parents, and I went to see the off-Broadway show The City of Conversation at the Lincoln Center. It’s a story about how after a certain political decision is made, a family gets broken up for 30 years because of differing political opinions and spans the period from the Carter administration to the current Obama administration. The arguments, which get quite heated, are extremely realistic – people argue their points, get spoken over, yelling ensues, and ultimately no one is really listening to the other.

After watching the show, I thought about political debates in my own family between the different generations, mainly my parents’ and mine, and I’ve realized how one-sided they are; my generation, which includes my cousins, Ed, and me – is so scared to ever argue our points because we know that our nearly tea party/right-wing radical parents, aunts, and uncles, would just talk over us, call us naive and make it seem like our opinions are just passing, and then claim we aren’t educated enough (even though we’ve out-educated them all) to understand the “real” issues. It would never be a real “conversation” – it would be a waste of breath. I’m not actually scared to argue against what they say; I’m just so exhausted by how idiotic these conversations end up that I can’t be bothered anymore. Example: the last time my aunt and I argued over gun control, she actually said, “So you want to ban guns? Why don’t you ban pencils while you’re at it because you could stab someone with it!”

Once, I had an argument with my dad about Mitt Romney vs. Barack Obama, and he said near the end, “When you get to the point of making a lot more money, you won’t vote for Democrats anymore.”

A lot of the things that my parents’/aunts’/uncles’ generation get to enjoy, things like social security and pension, were created by the politicians claim to hate, and during their time of creation, were considered socialist. It’s as though they’re happy to reap the benefits of the past without realizing where these things came from and how they even came to be…. And then want to reject anything in the future that might help my generation and future ones to come. It’s just selfish and blind-sighted, and there’s no other way to put it.