On Holiday at Home
Vancouver, United States
You know how people go on vacation—perhaps to that all-inclusive in Mexico—to relax in stress-free surroundings, party/let loose a little bit, and maybe feel spoiled for a few days? Well, being in the United States is my vacation—an oasis of predictability and pleasurable excess—where I don't have to fight for accommodations, Internet, food, and transport on a daily basis.
Dad took an entire week off work to make sure he could spend the time with me he wanted. I turned the corner at the Portland airport and was surprised by my brother, Glenn, who had been secretly flown out from Nebraska (skipping out on a few days of school himself).
I was given a bedroom and privacy in my step-sister's new townhouse in Vancouver (20–30 minutes drive from my folks); a laptop with access to broadband Internet; the keys to my dad's car to use for two weeks; and a cell phone. I would wake up every morning and feel ridiculously spoiled, and overwhelmingly thankful.
We took extended family portraits while my brother was still in town. The following day dad took Glenn and me on a guided salmon/steelhead river excursion—lord only knows how many years it had been since I was fishing. I'd never been in a drift-boat before, and although the weather was a bit chilly for my blood, we had a blast. Sadly, my mighty hooked steelhead shook free.
Dad's big into cycling these days, and he shared his hobby by taking me on a 20-something mile ride into downtown Portland. Now, I may not be a pro-cyclist, but with all his gear on at least I looked the part!
The next day my folks and I took a drive up to Seattle and spent the weekend being tourists in the city—the famous fisherman's market, Experience Music Project, and even a Mariners baseball game. Good times.
Medical check-ups were done at my dad's request. I was happy to learn that I had no cavities, my vision had actually improved slightly, my blood was free of any nasties, and the only thing my physical turned up was some sand in my ears—"Probably from Brazil," I told the doc with a smile.
My sleeping schedule has been pretty wild, with days nothing short of full. I didn't want to squander the access to computer and Internet, so I found myself staying up to the early hours of the morning, working, and getting only a few hours of sleep before running around town, checking off my list of tasks to do and small items to buy.
Babak's mom is a former hair stylist (and now runs day spa). Two days ago she gave me the first haircut I've had in about 11 months—so nice. She only does such things for her children these days—she's like another mom.
Dad surprised me with a another gift while I was in town—an antique pocket watch that he had cleaned and repaired (knowing my interest for such things). The watch is from 1907—100-years-old this year—and was used daily by my great-grandfather (my father's mother's father).
Watching the gears inside is an impressive sight. Such a thing could never travel with me though, and will have to remain in Portland.
I've decided that I'm going to be taking my trusted pack, replaced here in Portland, to Thailand with me. In the event something goes wrong (or doesn't work out) with the new pack, I'll have my reliable fellow waiting for me in long-term storage (which should cost about B$100 per week). The pack won't travel empty though, inside will be resupply items and extra clothing/footwear that I can't fit in my new, smaller, backpack.
I have serious trust issues with checking my pack into the airlines. There are too many hops and transfers that must be made (between two different carriers) on this upcoming journey for me to feel comfortable. If my bag didn't pop out in Bangkok, my entire life would be turned upside down.
Instead, I'll be attempting to take my primary backpack aboard my flights as a carry-on, tossing all those liquids and things the airport security folks won't let me take on board into my old backpack (that will be checked at the counter).
How marvelous it is to have complete and utter control over the noise and volume of my environment. Simply having the option to sit silently in a room, or flood it with my preference of music is a gift.
I've grown so accustomed to living in places where people, vehicles, and loudspeakers pollute my ears on a continuous basis. The act of listening to music without headphones is something of a wonder.
No military check points. No camouflaged troopers walking the streets. No silly tourists asking to have a photo snapped of them with the machine gun toting teenager.
One of the joys of living in this country is how we use our armed forces—for external use only (save for national emergencies, and the such). This differs from most every country I visited in the past 16+ months, where their military is used internally, to police their own people (and combat against drug traffickers, revolutionists, etc).
I'm scared of the police and military in foreign countries. If I'm walking with someone and they start talking to a cop or trooper, I'm walking the opposite direction. Starting conversation with one of these people, even if it's just asking for directions (useless anyway—ask a vendor), is opening the door for trouble.
It's a luxury here in the U.S. that people can live without the fear that any government official encountered can extort them for money. Maybe 20% of the world lives with this type of comfort.
I was walking in the Six Flags theme park outside of Los Angeles with my friend Tristan, talking about my thoughts and observations of the Hispanics I was seeing, and how much of a divergence there was between those in Southern California and what I had seen in the rest of Latin America.
What is this baggy-clothed, outwardly thugish culture that the youth have adopted? It's completely unique to this country, except for the Daddy Yankee wannabe gangster reggaeton crap coming out of Puerto Rico/Miami—everyone wants to be a gangsta. Well, I tell you what, take a visit to most any country south of Mexico and see how far that gets you. You'll be putting those rocks 'n rings 'n thangs away real fast.
OK, I'm off topic. What I really wanted to say was how depressing it is that a lot of the North American population stereotypes the Latin people based off of the uncommon behavior found in the United States. If I plucked a handful of folks from different Latin-American countries and put them in a room with the youth I was seeing in L.A., they'd probably look at each other, dumbfounded.
Life is easy in the United States, but complicated. I have been comparing my return to this country like that of a university student returning home to live with their parents for the summer.
You get all these wonderful, familiar conveniences that you've missed, but lose the freedom you've grown accustomed to. There are all these rules here in the U.S., constantly picking away at you—prove you're 21 to drink; don't speed; don't litter; don't park there; don't jay-walk; don't forget to floss.
…But I suppose these rules keep our cities cleaner, are pedestrians safer, and our teeth free of gingivitis.
I'm still resolute in the sentiment that I wish to never live in the U.S. again—to vacation, yes, but not to live permanently. I need more freedom and less predictability in my life—even if it comes at the sacrifice of infrastructure, safety, and the comforts of family.
Dad and I were reflecting on how I'm now a year older than he was when I was born, 27 years ago. It's interesting how we were in such different places at that time in our lives. I forgot to ask him where his father was in life when his dad was 26-years-old.
Are we maturing into a family-oriented mode later in life, or are there just so many more opportunities and options these days that it seems that way?
I get asked if I've found any place that I'd go back to and live. The answer to that depends on how long we're talking about—I've found places I'd live for three months, but could never see myself there any longer.
But I'm not looking for such things. I'm not searching for a home—I'm searching for a smile.