Yeah I’m not from here, I know you can tell from my accent. I also don’t know how to use credit cards and which numbers ‘account number’ refers to. I don’t know how to get to that bus stop or which way I should go to get to school faster (Google maps is sometimes a LIE). I don’t know how to be an adult. But I’m trying, I’m learning, and I can now successfully cook asparagus and salmon fillet. I can also sort the whites from the coloured socks and shop for sponges but I can’t deny that I’m missing my helper from back home… It’s strange how something so commonplace in Hong Kong isn’t a thing here at all. Alas, my bed sheets remain a perpetual mess. But what is the point when, at the end of the day, I’m going to roll around in it?
My mattress sits in the living room and my suitcases are lined up against the wall. My books, boxes and bags have dominated the floor. And I realize now that I do mind when people sit on my bed- people who I’ve just met. With a group of friends that I’ve gradually gotten to know through the seven years of high school, I’ve been used to the quiet understanding between us. It’s a different thing, having to get to know strangers. In the beginning, it’s all fine and dandy, because neither party can afford to be rude and neither knows the other’s annoying habits. I don’t like the sound of chewing. I hate it. But I can’t tell her to shut up like I do with my friends.
Things aren’t as I thought they would be… But my mind couldn’t have prepared for them anyway. When I first arrived, LA highways and palm trees were extraordinary, lifted from screens and Tumblr photos I’ve seen- like seeing celebrities in real life at a concert. You’ve seen them in adverts, on various media and you know they’re real but it doesn’t quite register; it’s the merging of two formerly separate realities.
I didn’t think I’d be emotional when my parents dropped me off after dinner (dad’s birthday) on the second day of orientation, but as I hugged them, thanked them and told them I loved them, I was so overwhelmed with gratitude my eyes began to leak. Thank you for working, paying, making sure I’m well and alive. Thank you for giving me the incredible privilege of planting my feet on the concrete of Los Angeles, let alone UCLA. Thank you for loving me, for the life I’ve led up to this point. Thank you for being my parents, because that is a privilege too.
I’m also beginning to understand just how expensive a comfortable life is. Again, it’s something I’ve always known but not fully appreciated. Whenever I was hungry at home, I only had to open the fridge to resolve the problem. Someone would always be there to cook dinner and there’d be fruit at the table. Now I have to worry about things like paying for school, electricity, wifi and rent. It’s much more than I’m usually responsible for. This independence they speak of- or freedom from reliance – is slowly waking.
Without a car, I can only be bothered to walk a certain distance. I thought there would be a coffee shop for me tucked around the corner, but 1) It’s further than I’d hoped. 2) Coffee is expensive. 3) It’s crowded. 4) It’s Starbucks and Coffee Bean and they’re both not very homey. Where are the nearby hipster coffee shops with pillows, drapes, lounge chairs and live music?
The problem is not so much that I’m new… but that everything is new to me.