Ah, seems like only yesterday I was writing about what it was like to live in Dallas, Texas. One year later here I am, in the heart of the Pacific Northwest in Portland, Oregon. While the vibe of the Pacific Northwest is a much better match for my lifestyle and values, not everything is perfect. Here are my thoughts on Portland after two months in the city of roses:
1 – Is Portland like the TV show Portlandia?
Yes. Very much so.
This is doubly true for my particular neighborhood (east of downtown). Most restaurants are very vocal and transparent about where their produce and meat comes from; there are cute boutique shops on every corner that sell the most random stuff (including bird-stamped goods), and I’ve been in not one, but two feminist book stores within walking distance. And it’s only been two months!
2 – The never ending nightmare of Portland rain and gloom is real
Remember how I was always complaining about sunny days? Well, you’re going to slap me now because I’m going to moan about the lack of sunshine.
When I first moved here, Portland had no sunshine for three weeks straight. This is not hyperbole. The sun did not even peek through the clouds for one hour within that 24 day period. It was dreary, grey overcast with intermittent rain from sunrise to sunset for three weeks.
While the nonstop rain and gloom can be a downer, I’m starting to notice the mental and physical effects on me. My health has declined since moving here, and I honestly think it’s the lack of sunshine (aka vitamin D). Time to stock up.
3 – The natural beauty here is out of this world
But oh man, when the sun comes out… Portland is a jewel. It’s almost like I died in the nonstop rain showers and then somehow made it to heaven, because the flowers, forests, mountains and rivers of Portland truly sparkle in the summer sun.
I missed (the lack of) the great outdoors in Texas, and let’s say Portland over-delivers on this front. I’ll hands down say this is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited, much less lived in. Within a one hour drive I can escape into a green sea of forests, sail on a boat into the Columbia Gorge, and scale a mountain (or two). Oh yes, the rocky coastline of Oregon is only 1.5 hours away by car (and is even accessible by public transit!).
Oh, and it’s not just the national and state parks that are worthwhile… even walks through the local neighborhood rival some of the best public gardens I’ve ever seen in the US. People here are serious about their gardens and it definitely shows. Walking down a street in a typical Portland neighborhood will assault you with a rainbow of colors and smells, with sidewalks that brim with year-round flowers, green vegetation, and trees galore (even the roundabouts here have trees in them!).
4 – People here care about self-maintenance, their local community and the environment
It’s obvious to see that Portlandians care about their community. There’s a local event happening in my neighborhood almost everyday. The public schools here are not only safe and adequate, but they even offer foreign language immersion (public Japanese and Chinese elementary schools are within a stone’s throw of my house). The streets of Portland are sparkling clean for US standards, and I’m constantly seeing locals and other volunteers picking up garbage in my neck of the woods, in downtown and beyond. If you go to downtown Portland, you’ll be shocked by just how clean (and quiet) it is.
The locals also care about physical and mental well-being. People here read, they enroll in local pottery and poetry classes, they garden, they do yoga and meditation, they bike, they even have Irish line dancing lessons for all to join. I enrolled in a French class thinking I’d be the only young person in a room full of retirees, but was pleasantly surprised to find that all my classmates were around my age. Whenever I go to a coffee shop, I always find somebody jotting down notes or writing prose in a real, paper notebook. Whether it’s a poem, a diary entry, a biography or a short story; people here take the time to actually write down their thoughts. It’s a phenomenon I haven’t seen in many other places.
Finally, locals here are very environmentally conscious. People here compost for God’s sake, and we have compost garbage bins that the county picks up every week. I haven’t done such hardcore garbage-separating-recycling duty since my days in Japan, and it feels great.
5 – It’s the Most European Place on the West Coast
Portland feels like a socialist, European country in so many ways.
People care about the food they eat. All food comes from local farms and the quality of the restaurants have been astounding (I have yet to eat a bad meal here). The bakeries here are on par with Europe and (gasp) within walking distance. Plus, just like Europeans, Portlandians are serious about their beer, coffee and wine.
Public transit here is the best on the West coast (I feel the readers from the Bay Area loading up their ammunition for the comments section, but hear me out). There’s not only a street car and light rail here, but there’s also an extremely convenient and dependable bus system–and get this, it’s sparkling clean and not only crazy homeless people ride it! Similar to Europe, Portland has implemented a public transit system for the people that actually works.
And finally, people here don’t chase ambition or money. Portlandians care about quality of life (as noted above) and this is quite obvious from the state of the local economy. I’m constantly scratching my head in wonder at how all of the young people here support themselves on what seems like bar/server/barista wages. Aside from Nike, Intel and a handful of other large companies, there isn’t much industry here for the locals to thrive in… and that seems totally fine with them.
People who live in Portland don’t want to climb up the corporate ladder. People move to Portland to escape just that: they want to have a stress-free job that pays just enough to support their lifestyle of coffee, books and the occasional beer. The pace of life here is slow and thoughtful, considerate and mellow, reflective and liberated.
For me, this is good and bad. Luckily I get to keep working remote in Portland, but moving up at my company is going to be hard as someone who can’t rise the ranks alongside my co-workers in New York. Hopping to another job will be hard, as industry in Portland is, well, non-existent. I’ve met many people my own age and, when we start talking about the jobs situation, it’s downright depressing. I’ve met many fellow millennials who are working temp jobs or living on a salary of $35,000 or below.
Again, this aligns with Europe: you don’t move to Europe to make money, just like you don’t move to Portland to get rich–you go for the boost in quality of life.
While this is definitely my mantra, I’d much rather live in actual Europe than the rainy American counterpart. However, as my husband’s job and my personal circumstances force us to stay US-bound for the time being, I guess I can’t complain.
I am so much happier in Portland, OR than Dallas, TX. Let’s just say when I left the Dallas airport I flipped off the city, said good riddance, got on the plane and swore I would never return. As I wrote in my previous posts, Dallas was rough for me.
However, by no means was Dallas a bad city. In fact, I constantly tell people it’s a great place to relocate because it allows young people to thrive. Dallas (and Texas in general) hits that sweet spot that many American cities just don’t have anymore: low cost of living coupled with great pay. It just wasn’t for me.
So far I am enjoying Portland much more than Dallas, although I am worried about my future career and health. Oh well. Here’s hoping the vitamin D works!