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Happy Holidays from Utah

Happy Holidays from Utah

Happy Holidays from Utah! Like I do almost every year, I’m spending Christmas and New Years in my home state of Utah, where I usually share a plate of turkey with my small family of four (plus husband). Unlike previous years, however, there is a big difference in 2020.

I didn’t just fly in for the holidays. I have been in Utah for the last four months — almost half a year.

The Full Wrath of 2020

At least I have a cat to cheer me up in Utah

Saying that 2020 sucked is an understatement. Similar to many others out there, I was also hit by a storm of misfortune. Most notably, the decline in my father’s health in spring 2020. read more

Are All Americans the Same?

Are All Americans the Same?

In the last year alone, I’ve managed to live in almost every single region of the United States.  West, Pacific Northwest, Rockies, Midwest, South–you name it, and I’ve probably lived there for a month or two.

The experience was eye-opening and made me realize an extremely important fact: not all Americans are the same. In fact, the US does not feel like one country at all.  Each region is so culturally and geographically different that, when I travel from coast to coast, I have to remind myself that I’m still in the same country.

So… how are these regions different, exactly?  How is a west coaster different from an east coaster?  What else makes these regions so vastly contrasting?

West Coast (aka California)

People from the west coast are friendly.  They smile.  They take life at a leisurely place.  They stop to enjoy the roses.  West coasters like to keep it casual, and can usually be found in a coffee shop or at a bar wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and some flip-flops.  Sunglasses are a must.

The west coast is, compared to other regions of the US, also quite diverse.  With the Mexico border nearby and the Pacific ocean connecting the west to the Asia Pacific, it’s easy to find great Mexican and Asian food just about anywhere.  The diversity (particular in California) is refreshing.

Drawbacks can be found in the rampant growth of materialism popping up in the big cities in California (lookin’ at you, LA and SF).  Also, people on the west coast, in their efforts to be friendly, may actually appear fake.  They may converse with you in a bubbly voice and ask you out to dinner or an event, but in truth they really want nothing to do with you.  It can also get tiring pretending to be friendly and happy all the time.

Pros: Laid-back vibe, friendly people, epic natural beauty (beaches and mountains, oh my!)

Cons: Crazy California drivers, fake people who are nice to your face but hate your guts, high cost of living

Mountain Region (aka Rockies)

My home.  I usually like to lump Utah/Colorado/Idaho with the West Coast, but when I do this Californians usually laugh at me.  Plus, these states are in another time zone, so I guess  the Rockies are ‘officially’ a separate region.

The people in the rockies are quite similar to the west coasters.  Compared to Californians, however, locals in the rocky mountain range are more down to Earth.  We don’t have fancy Hollywood or Bay Area tech jobs, which has helped us keep income inequality at a reasonable level.  We’re not as materialistic as the big city Californians, either.

Plus, thanks to the rocky mountain range, the natural beauty here is–no other way to say it–quite epic.

Pros: Laid-back vibe, majestic nature, friendly folk, low cost of living, not as fake as the Californians

Cons: No diversity, pace is a little too slow (shit needs to get done!), snow sucks

Midwest

The Midwest was HUGE CULTURE SHOCK FOR ME.  As someone from the West Coast, I have experienced more culture shock in the Midwest than any other region in the USA.

First, there are no mountains.  Midwest is super flat.  Second, Midwesterners have a great sense of family and community, which is great if you’re from there–but really sucks if you’re new to the area.  Midwesterners are skeptical of those who fall outside of their ‘in’ group, thus making it quite difficult for a new transplant to fit in.

People in the Midwest are also EXTREMELY friendly.  You know how I said west coasters are friendly?  Well amplify that by 10, and you have the Midwest.  Everyone says hi to you on the street, in the elevator, or at the store.  Someone is always willing to outstretch a helping hand.  People are smiling.  The kindness here is not bubbly and overdone like California–it feels wholesome.

Pros: Friendly people

Cons: Can be insular, crazy cold weather, no mountains, lack of diversity

The South 

Ok.  I’ll admit that I have never really lived in the South until moving to Texas (which may not even be part of the south–it might be a region all its own–but for convenience sake we’ll lump it into the South).  Before moving to Texas a quick visit to Tennessee was the only experience I’ve had in the south.

People in the south are friendly without the California fake.  They’re charming and straightforward.  Texas in particular is a no BS kind of place.  They give it to you straight, but in a friendly sort of way.  I’m totally charmed by the accent.

I’m blown away by southern manners.  Addressing people by ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’ are the norm here.  My coworkers all sit with impeccable posture.  Table manners are top notch.

Pros: Friendliest Americans I’ve ever met, love the frankness, culture here is vibrant, manners

Cons: Lack of diversity, CRAZY drivers, too many guns, humidity

New York, D.C., Boston metro areas of the Northeast

I probably have no right even attempting to write about the East coast because I’ve never lived there.  I can’t speak for all the states on the East coast (and it’s rude to lump them all together, considering Florida and Rhode Island are vastly different), but based on my limited time in these big East coast cities, I want to throw in my two cents.

Those from the East Coast will run you over to get to a meeting.  Pace of life is fast.  Go-go-go.  No time for pleasantries, no time to say hello, no time to talk about the weather.  It’s not a smiley place and, for the most part, you feel like no one gives it a shit about you.  Deal with it.  Friendly doesn’t exist here.

But wow.  Great nature.  Culture is vibrant and alive.  Diversity is everywhere.  You can smell the ambition in the air.  Shit gets done here–and it gets done fast.

Pros: Great for the ambitious, don’t need a car, diversity, architecture, great nature, fast pace of life, strong sense of culture..

Cons: Cutthroat, inequality, people are aggressive, fast pace of life, cold winters, humid summers

So What Area is the Best?

I’m a rocky mountain girl and proud of it

Really depends on your personal preference.  If you’re a go-getter who wants to make something of yourself, maybe the East Coast is right for you.  If you want a slower pace of life with a good tech or media job, perhaps California fits the bill.  If you want a nice community to raise your family, maybe the Midwest is where you want to be.

I’m still not a huge fan of US cities (especially after my stints in Japan and China), but I have to admit the diverse regions of the USA create a wealth of options for those looking to move here.  We have epic mountains in the West, metropolitan powerhouses in the East, beaches on each coast and a unique sense of culture in each particular region.

Personally, I’m a Rockies girl through and through.  I love me some mountains.  However, the slow pace of life and lack of opportunities has drawn me to other areas of the USA.

Where Have You Visited in the USA?  Do you have a favorite?

The Double Standard of Diversity in California

The Double Standard of Diversity in California

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After growing up in Utah, living in Southern California for three years has given me a different perspective of the United States.

For one, white is no longer the majority in California (at least, in the big cities anyway).  Almost all of the friends I’ve made here are either Hispanic, Asian, Arabic or Black.  In fact, I’m sometimes hard pressed to find a white person here and it’s a great thing.  As someone studying international affairs on a professional level, diversity warms my heart and it makes for a very interesting place.  Now, after three years in diverse Southern California, I’m dumbfounded by how white dominated Utah is every time I return.

More than, that, though, I’ve been shocked by the comments from my minority friends who were born and raised in California.

“Utah freaks me out.  Too many white people.  When I’m around so many white people it bothers me.”

“I couldn’t live anywhere else besides California because of the diversity.  I need to be around Asian people.  Being with white people makes me uncomfortable.”

Most recently, I talked to a fellow half-Asian from SoCal who said:

“I never liked being with white people, and even though my dad and I have a good relationship I never felt close to him like my mother–because he was white.  Even today I don’t have very many white friends.”

That, to me as a fellow half-Asian, was shocking.

When I heard these comments, a part of me felt offended.  I am, after all, half-white.  And more than that, why do we have to hate or bash a certain race… even if they are the majority?  I know white bashing is all the rage now, but just because someone is white doesn’t mean you should shy away or assume that they have the inability to understand your culture.

As someone who grew up in all-white Utah, I had the opposite experience of my newfound SoCal friends.  Asian Americans (notice I say Asian Americans (AA) and not Asians) made me very uncomfortable, mostly because I didn’t grow up with the AA clique growing up.  I also looked more white than Asian and was thus often rejected as a fellow Asian.  The Asian American club at my university even had the guts to ask me why I was joining their club, since they assumed I wasn’t Asian.  In the United States, Asian Americans have their own unique culture that is nothing like that of their parent’s home country.  It’s a weird blend of western values and American pop culture mixed with their Asian traditions (especially in SoCal, this culture is very strong).

Ostracized, but still in love with Asia, I lived in China and Japan and felt more welcomed by the locals there that called me ‘foreigner’ than by my fellow Asian Americans in the United States.  Even today, I have closer relationships with Asians born and raised abroad than with their Asian-American counterpart.  Asian Americans flaunt their Asian-ness, but if you planted them back in the homeland, most would suffer and experience extreme culture shock.

My Stance on Diversity and How It Came To Be

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A long, long time ago in Utah…

As the new kid in second grade, and the only half-Asian in an all-white school, all my classmates avoided me like the plague.  Everyday at recess I sat alone on the green grass of the playground, wishing for the bell to hurry up and ring and for the day to be over.  Being the loner kid sucks.

And then, one day, a tall girl with long blonde hair and fierce green eyes towered over me.  Her arms were crossed, her head held high, her confidence unwavering.  I could do nothing but look up to her with my mouth agape.

“You,” she pointed at me.  “You’re going to be my best friend starting from today.”

With a “who, me?” look on my face, she repeated herself and I, the lone kid at the school with no friends whatsoever, had no choice but to consent.

H and I were inseparable after that day.  We played tag together.  Read comics together.  Hung on the monkey bars together.  The other kids started to see me as a normal person, and I felt like I was finally fitting in.

“Ew, look, it’s smelly Shelly,” the classmates cried at the other loner in the class, an overweight girl with tattered clothes and oily hair.  Although I didn’t know it at the time, Shelly was extremely poor.  Her family couldn’t afford to give her proper clothes and it was obvious to see she came from a broken and difficult home.  Kids are cruel and thus called her Smelly Shelly, and she was perpetually without friends.

Despite this, she gave everyone an invitation to her birthday party at her house.

“Ew, who would go to your stinky house Smelly?”

“Gross, I might get fleas if I go to your party, Shelly.”

H took the invitation, passed it to me and said: “We’re going.”

When you’re a kid, you worry about your image way more than you should–and that included me at the time.  What would the kids say if they found out we went to Smelly’s party?  Would I really get fleas?

“We can’t let Shelly be alone on her birthday,” H said.  Wise and powerful words from an eight year old.  I decided to go.

And we went to the birthday party.  I got her a coloring book, H gave her a poster.  There were four of us there, and you could tell that Shelly was elated to have us at her home.  I remember she lived in a trailer and her mom was nice.

Just Go For It

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Throughout the years, H never talked to me about how we should protect the lesser man.  Or how we need to help the less fortunate.  Or how minorities weren’t represented to their fullest and we had a duty to fight for diversity.

She just went for it.  In her actions, and not words, she treated everyone as equals.

She befriended the only Hispanic girl in our fourth grade class and introduced her to the group.  Even in college H managed to befriend more Asian, Indian, Arabic and black friends in Utah than I ever did (in fact, she introduced me to almost all my Asian friends in undergraduate school).  She wasn’t on a vendetta to make minority friends; oh no, she was just being herself and keeping an open mind.  She saw everyone as equal, as a person (not as a skin color or certain culture) and created friendships.  Bonds.  White or not, it didn’t matter.

“You shouldn’t judge someone by how they look or dress Mary,” H would often tell me when I shied away from those covered in tattoos or other people who seemed ‘strange’ to me.  “Be fair.  Learn who they are first–because that’s what’s most important.”

As I learned from H, I strive to go into any social situation with an open mind and without prejudice. Sure, there were times when meeting with different cultures or people (white included) made me uncomfortable, but I knew that, like H said, it was about heart.  I couldn’t judge a book by its cover.

Sure, H is white and maybe she doesn’t understand Asian, Indian, or any other culture as well as she should–but she’s more than willing to.  She bashes and hates and shies away from no one.  She just goes for it–she dives in with an open mind, introduces herself, and becomes a friend to those who need one.  Myself included.  And really, that’s what we should all do.

As I’ve learned from H, I do not hate, discriminate or judge anyone without, at the very least, giving them a chance.

So I say, let’s stop with the “Asian people make me uncomfortable” or “I don’t like white people” mumbo jumbo.  Just go out there and meet someone different.  Keep an open mind.   Give help to all who need it.

PS: H commanded me to be her best friend in second grade, and I have obeyed the order ever since.  H and I have been friends for 22 years now and, most recently traveled to Thailand together.

What do you think?  What was it like where you grew up, and do you feel more comfortable with diversity or homogeneity? 

The Best Place to Visit in America

The Best Place to Visit in America

Zion in the Narrows

My favorite vacation in America is a place I have been trying to escape from my entire life, yet found a whole new appreciation for upon my return back to the United States.

It’s a state with not one, but five national parks.  It hosted the winter Olympics and is known to have “the best snow on Earth.”  It’s home to what some would call an over-zealous and somewhat strange religion.

Yes, my favorite U.S. vacation so far is not San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, or even Boston:

Utah Mighty Five

It’s freakin’ Utah.

I spent most of my life trying to escape from the clutches of small town, desert Utah.  I grew up in a tiny community of coal miners where I was heckled and teased for being half-Asian.  I wasn’t exactly thrilled to return back to Utah when my boyfriend mentioned a road trip that not only made pit stops at the Grand Canyon, but also winded back to my home state: Utah.

Despite living in Utah for over 20 years, I never went to Zion, Bryce or even Moab (all national parks, by the way).  It was truly embarrassing, and I knew I couldn’t properly call myself a true Utahn without a visit to these national landmarks.  Despite the sour taste Utah left in my mouth from my younger years, I decided to treat the journey like a trip overseas: A true adventure.

The results?  Well, I thought the grand canyon would eternally top my charts for U.S. travel, but then I went to…

Zion Angels Landing View
Uhh, heaven anyone?

Zion, Utah: A Truly Holy Place

You know how some places just feel… holy?  I’m not a very religious person, but there are moments in life when I see something so magnificent, so much greater than anything my whole life will ever amount to, something so epic it will stand the test of time and leave its mark on humanity–that I lose myself in what I could best call a ‘spiritual experience.’

Looking up to the grand ceiling of Notre Dame.  Watching an orange sunset melt into the ocean on a sandy beach.  The great Buddha Daibutsu statue in Nara, Japan towering over me.

And then, there’s Zion:

I gotta say, this was a pretty good feeling
I gotta say, this was a pretty good feeling

If you pinpoint Zion from Google Maps alone, it looks like a wasteland.  More desert than the eye can see and it’s in the absolute middle of nowhere.

Yet when you drive through the gates of Zion, it’s almost like you’re transported into Narnia.  Suddenly rocks on the side of the road rise into cliffs, the drab beige of the desert melts into crimson red paint on the cliff side, and trees–no, forests–sprout out from nowhere.

The Red Walls of Zion
The Red Walls of Zion
Zion in the Narrows
Am I in Rivendell or Utah?

Zion is literally an oasis in the middle of the desert.

Weeping rock at Zion
Weeping rock at Zion

Due to the shape and form of the cliffs and rocks in Zion, what little rainfall that is trapped here turns into flowing streams, growing trees and budding flowers that lead to an entire ecosystem of wildlife.

Entrancetonarrows

It’s like heaven.

The Hike Where People Fall to Their Death: Angel’s Landing

Zion Angels Landing
Goin up that chain!

Yeah, you can see why I wasn’t thrilled when my boyfriend cited Angel’s Landing for our hike of the day.  It’s not only famous for having a loose hanging chain as your sole mechanism of safety up the mountain–but more than five helpless hikers have fallen to their death here.

I’m not necessarily afraid of heights, but the photos were enough to have my heart racing.

chains angel landing
chains angel landing

Yes, those are chains that you hang onto as you hang from the sheer face of a cliff.

One wrong step?  Oh, it’s just a straight drop 10,000 feet or so down.

Come on Mary, I gave myself a pep talk.  You’re a true traveler now.  Prove yourself.  Get up there, grab that chain and hoist yourself up to the top.  Giving up is for losers.

Angels Landing Giving Up
I can do this!

Yet I made a gave mistake: I looked over the ledge.  I saw where one wrong step could lead, and I froze.

AHHHH!!!
AHHHH!!!

I crouched to the ground, hugged the chain for life and looked up to my boyfriend, terror in my eyes.

I can’t.

Hell no
Hell no

My boyfriend nodded and understood.  I told him to move ahead and I would wait for him below at “losers corner” (and yes, my boyfriend is a manly man and went all the way to the top.  He said he had to jump over a ravine to do so, so I’m REALLY glad I wimped out!).

Although I didn’t scale to the very top of Angel’s Landing, I still made it up to the 10,000 foot mark.  Loser’s corner wasn’t the best view of the entire canyon–but I gotta say, it wasn’t bad.

View from the top--imagine falling from here!
View from loser’s corner–imagine falling from here!

I was only in Zion for three days and I barely scratched the surface of what this park has to offer.  It’s a treasure trove of mystery, adventure, exploration and beauty.

As one Zion expert remarked to us:

Narrows Trail
The Trail at the Narrows in Zion

“I could spend my entire life here and still never see it all.”

The HooDoos of Bryce Canyon

Another great reason to see Utah is the insane geological formations, like these HooDoos:

Have you ever seen anything like this?!
Have you ever seen anything like this?!

Bryce Canyon is a small national park that can easily be done in a day trip.  It’s a zig zag maze of trails full of these strange HooDoo formations that glow red, orange and yellow in the changing light of the sun.

The lighting effect through these caves is fascinating!
The lighting effect through these caves is fascinating!

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I loved this hike because it was deathly silent and peaceful.  As we hiked around these hoodoos and the forests that they encircle, we heard nothing but the flap of birds spreading their wings overhead.  Every now and then a horse tour passed us by, but the tour group was so entranced by their surroundings only the neigh of the horses could be heard as they echoed across the canyon.

Peace and quiet
Peace and quiet

There is nowhere else in the world where you can see colors or rock formations like this.

Brycecaves

These parks are uniquely Utah–and strangely enough, they make me proud to be a part of this great State.

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Have you been to Utah?  Do you have a favorite America vacation!?

Merry Christmas from Salt Lake City!

Merry Christmas from Salt Lake City!

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For the first time in five years, I’m spending Christmas at home.   I’m not flying in on a 13 hour flight from Tokyo or Shanghai.  I’m not spending Christmas in China and Lunar New Years in the states.  I’m actually home during the holidays, and it’s a wonderful feeling.

I flew into Salt Lake City on Christmas eve and was greeted to a white blanket of snow on Christmas morning.  It was the perfect Christmas present to my morning.

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Although I’m spending the holidays in the United States, the month of December hasn’t felt much like Christmas because of Los Angeles.

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Brrrr…?

Los Angeles is 75 degrees and sunny everyday, and I’ve been wearing the same jeans and t-shirt since August.  Until my trip to Utah for the holidays, my coat was still packed up in my suitcase from Shanghai.

Surprisingly, I miss bundling myself up in a coat, mittens, scarf and boots.  I like feeling the cold against my face and the crunch of snow beneath my feet.  I like having seasons.

I guess for me, Christmas is about taking the coat out of the closet.  It’s about escaping the cold with a warm cup of tea or hot chocolate inside.  It’s looking outside at the snow and feeling the serenity of winter’s silence.

Honestly, it didn’t feel like Christmas until I stepped into Utah.  It made me wonder if people in Southern California have a difference perception of Christmas compared to others?

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Yup. Mid-December in Los Angeles

My family is but a small group of four.  We only have each other here in Salt Lake City, but sometimes that’s all you need.  I spent my Christmas day much like I spent it when I was eight years old–in my pajamas, opening presents, eating, and watching movies and playing games.

Although celebrating the holidays in Utah has been amazing, I miss my “Shanghai family.”  I used to feel very lonely and isolated when spending Christmas in Asia, but last year I had assembled such a close and wonderful cast of friends, I found myself with another family outside of the United States.  At my humble apartment in Shanghai last year, I had a room full of Italians, Russians, Japanese, Chinese, Americans–it was a smorgasbord of cultures all convening together for one purpose: to enjoy Christmas together.

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That’s the worst part about being an international traveler, an ex-pat, a wanderer.  You leave a piece of your heart wherever you go, and you constantly feel the pain of that empty space full of the memories of your loved ones, of the family you made in that land far away.

To my Shanghai family, to my Japan family, and to everyone all around the world–Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

And last but definitely not least: Happy Anniversary to my lovely boyfriend.  Today marks our one year together and I couldn’t be happier.  Although he’s slaving away on Christmas and this entire week, he has been my new family and life here in the United States.  Thank you for helping me keep my sanity in Los Angeles, for listening to me complain about work and SoCal traffic, and for being the wonderful, kind, caring, and hard-working boyfriend you are.  I’m lucky to have you, and here’s to many, many more years together.

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Is Living in Big City America Worth it?

Is Living in Big City America Worth it?

photo credit: Pranav Bhatt via photopin cc
photo credit: Pranav Bhatt via photopin cc

Why Big City L.A. Sucks… Traffic

I apologize, I haven’t updated in almost a month. Aside from my terrible job and daily four hour commute (yes, you read that correctly, four hours), I have been busy with my favorite hobby:

Traveling.

Mary_Utah

When I was younger, all I could think about was how to get out of the United States rather than travel in it. The arches of Moab are nothing compared to the Great Wall of China, I sighed. The Grand Canyon simply pales in comparison to the intellectual beauty of Paris’ Eiffel Tower and the Champs Elysses.

Now that I’m back in the states, I have a new found respect for my homeland. Since I’ll be in the USA for at least two or three years, I figure that now is the best time to discover the great wilderness that is the United States.

Two weeks ago my boyfriend and I went on a road trip across the Southwestern United States stopping at the Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion National Park and Las Vegas.

But today I’m not writing about Utah or Arizona—today, I’m writing about:

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Boise, The City of Trees

My best friend relocated to Boise for work, and much to my surprise she gave me a raving review of the place.  I had to go and see it for myself.

Hip bars, countless breweries, a lively downtown, abundance of nature, friendly folk and most of all—trees.

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If there’s one thing Mary loves more than anything, it’s trees. And lots of them. Since I grew up in the deserts of Utah, my lust for green, lush environments will never be satiated. While California may have gorgeous beaches, it’s definitely lacking in green (California is basically a desert with an ocean next to it).

Idaho has what California cannot give me:

Boise_Fall

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Color.

Some of the fall foliage in Boise was comparable to that of Japan. Blood red trees, golden yellow leaves and hues of sunrise and sunset splashed across the plains of Boise.

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Parks filled with laughing families, flying geese and lakes full of wildlife; a bustling downtown with an endearing farmer’s market, friendly pubs with bartenders boasting of their local ale, and multiple local getaways including a hot springs resort within an hour’s drive.

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“I had no idea Boise was so… hip, cool and friendly,” I said to the bartender as I sipped on the Pumpkin ale she recommended me. “This place is a hidden gem.”

“Let’s keep it that way,” she winked before scurrying off to serve another customer.

Boise_Mary

Indeed.

My lust for big city America is gone.

When I was young, I wanted to move to Los Angeles so badly. For a small town girl like me, neighboring Los Angeles was full of diversity, culture and glamour. When I found out that I couldn’t afford out-of-state tuition to attend college in Los Angeles, I literally broke down on the floor and sobbed. I’ll never leave backwater Utah, I cried, I’ll never make it to the big city.

Now, I yearn for Utah. No traffic, affordable housing, nice people and nature?

Yes, please.

Alternatives to Big City America

Lately I’ve been reading statistics for millenials, and they aren’t pretty.

If you have $10,000 in savings, then congratulations—you’re richer than most millenials.

On top of that, most Americans make under $19.00/hour.  That’s about $35,000 a year if you work full time.

With these startling statistics, it’s ironic to see that millenials are moving into Big City America in droves, causing rent to soar and housing prices to reach unrealistic numbers.

A one bedroom apartment in San Francisco can set you back $1-2k a month—minimum. The same applies to Los Angeles. Tack on the price of car and insurance, and you can kiss $2,500 dollars of your paycheck goodbye. If you only make $35,000 annually then that’s, what… 90% of your paycheck?

So why don’t more people move to amazing places like Boise? I thought, while I sipped on my local Boise brew in one of the hippest Gastropubs I’ve ever set foot in. Good food, good beer, good people and a thriving local community and art scene? Isn’t this what millenials want?

Good Beer be Had in Boise
Good Beer be Had in Boise
Yes, this is a frozen ice cup
Yes, this is a frozen ice cup
Cute, hip coffee joints in Boise
Cute, hip coffee joints in Boise

Living in a place like Boise not only cuts your cost of living in half with low rent, but it also improves your peace of mind. Kiss those one hour commutes goodbye and say hello to more time to yourself. Stress free communities with nearby hiking trails, hot springs, and glorious nature?

Hot Springs in a sea of trees a Quick Drive Away
Hot Springs in a sea of trees a Quick Drive Away

Boise is ranked as one of the best cities to move to in 2014 to live in the United States. In terms of beer, it ranks with the big dogs Seattle and Portland in for local craft breweries.

See, Boise has good beer!
See, Boise has good beer!

Still, I know some of us aren’t suited for the simple Boise life. Maybe you need a place that can offer more than Boise. You need throngs of people, culture, diversity—you need a real city.

Forget San Francisco, New York and L.A. and just..

Move Abroad

Think you Can't Afford Tokyo?  Think again.
Think you Can’t Afford Tokyo? Think again.

In Shanghai, I had a NYC lifestyle for half the cost. I paid $500/monthly for my apartment in the heart of the city. I had an expansive and affordable metro system at my fingertips, and a dirt-cheap taxi backup for those late nights out. I was surrounded by 4,000 skyscrapers (more than anywhere in the world), Fortune 500 companies, and a diverse crowd of ex-pats and locals.

Shanghai makes Los Angeles look like a kiddie wading pool. Even Anthony Bourdain said that it can give New York a run for its money.

In Shanghai I dined at the finest restaurants, enjoyed cocktails on top of the world and danced at some of the world’s best nightclubs—for a fraction of what it would cost in L.A. or NYC.

Drink at a bar with this view for 16 bucks
Drink at a bar with this view for 16 bucks

And it’s not just Shanghai. Many large cities in the world are far more affordable than what the U.S. can offer.

Istanbul, Seoul, Bangkok, Shanghai, Taiwan, Berlin—even Tokyo is more affordable than Los Angeles or San Francisco (finding a decent apartment in Tokyo city proper for under 1,000 USD is very doable).

How about Bangkok?  Affordable apartments with rooftop pools!
How about Bangkok? Affordable apartments with rooftop pools!

It’s no surprise that more Americans than ever are relocating abroad for retirement.

I say… why what?

Living abroad may sound expensive, but actually, it’s far more affordable than big city America.. and definitely more fun.

And while I’m not recommending all Americans forever flee the homeland, I do honestly believe that everyone should live abroad at least once.  It’s an amazing, life-changing experience.

Ten Years After High School

Ten Years After High School

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Last weekend was my 10 year high school reunion.

But I didn’t go.

It’s not like I didn’t want to go–actually, I was curious to see what everyone from my small, coal-mining town was up to in the big world.  I knew that most were married and still living in Utah, but I’m sure a few anomalies from my class were doing some really amazing things.

It would have been nice to visit my small hometown after 7 years of absence and catch up with the class of ’08, but due to distance and finances it just wasn’t feasibly possible.

Still, the invitation made me reflect back on high school, college, and the ten years that have lead up to what is now my current life.

Small Town High School

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If I wasn’t in journalism class writing up a storm, you could usually find me painting or sketching away in art class.  I was left brain all the way, and when it came to picking a career I chose to follow my passion and pursue my dream of becoming an artist or a writer (yeah, I shoulda been a doctor).

Unlike the other girls in my year reading Shape and Cosmopolitan magazine, I was always lost in an issue of TIME magazine or the New York Times, reading it front to back in one sitting.  I was quite isolated and cut off from the world in my hometown, so I was captivated reading  international magazines that introduced me to different cultures and ideologies through the pen of a journalist.  Covering the war in Iraq, discovering tribes in Mongolia, reviewing the latest bars in Manhattan–the life of a journalist looked exciting, fun, and most of all meaningful.

Even at 16 I didn’t want to have a 9-5 job, get married and have a family like everyone else.  I wanted to travel to exotic places, write about it, and most of all inform the American public about happenings around the world.

I was obsessed with Japan and Japanese culture, was a fantasy nerd, a video gamer, and a lover of foreign films–which instantly made the outcast in our all-American High school (my school was 99.5% white, with the minority in my school being me and one other half-black girl).

In high school, your clique is usually defined by who you sit with at lunch.  There are the skater kids, the cheerleaders, the druggies, the jocks–you know the drill.  Due to my strange hobbies and ethnicity, I found myself sitting at the “nerd/smart kids” table, where my fellow peers were the leading kids of the class.

Since I didn’t drink or do drugs, there wasn’t much to do in my hometown.  I went to Blockbuster on almost a daily basis, renting new video games and movies and spending a good portion of my time alone.  I was quite shy and reserved, but I secretly wished I could be more outgoing and popular.

I spent many evenings in my room watching movies, which may sound lonely to you but are now quite fond memories to me.  Memories of Princess Mononoke, Gladiator, Amelie, Before Sunrise/Sunset, and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon rolling on my screen were some of the most inspirational and memorable moments of my life.

At 16 my family took me on a trip to Southern France, which changed my life forever.  Being in a foreign country, surrounded by a new language and a completely alien culture, flipped my world upside down and changed my outlook on life.  The trip inspired me so much that, after long hours of part time work, I saved enough money to go to Paris, France for my graduation at 18 and explored the city with my best friend.  In that moment I realized the world was vast, varied, and simply amazing–and I had to see it all.

Although I went to France, I enrolled in an Italian language class in high school which not only introduced me to the great country that is Italy, but also helped me realize my talent with languages.

I still remember my graduation ceremony

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In typical American fashion, we were all wearing cap and gown and seated in a giant auditorium.  My good friend was the valedictorian and gave a speech that I still (slightly) remember to this day:

“Like Frodo,” My friend spoke aloud. “We are leaving the shire.  We are going into the unknown, into the heart of an adventure, as Gandalf told Frodo; and like Frodo, we’re uncertain if we’re making the right choices or not.  But that’s exactly what life is–an adventure full of the unknown, and all we can do is follow blindly with our fellowship into a world of opportunity that awaits us.”

Although I was set to attend the University of Utah with a major already in mind (journalism), I was still frightened.  Moving from a small town to a big city–even if it was in the same state–was a terrifying experience.  I was full of apprehension, but I knew it had to be done to achieve something great.  When I left high school, I was determined to become a world famous journalist and write in TIME magazine someday.  I wanted to travel.  I wanted to really live life.  And most of all:

I wanted to go to Japan.

In The End

One of my friends at the ‘smart table’ fell into the drug scene, dropped out of university and eventually wound up in rehab (but is doing fine today).

Another close friend is a prominent lawyer in Seattle.

My best friend is a pharmacist (quite possibly the smartest in our lot).

And my other good friend studied tai-chi on Mt. Wudang for half a year in the boondocks of China before realizing that teaching the art of kung fu wasn’t for him (no, I’m not joking).  He’s now into social work and Tibetan Buddhism.

An acquaintance went on to get a full ride art scholarship, but now she’s working 4 jobs to make ends meet.

And me?  I still haven’t written in TIME.  Somehow, I’m in California right now.

But I went from small, coal mining community to the beaches of Bali, the mountains of China and the cobblestone streets of Europe.

And most of all: I lived in Japan.

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I’m not a world famous journalist (yet!), but somehow I ended up becoming an interpreter and translator instead.

But still, I’m sure 18 year old Mary would be proud.