So, I was planning on submitting this piece to a travel website, but circumstances prevented me from doing so. Instead, I decided to share it with you wonderful readers. Hope you enjoy!
Hamilton, ON is the first city I’ve ever called home away from home. Unfortunately, I don’t mean it in the romantic, metaphorical sense; I refer to it thus as it comes from necessity of circumstances. This is not a glamorous metropolis that boasts attractions for eyes to wander. And my first semester studying in this city was disillusioning. For one, with a population of half a million, the city is divided into academics and steel workers; and this dichotomization in one city is as poignant to the new resident as to the reader of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Valley of Ashes and East Egg. You’re reminded of it every time you see a single mother, worn-looking and beaten by life, feeding her child dry noodles on a city bus, while pre-meds, oblivious to anything outside their limited realm of achievement, discuss future volunteer trips abroad. In fact, it was this dissonance in perspectives, priorities and generally haves and have-nots that was jarring to me, an eighteen year old who always prided herself on having her life figured out.
As a child of immigrants, I’d imagined that financial stability was the key to independence, and therefore, long-term happiness. I’d used this logic to rationalize why my parents always seemed miserable growing up. They were both over-worked, under-appreciated, middle-class citizens that would never shatter the glass ceiling placed on all legal aliens; but my mom was particularly conscious of her talents going to waste. “You have to prove your worth! We’re no less than (Canadians), just because we were born elsewhere,” she’d say bitterly before schlepping to a nine-to-five that never validated her education. That’s where getting an MD came about. The thought of reaching levels of success my parents never dreamed of was tantalizing to both me and them. However, after only one semester in school, my confidence in what I wanted out of the future was shaken.
To focus my thoughts, I decided to write. When I purchased my first journal back in December, a beautiful paperback with a cover of fairies ornately decorating the Eiffel Tower with lights, I opened the first page and wrote, “Let me see France”. It was almost like a prayer to some travel Deity. I pictured myself living in the French country-side, sipping coffee and writing essays. It seemed pretentious, even in my fear-stricken mind, but I grasped at the dream as though it were my life raft, unconsciously pulling me to the broader image of me one day seeing the world. It was Thailand that I desired to see next; then came Vietnam; and then Indonesia. I suddenly wanted to initiate a complete cultural revolution in myself, and to my great astonishment, the feeling never wavered.
Today, my desire to travel persists, but I don’t try to shake it off as restlessness, or a transient wanderlust that’s the consequence of disdain for where I live now. If anything, I’ve found some comfort and charm in small-town living. And writing about my travels seems like a perfect middle ground.
There is a small nook in the mountain overlooking the dilapidated city where I often go to think. It’s the true hidden gem in a city with literally hundreds of waterfalls, because it has the right altitude to give clear views of the lake and lights surrounding it, making you feel like the stars are reaching out to you. The city it overlooks is still as course cloaked under night as it is during the day, but from this spot it’s unusually peaceful. Sitting on the concrete bench, I hum Frank Sinatra’s song: I’ll do it my way.