Tall palm trees. Very wide freeways and convoluted interchanges and skyways. Bald mountains.
Those were my first impressions of USA. And even after many years of living in many different states of America, California still has a special imprint on me.
I arrived in America in 1994, through Los Angeles airport (LAX). I observed how diverse the palette of races were. I thought, I could easily blend in with the different hues of humanity here.
I stayed with my aunt for a few days in California, before I flew to the east coast to have my interviews in different hospitals and medical institutions there. After my interviews, I went back to my aunt and stayed there for a couple of months while waiting for the results of which hospital would accept my application for post-graduate training.
After completing 6 years of training in the east coast, we went back to California in 2000, and lived with my sister-in-law in Los Angeles while awaiting the change of my visa status so I could start a real job. It took a long while for my visa to be processed, so we called LA our temporary home for about half a year. It was during that cold cruel winter of our lives that California took us in and sheltered us.
Two weeks ago we went back to Los Angeles.
No, we did not move to California, we just went there to visit our family and friends. We stayed again with my sister-in-law, who has the best of both worlds. She lives literally a few minutes drive to the bustling downtown LA, but still enjoys a quiet enclave in her “mountain” home in Los Angeles area. There were also several Filipino stores and restaurants nearby, even walking distance away from her home. That goes without saying that a large community of Filipinos lived in that area.
When we craved for Filipino food, even though there was a Jollibee, or Red Ribbon, and Goldilocks, we opted for a more homey feel, of a “turo-turo” carinderia, like the “Lutong Bahay” or “Nanay Gloria’s”. And as we were waiting for the food that we ordered to take home, Joey Albert sang in the background through their piped in music. I felt I was in one of the turo-turo in Dapitan near UST, back in my college days, except that when I looked outside, the surrounding were mountains with more houses than trees.
During our brief stay, we went to Costco in the LA area to buy some groceries. When we entered the store, it looked exactly like the one we have at home in West Des Moines, Iowa. In fact if I bumped my head and passed out and then regained consciousness, I could have sworn I was back in Iowa. Except for some striking difference: the store was so crowded, that it was almost impossible to get around without bumping your cart with somebody else’. After living many years in Iowa, I am not used to the crowd anymore. You could also hear different languages being spoken by the crowd of people shopping there, including Tagalog, my native tongue. And sometimes you would hear English too ( at times, it feels like English is the minority language spoken there).
As I looked dazed in the somewhat familiar but also unfamiliar place I was in, I did not realize that I was standing in the middle of an isle and blocking it. A shopper called my attention, and I hurriedly step aside and uttered, “Excuse me”. As she went past me, I saw her shook her head. Perhaps she’s frustrated that this place was full of idiots like me. Or maybe, just maybe, she had not heard the word “excuse me” for a while.
Yep, I was in Los Angeles alright.