Monday, 11 July 2016

En Route: California

Earlier this year, our psychology class made a little trip to California. Considering it was my 2nd time in America and my first time in the cities I've wanted to see for so long, it was incredibly significant and will be a holiday I will always treasure. On said trip I got to see places I've read about or seen in films and seeing it all come to life was surreal and some of the conversations I stumbled upon made an impact on me and it would not make much sense for me to not document such experiences. So here I am talking about all of those conversations, places and people.


Let's just say black coffee got me through that week because I was running on practically no sleep. The place we stayed at in San Francisco was pretty home-y and felt very much like Orlando in the way that it was on a main road yet felt a little isolated. Whereas the place in LA felt very real. It was pretty open to the outside, the rooms were in a square and right in the middle were the steps leading down to the reception and around the rooms, you just had a little wall going around the perimeter where you were basically sitting outside. It felt so exposed, especially past midnight, and the fact that we were basically on Sunset made it. The first time I went to America felt very sheltered, which is pretty obvious since we were in Disneyland but walking around the streets in Hollywood felt very real and that has always been the biggest distinction for me considering I've always lived in "bubbled" places. So I appreciated that. It made me feel very real. I think a little element of fear or caution also fed that feeling, which is pretty strange/interesting. I think the spectrum of things I feel living somewhere familiar and "safe" is very constricted. And to be honest, I don't take that for granted because I feel like at this point in my life, growing up, going to school, focusing on what I need to be focusing on, that environment intensely facilitated that because you were so wrapped up in your little world. But at this point in time I feel very under-stimulated and disengaged and I feel like that little jolt made me realize it is necessary to push yourself out of your comfort zone or you'll just blend into the background of your own existence? 

 I loved the Academy of Sciences and I especially loved this picture because it documented a very stand-out thought for me and that was the amount of children at the academy. It was wonderful seeing so many young children showing genuine interest, discovery, curiosity, wonder, attention... And I admired the parents who were bringing their children to places like these because one massive pet-peeve of mine is when children and their mental capacities are under-estimated. It drives me absolutely mental. Children's mental capacities are more receptive than ours will ever be at this point, they are so primed to soak things up and they want to soak things up but because that naturally brings lots of parents and education systems an inconvenience everybody is brought down to the same standardized rate of information provided which I think does every child a massive disservice. So I think that was a momentous thing for me because I don't want to have children myself but seeing all of those parents there with their children made me feel a little warm. But the first thought I had was "I would undoubtedly be that kind of parent"... Let's maybe not get into that ;)

View from de Young museum. Was so upset I missed a dope gallery because we were heading to LA on that day.
I think stock photo websites should hire me.
Waiting for my job offer, thank you.

Chinatown was a beauty. 
I remember that day not starting off very positive-vibey. But. Seeing a whole culture existing in its full saturation right within a different one was very special. I remember walking, all of us in one group, and as we are about to cross the road, there's a massive crowd with these signs: 

The Chinese Communist Party Is Satan - Falun Gong protesters in San Francisco Chinatown
(not my picture - but the exact same posters were carried)
and there is another picture that captures my reaction upon seeing that:

I don't even know what that expression says haha but I know what I was thinking and that was: "What the actual"

Once again because it's unexpected! We don't see anything out of the ordinary out here and we're so desensitized to all sorts of shit online but when you see them and when you're across the road from them. When you're opposite real people, expressing what they think/feel/believe, in the streets and when you're opposite real things happening in real places, it's like...okay. Let's take a step back and come to terms with the fact that we have yet to witness very real shit we never thought would even warrant a reaction from us. The more you learn about yourself, hm. 

Alcatraz was another one that made me feel a lot of things I did not expect to feel.

It felt uncomfortable putting yourself in the mindset of a prisoner while we were on the boat. But once you got there, it was another level. We went on an audio tour (which only made it more chillingly good..(although good may not be the right word at all)) and one moment that really got me was when the audio recording said something about walking on the left and not leaving your path or something like that and I just automatically complied. It was ...?? How powerful an impact something so seemingly powerless can have on you. The environment felt almost claustrophobic at times. I was taking photos inside cells and feeling completely invasive and out of my place. Walking into the visitations felt so ominous. Everything about that tour was on another level because I was feeling physically different. And that's remarkable, if something has that sort of influence on you then it must be noted and you need to listen to what your body is telling you about yourself. It's not going to lie to you like your mind might. 

Just writing this put me in a certain headspace. Unshakable.

Walking around Stanford had me at my most envious.

My upbringing has been immmmensely influenced by American media and pop culture and when you put 12 year old me with her incredibly high academic aspirations and TV shows talking about Ivy League, you get a little girl who wants to go to Stanford. Alas, now that I'm of the school of thought that education is a business and I should not be buying into its elitist system (lol that's what makes me feel better about myself), I settled for appreciating it with the same genuine interest I've always had in it. And it didn't disappoint. And I guess this is where perceptions play a huge role because I walked in there with a (sub)conscious belief that this place appreciated knowledge, creation, invention, originality and most of all, encouraged it. And that has always been something that inspired me because I am big on all of those things. 

Also accessibility of knowledge is probably one of the things I am very grateful for and do my best to appreciate on a very regular basis so being somewhere that felt like the hub of knowledge (and psychology, which is very very dear to my heart) was wonderful. It made me feel motivated and it made a lot of things feel very accessible to me because why wouldn't they be? I suppose that mentality is fed heavily by the entitlement that is bred into you around here (lol) but it has more pros than cons for me because I eliminate the belief that I deserve everything that may be accessible to me, but I take on the certainty and belief in myself that if I work for it, I can get it. And as flawed and unrealistic as that ideology may be, in my reality it only pushes me further forward. And that's what I care about. 

Being in Palo Alto made me feel like I was in the book/film. Homage to you, Franco. Also I had the best bagel I have ever had in my life in Palo Alto and I will never forget that or shut up about it.

As the sucker that I am for road-trips, being on the window seat of the bus was a definite high for me. I have always wanted to drive on the massive highways in the States so everytime I've been on them has been a very special moment for me. I suppose that's the lesson you can take from me and my ramblings. Romanticize roads. You will be happier. 

Ah. The aesthetic of consumerism and neon lights. Love it.

I had two other key moments (amongst others that I won't discuss here) in Los Angeles.

The first was a "tour" we had around Skid Row, Downtown LA. This was a very new experience for me. In all sorts of ways. As I've mentioned before the sheltered existence can be limiting, but it can also be a massive blessing that we are continuously taking for granted because living "on the streets" is difficult to say the least. And I say difficult because I have no other word and I don't even feel like I have the right to talk about how difficult it seemed to a tourist walking around for under an hour. Because that would be absolute and utter bullshit. It's just that the contrast was stark. We went to Los Angeles Mission and after our rather invasive "tour" (Which made feel disgusting. Walking around, peering rudely into people's lives, so I can then go back more appreciative of my privileged existence) We were in the kitchen and a man called James started conversation with us. He told us his story; how he used to attend the shelter, where he now worked, and had a son of his own whom he couldn't take care of in the midst of everything that he was going through at the time with substance abuse. He asked me what I believed in, to which I said "myself", then he asked what else, to which I said "God" and at that point I could tell his religious leanings because he spoke about that route like it was his route to where he is now. And that was significant for me to experience first hand because here was somebody who has experienced things I have and may never experience, talking to me about his life at the place that was part of his journey to where he was when we spoke. And that's intense. People are my greatest interest, I think. People's stories, experiences, mistakes, secrets, desires, questions, beliefs, regrets, values, memories, worst days, best days, all of it. It adds to me in ways that I would not sort into negative and positive, but they all just make me feel so much richer and I suppose if something like that weighs you down you should not want to take it onboard, but I think somethings that may add a little weight to me actually make me a better person. Or at least that's how I feel. 

The other moment was a conversation with a woman at The Hills Rehab Center. I don't know if she gave us her real name or not in the first place, but she didn't want to be in a picture so I won't use her name. (1 reader or 100,000 I don't want to put it on the internet for my own little peace of mind) but she took me to another level compared to the conversation with James because I felt very close to her. She talked about her upbringing. The money she was raised into, her mother and her boyfriend paying no attention to her, the parties she escaped into, going to art school and finding it to be, in essence, drug central. She spoke with a fire that hurt because she was evidently still being affected by every single one of those experiences and the way she discussed being a perfectionist and the impact that had on her and the way she engaged with life was hardhitting because on a very very basic level of relatability, I understood where she was coming from. I wanted to be less than silent when she was talking and I couldn't get my eyes off of her. I had a lump in my throat but couldn't help asking her questions because before we even spoke to her, I walked past her thinking she was a staff member and complimented her hair and we had a laugh. And now she was pouring her life out to us and I felt like whatever amount of respect I could show to her would not be enough. She said something that I still remember so clearly and that was when she described her lowest point. How she woke up somewhere on the floor, no idea where she was, after being there for countless days, in the same place, and just had no idea how she quite got there. I wish I could talk to her again.

All in all, visiting California was a significant life event for me and what I saw, learned, experienced still contributes to my daily life which is lovely because I feel like I will always take it with me no matter how many more times I go to these places or anywhere else in the world. Travelling as a concept energizes me but when it comes to actually experiencing it, it really is a whole other level for me and I hope to always find myself in a position where I can go somewhere and talk to people and be out of my comfort zone.

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