A Break from America

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I knew I was going to enjoy the city because I grew up in one. Chicago is a different world compared to Lima, though. The people act very differently because after all, it is a different country. And as amazing as it sounds, it is also tiring. I tried to find something to relate to, something that remind me of home. And I did, sort of. It was not home, but it was different. It was something new.

Chinatown is just two train stops away from the dorms. My friends told me about it, but still a stranger, I had no idea what to do. Until one weekend, I grabbed my purse, a jacket, and my roommate. She knew as little about the city as me, but we knew we had to take the red line to Chinatown. We had never been on that train before, but we both knew that it was going to be an adventure. Overall, I knew I was going to like it because I had always found Asian culture fascinating.

When I got off the train I immediately saw it: a glimpse of Asian culture right here in Chicago. I walked away from the station and crossed the street. There was a big sign that said “Welcome to Chinatown” and the architecture was in a traditional Asian style. As I walked the streets I admired the buildings, the stores, and the people. It all felt different, and it all felt like a break from the typical American culture. I felt like a tourist in some part of China or another Asian country.  I am sure it wasn’t even close to being on the streets of China, but still, it was different. After walking for a couple of minutes among the crowd, I notice a sign on one side of the road. It was pink and black and it just kept repeating the same words “KPOP”.

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That caught not only mine but my roommate’s attention as well, because we shared an interest in Korean pop bands. My face lit up as I grabbed my roommate by the hand and started running to the building. We crossed the road as fast as we could, because the light had not changed yet, and finally made it to the entrance. As I stood in front of it I could see all the posters of the bands I knew and admired. Big Bang, Seventeen, EXO, VIXX, and more. And that was just the entrance. I remember screaming while hugging my roommate. We both held our breath and went in. After entering the store, the entrance seemed like just the beginning. There were not just posters, but t-shirts, cups, mugs, stickers, stamps, hats, sweaters, bags, and lots of other random things—I wanted to buy them all.

“Monster” by EXO was playing in the store and I just started dancing and jumping while running around the store. The lady over the counter looked at me with an angry face. I could tell that she was Korean by hearing her speak to other customers. As soon as we took out phones out, the lady told us that we weren’t allowed to take photos. That made me angry, but whatever, I was still going to enjoy myself. I can’t tell how long we stayed there and it didn’t matter. I was so focused on finding the perfect poster and hat of my favorite band that I lost track of time. My roommate was doing the same. We both looked like kids in a toy store. I don’t know what happened, but when we left we ended up spending over forty dollars in that place, which left a dent in my wallet. Coming out of the store we felt hungry and wanted a snack. On the other side of Chinatown there was a lot of restaurants and food stores all over the streets. Even though we regreted spending all that money in the store, we still decided to go get something to eat as we had already spent so much today; we might as well enjoy the day to the max.

The other section was more magical. The architecture, the street, everything looked like it was from a fantasy world. It was beautiful. We walked along the streets admiring the stores and everything else. There was this tea place which had a long line of customers waiting. It had different types of flavors and mixes, so we decided to get in line as well. I ordered this weird mix with mango and another fruit with a weird name I can’t remember. The people who were serving had an accent that was hard to understand. I remember that the lady shouted “seventy-two” which was my order, but even after 4 times I couldn’t understand, so I had to show her the receipt. Of course I am not one to talk because I have been told my accent is hard to understand too. But it was great. I can honestly say it was the best tea I had had in a long time.

After acquiring our tea we kept walking until we saw some candy stores. We wanted to buy this candy called “Pocky” just to play a silly kissing game we always saw in anime. So we decided to go in. Everything felt so different and weird. I couldn’t even tell if the snacks were sweet or salty judging by the cover. Some of them had a container with the candy so people can try some. I recognized this weird snack called “Mochi” from not only the vast majority of anime I have watched, but also from the time my Japanese classmate brought some to school. I asked my roommate if she wanted to try it, although she seemed more interested in looking at the boys behind the counter than the actual candy. After debating with myself for a couple of minutes I decided to take a risk and just buy one box. Just to add to the list of unnecessary things we had already bought. We decided to get a bunch of Japanese sodas just to try and see if we liked it. I could feel my wallet getting lighter and lighter.

mochi

We walked out of the store and decided to sit down on one of the benches. We were tired. There was a barber shop right in front of us and we could see how everyone in there not only looked Asian but like members of a KPOP group. We both laughed at the idea that we should go in and get a haircut just to talk to the guys who worked in there. I remember one of them came out of the store, stood in front of us and lighted up a cigarette. We came to the conclusion that many Asians smoke because he was not the first one we had seen through all the day. We laughed again as he stared at us with a weird look. I was still feeling hungry, so I decided to try one of my Mochi.

As I opened the box I could feel the weird texture. They were soft, and it kind of felt like skin. I asked my roommate to touch them too, she thought the same. I stared at it and finally took a bite. It was so soft, and so sweet. The inside was full of this brownish substance; it was supposed to be beans, but it was so sweet. I looked at my roommate and ask her to try some. She didn’t like it. I loved it. The sweetness and softness and all the weird new textures were amazing. Of course after two I was done; too sweet is not good. I packed the Mochis I had left in the box and then looked at my roommate, who was starting to fall asleep, so we decided to head home.

It was a tiring day. I remember arriving to my dorm and wanted to just die on the couch. But, it was such an unforgettable experience. I fell in love with that place. The KPOP store, the magnificent architecture, everything was so different and it helped to give me a break from “America”. It’s not like I have never been to an Asian inspired place before. We have something similar where I live. I think that this time was different because I was away of home. When I was still in Peru, it didn’t felt like I was going to a new place, it was just another place in Lima. But this time the experience was different. Everything seemed new, starting from the train station to the weird texture of the Mochi, it was like experiencing it for the first time.

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I was feeling homesick and tired. I love the idea of living in a great city like Chicago, it has always been one of my dreams. However, sometimes it feels like just too much. I get tired, I get bored. So, when I went to Chinatown, it was like taking a break. The idea of just being somewhere else with a different culture made me feel like a tourist, like I was there temporarily and I was going to go home soon. And that helped me enjoy the experience even more. I feel that this experience has helped me bond with my roommate, as we were exploring something we shared in common. It has also helped me relax and get to know more places. I am sure I will go to Chinatown soon again. Maybe next week, not for “getting away” again, but because I want another box of Mochi, and another cup of that amazing tea, and the amazing experience I felt the first time. I just hope that next time my wallet will be ready.

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