It’s been two weeks since my graduation. In the time between, my family & I have completed an abridged tour of the USA. Zoomed through New York, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, San Francisco, Napa & Los Angeles.
It’s strangely refreshing to have my mind and eyes geared towards famous landmarks, things my family could check off their must-see list. Something comforting about that: to give in to our unmistakable identities as tourists. These significant sights — Central Park, Capitol Hill, Golden Gate Bridge — are stored in my brain, accompanied by the click-click-click-clicks of my parents’ unabashed, unfiltered photo-taking.
I write this as I cross over to a different world, still carrying the same alien essence. I’m eager to soak in all the must-sees and must-dos in Russia, to capture as many beautiful shots of the Kremlin in Moscow or the ballet theatres in St Petersburg.
But I’m greedy: I want this Trans-Mongolian adventure to be meaningful. Already I feel the apprehension mounting — I don’t think I’ve ever been in a country where I will feel more ‘out’ than ‘in’. We can’t speak the language, and I can hardly begin to tell you what I don’t know about Russia’s vast and rich history. The struggle to get our visa (a story for another day) foreshadows the unknown I’m about to come face to face with.
All of this fear translates into something far beyond my understanding and all I know is that for the first time in a long while, I am experiencing what it means to be truly excited.
But there will be space for the adventures ahead. In the meantime, there’s much to preserve about my family’s cross-country trip.
Traveling with family isn’t easy. All my holidays in the last year have been with friends and whenever things aren’t working out, you can always call them out on it. Can’t really do that to your 70-plus grandmother, can you? (Not that my grandmother was any trouble at all — she’s freaking awesome and probably cooler than yours.)
The last two weeks have been an exercise in patience. Still, I’m grateful for it. It’s pretty much revealed to me how intolerant, frenzied and kancheong I am and how much more gentle I need to be with the people who love me most.
Little troubles aside, I think the vacation was a success. Or as my mom put it, we’re a holiday dream team. My dad pretty much drove the entire way — try going through New York to DC to Philly in the same day, or Yosemite Valley to LA in seven hours. My mom helped him navigate the unfamiliar American roads. My grandmother provided entertainment with her unexpected quibs. Alan & I planned the trip. Dream team — I like the sound of that.
By far one of the biggest highlights was our excursion to Jean-Georges. Funny how my first trip to New York in freshman year started with a visit to the Michelin-starred French restaurant. Four years on, I end my last NYC trip as a Penn student with Jean-Georges.
At $38 per person for a prix fixe lunch, the price is affordable, the ambience (such lush greenery outside the floor-to-ceiling windows) perfect, the food absolutely delicious. I don’t think I’ll ever be sick of looking at this photo of the exquisite foie gras with granola and cranberry.
(When we got to San Fran, I pored through the menus of the French restaurants, wondering why none of them seemed to serve foie gras. Finally remembered it was banned when one waiter judged me for my cruel, insatiable greed with a sneery, “You should know it’s not allowed here anymore.”)
It rained the day we were in the Big Apple, which lent Central Park a cool, misty onceover. I’ve never really ventured into the heart of the park, and I still haven’t, though. It’s going to be one for the new bucket list.
Hurricane Sandy shut out Lady Liberty from us, so my grandma decided to be a good sport about things.
And you can’t be in the Big Apple without going to the Big Apple (okay you can) but glad I finally visited this architectural beauty (even if I think the idea of taking a small elevator down to the store is terribly mausoleum-like).
We hopped over to Holbrook where my grandmother was reunited with her childhood friend many decades ago. Interestingly enough, their daughters were classmates too! Now I’m Facebook and Instagram friends with Aunty Irene’s daughter Kristin, who takes beautiful photographs and likes guns and has awesome taste in music. Who says lightning can’t strike thrice?
And then we headed for D.C., where my father finally got to see Capitol Hill and all the other historically iconic things you see in movies. Partially mortified when we reached the Lincoln Memorial and Mom exclaimed, “Night at the Museum! Planet of the Apes!”
Finally, Philadelphia for what everyone came for: my graduation ceremonies. The photos mostly speak for themselves: a grand, celebratory atmosphere. Laughter, friends, warm hugs.
It’s a little harder to capture those in-between moments, when the dean calls out the special and the chosen and the gifted, asks them to stand up amidst the sea of mortarboards, and the idea of being exceptional is such a distant, forgotten concept to you that you just want to reach out and touch them, be them for a while. It sits inside your heart and you try to deny this mediocrity. You were born for something better, you tell yourself.
All this sounds very sad but it isn’t! I’m just glad I can finally concretize these thoughts that have been swirling in my head. My best friend flew in from Hong Kong, and I got to celebrate two of the four most important women in my life (minus my paternal grandma and my sister) at a Mothers’ Day lunch. So life can’t be all that bad.
Marcus remarked that I had travelled more in six months that he has in three years. As much as I lament over the what-ifs if I could stay on in the US for a little bit longer, I know that I would never even be able to feel this regret had my scholarship not given me the chance to head over to the States, and see the world along with it.
So, this final journey as a retired student making her way around the globe starts today, in a couple of hours when I reach St Petersburg. But I think real life is only just beginning.