Upon reflection, a life falls naturally into chapters, though at the time of the unfolding it may not be clear what the title is or even that a new chapter been opened. And every time an ocean is crossed, a new chapter begins. I’d been dreading the eventuality of a return to America, that was until Malaysia began working my last nerve. On a daily basis, Kuala Lumpur subjects me to more objectionable raw material than most Americans see in a lifetime. Everything from rats in restaurants to chickens being slaughtered in the street. And when my ears, eyes, and belly were chock full of objectionables, I began to look forward to the freshness of a return to America for clean air, clean water, clean food, unobstructed sidewalks, considerate drivers, and a few of the palatable aspects of law and order.
Nine months ago, I chose to expatriate myself from America to Malaysia. I sailed from New York across the ocean and began a slow migration across the European continent. It was a choice to relocate based almost entirely on intuition that at the end of this long journey I would be awarded the prize of a lifetime, the one thing I’ve been missing my whole life: love. I was certain I would find the man I was searching the world over for in Kuala Lumpur, and indeed I did — in the first 3 weeks!
But while I was falling in love with him, I was falling out of love with the turf on which our romance was being played. Sigh on the impossibleness of getting all you desire in one place. While I now enjoy loving companionship, we can’t go out the door without being assaulted by all that’s wrong with Kuala Lumpur from entrenched homophobia to the chaotic road conditions that threaten your life — whether you’re on foot or in a car. And sometimes when you just can’t resolve all the intractable issues you face, you just have to take a break and get a fresh perspective. Cross an ocean. Start a new chapter, the title of which is to be determined.
My intermission from Malaysia began in the San Francisco Bay Area…a sort of half-way house for me and the one place on earth that at age 23. I was certain then that I would remain in San Francisco for the rest of my days. That all came to a close in 2001 when SF was overtaken by the high tech business and its spendy young techlings. The Bay Area being as sophisticated as it is usually doesn’t ram in your face the “4G” reasons I left the USA: Guns, God, Greed, and Gluttony. Though it does possess more than its share of good old-fashioned American greed, the other 3G’s — the hardcore reasons America is a country worth leaving — are largely absent in the Bay Area. I staved off my full immersion into the American reality for the Florida portion of this trip. (To come)
“San Francisco is 49 square miles surrounded by reality.” — Paul Kantner
I spent several days up all night recovering from heinous 16 time zone jet lag at my friend Jean’s in San Rafael. We spent the days sweetly flying kites on Muir Beach and eating American-sized portions of delicious food.
With all this gorgeous weather and food, I found myself blissfully celebrating my citizenship in this lovely country. Being expatriated seems to have grown my love for America, especially the natural beauty. But the Bay Area is truly a bubble and a beautiful but fiendishly expensive one at that. I hear the going rate for a room in a share in a San Francisco apartment is now about $1,750 per month. It’s a nice place to visit and a great place to land after 9 months of expatiation. But I can’t see any possibility of living there unless someone left me a home in West Marin or Big Sur and a $10,000 monthly stipend to afford the price of everything.
One afternoon, Jean and I took a sunset hike somewhere near the summit of Mt. Tamalpais, about 10 miles north of San Francisco. From there you can see both the ocean and towering skyscrapers of downtown San Francisco, and even just the tippy top of the Golden Gate Bridge’s north tower. (You can click on some of these images to enlarge them.)
After having lived in Asia which is largely overpopulated and polluted, I had a very conservative thought: if the US didn’t have such stringent visa and immigration requirements, I would not be enjoying the silence and clean air of this mountaintop. I wouldn’t be hearing the surf thousands of feet below; I’d be hearing motorcycles. I’d be stepping over piles of trash on the trail. So from the vantage point of Mt. Tam and the friendly, smart people of the Bay Area, I’d say America is a very lovable nation, indeed.
But the bubble burst when I got to the airport on my way to Fort Myers to see my family only to find that my flight was cancelled due to fog and that I had to be re-routed through Milwaukee, Wisconsin, home of famed serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Milwaukee is reason enough to see America as quite leaveable. Thank you Southwest Airlines for dumping me in a place that reminded me why I left.
Next stop: Fort Myers, Florida.