A public journal, entry #1: A return to America for the first time in 9 months

I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed blogging. These days everyone’s attention is given to Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Instagram: I’ve never been much into photos. Facebook: I don’t care to see how people’s supposedly wonderful lives are supposedly spent. Twitter: I like it, and check it often, but it’s too clever a medium for my kind of writing.

Blogging is to me is like the little bear’s porridge is to Goldilocks: just right. So, starting today, I’m going to experiment with keeping a public journal on here. The idea has been with me for awhile: what if you could write in public with the same raw honesty and rambling truth as you do in a private journal? After all, I’ve kept a journal since high school. And if any of it were somehow leaked, I would be devastated. But then again it’d make for better entertainment than 99% of the posts I’ve published here.

To emulate a “private journal” is probably impossible. But the process will be interesting. If past projects are any indicator of future success, this series of events will likely happen: I’ll start with an exciting bang, slowly get bored of it, and over a few months drop the project like an iPhone when you’re drunk.

So here’s a start.

Two weeks ago, I visited America for the first time in 9 months. For 9 months I have lived in Taipei, and been somewhat at peace here, and sometimes even happy. There isn’t anything particularly special or memorable about Taipei. I say this not to offend its nearly 3 million residents, but as a practical matter: anything you can find here, whether the tasty food, or its friendly people, or even its vaunted nightlife, you can find in bigger, better, and cheaper quantities elsewhere. Perhaps what makes Taipei special is that, like a popular and well-rounded scholar-athlete in high school, there simply are no obvious weaknesses. But exactly like that scholar-athlete, it’s still just high school.

I digress. My goal with this post is not to talk about Taipei but about the 10 days I spent in America. It was ok: I had a variety of errands to run and people to meet, and all of these were accomplished. I also wanted to see whether I was ready to return to the Stars and Stripes, but I wasn’t. Not yet.

Why? For one, I hadn’t been happy living in the States, not for years. There had been a growing frustration, a growing sickness, like a soft mold slowly spreading itself. There are many great aspects to living in America, but what I saw around me, mostly in the big cities, was striving, striving everywhere: for money, for youth, for status, for ego. And while I had been among those strivers, was as guilty as any of them, slowly I had stopped caring so much. If I continued to live within this rat race, I wouldn’t be able to stop running.

People in Taipei might feel like this, too, but here I am a stranger. A floater and expat. So I can feel distant from its daily pressures, ignorant of its particular problems, shielded from some of those social cracks. At least for now, I prefer this way. Maybe I will for a long time.

The trip had many great moments, to be sure. Like my first visit to a CVS in downtown Austin, seeing the racks upon rows of soft drinks of any imaginable flavor and size and color, the pharmacy upstairs with 5 different kinds of lower back pain ointment, the order and cleanliness, everything brightly lit, the store employee who said “good morning, sir”. All of it. I went in to buy two bottles of water. I came out with 6 items including dog treats and travel-sized mouthwash and I thought, “This is America.” The experience was frankly a bit spiritual. It has never been more clear to me that if America today has a universal religion, it involves credit cards.

Austin: I had come back to see old friends, attend Austin City Limits for the first time, and take care of personal errands. Austin is a stew of original hipster, Hispanic immigrant, and Southern white. This hasn’t changed, although the city itself has grown and sprawled and its blood has gotten richer. Over 2 full days of ACL, I saw fewer Asians than I’d see in a small Starbucks in suburban Taipei.

To me, Austin is home: the BBQ on butcher paper, the southern smiles and greetings, the blistering sun, the slow crawl of pedestrians. Even the oversized trucks and SUVs, shades of red white and blue, dominating the highways and street level views, are a sign of familiarity and not fright.

ACL was fun despite my lack of knowledge about music. We rolled both days and saw Jay-Z and Chance and Red Hot Chili Peppers and hung out with friends old and new and after coming home Saturday night, crawling under my warm hotel bedsheets, exhausted and depleted but still blissed out, I just wanted to fall into a deep sleep for 48 hours and then go home. Like a bachelor party in Vegas, you know it’s been a good weekend when Sunday rolls around and you want to get the fuck out of dodge.

After Austin I flew to LA, the city I’d likely return to when my time in Asia has run its course. LA offers an almost postcard-ian collection of the best things America has to offer: year-round sunny weather, easy attitudes that are in reality not so much hospitable as apathetic, hordes of good-looking people, big city glitz if you seek it and relaxed suburban rhythm if you don’t, all with its somewhat awkward consumerism of taco trucks parked next to Porsche dealers, a liquor joint one block from a flagship Gucci store, Bentleys beside beat-up Civics. I made these combinations up, but hopefully you understand my point. LA is gentrification that never finished the job, and yet with these obvious disparities in car models and house sizes and lifestyles, people are fine with each other, as long as the tacos stay tasty and the weather stays above 70.

In LA I drove a lot, ate a lot of ramen, saw the bestest of old friends, kept my drinking and drugs-doing to a minimum, and ultimately moved my return flight to a day earlier because I didn’t want to stay longer, wanted to be back in the safety and ease of my Taipei apartment and routine.

That’s it for now. Until next time. Email is the best way to reach me if you have any comments or reactions or suggestions.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.