Sunday, 9 September 2012

Land of the Free

I'm squeezed on a cramped economy seat about to take off on the flight back to sunny Wales as I reminisce about my amazing, whirlwind holiday in America. It's been an absolutely incredible 4 weeks visiting my family in New Jersey and Wisconsin. (I'm half American, if you hadn't gathered from my weird accent. Actually though, hardly anyone can actually place my accent. I've been asked if I'm from countries like Ireland, Scotland, Canada and even Dubai!)

Before I continue with my holiday tales, I need to explain something once and for all. I am English and American, not Nepali, even though I was born in Nepal, as I have dual citizenship of England and America. What I love about having dual citizenship is that I can live in so much of the world easily - pretty much all of the EU and America. Also, because my family is so spread out throughout the world, I can visit loads of places that my family have access to because of their local knowledge, which I love.

Well I was just about to take off, but we’re being delayed as the New Jersey airport (I’m flying from Milwaukee to Newark to Heathrow) has been closed for some mysterious reason that they have failed to disclose to us poor souls. Great.

Anyway, this holiday has probably been my favourite holiday in all my sixteen (almost seventeen – 1 month!) years of life. I’ve done so much and have so much to be thankful for. I have cantered through forests, window shopped in fancy malls, actually shopped in cheaper shops, swum in lakes, met a Native American and found out I'm related to him, paddled in a water fountain in Chicago, got interviewed for a news channel, canoed along rivers, sunbathed on Jersey shore, ambled through Central Park, laughed with my cousins and cried with my Grandma.

It’s been amazing to catch up with my family and see where they are in their lives now. I’ve never had relatives live nearby so any time I spend with them is so precious. In fact, I love my family so much I think you should meet them, so here’s the lovely photo from our family reunion (this is my American side by the way.)

 Okay, so I'm writing the rest of this post a few weeks after I arrived back. I got way too tired on the plane to think straight. 

I have no idea how to put any structure to my crazy holiday, so I guess I'll summarise it chronologically. Here goes.

Firstly, we managed to choose just about the worst possible day to fly to New Jersey. We had to land in a random military base and wait for 2 hours because a runway in Newark airport had been struck by lightening. We flew over the worst thunderstorm New York has seen in a long time. Drama seems to follow me wherever I go!

I find travelling quite a surreal experience, even though I have done so much of it. It's so weird to step in a metal cylinder, watch a few films, try and swallow some chicken that tastes like plastic, watch another film, step out of the metal cylinder and BAM - you're in a new country with new culture, a new language (American is practically a whole different language) and a new time zone to adjust to. I think I would've suited living a century ago much more, where you take a two week voyage to discover foreign lands, as you have plenty of time to process the idea that you're going to a different country. But I digress. 

We experienced a lot of very stereotypically American things whilst in New Jersey; Bill Bryson would've had a field day. We went to a baseball game, shopped in malls, had countless Dunkin Donuts and drank a lot of coffee, due to the tea in America being absolutely revolting. Seriously. Even the Twinings English Breakfast 'British Blend' was different. Twinings, I expected better.

I insisted that we had to go into New York city, as the last few times we've been to New Jersey my mum has been put it off, as people from New Jersey have a pretty negative view of Manhattan. In the end I went twice, which was incredible. Manhattan is such a busy, vibrant city - I'd always heard people saying how full of life it is, but until I visited I never realised how crazy it was. I would probably end up in a mental asylum if I lived there, but it was fun for 2 days. 

On my first visit with my cousins, we went to the Museum of Modern Art (or the MoMA to you arty people out there.) I love art museums. They're always so quiet and peaceful, and I  love the spaciousness of the big, white rooms with the big, white walls decorated with a painting or two, even in the middle of Manhattan where space is so sought after. Some of the art was pretty weird, but most of it was beautiful. 

I saw loads of art that I had analysed last year for my AS exam (yes, you do do writing and thinking in art) - Warhol, Lichtenstein and Wesselmann, as well as other famous artists like Dali, Van Gogh, Monet and Rothko. If you didn't recognise at least 3 of those names, please google them. Then you can feel as cultured as I did, strolling around, saying "Oh look,  The Persistence of Memory! How fabulous, darling!"

My second visit was with the family. I was determined to see the Alice in Wonderland statue, so we traipsed the length of Central Park to find it. On the way, we had lunch at a cute little lakeside cafe. As we were ordering, Beth, like a magnet, was drawn to two chihuahuas sitting with a woman. 

For those of you who don't know Beth, she is animal crazy. She loves all animals, but has an infatuation with dogs. Seriously, she goes on walks with my mum to meet dogs that are out on walks with their owners. That kind of animal crazy. You can imagine her delight when my grandma announced she was going to get a dog in January. The dog, Molly, was not as excited as Beth was, however, as every waking moment was spent poking, preening and picking up Molly. (Exhibit A, our family photo at the top of this post.)

Being the responsible older sister that I am, I went along with Beth to meet the chihuahuas. Inevitably, I ended up making polite conversation with the woman while Beth cooed at the dogs. 

As most of you know, I don't like dogs. The only dog I will ever love is my grandma's dog. This woman obviously lived for her dogs (she was breaking off bits of her bagel and giving it to the dogs. Ew.) To tell her I didn't actually like dogs would've probably deeply offended her, so I obligingly patted the dog on the head when she insisted, thinking I was too shy to ask. 

As we filled the awkward silence, however, she told me how her dogs visit children in hospital, and how the bigger dog had found the littler dog in a bin. Cute stuff. People in Manhattan fascinate me.

We also ventured into Times Square, which is amazing. I looked like the typical tourist; neck craned looking at all the massive buildings and screens and taking pictures of anything and everything, which is why Hello Kitty targeted me, I guess. 

I was taking pictures of Beth with Elmo and a Smurf, not realising you were meant to tip these people, when Hello Kitty barged up to me, grabbed Beth, and in a chinese accent shouted 'Picture, Picture!' I obliged, even though I don't like Hello Kitty, and then took Beth's hand and carried on walking. 

I suddenly felt an urgent tap on my arm, and the same voice in broken English demanding a tip from me. If you have never had a giant Hello Kitty demanding money from you, you cannot being to realise how scary this is. 

I've never been good at saying things under pressure, and had no idea what to say to this terrifying cat with a square head, and so blurted out 'no-money-ah-blueasdfhjasdhgf' and ran off with Beth in tow. 

Sorry, whoever was underneath that awful costume. I'm sure you were just trying to put your kid through college or something. 

Then we ventured into Wisconsin to visit my Aunty, Uncle and cousin. We did loads of great things, including many fishing trips where I caught my first fish, stayed on my Aunty's parents' horse ranch, went to a beautiful hipster coffee shop called Mama D's, had countless McDonalds 50 cent cones, and toured Chicago. 

I definitely felt a connection with Chicago - I loved everything about it. The old buildings mixed with the new buildings, the Starbucks at every corner, all the art and music schools and the beach at the edge of the city (not the sea, as I originally thought, but Lake Michigan.)

One of the surreal parts of my visit to Chicago was this wall in Chicago. I'm not sure if it has an official name, so I'm going to call it the Wall of all Walls. It had bits of famous walls and buildings from all over the world stuck in it, as you can see below (my cousin is such a poser!)

The wall stretched for ages with stones from the Great Pyramids, the dome of St Peters Cathedral, etc. As I was looking along the wall I suddenly came across this stone. 

It was so odd so see something from Wales stuck next to something so famous. I felt rather patriotic and proud as I saw it though - the strong Welsh spirit must be getting to me.

I confess, I bought far too many edible and drinkable things (okay, mostly Starbucks) whilst I was walking about 500 miles around Chicago. I always find it funny ordering things in restaurants or cafes in America, because you can see people around you pricking their ears to try and inconspicuously listen to your accent as you order.

Whenever I ordered anything, I would always play up my English accent, as my theory is that they enjoy serving British people, and sometimes give you free food. I once got a free Starbucks in America after the Barista complimented me on my top (it has a marshmallow roasting over a fire, with the caption 'Working on my tan' - I found it hysterical.)  I doubt that he gave it to me because of the shirt, though, I reckon it was my accent.

So there I was, in one of the million Starbucks in Chicago, buying a coffee for my cousin. I'm so kind. I asked in my poshest accent "Can I have an Americano, please?" 

The barista chuckled and loudly exclaimed "I'm an Americano, you can have me!" 

I politely laughed, wishing I hadn't promised to buy my cousin a coffee. 

As I took the coffee, he asked me where I was from in England. I explained that I was actually from a little country called Wales in the UK (not technically true but I'm wasn't going to tell this guy my life story!) 

He told me that he lived in Wigan for a year, which apparently is near the Welsh border (I nodded politely, not knowing where the heck Wigan was, but not wanting to show how bad my geography of Britain is), and, leaning on the counter, drawled in his american accent 'schlan-vayre-push-gwin-gish-gogely-schluwen-droberth-lanty-sillio-go-go-gogh' with a look of triumph. Grabbing the americano, I corrected his 'll' sound, said bye and hurried off, not wanting to seem to desperate to get away. Bless. At least he tried.

On that note, I conclude my whistlestop tour of my holiday, not that you probably cared to know any of that, but hey, you're reading this, which means you either read it all word for word (pah!) or you skipped to the end after you glanced at each photo, wondering how I would awkwardly conclude another blog post (this is the hardest part, bar starting the post.) And so, I conclude with my cousin's little film project that he did around Chicago with us - it was a lot of fun, as you will soon see. Enjoy!

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