From the moment we landed, I felt a jarring disconnect, a clear mismatch in my gut. I was overwhelmed, irritated, and disheartened by the disrepair of everything. The grime and cacophony, once merely backdrop, have now taken centerstage, coloring every sight and experience. As if to epitomize the experience, my LIRR train constantly lost power mid-air like some sort of dystopian horror scene, plunging us into fleeting pockets of an alternate reality. I questioned myself: have I always felt this way?
No, definitely not.
I had visited New York a couple of times before, six years ago, to be exact, and had a great time taking in what it had to offer. While it wasn’t love at first sight, The layered density of New York did nestled me in an embrace of inspiration and nostalgia. As a child who grew up in a Chinese urban jungle, I yearned for that safety in anonymity, to be a small node in the vast tapestry.
Something was different this time. Something was different about me. The lush nature and spacious roads of the Bay Area had pampered me. The harmonious contrast of order and chaos in Tokyo had stolen my heart. I spent most of my pre-pandemic working years traveling between these two metropolitan areas with polar opposite priorities, and somewhere along the way, New York has fallen off my picture of what an ideal living environment looks like.
It is not New York’s fault. Or at least, not entirely. I’ve met a colleague and friend last year who in fact preferred the cyberpunk-esque, fend-for-yourself vibe of a city like New York. He wasn’t alone. All over the world, movies and shows idolized the urban “Wild West” that is this East Coast jewel. Fairly so, for it is an entire world compressed into 300 square miles, a place where the extraordinary unfolds.
But it’s no longer a place for me. And that realization left me with a tinge of disappointment and wistfulness.