Hello, Reality./Hola, Realidad.

The grass is always greener.

Sure, it looks all picturesque and ecofriendly on the outside, but, what’s it really like on the inside?

Hola, ignorancia.

‘Ni hao,’ the stone-faced teenager spat, as he and another boy walked past me up the narrow stairwell.

It was the first racist comment I had heard all day, after a long day at work, and I was in the stairwell of my own apartment building.

I had ignored all of it the past several weeks; but something about this moment, in particular, stopped me in my tracks.  The two boys were already long gone, as I stood there, registering what had just happened, processing the dirty remark.  And, instinctively, every possible comeback I could arm myself with.

I grew up with an older brother; my instinct is to fight back, explode with indignation; get confrontational.  And then, I began to unravel the reasons why this boy, in this city, was ignorant of other cultures.  Uncovering the wherewithal, by personal and public education, in this city, that has produced such a boy.  It doesn’t make it any more acceptable, innocent, or less caustic for someone to hear.  It is still and always abrasive to witness and resonates in only an insulting and pitiful manner; I feel sorry for him.

Don’t get me wrong – I still wanted to punch him in the face.  Does that make me immature?  Or does it make me immature to admit it out loud?  I wonder.

Barcelona is not quite the thriving cosmopolis of cultural diversity and liberalism that other international destinations stand so solidly upon.

I know, I know – the best thing to do is to just ignore it.  But just because you ignore it doesn’t mean you don’t hear it, that you’re immune to it, that you have no emotional reaction to your surroundings; it doesn’t erase the fact that it happened.

I get stares while riding the metro, the bus, while walking down the street.  Shouts of ‘ni hao’ in various areas of El Raval, Barri Gotic, etc.  I think it felt a bit more corrosive within the walls of my own apartment building; this was not outside, on the street, among strangers; this was when I was just about to enter my own home.

Sure, I’m a foreigner – I’m an American, but you wouldn’t know it judging by the ignorant comments getting tossed my way.

I’m not even Chinese.  I’m American.  Korean-American.  Yeah, that’s right.  Us Americans.  We love our hyphenated, politically correct ways.  We wouldn’t call a chocolate covered cookie an ethnicity.  Surely not.

And if I was Chinese?  Would I start busting out the Mandarin and be utterly delighted to converse with someone in the tongue of my ethnic heritage?  Wouldn’t I expect the boy not to understand a word I was saying other than the cheap ‘ni hao’ he had tossed out?

Caucasians, no matter where they’re from, I feel, will never know this.    Okay, okay – maybe if they’re in China?  But do Chinese people spit out disparaging racial slurs at them?  Please, do tell.

The older I get, the more I realize I don’t want to take other people’s bullshit.  There’s a reason why I won’t go clubbing with my awesome friend Fowzia; I hate standing in line in front of empty, pretentious LA clubs;  I love her to death, but it’s a waste of precious time – and that’s just it.  Time is too damn precious.

Ah, but life goes on.  Try to be positive, get immersed into Spanish – er, Catalan – culture. You sample some amazing churros, you hop on the metro before it turns into a pumpkin; you end up buying purses you weren’t supposed to buy.  (Marc Jacobs=gateway drug.)  You can learn from a culture that truly knows how to enjoy life – take two hours for lunch, eat dinner around 10:30pm and go out for a few hours and then go to work the next day – but, no worries, no need to rush to the office, no one else will be rushing.


But, on the other hand, start talking economics; business efficiency, unemployment, and job salaries, and you’ve got a natural disaster on your hands.  Not to mention the glaring inefficiencies in my own apartment.  Don’t get me started.

Get real.  You gotta take the good with the bad – which, is annoyingly redolent of another life transition everyone might already know.  But, generally, I like to make sure the positives outweigh the negatives; that I end on a good note.


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Around town./Alrededor de la ciudad.





Duck with grape and apple puree.

 







You can change it; just keep the historic facade the same.







Hogar shopping.

Bought a portable halogen heater for cheap.  It didn’t keep me warm and cozy enough, so I returned it and sprung for one of the radiator variety.

Bought a toaster.  Went for the Moulinex – stainless steel toaster which comes with a two year guarantee and  30 Euro price tag.  If a certain friend of mine had bought it (instead of opting for the cheap ones from the mom-and-pop shops that were at 9 or 10 Euros), I would have taken it upon myself to seize the opportunity to say,”Nothing but the BEST for [insert name of friend]!”

And when giving shopping advice, she would so eloquently deliver,“When it comes to [insert commodity or product here], don’t be a cheap -ass!”

Wondered why it gets so loud at night in my neighborhood.  Found out last night that there is a club nearby -right next door.  Literally.  My apartment building’s street number is 53.  There is a club at 51.

Did laundry and hung up my clothes on the drying rack on the terrace – in Barcelona no one seems to use dryers – all go the line-drying route.

And then it rained in the middle of the night.  So now they’ve been drying for a total of 30 hours.

Bought slippers for 5 Euros!  Go me.  Bought towels, too.


Not sure why towels here are so pricey.  Maybe Target and JCPenney need to set up shop here and make a killing.  But – that would be an ethnocentric and American thing to say.  Went to Muy Mucho, Casa Viva, Zara Home, and La Perla Gris, and came out from that trek with a pair of towels.  On to the asian supermarket with the sign that made me cringe.

Normally, I’d eschew these things, the attitude of just going in and making monumental changes and converting an expat life into one as American as possible.  But, I can only be myself; I don’t know how to be anyone else.

Incredibly difficult not to go clothes shopping right now, what with the rebajas and all.  AND the segons rebaixes.  So help my savings account balance.

So.  Here’s the thing.  The many things.


I live in a piso, with a roommate, in an old building in the Eixample barrio.  It has an electric water heater, and tonight the hot water ran out before my shower ended.  Water pressure is nonexistent, and the shower head is quite the quagmire to adjust so that you can get under the water without being plastered up against the wall.  The bottom of the shower curtain keeps blowing in on your ankles.

All water in the entire piso takes a moment, mas o menos, to heat up.

I hang up towels on the hooks in the bathroom, but even after 24 to 48 hours, they are not fully dry.  So I must figure something out.  If there’s anything I hate, it’s wet towels.

The elevator has a maximum weight limit of 300 kilograms, or an estimated 4 people.  A set of double doors must be pushed (vigorously) open inside the elevator for you to enter, and then fully closed behind you to begin moving.

The gas in the oven keeps going out a couple minutes after I light it, so I have to keep re-lighting it to keep the oven on.

There is no heat in my room, in the bathroom, or the kitchen.  It’s cold.  There is no insulation and the windowpanes are thin, so the effect is drafty and somewhat bitter.

And then I realize that I could be dreaming about all this.  Walking on these sidewalks.  Drinking this hot chocolate.  Hanging up my clothes on the drying rack, clothespins and all.  The floating sounds of music filtering in from the music school on the first floor of my apartment building.  Shopping with my roommate at Mercat de San Antoni and watching her pick out farm-fresh eggs and fresh cuts of salmon steaks.  Passing the museum that houses the most works by Pablo Picasso on the way to work.

But this is not a dream; this is real.

 





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