It was war

“Do you have all the bullets? We can’t afford to lose again. We have to make this our best effort yet.”

Mark was pacing as he always did before the final face off.

And as always, Karl was there to assure him. “Don’t worry, I’ve got them all.”

“Good,” Mark replied, punching his right fist into his left palm, “those imbeciles won’t know what hit them!”

Mark had always been too competitive for his own good. But even his partner, Karl, knew this was a pivotal point in their lives. If they win, they’d become the senior school debating champions.

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Payback

American-Writers-Museum-Chicago---quotes

American Writers Museum, Chicago

Go around ceaseless

like boomerangs, come choices

with consequences

 

Ping Tom Memorial Park

“Don’t forget to visit Chinatown.”

Advised my friend when he heard I was in Chicago. And I couldn’t let go of such a personal recommendation.

My colleagues were still hung up on the Mag Mile, and feeling bored, I took a quick train ride to Chinatown. Although I’d been to the Chinatown in San Francisco, I wasn’t sure what glittering candour Chicago’s held. I didn’t research beforehand, and so I had no idea what about the locality attracted people.

As I stepped out of the station, the first thing I noticed was that every face was Chinese. It was as if I’d dropped down into the nation of China itself. I never thought I’d be so surprised by the lack of diversity in the area.

To be fair, though, I didn’t venture too deep into Chinatown. The reason is I felt as an alien walking into an unknown territory. For the entire hour and a half I spent in Chinatown, I felt so uncomfortable about being the only non-Chinese person around. What’s more weird, however, is that no one else seemed perturbed by my being there. People went about their usual business, not sparing even a second glance at the foreigner wandering about.

Zooming into my map to find a place I could go, like a temple or shopping street, I identified a park near by. The Ping Tom memorial park was close enough to walk. And so shedding my inhibitions and my doubts, I strode towards the point on my map.

Ping Tom Memorial Park, Chicago - 1

Unlike most of the rest of Chicago, buildings here were smaller and more home-like. The main streets buzzed with people getting by, while the inner streets remained calm and empty. Residential areas were abundant and road traffic wasn’t as stringent as in the busier parts of the city. After a while, it felt nice and even less strange.

The closer I got to the park, the more debris I saw. On both sides of the street, garbage bins overflowed making a scene unworthy of photographs. I cringed, but I also realised—this was the real world. All around Chicago, a lot of the architecture and facilities were flawless, impressive, and inviting to travellers. But what I saw in that small residential part of Chinatown was the reality of most of our lives.

And I’m glad I saw that side of the city a well. Coming from a third-world country, people like me often misinterpret what it’s like to live in a more developed country. Sure, the lifestyle is better, but it’s not all a bed of roses or a dash of perfume.

Ping Tom Memorial Park, Chicago - 2

With that realisation, I entered the park. Built in the traditional Chinese architectural style, was a huge tent-like structure with benches around it. I didn’t know who Ping Tom was, but I did see a bust of him sitting smug in front of the building. Behind the building was a magnificent lake along which people sat breaking bread and laughter. Children rode their bikes around the park while a father ushered his kids to play fair. It was a typical evening at the park—locals spending time with family and friends. And once a while a tourist boat would float along the river, stopping at the park. Tourists would clamber out in clumsy ways, look around, capture moments, and get back into the boat to see the next big monument. And the locals went by their day, the interruption not disturbing them at all.

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I’ll remember that scene for a long time. That experience, although uncomfortable at first, was eye opening. For the first time, I saw a tight-knit community proud of its heritage, living in a foreign land without compromising their respect for themselves or others.

 

Natural

Converging of shades

in seclusion, lusciousness

a second nature

– – – – – – – – – – – –

Photo: Lurie Garden, Millennium Park

Magnificence

Chicago’s one uncanny aspect excited me as much as the Riverwalk did. It was the Mag Mile. Of course, this excitement came about while I was still at home zooming in on the city’s streets.

However, the idea of an entire stretch of the bustling city street filled with vanity stores made me—the least expectant shopper—wait with bated breath. What was so magnificent about the Mag Mile? I craved to find out.

Mag Mile, Chicago 1

My spine tingling with unfamiliar curiosity and eagerness, I found myself walking towards the infamous street. The sheer number of people hit my eye right away. Although I’ve lived my entire adult life in a city of 4 million people, that was still a sore sight. All around, buyers flocked to the streets, shuffling in and out of stores, sipping soda, scraping ice cream off a pint tub, biting into a burrito, and chit-chatting all the while.

Overcome by the overwhelming sight, I had to take a few minutes to regain my composure. Once I’d gotten accustomed to the sluggish crowd that wouldn’t go away anytime soon, I began noticing other elements in the street.

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Every few feet, for instance, was a five-feet tall a lighthouse. They were aplenty and on both sides of the street. Each had on it a graffiti, a painting, or a remarkable event etched in ink. Passers by passed by without so much as a third glance, while I lingered, going round and round trying to discern their significance. I couldn’t. But I did enjoy spotting the lighthouses amidst the sea of unstopping shoppers.

A little further down the road, I found Ghirardelli. Imagining my teammates’ glares, I entered, only to exit 30 minutes later feeling proud of myself. I’d stuffed a box full of the most chocolates anyone else had done that day. It wasn’t an official record, of course, but I gleaned that from the sales people’s faces. And how thrilled they seemed that I took so many chocolates for only a fraction of its price. Nevertheless, I’d found happiness in the Mag Mile.

As if to dampen my ego-driven joy, before my eyes flashed the not-so-magnificent part of the Magnificent Mile: the people of Chicago who had neither a roof over their head nor medical insurance over their waning health. Within seconds the balloon within me punctured, jerking back to the harsh reality of the world. The Mag Mile wasn’t just for those who could splurge, but it’s also for those who had no choice but to scavenge. While people purchased additional clothing on one side, on the other side people clothed in rags, writing out holdings, too tired to speak. It wasn’t an unfamiliar sight—both in San Francisco and my city, I’d seen thousands of pitiful scenes and people in dire situations. But that didn’t make Chicago seem any better.

I’d been too distracted to expect what I saw. Of course, it’s obvious. In a million-strong metropolitan city of a capitalist nation, it’d be a surprise not to encounter poverty and homelessness. Although that neither justifies it nor makes it less hard to digest.

Mag Mile, Chicago 5

I walked around more, but everything looked different now. Sure, the magnanimity of Mag Mile remained, and the throng didn’t fade away, but my perspective had. I’d seen the cruel reality of our society, and I cringed at my helplessness. There’s nothing I could do to change the way the world worked, and even if I could, there’s no one right way the world should work. There always will be someone higher and someone lower. That’s the design we are born into. I could stay and complain or I could move on. I decided to move on.

The Mag Mile was magnificent in every sense. My jaw dropped at the grandeur but also, my thoughts popped at the ungraciousness.

Well, it is what it is.