It was February 14th, 2014. I was in San Diego for one and a half months by then, excited to explore this new world I found myself in. I bought my Amtrak ticket, made a reservation at a hostel on Hollywood Boulevard. Hoping to spot some celebrities, I googled the celebrity hotspots. I was mesmerized by the mere idea of Hollywood.
Needless to say, it was a huge disappointment. Hollywood was completely empty at daytime, without a hint of glamour or fancy lifestyle – only the tourist hunting Darth Vaders, Spider Men stopping me every ten seconds. I decided to go to MacArthur Park instead, thinking how dull Los Angeles had seemed so far. So, I thought seeing a park could be refreshing and relaxing. It only doubled my disappointment in the city: people staring at me, old men with an alcohol breath, approaching me and asking for a dollar, homeless people sleeping on the benches everywhere. With the hunger hitting my stomach, I approached a taco cart of a Latina lady near the park, hungry and thirsty, and asked the lady for two tacos. Then, out of the blue, I attempted to start a conversation. “What’s your name?” I asked. Her face suddenly changed, adopted a disturbed look. Shaking her head, she handed me the tacos without a word. “How rude!” I thought, “Is this really Los Angeles, the city of fame and luxury?”
Fast-forward to Christmas of 2016, there I was, in the city that had disappointed me. But something was not right. The city had changed. Wherever I looked, I saw tiny bits of a rich, lively, colorful city spread to every corner: walls full of art, streets full of hidden beauties, creativity bursting out of people’s hair, clothes, faces… On the other hand, the “other” face of Los Angeles, poverty, homelessness, inequality, became strikingly obvious.
That was the moment I realized it was not the city, but I, that changed. My whole perspective of people, city, citizenship, life has drastically shifted in three years.
When the old me felt offended when the Latina lady refused to tell her name. When the new me thought about this, she understood that the Latina lady probably feared for her safety – a stranger trying to learn her name, with a camera, could be anyone: an undercover agent, a racist, a law enforcement officer. Maybe she didn’t speak the language! The new me also wonders if the old me had a subconscious sense of entitlement. The old me was blind to the injustices surrounding her, deeply affecting the lives of ordinary people in subtle ways. The new me thinks she was an ignorant tourist.
The old me was pissed at publicly urinating people, because of whom 90% of public areas smelled like urine. The new me is still pissed at urinating folks, but also pissed at the local government for not building enough public restrooms.
The old me freaked out when she got off the train at the wrong metro station and ended up in the middle of Koreatown. Never having encountered written Korean before, she thought she landed on another planet and was surrounded by alien language. The new me thinks the old me was subtly racist. She even got off at the same metro station and had no idea what was so scary about Korean. Looking at a Korean restaurant’s sign, she wondered if they served all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue.
When the old me saw Jennifer Lopez from a distance in Beverly Hills, she felt excited. She got a glimpse of a celebrity! As the new me walked around the city, she couldn’t help thinking how all those celebrities and billionaires could drive around a city full of homeless folks with a clear conscience and stacks of money in their pockets, knowing they could help but choosing, on a daily basis, not to.
The old me thought Los Angeles was Hollywood. The new me thinks the best thing about Hollywood is the sign changed to Hollyweed.