One week ago, I flew into LAX, was welcomed ‘home’ by immigration (and asked whether “people over there [aka Asia] were nice” to me) and greeted by my Mom, who had flown over to help me settle into my new surroundings. It has been three years since I was last in the States, and despite having traveled extensively in Asia, I haven’t traveled as extensively in the USA. For example, although I was born in LA, I have never been to San Diego (a mere 2 hours drive away), the city I plan to spend the next five months.
And now, 10 days after I arrived, I feel like I have a good feel for San Diego. I was so surprised by how close the ocean is to downtown. Driving down from LA we passed multiple beaches with people out enjoying the warm weather. I had a tour of my new university, have seen many apartments, condos and rooms, and actually signed a lease for a one bedroom apartment! So although it has been stressful, waking up each morning checking Craigslist, real estate websites and driving around trying to find available housing, I have seen lots of different styles of living in different parts of town. And I have met lots of people along the way. Even though it didn’t work out with many of them, everyone has been incredibly friendly and very interested in the fact I am studying here on exchange. No one I have met so far has been to New Zealand, but they all want to visit. And many people from law school have offered to introduce me to people, give me the “inside scoop” or meet up for a coffee.
I have also eaten a lot of good food. It is crazy how meals are so big in the States that you can go to a Mexican restaurant, order a $10 meal, get free chips and salsa (refillable too!), and have a meal so big that you take more than half of it home for lunch and dinner the next day. It is ridiculous how big things here are. In WalMart, they had a pop tart box the size of my head. Pickles and jalapenos come in jars larger than my head. And you can buy family bags of 18 frozen burritos, or other frozen goods in huge bulk. And things are so cheap!! A bottle of vodka is only $11 from the local drugstore. I bought a Nine West laptop bag for $30. And you can buy a 1.5 L bottle of wine for $5. America is such a different world. But it is exciting.
And today I moved into my apartment. Granted, furniture does not arrive until tomorrow, and I don’t have my Internet, phone or TV installed until Wednesday, but I have keys! I have cutlery, wine glasses, a duvet cover and a small amount of groceries. It is in a big apartment building, with a beautiful pool, an in-house gym, sports room and business center, and is located in Little Italy, a really cool hip suburb with cute cafes and of course lots of Italian restaurants. There is a market every Saturday morning, which starts only 1 block away. There is a great gourmet grocery store nearby, and a British pub around the corner. And I will soon be all moved in! I am so excited about the market, there are so many stalls selling organic locally grown fruit and vegetables, fresh bread, pastries and lemonades. It is going to be a fun neighborhood to live in. As close to Wellington as I am going to get.
And despite the stress of trying to find a place to live, Mom and I sure have eaten well. When I was tossing up between studying in Singapore or studying in San Diego, it was also a toss-up between the food: yum cha and BBQ pork buns, or Mexican. And Mexican won. Of course America has a lot of other foods to offer, such as a hot dog on a stick, covered in artificially flavored blueberry pancake, in the frozen section, or a waffle breakfast sandwich from Jack in the Box (consisting of a fried egg, American cheese, and a sausage patty nestled between two lightly sweetened maple waffles). But it does have great Mexican food, alongside other delicious things such as crab, pulled pork and tender BBQ ribs. We ate the latter at a bar where part of Top Gun was filmed. Although we didn’t realize it at the time, we were sitting right by the piano that features in the film (I haven’t seen the movie, so can’t tell you the details of it or know the importance of the piano). Based on all the delicious food available here, it is pretty lucky that my apartment building has a gym, because otherwise I might return to NZ twice the size as when I left! Although I doubt that will happen. Californians seem incredibly healthy and health-conscious. Whole Foods, this fantastic grocery store, has a huge variety of marinated tofu and tempe, and a beautiful salad bar. So I can live a very healthy and wholesome lifestyle here. But then again…pop tarts just taste so good.