The morning after moving to New York I woke up—groggy from the heat and new time zone—and unlatched the apartment window. The sounds of Midtown came rushing in like a flash flood—the hum of traffic, the blaring engine of a passing plane, sirens, construction on the street below. My mom, who had come to help with the move, turned to me and said, in Vietnamese, “It sounds like Saigon.”
It did. And with the way I felt about moving from San Jose, it might as well have been.
Last March, I opened my inbox and discovered I’d gotten into grad school. It was one of the proudest, most thrilling moments of my life. A dream—to live in New York—realized. Fast-forward to August and you’d think from my body language that I’d been drafted.
The reasons are twofold. One: possible failure. I moved here to help my career, to be in the media capital of the world. I came here to be noticed. But New Yorkers are a steely bunch, a horde of Simon Cowells. They’re known for being tunnel visioned, unflappable, ambitious and harsh critics, maniacally so. That renders someone like me (uncontroversial, suburban, reserved) pretty much faceless to those who run things around here. True or not, I’ll have to work on speaking up and going after what I want. Even the shy can be determined.
The second reason is homesickness. I love California, how spread out and relaxed everything is. Ditto with the moderate temperatures, West Coast hip-hop, and my spacious, well-lit, suburban house. Pretty much everything that New York has proven not to be so far. Plus, I’m a proud momma’s boy. It seems I left my heart in San Jose.
There are several things I’ll miss. My mom’s pho ga, for one. Ostensibly it’s the Vietnamese sibling of chicken noodle soup. But oh, what soup. Rice noodles with perfect density and thickness commingling with bean sprouts, thinly sliced green onions, chunks of chicken, its heart, liver and other viscera, and a stock that renders all other stocks obsolete. It’s pure chicken essence achieved after no less than 36 hours of stewing. Each spoonful reveals a hint of ginger, masking ingredients—star anise, clove, cinnamon—that your tongue could never pinpoint but find no less essential. Dashes of sour, savory, peppery, there’s depth of flavor yet it’s still ethereally light. But most of all, mom’s pho ga—and I will cut anyone who laughs or says otherwise—tastes like LOVE, goddammit. What is it about a chicken carcass dissolved in water that makes your soul feel like it’s being cradled to sleep by mom?
I’ll miss the impromptu BBQs at my buddy Mike’s house. Mike will drop nearly any plan short of Armageddon to throw a BBQ, and his wife, Jen, will clean our inevitable messes without a hint of resentment. It’s their generosity that I’ll miss. I’ve abused it too many times and wish I could return the favor 3,000 miles away.
Of course, I’ll miss the Bay Area women. They may not have IMG contracts but they have an undeniable sumthin’-sumthin’ that makes me go ooh! (And no, I’m not talking about blonde hair and big boobs.) Katy Perry and The Beach Boys/David Lee Roth put into words my feelings better than I ever could.
And I’ll miss Mexican food, apparently. “Load up on quality south of the border grub,” everyone told me before moving. I guess such a thing doesn’t exist in New York. We’ll see. No cravings yet, but get back to me in a few weeks.
I’ve always considered myself somewhat of a loner. But I’ve never felt this alone. Back home I could count on dinner with family or drinks with friends. I’d see a familiar face if I wanted. I have a brother, cousins and a host of friends in New York to cushion the homesickness, and I could just as easily see them, but it’s different. Here there’s no reason to be a loner. You’re already alone.
The day I arrived I randomly came across an article by Sarah Hepola in the Morning News. In the article, Sarah—an editor at Salon, where I was once an intern in the San Francisco office, daydreaming of New York—summarizes everything she learned after five years of living in the city. “Wear comfortable shoes,” she says. “Be decisive.” “Cabbies are the greatest people on earth, at least for fifteen minutes.” The two that stood out most? “It’s lonely”– but most of all, trying to be the best is a fool’s errand: “Just be yourself.” It’s comforting to see someone I know (at least through email and intercom meetings), who seems similar to me, agree that New York is lonely and terrifying and cold but always exciting and ultimately rewarding. I feel less lonely knowing that I’m not alone in feeling alone.
I predict my angst will eventually subside but never disappear. That’s the best-case scenario. New York will never be home. It can never be, even if I end up living here 20 years. But it doesn’t have to be. It shouldn’t be. Because the memory of home might be the only thing that will help me survive in this city.