A Few Days In America

A spiral galaxy in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.

My god, what is this nation! Who could ever hope to put his finger on it?

My Korean girlfriend remarked to me that nothing had prepared her for America. She had been to the Philippines and Australia, had seen pictures of 미국, read books and news articles, talked over the subject with her friends since childhood, and watched movies of the place on any number of screens—still, to stand there, and take it all in! To let the whirlwind wash over you! Nothing prepares you for it!

The first impression was not a good one for her—a cold cement bust of an immigration official tried to send her back to Korea from behind his desk because she didn’t have a return ticket, but after a talk with me we sorted things out and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening in airports, making smalltalk with nicer guards and watching the vast, hulking, colorful populace pass us by in a great parade of culture and beauty. A race of giants populates this giant country. And the ideas in this country are equal to the size of the ideas in their minds—to walk any street in New York is to soak up and sponge numerous different ideas, good and bad, all put into practice for better or for worse. This embrace of new approaches and new notions from all over the planet (and the reflection of this embrace wherever you look) is an amazing contrast to the unparalleled conformity, conservatism, and staleness of design you find everywhere in Korea, so my girlfriend was so culture-shocked the first day in the city she could barely eat the amazing pizza we had thrown down before ourselves in a little shop next to some cute children whose words I could actually understand for a change. The second day, after a good sleep, she was already making plans to live there.

The thrill of exploring new places is the best part of travel—and my own (repeated) opinion is that, while the whole world is mapped down to the centimeter in books and on the internet, the only map that counts is the one you carry in your own memory, and if you have never seen a place with your own eyes, it is still a great blank in your mind, it does not yet exist, and, in a solipsistic way, no outsider has ever really explored it. The ideas inherent to each place, the infinite richness of actually standing in a truly new location, make any map, film, or photograph, so weak in comparison as to render each of these representations—including this one—totally useless and instantly obsolete.

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