Where do you like best?

From An Ideal Afternoon, 2000, by Shu Guozhi

I’ve been asked this exact question for countless times for many years. In full, the question is always, “You’ve been to so many places in the US, where do you like it best?” For the next five minutes or an hour, this often leads to many interesting conversations, but in the end, the question seems always left unanswered.

Even though this is the simplest of questions, it seems to also be the most difficult to answer simply.

More than a decade had passed, until now I’ve been yearning to give a proper answer to this question.

Thinking back, it seem probable that most people asking this question already had an answer in mind. He would hope that you will mention a particular place, say New York, Seattle, Miami or Santa Fe – a place that exemplifies a vibrant image. Then you would briefly describe this place, and after hearing it, he would think about it, maybe he would agree or disagree, and all that would be sufficient as an answer to this question.
It’s just that, after all this time, I have never once fulfilled their expectation.

There’s this group of people who are madly in love with New York, some of them even live in New York. At every opportunity, when someone asks, “where do you like it best?”, they would jump to answer, “New York!”, followed by a long exposition on why New York is so great. These people are the type best suited for answering this question. Honestly, I envy them; and I also praise them because of how passionate they are. On the other hand, I am all too often just too vague.

On the points that they bring up when they are talking about New York, I agree with the bulk of them; as for the reasons why I don’t like New York, they too must also know them well. The only difference is that they have plunged themselves into New York, while I’m still waiting out on the sidelines.

In this world of ours, some of us choose to focus on one thing and one thing only, while others just skim by, hopping from one thing to another other endlessly.

I too, can be passionate – like the narrows alleyways in Hong Kong where I once told myself I would gladly spend the rest of my life, or during my drive to New Orleans in the 80s, where I stopped abruptly and thought of settling down permanently in the South. However, these passions never seem to last long.

I don’t really like New York much because it is overly conceptual – for all the glimmering surfaces of the skyscrapers, there is no knowing of what goes on underneath those walls. It is also too repetitive – a department store here, and another over there; a show here, then another, and then another. Being with the same people, the same scenary, the same things, this is the reason why it seems to be so vast, yet it ends up always feeling so small. If one were to spend their entire lifetime in New York, that life would seem surprisingly short.

For those who do like New York, because of the awe-inspring architecture, or the vibrant workforce and nightlife, its diverse population or its place as a cultural center, etc etc, many already feel inspired by the city even before setting foot on it. When they finally arrive and see that it is exactly as they had expected, they immediately fall in love with the city.

To be continued.

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