Gusty souls

You haven’t experienced Chicago until you’ve felt the strength of its gusty winds. Fast and furious, the winds here are not to be underestimated. Enough to knock you off balance momentarily, you’d have to be careful not to be swept off your feet because the gusts can be ruthless.

Navy Pier felt like Fisherman’s Wharf all over again. Being a weekend it was flooded with big yellow school buses, kids of all ages, teachers and parents. The liveliness of kids chattering and laughing nicely juxtaposed the tranquility of the zen waters. Sat by the edge of the pier and watched sail boats with brightly colored CHICAGO words stamped on as they danced around in the waters. They looked so fragile, so vulnerable. One wrong move and the seemingly light-weight base would topple over. But those experts maneuvered the sail like it’s second nature to them, catching on the gusty winds with precise timing to hitch a ride down the waters.

The streets of Chicago are amazing. Millions of skyscrapers towering over you, perfectly aligned along the meshwork of streets. The grid-like road structure matches the four cardinal points of the compass, which essentially means that if you pick the right street, you can literally see the sun setting along the narrow slid between these skyscrapers, engulfing them from the top with an orange glow that slowly spreads downwards. Because of the variety of building heights, each structure gets illuminated to a different extent and cast different lengths of shadows on others as they block the sun rays from penetrating. I was fortunate to catch the first moments of sunset against the Chicago skyline from afar. It was breathtaking. You’d wish you could hold on to it for eternity and not let it go.

I take my hat off to the brains behind all these architectural masterpieces. Each carries its own flavor, be it old-school Victorian or slick modern marvels. It’s so easy to not watch where you’re heading as you comb the streets, since you’re perpetually eyeballing everything around and above you except the road ahead. As if there wasn’t enough on my plate, I headed to Willis Tower that stands at 103 storeys high, boasting to have been the tallest building in the world for over 20 years. You’d feel like a midget against the crashing heights of city skyscrapers, but at the skydeck, those skyscrapers seem nothing more like little Lego structures. From the top, you can really see how every building is so perfectly constructed and neatly placed seemingly equidistant from each other. The little boats by the pier become tiny white speckles in the sea. You realize how insignificantly small you are in this world.

My impulsive decision to catch a concert by a renowned street dance company was no doubt a good choice. I never heard of them before but it’s dance so that can’t go wrong for a dance lover. It was contemporary, with a modern yet odd classical twist. Three stints in total, very captivating. The worst thing about contemporary is that I usually find it hard to comprehend what the story is behind the choreography, but ironically that’s also the best part because it makes the dance so open-ended and thought-provoking.

I have been on stage in dance concerts more times than sitting in the comfy theatre chairs, so I know exactly how those dancers feel. The blazing spotlights that seemingly switch colors and intensity magically, the squeaky sounds when you slide across the stage or turn on the ball of your feet against the non-slip flooring, and the anticipation and anxiety of response. The stage lights are often far too bright for you to make out anyone distinctly in the audience. Every person in the theatre can see every movement and facial expression you make, yet you can’t see any of theirs. On stage it feels like you’re in a different world, where you’re blind from sight. You can only trust your instincts and feel with your heart.

You want so badly to pull everything off perfectly, to give the audience everything you’ve got. And when you complete your performance and hear the roar of applause, it’s heartwrenching. So you smile at the darkness before you, the intensity of appreciation from the audience making every bit of energy spent worthwhile.

Those were the days.

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What do you stay awake for?

It finally stopped raining, so glad! It’s still chilly though, hope I have layered enough to take the windy landscape.

Perfect start to the morning: up early for a warm sandwich with a cup of mocha latte. Sunday morning breakfast feeling. Tempted to make more progress with Hunger Games while sipping my coffee but knowing that I will get glued to it I’d better not. A lot of exploration work on my agenda today, can’t wait.

Welcome to the windy city

I seem to bring bad weather to cities I visit. Severe coastal fog when I went to San Diego, thunderstorms in Austin, rain and low visibility (I think) in Charlotte. Now it’s exceptionally wet and cold in Chicago. And from asking the locals here it seems like today was purely freak weather because apparently it hasn’t rained for weeks. It just has to pour when I set foot on windy island. When the captain said that temperatures in Chicago are about 40+deg when we were about to land, I was a little jittery. 40+ in summer? Even with all the gusty winds, surely it’s not that cold? I had summer wear and only summer wear in my backpack, so I started thinking what’s the warmest combination I can possibly make out from my limited resources.

Thankfully it wasn’t half as bad as I anticipated. Though it was really wet today. I can’t quite wrap my head around how can there be that much rainfall to pour at one go. It didn’t even stop for one second through the whole day. And well, I wasn’t the only one annoyed having to walk on splashy streets and lug around a drippy umbrella all day. Guess Chicagoans don’t quite welcome rainy days.

I love this district that feels just like Walnut Street. Clad with boutique stores, fine dining, cafes, retail outlets and everything that you need to complete a stroll-down-the-street-and-window-shop experience. Literally window shop. I found myself staring through every full glass; on the same side of the street, the store names were out of sight to know what they carry. It was fun trying to figure out each store and registering everything eye candy-ish within the time I took to casually walk past the storefront.

Today’s pot of gold was discovering a rustic, second-hand bookstore. I have never seen anything quite like it; three full floors of books of every possible genre you can think of, with shelves marking out narrow walkways. Everything had an age to it – the books, the shelves, the furnishing, the walls, the stairs.. It just felt like stumbling upon a time capsule. I loved how their solid wooden shelves extended from the ground up to the ceiling, engulfing you as you walk through them. The feeling of being surrounded (literally) by books is just so invigorating, so soulful, so much bliss. Every inch of the store is covered with books. There’s so many to see, so much to pry your eyes on that it’s almost visually exhausting. It has every flavor that a bookstore should carry. And so I can’t quite blame myself for buying a book when I finally managed to get myself out of the store. The feeling when you clutch a book, the smell of the pages.. I think I could even live in a place like that.

I concluded that there’s actually three things you should always do when you travel, not two. 1) Take photos, 2) write, and, 3) read. I love my reading obsession, it fits snugly into the traveling scene. In another place, a different timezone, different people on the streets, and different skies. Already so surreal. Add a fiction book and you find yourself taking the streets as the backdrop of your imagination, superimposed onto reality.

Hopefully the weather holds up tomorrow so I can head out to get some clear skies and sunshine, and comb the city with dry shoes.

Oh and today’s fortune cookie says: You need a new environment. Go on vacation. Absolutely spot on. A change in environment really helps to add a bit of tastefulness to your everyday, You’d feel a little more alive and like you’re actually breathing.