Today, just before the beginning of spring, I found myself lying on the grass reading under the warm, golden sun. It kept me warm and melted the core of my body, which had been frozen since November. The Sandias were crystal clear standing tall against the clean blue sky.
New Mexico is a strange place, seemingly filled with people not originally from New Mexico creating a small melting pot in the middle of the vast desert. Their accents are strong: high-pitched, valley girl meets slow southern meets north Mexican. The cuisine is anything topped with green chili: New Mexican-style burritos, enchiladas and tacos. And blue corn. sopaipilla with honey. spice.
The Railrunner train to Santa Fe is a steal if you’re a student, only $4 one-way. Along the ride are tall mountains, Native American pueblos, and farm animals. It’s beautiful and serene.
Once there, you’ll find Santa Fe International Hostel, a non-profit hub for budget travelers. For $18 a bed, you must do your share and do a chore in the morning before check-out. Amazingly, they have free food for guests: they get nearly expired but pretty fresh foods from Whole Foods. Arriving on Sunday ensures you first dibs on the TONS of sandwiches, cheese, salads, and SO MUCH MORE they receive on a weekly basis, so great as I’d eaten almost my stay’s worth just for lunch.
Walk straight about a mile (30 min.) and you’ll get to the edge of old town where you’ll find bourgeois shops filled with imported goods from Asia, and Southwestern and Native American art. Everything is artisanal and expensive. It doesn’t take long to take in the area around the Spanish-style plaza. Get a little lost and you’ll find yourself at the fort where you can walk to the top and take in the view of the city below. It smells of burnt sage and fills you with distant memories.
In New Mexico you may get harassed walking down the street. Young boys might shout derogatory terms at you. Still young street kids might ask you for your leftovers; when you refuse, they might try to insult you. You don’t reply because they might be on something— it is, after all, the land of Breaking Bad.
Seeing the pueblos on your way back is distressing and depressing. You know who lives there and how they are treated by the larger society. You know they’re poor and although it’s a stereotype, it’s quite true that many are alcoholics and in poor physical and mental health. This fact is sobering and hard to accept when you know where they came from. At the same time they’re resilient and proud.
New Mexico has a beauty about it. It’s in the colour of the earth, the white and pink blossoms of the lovely trees, and the vibration of the land.
took the candle to my mouth
like a glass of lavender tea
Best friend and I admiring thousand year-old petroglyphscarved into rocks along the volcanic cliffs of the West Mesa escarpment.
They speak without sound.
49% of traveling is eating. So I’ve started to get to know a place called Jackson Heights: land of abundant, delicious and cheap foods.
It started out as a halfway meet up point between my sister and I, but it’s grown into so much more. Last night, we had dinner at Friend’s Corner Cafe, a little restaurant on Roosevelt Ave. that blends into the background of all of the other Tibetan spots on that main road. It’s casual, no frills dining. When it started getting busy, the server asked if we could share our table. My first, American gut-reaction was “No! That’s weird!” It had been so long since I was in that kind of communal environment and I’d almost forgotten that people in other countries share things like tables. But of course we said yes, and then sat down two, young Tibetan guys in their early twenties. I made a joke by drawing an invisible line and said, “Just stay on your side!” [So over the years, I’ve learned that some people I try to play with give me stone face and aren’t into me joking around with them cause they ain’t playing. Luckily these guys were chill and were like, “Okay!” and put up an actual “barrier” with their video games, keys and phone and we all had a big laugh about it.]
After they ordered, the one next to me turned and inquired, “So do you guys come here often?” Whaaaat I’d never actually heard someone use that line before. But it wasn’t a line. It was a legit question. We told them that it was our first time and they told us about the other good restaurants around. We asked the standard questions, “Where are you from?” and all that— I’d been extremely curious about how and why Tibetans ended up in Queens so I asked.
They told us about how oppressive Tibetans are. OCCUPATION. The aunt of the one next to me had a friend whose husband was killed for having a picture of the Dalai Lama— just a few months ago. And that it was and still is very terrible there to be under China’s rule and is the reason a lot of people had to/have to leave. Protests have been increasing over the last few years and more people are setting themselves on fire. It’s not getting any better.
One of the guys was from the province of scholars and the other from warriors. They had been childhood friends and were even in the same refugee camp in India together when they were ten. They separated there and arrived to America by the time they were 15. One went to the Bay Area and the other to Connecticut. They hadn’t seen each other for about eight years when they bumped into each other at a party in Queens and have stayed friends since. What a reunion.
We talked about cultural differences and they expressed how normal it is for two boys to hold hands in Tibet and how shocked they were to learn that it was “gay” here. They weren’t even aware of sexual categories until they got to America. The one across from me was dumbfounded at how much discrimination there is for homosexuals. I could only say that Americans are pretty puritanical in some ways and a lot of bs exists. But of course, it’s nothing like what happens in Tibet. Their two worlds are so different; some things make sense and other things don’t. But they were glad to be in the States because “there’s more freedom.”
They talked about their experiences learning English (one hid in the bathroom the first few days of school cause he couldn’t speak or read English and couldn’t find his classes) and that English often doesn’t make sense (“why is there a ‘k’ in knife when it’s silent?”). We joked about how they met up to have dinner together and that they had to keep the bromance alive.
They even shared their delicious momo with us.
They finished eating before us and left— we didn’t exchange names or anything and kept it at, “It was nice to meet you.”
It felt like one those really wonderful, serendipitous moments in life where you meet strangers and your worlds collide for a few minutes to learn something new and connect on an almost spiritual level. That’s what I love and cherish most out of traveling (other than food and beautiful scenery, of course). It’s a chance to exchange life experiences and positive energy between humans.
I wish those wonderful young men well, and their beautiful people and culture— coincidentally, today marks the 55th anniversary of the Tibetan Uprising Against China when thousands were killed protecting their leader. I hope that they will be freed from the horrible hand of their oppressors someday soon.
I’m very grateful they shared their amazing stories with me and have opened up my world a little more.
“Two there are who are never satisfied — the lover of the world and the lover of knowledge.”
– Moulana Jalaluddin Rumi (RA)
I am sitting
soar over snow