As the twilight of October approaches, I’m still limping along with the last remnants of Writing 101. I refuse to just give up on the assignments, and my OCD-prone mind won’t allow me to blog about anything else until all they’ve all been completed in order. I think it’s been well over a week since I last posted, because I’m having increasing difficulty in balancing two blogs, a full-time job, and other assorted hobbies. To honor my second favorite festival (that would be Halloween), I’ve started a series called 20 Tales of Terror on my fiction blog, where I’ve been posting a freshly-written short story (with an accompanying illustration, also done by me) every day. As such, the majority of my focus has been on that, and I’ve ended up neglecting this poor blog.
Anyways, we’re now on Assignment 18. Well, I am. Because see previous paragraph. For this one, we’re asked to draw inspiration from some town or city from around the world. It could be a place we’ve lived in, visited, want to visit or, simply one we picked blindly off a map.
Geography’s never been my strong suit, so it’s likely that if I go the map route, I’ll wind up landing on some city in eastern Angola or the south of Turkey, which will require a bit of research before I can even think of what to write about the place. So maybe I’ll ditch the map option. I’m also not extremely well-traveled. I’ve seen a lot of airports in my time, but not nearly enough of the cities outside of them. Instead, I’ll talk about a place that’s close to my heart, mainly because of the people I met there. That place is State College, Pennsylvania.
I have grown up in cities. The early years of my childhood were spent between Kuwait and Calcutta, and my formative years were in Dubai, which was a fairly bustling metropolis even back in the day. I was used to towering skyscrapers, cavernous shopping malls and only the barest hint of greenery, usually found in parks. However, I had grown up on a steady diet of TV shows where people lived in charming suburban houses with wide front lawns and picket fences. It was so different from anything I knew, and I fell in love with the idea of a quiet, sleepy community where everyone wasn’t in a hurry to go places.
Shortly after high school graduation, I went to visit my dad in Austin for a couple of weeks, where he was working at the time. It was my first trip to the US, and it was amazing. We went via Chicago, which didn’t look too different from what I knew (aside from a bit more greenery). But landing in Austin is when I really saw a different side of life. There no tall buildings near where my dad lived. He was in a small community, on the second floor of a townhouse. There was a balcony with an amazing view of nature spread out before me, with not a skyscraper or mall in sight.
About six months later, I was on my way to Penn State, an excited (and nervous) young freshman embarking on life away (far, far away) from home for the first time. I was completely torn up over leaving everyone I knew behind, and worried about how I would adjust to college life. That all changed once I landed up in State College. It felt like home. There was no greenery when I got there, as it was early January. But I did get to see snow for the first time in my life. The world that I had seen in so many Christmas movies and TV shows was now all around me. Like Austin, this was a place that was built horizontally, not vertically. There were fields and trees and wide open spaces to walk in. Even during the rush between classes, everything moved at a much slower pace than what I was used to. It was idyllic.
Granted, it was still a college town, so things could get a little rowdy on weekends, but drunken tomfoolery aside, it was a great place to be. Even better are the surrounding townships, all with a quaint charm of their own. Bellefonte, one of the neighboring towns, prides itself on its historic roots and is like a doorway to the past. On occasion, I took trips to neighboring cities and states, which involved traveling across long stretches of highway with rolling hills on one side and a river running through the other. State College itself, nicknamed Happy Valley, provided a majestic hilly view on the horizon no matter where you went.
Returning to Dubai from there was quite a shock. Chilly country breezes replaced by hot gusts of smog and sand, towers of steel and glass instead of farmland and greenery, and then there was the pace of life. I had forgotten just how fast people moved in Dubai. Everyone’s in a rush to go somewhere. There’s hardly ever time to stop and breathe. I remember having long, relaxed conversations about absolutely nothing with my friends in college as we sat on a porch overlooking a gorgeous hillside. All anyone can talk about here is work and money.
I’m hopeful that one day, I can find myself living in a smallish town again, living a simpler life. Until then, I’ll just have to try my best to walk in a world where everyone runs.