My ride home started with a rainbow. Outside the windows of gate D20 at Cleveland-Hopkins International airport was without a doubt the best rainbow I've ever seen. Not a bad way to start your fall break, right?
While I was away from New Jersey, I missed my family the most. It sounds so cliché, fake, and scripted, but I really mean it. I love my family to death. In case you were curious, I have three beautiful and talented sisters: two older, fraternal twin sisters who are both too smart for their own good and a younger sister who is a monster at tennis. I soon remembered all of my mother's weird quirks and how much fun it is to annoy my little sister. Most importantly, I quickly recalled just how good of a cook my dad is.
Dinners throughout the week have yielded some of my all-time favorite Filipino dishes. As if that wasn't enough, my dad has been taking me out to eat at restaurants pertaining to every other Asian cuisine that I might have missed. He must have known that I had been suffering a major withdrawal of white rice, soy sauce, sesame oil, and fish. Thankfully, I took a trip to a local Korean supermarket to stock up on some yummy snacks and goods to tide me over until winter break.
Being home also meant the return of chores (I'm glaring at all of the red, brown, and dead leaves that are newly arriving in my yard whilst writing this). Since I am the only boy out of 4 siblings, I received the least glamorous and most strenuous chores throughout my childhood. These included taking out the trash, raking leaves, shoveling snow, vacuuming, washing dishes...er. Every chore? Anyways, my dad was happy to have me back home, but he was also secretly super glad that he had another set of hands to help out in the yard. My little sister is the darling of the family and somehow gets away without doing any chores. Sigh.
Malls are possibly one of New Jersey's most redeeming qualities. I live within 30 minutes of five malls, which is absurd now that I think about it. Also, there is no sales tax on clothing in New Jersey. Why? I don't think I'll ever know... Not that I'm complaining. Hopefully I am a little better equipped for the Ohio winter.
I took the time to pay a visit to my old high school. In my mind, I was expecting the Academies @ Englewood to be in shambles now that I was gone. I convinced myself that my high school would be completely dysfunctional without Karl Orozco in town. I imagined seeing starving teachers in raggedy clothing begging for me to return, gang graffiti decorating the lockers, trolls lurking the hallways, and a menacing gray storm cloud perpetually hovering over the main building. Sadly, or maybe fortunately, this was not the case. My high school (a very strange high school, I might add) was more or less the same. My stay was short, but in the hour that I spent roaming the halls and classrooms, I received some of the best hugs that I've gotten in a long time. Oh, how I love hugs.
A close friend and I took a trip down to Rutgers University to visit a few friends. However, this trip down to central Jersey was the most aggravating three hours of my life. To make things clearer, a normal trip to Rutgers takes about 45 minutes. It took us three hours. Three! THREE! Our car was under the control of this phantom GPS that refused to take us on the highway. For some crazy reason, the GPS led us down the backstreets of Bergen County, circled around Newark (which is a dump to say the least), and requested us to take the most ridiculously illegal turns. For instance, this demonic machine would announce, "Left turn ahead" and we would soon realize that we were trying to make a left on a one-way road. I have never been honked more times in my life, nor have I ever cursed at a piece of machinery so excessively. Nevertheless, we trudged our way down to Rutgers and surprisingly made it there in one piece. It wasn't until after we arrived that we realized the GPS had been set to the "pedestrian" setting. Meaning that we took the route to Rutgers that someone would take if they were walking. After blowing off some steam, I took a big sigh and laughed at the whole situation.
Rutgers University is decidedly very different from Oberlin. I felt like a fish out of water the whole night. I still can't comprehend how big most state universities are, and I had a hard time acknowledging the fact that my friends took buses to class. Additionally, the people that I met at Rutgers were so different from my Oberlin brethren, though that could be said about a lot of places. I admit that I'm more than slightly biased, but I left Rutgers thankful that I go to Oberlin. Really, really thankful.
I was able to hang out with more old friends than I thought I would be able to. This included a very long Saturday night that resulted in me getting less than 2 hours of sleep before heading to the airport. I really didn't catch up on sleep like I thought I would this break. Oh well! I don't regret the lost sleep at all.
New Jersey is more often than not the butt of everyone's joke, and is typically referred to as "the armpit of the United States." Ironically, it's named the Garden State when the preconception is that it's an industrial wasteland full of rude drivers and lots of Italians. While that is mostly true, there is also the side of New Jersey that I happen to know and love. During this week of adventures and endeavors throughout the Garden State, I have come up with several conclusions and realized some random facts:
- New Jersey (specifically Northern NJ) is very ethnically diverse. More diverse than Ohio if you can believe that. The trips my dad and I took to several restaurants throughout Bergen County serve as plenty of evidence.
- New Joisey isn't a total industrial wasteland. However, driving through the side streets of Newark and Rutherford made me understand where most people gain this notion. Which leads me to my next point...
- There ARE gardens in the Garden State. Hard to believe, eh? In fact, New Jersey is the world's leading producer of eggplants. Pretty convenient, considering that eggplants are my favorite vegetable.
- Most New Jerseyans do not have "Joisey" accents. Even fewer Jerseyans have accents as thick as Meowth from the Pokémon television series. Occasionally you'll find someone who says "cawfee," but it's not an overwhelming amount of the population.
- Karen O. lived in Englewood, NJ, which is where I went to school! Plus, Anthony Bourdain (a man-crush of mine) lived about 10 minutes away from me. Sweeeeeeet.
- I really love Oberlin. I kinda already knew that, but this week affirmed this fact.
- "Home" is one of those singular and plural nouns like "deer" or "moose." Well, technically it's not... But let's assume this for the sake of my closing argument. In my case, part of me lives at Oberlin College where I feel part of a greater community, where all my clothes are located, and completely love. The other part will forever reside in New Jersey, where the pizza and bagels are always fresh, the malls and diners are abundant, and where some of my best years and memories lie.
The street where I live, and the aforementioned pile of curbside leaves. Until we meet again!
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April 13, 2022