City life. Some of us love a lot of the things that come along with being in the city.
I’m one of those city-loving folk in Melbourne. Whenever I have a free day, I usually head down to the city and see what’s going on there.
We love living in cities because everything is literally at the tip of our fingers here. Shops and restaurants are just around the corner in Melbourne: Nike shoes to Nintendo games, Hong Kong yum cha to Spanish paella. Convenient, and variety is never dull.
We love cities because it’s easy to get around, and we feel like we’re going places. At least in Melbourne: Hop on the tram or train to get to the other end of the city. If not, walking is always an option and it’s good exercise.
If we look hard enough, we’ll find hidden museums behind the doors of heritage buildings. There’s every chance we’ll stumble upon a bit of old architecture nestled in between larger than life skyscrapers – Melbourne’s Chinatown squeezed right in between two mega-mall streets. How can we not love cities for the capsules of time and culture that they often are.
Maybe why I love cities has something to do with being Asian. Growing up in Malaysia, my parents and I lived the average middle-class Malaysian life in a suburban townhouse: putting up with water rationing in the hot months of the year; everything from shops to parks was a half hour drive away. Lifestyle and geographic hassles aside, rent was cheap. Maybe the “modern, white and clean” city life is a comfortable step up from the places that we’re from, for some Asians.
With cities come shopping malls, the temptation to spend. Sometimes having the latest things in fashion, or a swanky apartment down town, adds to the “face-thing” for Asians, all the more reason to live in the city. There’s also not forgetting many Asians are competitive, so perhaps the city hustle and bustle suits their lifestyles. What I see in Melbourne always inspires me to write and be a better writer.
Walking down the city streets of Melbourne on a recent Saturday afternoon, strangers brushed against my shoulder – the city was packed with people. Out of the corner of my eye, I sensed someone looking at me. Turning to my right, a hippie-homeless-looking, long white-haired old man who was an arm’s length away grinned at me. Clutching my sling bag a little tighter, I looked away and kept walking with the crowd.
The pedestrian traffic light flashed red ahead. I slowed to a stop and so did the rest around me. The hippie-looking man – probably high on something – was still lingering around, turning his head left and right – and smiling at everyone straight in the eyes. And they smiled back. Or turned away in amusement. Then he caught me looking at him and grinned again.
This time I didn’t reach for my bag. I smiled back. Maybe he means well. It’s ironic since I was brought up in high-crime-rate Malaysia not to look at strangers for fear of getting their unwanted attention, let alone smile at them.
When we’re in the city so often and surrounded by so many strangers, we learn to trust and not judge: we let the homeless be on the streets, though we might step slightly away from them. We let walking drunks stumbling out of clubs be and though they might scare us when they lurch towards us, we walk on in the city.
The city. A place where we can feel ever so part of a crowd, and a place where we can feel so alone when we’re part of a crowd. Being part of the nightlife and queuing up for sales with people we’ve never met in the city, we feel part of something bigger. But when we stop and look at those around us, we feel small, think about where we’re from and….think about them. Maybe the hippie-looking man just wanted to make someone happy.
Sure, Melbourne comes with pollution. Traffic. Noise. Stress. Things most of us don’t like about cities. But the peculiar people here are enough for me to put up with this city. We love cities because we live in this “glorious madness…(of an) invigorating community”. A community where we learn to see the worst in others – and the best in others too.
A community where we feel alive. Especially when we least expect it.
Do you like living and/or being in the city?