The moment I got out of a heavily air-conditioned bus, after I had ridden it for 1 hour and 40 minutes just to get to a job interview in another neighborhood, I knew I was in a big city.
I felt like I had to constantly run or keep moving just to keep up with the fast beat of the city. Frozen from the artificial air and instantly thrown into the unreasonably humid weather, I had to sort my way through the streets with Hispanic and Aboriginal names, with the help of a crumpled, overused map.
Living in a giant metropolitan area, with neighborhoods as different as foreign countries and distances longer than some regional routes, is no easy task. People who live here usually come from a myriad of countries, with dreams as big as their newly-found residence. They quickly learn that life in the metropolis is different: they need to commute for hours, they get used to rushing past postcard-perfect skyscrapers; they can even get adjusted to eating real local cuisine from around the world on a daily basis. Monday they can have sushi, while Tuesday, pasta fresca; Wednesday, tacos à la Mexicana, Thursday, rindswurst and brattkartoffeln, while keeping Friday for fish & chips.
Having hopped from one metropolis to the next for the past 4 years, I am wondering if the metropolitan-ism can rub off on you and transform you into this multi-cultured individual. After all, you get so familiar with the slow tourist buses taking their picture-time when you are late for work; with the endless inter-cultural happenings, with the airport-sized malls or the end-of-the-world traffic congestions, that they become part of your daily humdrum.
But to be a metropolitan doesn’t just mean to dwell along busy places and international icons. It means also to have in sight both the smallish picture of the important business deals, and also the big picture of the particular blend of history and unique culture, with a slower pace of living and more rooted rituals.
A metropolitan person can easily mingle at an after-work party, exchanging brief talks in more languages with friends from various corners of the world; and she can also just as naturally speak the local dialect to understand the old flower lady, selling her tulips for 42 years in the same corner of a medieval street. A colorful kaleidoscopic mix, into which we keep whirling and swirling.
Innate in us is the desire to always want more and more, and metropolitan cities seem to satisfy that need. They are like knots in the web of the Universe, standing at the forefront of globalization, with unthinkably high buildings to hide small people. With all their glitter and glamour, they can trick people into believing they have made it, they have realized their life’s potential, or that they are shining from the inside, like the Empire State on a wintry night. However, unless people have opened their worldview without forgetting the local culture, unless they close business deals without forgetting to be compassionate humans, then they have not made it, no matter how big the Mother City they dwell in.