Travel Dates: 17 March - 22 March 2016
This trip began with a reasonable amount of anxiety. After years of hopeful conversations and months of focused planning, Bianca and I found ourselves at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and on our way for what we unanimously agreed to be the grandest adventure of our lives thus far.
Upon reflection, I gather that there were two main causes to my trepidation: first, my best friend and I were about to embark on a 2.5-month long trip travelling the United States of America, by ourselves. And while neither of us were novices to experiencing new cultures, we were definitely not avid backpackers. Me, being the worrywart that I am, had to limit my imagination when it came to the things that could go wrong.
Squashing thoughts of stranger danger and mis-booked accommodations, I did my best to feign competence, if only to appease our collective parents as it must not have been easy for them to release their baby-daughters into the world.
Second, was that while Bianca and I have been best friends for a decade, more than half of our relationship had been “long-distance”, for the lack of a better phrase. Sure, we were always there for each other when need be, but we had not spent more than a month and a half at a time in the same country since we were 16. And being such different individuals (and on occasion, alarmingly different), I knew we would inadvertently clash on several topics.
But of course, my worries were for naught. We are currently on Week 9 and we have neither killed one another nor gotten ourselves killed. And we have the Lord to thank for that. All things considered, this trip has gone as great as any adventure is going to go. That said, it doesn’t mean that everything was smooth-sailing.
Bi and I got to the Boston International Airport after 25-some hours of travelling feeling exhausted, a little homesick but most definitely excited. We were here! We had finally arrived in America. And granted I did study in California for 3 years, it was still going to be a couple of months before we got to a city I actually knew. Moreover since Bi could barely remember the US at all, it was as though we were both experiencing this place anew. Trying to connect to the airport wifi to grab an Uber was a chore in itself, but after a grabbing our bags and a failed Spanish translating attempt by Bianca Hoh, we were on our way to Massachusetts Avenue, Boston.
Boston, at first glance (and perhaps many glances afterwards) reminded Bi of a sunny, bright-skied London. It lived up to its ‘New England’ status, with cobblestone streets and red-bricked apartments stacked against one another for blocks on end. It was an old city for sure, with history seeping from its very crevices. I have never been to Europe before, but it felt extremely English in architecture. Our rented AirBnB apartment took us to the border between scary Roxbury and eclectic South End, or at least that was what our Uber driver told us with a few more words. We did have the good luck to be staying in a nice neighbourhood although I admit that the first sight of the building we would be staying in for the next 5 days left us feeling a little disappointed. In fact, it was almost as though the buildings to the left and right of it were a little disappointed at it too, with their smart dark doors embossed with gold numbers and their new layers of paint. They bullied our somewhat despondent building. After a little bit of puffing and wheezing, we got our luggage through the rickety glass front door with its sticker numbers, up the creaking, uneven stairs and into an apartment that rivalled the age of my (very old) apartment in Berkeley.
But alas, we hurriedly stopped ourselves from being disheartened. As I crawled into bed in that tiny bedroom that night, full from my first slice of American pizza, I thought I was the luckiest person in the whole wide world.
At this current point, with so many daily adventures occurring every day for the past 59 days, my memory of the individual days in Boston has mixed into one technicolour blur, so there are certain gaps to be expected. But the next couple of days were certainly something else. We decided that we wanted to follow the Freedom Trail from start to finish and so we started near Park Station, where the information centre was located. Purchasing a $7 map, we started on our self-guided tour, which ultimately took us the better of two days.
It was honestly, seriously, and intensely exhausting. I would not have called myself a ‘fit’ individual by far, and in Malaysia I have lived a very sedentary life: going from bed to computer to car to walk around a little, only to come back to car, computer, bed, and repeat. I was not accustomed to being on my feet for very long. But boy did those 10km/day walks through the entire city increased my stamina like nothing else. With aching feet and the evening-time battles against jetlag, our first three nights ended by 6pm.
It was only on night 4 did we make some decent progress. We had spent the day visiting a museum and engraved our names (legally) into a ship currently being rebuilt. Bianca had managed to get into contact with one of her boarding school friends, Ali, whom attended Boston College after leaving the UK, and so we met up at the Marina for dinner: a gorgeous pier at the edge of Boston that provided our first magical capture of the sunset. We had a great dinner with fluid conversation despite the somewhat mediocre food. After, we decided to head to Boston University for some alcoholic green tea boba that tasted like a yummy matcha frappe. By the end of the night Bi and I were both glad to have gone passed 11pm and I knew that I had made a new friend.
Night 5 proved interesting as well. We decided to meet a girl whom had attended the same university as a mutual friend of ours; Cassie Tong felt a little foreign at first, but we all quickly became fast friends over the course of the night. Of course it didn’t hurt that the restaurant she recommended for dinner, Alden and Harlow, ended up becoming one of Bianca’s top 3 favourite restaurants in the US. While it was definitely a highlight and a very good introduction, I genuinely don’t quite remember much about it aside from feeling vaguely impressed by the fusion composition and unique nature of the food; I was satisfied, but it did not leave a lasting impression. It was only on our last night in Boston when we walked into a tapas restaurant where I found the best dish I’ve ever tasted: bone marrow with oxtail marmalade. It was intense, insane, and I fell in love. We even cleaned it up with a sherry shot.
All in all, Boston was a rather incredible experience. It was also there that I experienced real, falling snow for the very first time. It took Bianca and I almost three days to cave in and invest into proper winter wear as we were vastly unprepared for the freezing cold. The coldest weather I have ever experienced was Berkeley in the winter, which Bostonians could probably have shrugged off while walking around in shorts and tees.
Furthermore, it brought back crazy memories of Fallout 4, which definitely added to how fascinating Boston was. While going on our Freedom Trail, I couldn’t help but remember the hours spent sitting at the coffee table playing on the laptop with Reuben sitting behind me on the Xbox as we explored post-apocalyptic Massachusetts. Travelling fills me with nostalgia, especially with Reuben so far away in a dramatically different time-zone, so any reminders of the good times were welcomed dearly.
By the time we stood in the snow by the curb, waiting for our Uber to arrive, I had swiftly fallen for the quiet, poetic city called Boston. Despite the broken bed, tiny bathroom, overbearing cold, and sore bodies, I was exceedingly grateful, and I knew our journey would only get better from here.
// Afterthought: The bone marrow oxtail marmalade from Toro was my favourite dish thus far in the US, but Boston also houses another one of my top 3s, that is, "The Fancy" from a sandwich stall called Mike and Patty's. It was so so delicious. My only regret is that I didn't go back for more.