We did Chicago.

Reflection in Kapoor Bean

We left after 5 days in Mon­tana, our lungs filled with Big Sky air and our hearts con­tent in the way only friends gath­er­ing could ful­fill. Our next stop on what I like to call our ‘Repa­tri­a­tion Tour’ was Chicago. We planned 4 days full of sights to see as bona fide tourists. The city cer­tainly wel­comed us warmly as such. It was mid-August, typ­i­cally hor­ren­dous travel sea­son up in the Windy City. Luck­ily, we were spared a break, and tem­per­a­tures hov­ered in the 80’s and 90’s, with the humid­ity spar­ing us for the week. Or maybe, we just got used to the hor­ri­ble hell­ish humid­ity of Guangzhou’s summers?

For those of you that don’t know, although I pro­fess to be a Cal­i­forn­ian tried and true, my truest of roots in these states hap­pen to be from Chicago. It’s the city where my par­ents first set foot in the U.S., it’s the city where they met, and most impor­tantly (to me), it’s the city where I made my way into the world. I was born on the Uni­ver­sity of Chicago cam­pus (in their hos­pi­tal, not on a ran­dom uni­ver­sity park bench), so I like to think that comes with some sort of distinction.

Picturesque Navy Pier Shot from the River

When I was younger, my fam­ily vis­ited Chicago a few times. I have mem­o­ries of eat­ing the most deli­cious corn to date and scarf­ing down my first gyro. Does it come as a sur­prise to you that my mem­o­ries hap­pen to cen­ter around food? I also have a mem­ory of being deathly mor­ti­fied while star­ing down from the deck of Sears Tower, and being dragged around a humid­ity that my self had never expe­ri­enced. But those sorts of mem­o­ries clearly pale in com­par­i­son to deli­cious Greek food.

Biking thru streets of Chicago

I was so excited to explore my ‘home­town’, this time with the Diplo­Man. We rented an apart­ment in the mid­dle of Lin­coln Park on Airbnb– the best choice we could have made on the trip. We rented bikes for three days, and did our fair share of explo­ration on bike, check­ing out posh neigh­bor­hoods like ours and like Wicker Park, and mak­ing sure to take my mom’s rec­om­men­da­tions and cruise through Pol­ish Town and Greek Town- a cou­ple of places where my par­ents spent a great deal of time and what money they had when they were my age.

Greek Town, Chicago

We took an archi­tec­tural boat tour, and lis­tened to the his­tory of Chicago unfold before our eyes. A must in a grand city such as Chicago. It, strangely, invig­o­rated in me a sort of patri­o­tism I hadn’t known I had. To see so many amaz­ing sky­scrap­ers and office build­ings, one after another, each designed with their own flair, was truly awe-inspiring.

Chicago architecture

Lake Michigain Riverside Trails

We rode up and down Lake Michi­gan, for which Chicago boasts the longest and finest pre­served river­side in the nation. We went atop John Han­cock Cen­ter- opt­ing that over the Sears/Willis Tower for the bet­ter view. We vis­ited Navy Pier, which the Diplo­Man and I both thought was a tad kitchy and cer­tainly not worth a rec­om­men­da­tion. We strolled through Mil­le­nium Park, mar­veling at the pub­lic works, and had a seat in Pritzker Pavil­lion to cool off while lis­ten­ing to a free “show”: Chicago Sym­phony’s after­noon prac­tice session.

Pritzker Chairs

We learned about Genghis Khan at the Field Nat­ural His­tory Museum. For a man who sup­pos­edly raped and pil­laged and ruled for the greater part of his life, he is also cred­ited with some inge­nious inno­va­tions: spec­ta­cles, the postal sys­tem, and diplo­matic pass­ports, to name a few. We also both excit­edly sat down to watch a 3D IMAX film about ancient Egypt, only to both fall asleep for the entire half hour of it.

Mongol Dip Passports

We bought tick­ets to a Cubs game, only to have it on the brink of can­cel­la­tion due to rain. Luck­ily, the base­ball gods (and twit­ter) cor­rob­o­rated, and the game was on. Wrigley Field was a sight to see.

Wrigley Marquee

Chicago Deep Dish

We ate deep dish, sausage dogs, solid Amer­i­can break­fasts, and wished many times I could have got­ten a gyro as good as my mem­ory served. We ate at two restau­rants that I had booked two months prior: The Girl & The Goat, and The Pub­li­can. Both highly acclaimed restau­rants, both liv­ing up to their claims. Unfor­tu­nately after two nights of din­ing out, we also learned what it cost to eat like kings back in the states again.

By Fri­day, our bel­lies were full from explor­ing Chicago’s Eats and our legs were sore from vis­it­ing Chicago’s sights. Would I rec­om­mend a trip to Chi-town? ABsolutely.

PS: Does any­one from Chicago actu­ally call the city Chi-town? Or is that some­thing only annoy­ing out-of-towners do? Sort of like how no one from San Fran­cisco calls their city Frisco…?

The Balloon Man

The Bal­loon Man passed us from behind as we entered the fish mar­ket. He used an inflated plas­tic horn bal­loon to sig­nal his pres­ence, and wove in and out of the trucks and fishy pud­dles in the mid­dle of the street.

Thirty min­utes later as we exited the mar­ket, his bike was parked out­side. I could only won­der what he was doing, and where he was off to next.

Real bike culture

In 2007, Guangzhou banned the use of motor­bikes within the city lim­its. Rumored as a reac­tion to curb theft, decon­gest traf­fic, lessen pol­lu­tion, and pro­mote pub­lic trans­porta­tion, it’s almost odd to see such a big Asian city with­out motor­cy­cle traf­fic. On the plus side, Guangzhou’s metro sys­tem has since been extended at alarm­ing speeds, and bicy­cles are a com­mon and use­ful method of tra­vers­ing the city.

Bikes are every­where in this city, rid­den by peo­ple of all classes and ages. Peo­ple stack their books, their mar­ket finds, their pup­pies, their chil­dren on home­made rigged plat­forms on the back of their bikes. Not the ten speed ram han­dle­bar sleek seat kind of bikes you’d see in NY, DC, or SF, but rather a clunky one-size-fits-all piece of worn-down metal kind of bike. It doesn’t mat­ter– all you need for an effec­tive bike in Guangzhou is a bas­ket, a bell, and two wheels. And there’s some­thing quite beau­ti­ful, in my mind, about these pieces– espe­cially when they are sit­ting alone, propped against an old brick build­ing in an alleyway…