When I think back to my travels, to the streets of London and Amsterdam, to the pastel rows of houses of San Francisco, to the serenity of Verona, and to the clamor and hustle of Hong Kong, my mind begins to paint the background of the city, yet the people – the souls – that I have encountered there truly color it and give the city its spirit. In that way, the city becomes engraved in my mind.
Of course, the architecture, the rivers, the roads of the city give the city its body, its physical being…yet the people that fill the city form its soul, its color. Every soul contributes a touch of pigment to the city, and each city becomes a unique palette.
Amsterdam is colored by the man I met on the way into the city, the ten-hour bus ride from London. I remember the weed that crept into my nose as he sat beside me, one of the few empty seats in the back of the bus. His friends sat around, and I made a feeble attempt to do my Game Theory homework on the 6” x 13” table. He smirked when he saw me, pretending to concentrate, and asked if I were truly completing homework on the bus. This made me change my mind much sooner than I might have, and we began a conversation that lasted for hours; each second into the conversation fed into my regret of asking the bus driver to change buses mid-journey to be with my friends. I could have talked to him for ten hours, but this was probably better for my sleep. He was journeying with two friends for a weekend filled with legal weed adventures, and I was headed on an impromptu trip to a huge music festival. We talked about economics, artificial intelligence, psychology, and shared chocolate from a fellow passenger on the bus. When we parted, he threw me a bag of chips. I still have the wrapper, because that is the type of sentimental person I am.
San Francisco is colored by two people – an uber driver who advised me to travel the world, and an old man who offered for me to enter the museum with him for free (I’ve already written about him). The driver had an incredibly suave, smooth, rich voice…the type that you could listen to forever, and you’d feel as if you were in a dream eventually. He spoke of his travels, his temporal companies overseas, and advised me to purchase an around-the-world pass, which I had never heard about before then. This advice was the present he offered to me for the new year, an early graduation present of sorts. It even more deeply ingrained in me my love and eternal thirst for travel, for seeing worlds outside my own and opening my eyes and widening my horizons and embracing every inch of our planet. As for the elderly man, I now wish that I saved the sticker I received from him instead of sticking it on my phone cover, only for it to slowly deteriorate.
Verona is colored by the warmth of the woman and police officer who offered to help my friend and I when we lost our way – both entering the city and leaving it. Our suitcases pitter-pattered on the cobblestone roads as we followed our trusty guide – Google Maps, per usual – to our airbnb residence. And as we “arrived at our destination” and only saw the cold wall of a building, our evidently confused faces stirred a passing woman’s attention. She approached us with a warm smile and a flurry of Italian that only left our faces even more confused. Even so, she remained cheerful and, after we showed her the address, generously gesticulated the direction we would need to go to reach our destination. We gave her our thanks, mostly through the gratitude beaming through our smiles than any words we could muster – as we had none. Having successfully settled into the city, we were faced with trouble again on the day we left to catch our flight. There was a marathon and no vehicles were allowed to run in the inner city – no buses, no taxis, no cars at all. After scrambling around with our suitcases click-clacking furiously behind us, we finally spotted a police officer, who kindly worked a bit of magic and called a taxi just for us. The kindness and generosity of Verona leave us thankful forever and remind me that we do not only communicate with our words, but also with our hearts.
There are so many other cities in which I have had the fortune to explore. Each city is colored by countless stories, and if I were to recount them all I would have a novel. These cities imprint themselves into my eyes, my heart, and my soul as I traverse their open bodies and wander into the crevices of their souls. And for a fleeting moment, I kiss the earth with a distinct hue of lavender myself.