📨 a love letter to Chicago
003 how a 5 week in stay in Chi town made me fall in love with life again
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dearest windy city,
Today I depart from Chicago after 5 weeks of a whirlwind of 10k+ steps/days, trudging through every imaginable spectrum of bone-chilling rainstorms to sweltering hot summers, fanatic sprinting to catch trains and buses, arranging hangouts with newfound friends, and nursing my sore throat post one too many indulgently deep and thought provoking conversations while hopelessly losing track of time… and I feel so much joy and so much hope, I could almost stay… almost.
But I’m a neophiliac, and I’m drawn to change. Having been fortunate enough to travel as much as I have, I’ve come to accept that most cities are more or less the same — what makes them special and memorable are the people I meet. So here are just a few, in the order that I met them:
Lin, my sister creative chimera from Salt Lake City, who happened to be visiting Chi Town with her friend Sharon, was the first person I caught up with after my first week of solo exploration to familiarize myself with all the neighborhoods. Although Lin was only passing through, it was so comforting to feel as if I already knew someone else in the city. I’m forever grateful that meeting Lin, whom I regard as a nexus of friendship and connection, has enabled me to meet so many good people (one of whom I’ll mention below).
Lisa was my first local friend and she introduced me to tapas at Boqueria! It was fun to connect with another digital illustrator and model who has an intense interest in travel (we both share the mindset that our our careers fund our vacations)! It’s been really fun stumbling upon Lisa’s collaborations with other photographers in the locale (via instagram) and feeding off her open-ness & willingness to make friends!
I remember being keenly intrigued in meeting Arthur because of everyone I had met thus far, he appeared to be the most deeply involved in the fine arts. I had noticed that he had released a course on Domestika teaching Expressive Watercolor Portraits and instantly felt a respect for his dedication to his craft. After all, it is one thing to explore the arts as a hobby but another to have a developed styled and enough experience to design an entire course to share your skill. We met in Boystown and trekked for over an hour while swapping travel stories (such as his solo extended stay in Japan) and philosophies on creating art, making friends, and cultivating meaningful relationships. I was incredibly thankful that despite his packed schedule working as a full-time photographer, interior consultant, painter, and everything in-between, he invited me to Art Institute of Chicago where we continued our conversations as inspired by chronology of Monet’s works.
Tou Ger graciously drove all the way down from the Northern suburbs to meet me for lunch in Wicker Park where we spent 3 hours bonding over as fellow entrepreneurial spirits. A professional dancer turned life coach, Tou Ger is radiantly optimistic but balanced with a practicality for the bigger picture of life. I’m naturally drawn to people with philanthropic ideals (probably because I’m constantly seeking for more compassion without myself) and Tou Ger no doubt fits this bill.
Vishal and I first met downtown at Mojo Coffee (where I had a super delicious New Zealand style flat white) and I learned his story of how he turned his burn out from his first consulting job in India into inspiration to travel to Japan and Hong Kong solo. He moved to Chicago for his masters and just graduated as I was arriving to town. Between his job hunting grind, Vishal escaped with me for a mid-week serendipitous street photography shoot and another follow up coffee date at the largest Starbucks Reserve Roastery in the world. I was incredibly touched by his warmth and was so grateful that the timing worked out such that we could hang out as often we did!
Jess was actually another friend I met through Lin (who had a birthday brunch at Bar Takito at which we were both invited)! A copyeditor by day but writer/poet at heart, Jess started several passion projects over the course of the quarantine including an account to document her baking/cooking adventures as well as a tiktok to capture snippets of her everyday life in vlog format. I adore that she was immediately vulnerable with me in conversation and her emotional maturity/self awareness made me feel comfortable to readily open up to her in return. Our follow up hangout brought us to Hello Jasmine for some delicious Taiwanese street food which we devoured at Ping Tom park while walking barefoot (grounding) on the grass, listening to lo-fi, and journaling together like the big kids we were. I couldn’t have ask for a more wholesome picnic date!
Abhas was perhaps the only friend whom I had intended to meet up with prior to landing in Chicago. Every so often I try to reach out directly to people watching my instagram stories (via dm) as an attempt to break the social media disconnect that ironically arises from social platforms. I’m so please that I said ‘hi’ to Abhas because as soon as I realized that he was also a creative chimera who happened to live in Chicago (aka — someone whom I could have the opportunity to meet up with), I couldn’t contain my excitement. Just a gander through Abhas’s digital gallery will give you a sense of the full spectrum of his skillset. As we have mutually expressed to each other, knowing that someone else exists with such curiosity for all mediums is very validating to our own existence. It’s no wonder that we ended up losing our voices over conversation while eagerly sharing our parallel artists’ journeys.
I’m actually not positive how I met Suri — I suspect it was through an Asian Creative Network mutual, Nathan — but I’m sure glad we connected regardless. In my last week, we met up at Ground Up Coffee Co. where I got to hear her rite of passage as a singer/songwriter and trying to make it in the world of performing arts. She confided in me her aspirations as a fellow multi-disciplinary creative: pursing her master’s in creative writing, dreams of producing music for film, and creating a community where she could give back. It was absolutely heartwarming and affirming to hear from a fellow artist that because I’ve chosen to safeguard my art as a hobby, I have been able to preserve its purity. And once again, I’m reminded that I have this gift that shouldn’t be left to go to waste.
I met Amy on my second to last night at SweetGreen, and was so elated to find someone who could practice some Mandarin with me! We had some time to connect via text prior to meeting in person, so I already knew that (1) she was skilled in illustration and (2) had recently pivoted from a career as a business analyst to consulting for non-profits. Our friendly chat developed quite rapidly, and I appreciated how Amy didn’t hold back from delving into interesting questions which allowed us to explore topics like my aromanticism or my perspective on my friendships as influenced by the quarantine. I had brought a sketchbook along in wishful thinking that we could perhaps create a collaboration in person over our conversation. To my delight, Amy took to the idea without hesitation! I had such a blast, I regretted having met with her so late such that there was no time to reunite before I left.
I had not expected to actually meet Kris (due to lack of time and my now strained social stamina) but when he suggested to collab — I could not resist! So, on the very last night of my stay, I made my way out to Pilsen (the last unexplored area of the map which had been described to me as the SF Mission District of Chicago) where I met up Kris with a little piece of plastic2, and he, his camera. We ended up obsessing over this little plastic cap, and the best part? Kris even agreed to allow me to play photographer and modeled for me! We playful energy of the shoot rivaled the playdates from my childhood, and I’m already daydreaming of the day we can collaborate together again!
And of course, special shout out to the hubs for coming through at the end of the 3rd week so that we could do all the typical tourism things one normally does in Chi town together (the Cloud Gate/Bean at Millennium Park, the Riverwalk and Navy Pier, Lincoln Park Zoo, North Beach for views of the skyline, strolling the 606…). Chicago felt comfortable before his arrival, but having his company made Chicago feel, at last, like home.
So, thank you, Chicago; thank you for a series of unexpectedly good weather (the weatherman kept promising gloomy and overcast skies but your unpredictability continually surprised me with sunny afternoons), continually wholesome conversations, and scars around my ankles from endless urban hikes. I won’t miss how how you dried out my eyes with your blustery forecast nor the shady night rides home on the train, but I’ll still miss you all the same.
nowhere girl in Colorado
ps. Hi! You’ve got mail! 💌 This is letter number 3 of Love Letters from a Creative Chimera: a newsletter & microblog capturing things, people, and ideas that have made me fall absolutely in love with life over and over again. My name is XinYi and this podcast is where I read my letters for those who prefer to consume their content through audio rather than reading off a screen.
So in May of 2021 (just last month, if you’re listening in real time), I temporarily moved from Dallas to Chicago for 5 weeks to challenge myself to see if I was truly as adaptable as I believed myself to be. And the result? Well… you’re about to find out.
If you’re wondering how I managed to find all these people to connect with, most of them were found from Asian Creative Network, a Facebook group I was invited to years back. I queried for the word “Chicago” up to 3 years back and just direct messaged everyone who has ever mentioned the word Chicago in a post or comment. I told them that I had just moved to Chicago and wanted some local recommendations of hidden gems! Of course, with the way that Facebook messenger is set up, getting a request from someone who isn’t already your friend is a little hidden so I expected the response rate to be a bit lower simply from this particular UX design. Because I personally don’t even use Facebook that much, for those who responded and was able to sustain a short but interesting conversation, I asked them to stay in touch through text. From there, I offered to meet up in person if they felt comfortable (given the COVID situation) and was equally interested!
One of my fatal character flaws is that I’m an infamous snail mail replier which basically means I suck at keeping in contact digitally. So quality time is imperative for maintaining meaningful friendships for me. That’s why I preferred to meet these new friends if I could!