Musings on Southern California

Los Angeles area. Twice I’ve moved away.Despite this, I find myself returning from time to time to see what has changed.In some ways, little has. Los Angeles is an enigma, the literal expression of a Tinseltown ideal. But there are some signs of change, interesting ones. I think of the gentrification of post-World War II housing in the cities surrounding Long Beach, units that were sold to bachelor soldiers and new families working at the Douglas Aircraft plant in the late 1940s and 1950s as Southern California experienced its post-war boom. I think of an increase in community events such as farmers’ markets and street fairs. Slowly, I recognize signs of renewal, of things that were always so new that they seemed like facades on a movie set.

Perhaps the biggest strength of Southern California is the rich diversity here. Of all the places I’ve lived in the US, I’ve most noticed that creeping change brought about by immigration here. When I first lived here nearly twenty years ago, there were certainly many different cultures present, but it has been wonderful to see how those cultures have blossomed, become increasingly visible and become such a part of the Southland fabric. Not living here anymore, it is hard to say how integrated those different cultures have become.But their visibility is a first measure of health.

Despite that, I don’t know if I would enjoy living here again. The weather is nearly ideal, yes, but it is still too suburban and sprawled an area for my tastes. Despite the buses and bicyclists, signs that there are at least some alternatives to individual car ownership, it is an example of that American dream that existed hand-in-hand with the post-war era: a dream that promised prosperity, growth and limitless consumption. A dream that gave everyone a sunny optimism and friendly, if plastic, demeanor while isolating everyone in their steel and glass bubble, ensuring no real connection.

This critique isn’t just about Los Angeles, of course.It is symptomatic of American culture in general, a good example of what I don’t appreciate much about life here and what I don’t miss about it.

It is easy to get caught up in the list of the things I don’t like, easy to identify the reasons that I don’t live here anymore. It is worth the effort, though, to categorize the things that are positive about the Southern California culture. There is an admirable optimism here that contrasts markedly with the nearly fatalistic outlook of the society where I currently live, one that believes fate, chance and inescapable karma have pretty much written your destiny. There is a continual push here, even amidst the congestion and traffic, to improve the quality of living and the breathability of the air.These are no small things.

Maybe these are just the musings of an expat, required every time I cross the border from current home to previous. Required because I have to understand why I no longer live where I once did. Required because – a common theme of long-term expats – I cannot help but to feel a bit of alienation in my homeland, a sense of being set apart from the rest of the society in which I was raised.

Time, then, to set those musings aside, turn on the radio of my rental car, and make my way to the local In-n-Out Burger for a double double, animal-style, with grilled onions.


0 thoughts on “Musings on Southern California

  1. You sound like a lot of San Franciscans I’ve met so far with how LA is a sprawling suburb and that’s why they can’t live there.You city gals… XDTruthfully, I can’t live there again either because there is just WAY~~~too much traffic

  2. @Steve – That’s an excellent essay, Steve.  Actually, I found it funny to read that I had echoed some of the same themes, albeit much less eloquently.@Wangium – Yeah, Jason, I sound like a lot of San Franciscans along with a lot of Angelenos who have escaped.  I have my long list of what I don’t care for about Northern California, too.  =D

  3. WOW. You sound really old when you talk about history, culture., and the way things are now in L.A. You must live a very long life and of course, i am young enough to say this sort of things. Haha.

  4. i agree with you; i think la is a huge, sprawling place that is a giant manifestation of consumerism. i love the diversity of the place, but i don’t think i would ever want to live there. way too much smog, for one. as for the weather… having grown up in hawaii, i think la’s weather leaves something to be desired!

  5. To each his own. I prefer a cliamte that kills the bugs before they can grow to the size of ponies…. Also the changing seasons to me are more than sunny and warm, sunny and wet, sunny and dry, sunny and hot. But I can say that now that it isn’t snowing and -40 wind chill. LOL

  6. Welcome to LA! I concur with your findings, Chris. We’re kinda ‘spoiled’ living in SoCal, admist all the near perfect weather and suburban city landscapes, etc.

  7. I’m not sure how long have you been living in Thailand but it takes time to immerse and understand a different culture. I sued to notice it when I was in college in the U.S. and I’d go home for the summer, I sort of felt my Mexican culture seeping back. After a few more years in the US that feeling is gone. The “difficult” part is that one is neither 100% one culture of the other but a blend and there’s not that many people who would fully understand this (unless they are fellow expats). The good part comes from being able to appreciate the good things of each of those cultures and also be more aware of their drawbacks.

  8. I like to return to L.A. to see how different it is now as opposed to my last visit in 1996. ryc – regarding the duct tape on my camera: I had masking tape underneath the duct tape so no adhesive residue would remain when removed.

  9. @Dezinerdreams – Yeah, the weather is a high point.@Fongster8 – I suspect very little has changed.  Thanks for the answer about the tape.@TheLatinObserver – That’s one reason why I read a number of blogs by other people who have their feet in different cultures.  Few people understand the experience if they haven’t been there themselves.@curry69curry – Nice seeing you guys this evening.@murisopsis – You don’t like horse-size mosquitos?@kunhuo42 – If you grew up in Hawai’i, then you’re definitely spoiled by the weather there. =)@iso_whiteSnow – Considering I’m twice your age plus a few.  =P

  10. hm….hv been to LA for only 3 times in my life, I’ve found it…….BIG from point A to point B usually take time to drive with the traffic…..and driving on those freeways is such an experience. and she also gives me an impression that Spanish is her 2nd language because of the high population of Latino?

  11. Hi Chris,Nice to read your commentary of LA…reminds me of my dad in Monterey Park who is enjoying the weather compared with Malaysia. He loves the services provided for the Seniors! He loves the different cultural melting pot especially his Asian cusine hunting for his weeking trip to ‘Chinatown”.Have another interesting observational day to share with us, a virtual ride for me to LA!  CheersSusanSusan

Leave a Reply to ElusiveWords Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s