Good Neighbours and Distant Friends

by Laila Frank

An unexpected gust of homesickness snuck up on me while watching a Scandinavian series on Netflix. Maybe it’s because everybody here seems to think Amsterdam is the capital of Scandinavia and I have given up explaining it’s really not. Nonetheless these gorgeous blond people driving around at night between Northern European countries, mingling languages that sound identical to me have become indicators of home. When away, the sound of exception becomes a reminder of where I am, and where I am not.

I contemplated on this lying butt naked, my head repetitively banged into the belly of a tiny Korean powerhouse wearing black panties I came up close with every time she bowed over to scrub my back. At least ten other women were voluntarily suffering the same routine in this particular area of the Korean spa, best described as the salon version of a cubical office. Beauty comes with a price. “Sit,” she said. “Go to sauna, 10 minutes. Then come back.”

A Korean soap opera on a huge screen awaited me in the dry sauna, volume way above relaxation level. I decided to sit in the hot tub instead. In the corner an older Korean woman was rubbing another woman’s back. A mother washed her daughter’s hair. Two friends were sitting on the side of the bath chatting, relaxing. The beauty of the bathing ritual struck me. Surrounded by naked bodies of all colors my white skin was an exception.

 

I hardly ever notice it anymore. Being a minority is everyday life; breaths of air I take in unaware. California is one out of five states with a minority (non-Hispanic) white population – only 38 percent. Asian Americans make up 15 percent of the population (the highest in the country) and 35 percent is of Hispanic decent, making California the third ‘Hispanic’ state (New Mexico and Texas being 1st and 2nd). No other city showcases diversity like LA. When you move to another part of the world, your get new neighbors. But when you move to LA, you get the world.

In Western Europe, our neighbor is the East Coast. We are focused on Washington DC and New York City. That’s where most of our news comes from and where our media are based. It’s where the biggest population of European immigrants historically set foot. Of all the mindsets in the States, it’s the one we know best and have internalized unaware. But in California, our neighbors are Mexico and Asia. News from those countries affects everyday life here more than what happens on the East Coast. Some of the newspapers out here with the largest editions are in Mandarin or Spanish.

The Far Left is a nickname for California I have come to appreciate in particular. It gives meaning beyond the obvious political statement and the independent character of the Golden State. It tells you where we are and who we live with. It tells you what shapes life out here. Therewith it tells you what we value. While the East Coast is our distant friend, Mexico and Asia are our good neighbors.

“Lay down,” the dominatrix yells at my return to the torture lab. While she climbs on my back for a massage, I realize I will miss her and the Far Left she represents dearly when I get back to Amsterdam. Because when far away, exception reminds me of where I am and where I am not.

 

Laila Frank is a freelance journalist specialized in America, campaigns and politics. She is fascinated by humanity’s (in)ability to (co)exist; her writing feeds off that fascination. She was trained as a political strategist and campaign manager and worked behind the scenes in politics for over 12 years before becoming a journalist. These months she is traveling California, looking for stories.