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First Impressions of a City: Edinburgh

Traveling with a sense of permanence makes the act of exploration very different. Having the luxury of time in the city motivates you to observe a bit more than usual, to immerse yourself in every sound and taste. In my beginning days in the city, this is what I tried doing.


My previous road-trips or European adventures have been marathons. My family would sprint from one city to the next. We would leave every lodge or hotel room behind constantly looking over our shoulder--hoping nothing has been left behind. This particular family vacation has similar qualities of that race. However, for me, it marks the beginning of an entirely new experience of settling in.

I believe every major city has a particular identity. Settling down in this new place has pushed me to really look at Edinburgh and try to understand this city's character. I have known some American cities moderately well. Los Angeles wears wayfarer sunglasses and drinks iced coffee all year round—it has never known winter. San Francisco is always listening to music and wears bright colors despite of the fog. Newport Beach brags about its sunsets, and rightly so. Beginning last Saturday, I started to become an acquaintance of Edinburgh.

In a quick three days, my golden trio of a family practically saw everything a tourist tries to see in Edinburgh (minus the museums - saving that for later). We walked up and down the Royal Mile, a bustling street that begins with the Edinburgh Castle and ends with the Palace of Holyrood House. We climbed to the top of Calton Hill on a cloudy day, overlooking the entire city and the towering, lush Holyrood Park. From this short introduction, I have learned a few things:

I noticed that Edinburgh always has a notebook in its back pocket, or a book to read in its purse. The city moves quickly enough that there is always something to jot down, but slow enough so you have the time to stop. It is a city with stories to tell.

As my family exited Waverley Railway Station (which is named after a series of novels), we turned the corner and were greeted by tons of people with stories, performance to give, songs to sing. August in a spectacular time in Edinburgh because of the 70th annual Fringe Festival—the largest arts festival in the world. People from all over the world come to do spoken word, theater, improv comedy. There were parodies and commentary on just about anything: a musical about communism, a comedy about the apocalyptic reign of Trump (aptly called "Trumpageddon"), a film series about the filmmaker and generations of her family, spoken word poetry on cycling, an opera on Brexit, a comedy on a man's stammer -- memoirs and commentary and narratives left and right. The entire world comes to this small (but mighty) city to tell its tales. (Unfortunately did not get to see this performances myself but it's nice knowing that they are out there)

Even a simple walk on the Royal Mile would showcase this artistic atmosphere. My best and closest encounter with the festival came from avidly watching street performers of of all types -- a group of clowns doing crude and hilarious acts, a beautiful traditional Korean instrumentalist band, a man who ate fire for fun, a young man who writes a page-length story in ten minutes. A young mime asked me to hold his mirror while he applied his black lipstick, and then he walked away to his fur coat on an invisible coat-rack. A magician used an whip to strike a burning cigarette out of the mouth of an unlucky audience volunteer. He lit the cigarette before performing his act, and took long drags while explaining the several times he’s quit smoking. The echoed crack of the Indiana Jones-like whip make the audience jump. He might have been a magician, he might have been a sardonic comedian with a few tricks to perform. When he was done, he warmly thanked the audience, and invited them to say hello after the show. He expressed his joy of being completely who he was and entertaining an audience of a hundred different races and identities. He talked about how difficult things are back home in the States, but how truly good it was in the streets of Scotland for that moment in time. I understood what he meant.

The Fringe Festival was this lovely serendipity that my family were lucky enough to glimpse at. While it is leaving the city, I get to stay here and remember that atmosphere of creativity. The tiny experience I had with the Fringe showed me that there are no small stories or unimportant tales. If you labor on your work with passion and patience, if you are true to your art (even if its writing witty political operas, miming, or cracking whips), there will be an audience. Over 3,000 performances were done in the month of August, a massive amount of art capable only because people thought that their respective stories were important enough to be shared with someone. It is a simple thought but an important one — an idea that Edinburgh gave me that I am thankful for.

This is just one lesson and perspective that I have gained from the city I will soon call home. There will be many more. This sense of permanence makes me look harder and I am discovering all sorts of wonderful things.

Thanks for reading.


Final Note: During these adventures, it is far too tempting and too easy to forget what turmoil my home country/the rest of the world is going through A small donation won't save the world but it'll help someone. If you are able, donate to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund or the International Rescue Committee. If not money, see what you can do to help. Thanks for reading, everyone.

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