Featured image: Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow!
Brrrrring! My eyelids flew open. 6:00 AM. I quickly flung my bed sheets to my left and reached for my phone. I pressed the stop button on the bottom of the screen.
I had officially been brought back alive from the dead of sleep. It was time to release my inner warrior.
Yohji Yamamoto once said, “Black is modest and arrogant at the same time. Black is lazy and easy―but mysterious. But above all black says this: ‘I don’t bother you―don’t bother me.'” Keeping Yamamoto’s words in mind, I had prepared an all black outfit the night before: a Levi’s leather jacket, a Uniqlo cotton long sleeve, ripped black jeans, and Dr. Marten’s 1460 Pascal Virginia boots. I changed my clothes, grabbed my backpack, and rushed out the door.
My flight to Berlin was scheduled for 9:45 AM. Needing to arrive at 7:00 AM to take an hour-long ScotRail trip to Edinburgh Airport, I hastened from Kelvinhaugh Street to Glasgow Queen Street Station, not even stopping to tie my shoelaces.
The air smelled crisp. The sun was still resolutely hidden below the horizon, leaving the empty streets as dark as Vantablack―the blackest material known to science. Like any other sprouting navigator, after about every five blocks, I’d check Google Maps to make sure I hadn’t taken the wrong route.
I checked my watch―7:02 AM. Wellington Street. Several more blocks to go.
As I approached Buchanan Street, my eyes landed on a woman holding a coffee cup. Steam twirled and danced out of the frothy milk, offering me a moment of serenity. Out of the periphery of my eye, I noticed an asymmetrical building mostly made of glass. Glasgow Queen Street Station!
Panting and swerving frantically to avoid the crowd of tourists, I charged towards the entrance. Faster than an automated cuckoo bird call, I turned my head left and right to search for the ticket machine―my atlanto-axial joint came in handy. Thanks to the rods that extend all the way to the outer edge of my retina, my periphery caught what appeared like a vending machine. A drink would have been revitalizing. With leg muscles already as warm as a bond fire, I bounded towards the ticket machine. Welcome, touch the screen to buy your ticket(s). Edinburgh. Tap. Peak trail. Tap. 1 ticket. Tap. £14.90. Print ticket. Two slips slid out from under: the ticket and the cardholder’s copy. I slid my hands into the slot, snatched the tickets, and dashed towards the ScotRail ticket gate.
I felt a surge of adrenaline as I flew down the stairs to Platform 9. The train was scheduled to arrive at 7:47 AM. 7 more minutes? I’m going to be late for my flight. The gates will be closed by then. What now? Calm down, Tammy. It will be alright. My interminable monologue only increased made my heart beat faster. Remain sedate under pressure.
I sat beside a bearded man wearing a military green Shepherd jacket. Shuffling through my black backpack, I took out my book, “Partly Colored” by Leslie Bow. Silence never sounded so loud.
A resounding sound. Choo-choo, choo-choo, chooga-chooga… I forced myself up and shifted towards the edge of the platform. Once the doors slid open, I hopped on, turned towards my right, and found a seat next to the window. Ah. I could finally relax for a bit.
I take that back. Around 8:20 AM, I realized that the ScotRail I was on was going to take me to Waverley, far past Edinburgh Airport. The ground blurred below the train. Fear washed over me as I thought I’d miss my flight, that I wasted time and money. You have the resources to get through this, Tammy.
The next stop was Bathgate. In the hopes of quickly discovering an alternative, I looked on Google Maps. Time was of the essence. Of course, my giffgaff cellular data decided not to cooperate. Several minutes went by. Livingston North.
New directions finally appeared! I had to get off at Edinburgh Park, which was two stops after Livingston North. An additional Edinburgh Tram had to be taken from Gogarburn to Edinburgh Airport.
I got off the ScotRail and ran for what seemed like longer than it should have to the tram. 9:00 AM. 15 minutes left before the flight gates close. My silent screaming busted through my lungs, for that was the only emotional outlet I had then.
9:02 AM. The Edinburgh Tram arrives. The steady pound of my footsteps echoed in my ears as I boarded. I took out my phone and checked Google Maps to ensure that I was going in the right direction. Oh dear. I got on the wrong tram. You’ll get there! Don’t panic! I got off on the next stop then crossed the railway tracks. Once the tram arrived, I hopped on and sat next to an athletic lady who gazed out the window. I watched as we passed the trees, swaying back and forth in the rhythm of the wind. How beautiful.
I finally arrived at Edinburgh Airport. 9:08 AM. A ticket collector stopped me. I firmly pressed my lips together.
“Ticket please!” he reached out his hand in supination. Please, I just want to get on my flight.
As much as I wanted to wave him away, I frantically reached into my pocket and handed off my ticket. Calves still burning, I darted towards the entrance of the airport. My legs started cramping once I got to the second level to check my bags, but I couldn’t stop now.
A sea full of sardines. I checked my watch. Five minutes left. I looked for the shortest line. Swinging my backpack forward, I unzipped the largest compartment. I removed my laptop and tossed my possessions into the bin. My breathing hastened, trying to appease my need for oxygen. I passed through the gates, quickly grabbed my bags, and pounded my feet across the airport. Out of the corner of my eye, the souvenir shops became a blur.
Approaching my departure gate, I saw a line for check in. Thank goodness.
Like dainty caterpillars inching towards an edge of a leaf, the passengers slowly moved forward. Although I didn’t miss my flight, I still felt uneasy. I took a look around. I was the only Asian American. I felt myself stick out like a sore thumb. The man who stood in front of me turned around and stared at me, as if I were some creature that had recently arrived on Earth.
We got on the airplane. I steadied my breath as I felt my stomach turn icy. Passengers would take a quick glance and divert their eyes away once I made eye contact. How awkward.
Around three hours later, we arrive at Tegel Airport. Once passengers stepped off the easyJet, we had to get on a bus that took us to the main entrance. I got on the back of the bus and grabbed a window seat. The doors closed. On a full bus of white people and one Asian American, no one sat next to me. Was this casual racism?
I arrived at the main lobby. Here was my next challenge: Get to Deutsches Historisches Museum to meet with Mari. I took out my phone out from my pocket and looked at the screenshots I had taken the night before. First, take the S+U Hauptbahnhof to U Turmstr. I approached an Asian woman at the easyJet desk.
“Where are the bus stops?” I asked. The lady with fair brown skin was in a conversation with her coworker. “Upstairs,” she pointed towards my right. I exited the airport and walked up the stairs. Everything was now in German. A feeling of dread crept up from the pit of my stomach. Looking around like a child who lost her mother, I searched for a sign that matched “S+U Hauptbahnhof.”
Found it! A claustrophobia-inducing throng of people waited by the bus stop. A yellow bus arrived and everyone shuffled on board through the back door. At that point, my phone lacked service, so I couldn’t check when to get off. I could only depend on the screenshots I had taken. I sat facing the back and counted down. I had seven stops to go. Five stops left. Now three. Two. I turned around and discovered that the bus indicated which stops were next. Silly me! U Turmstr! It was time to transfer.
Wondering where I should transfer to S+U Alexanderplatz, I looked for a bus stop with a green H with a solid yellow background. I discover S+U Alexanderplatz on the same bus stop where I got off. Whew.
After I got off at Staatsoper, my skin tingled and tears were dying to stream down my cheeks. I tried looking for directions for the museum on my phone, but I still didn’t have any connection. I looked at signs but didn’t understand German. Discovering a lone woman listening to music, I approached her and requested help.
“Hello, do you know where Deutsches Historisches Museum is?” I tried hard to keep my eyes open.
“Two blocks down that way,” she pointed towards a building that looked like the Pantheon.
“Thank you,” I smiled at her. Listening to Jeremy Passion’s Lemonade as I took long strides down the street, my muscles no longer felt tense. My phone vibrates. A message? To my surprise, Germany had wifi hotspots that could be accessed without any kind of registration! I open Messenger.
“Mari, I’m here in the museum!” My heart was light.
“Let’s meet at Balzac Coffee.”
I waited outside the coffee shop for 5 minutes. As if someone was hypnotizing me with a swinging watch, my eyes swayed back and forth to look for Mari. Then―among the sea of white-faced folks, I discovered a girl speaking on the phone. She wore a preppy long-sleeved shirt with thin black, white, and orange stripes that screamed friendliness.
“Mari!” It felt nice to see someone I knew. She turned to face me.
“Tammy! It’s so nice to see you!” From a simple reunion like this, I was bursting with joy.
From this experience, I can honestly say that living in an unfamiliar environment comes with dealing with high levels of uncertainty. Although the pathway to feeling comfortable in a new place is bumpy, trusting your own abilities and using the resources you have to adapt will allow you to cultivate lifelong skills you need to survive. When I searched for directions, I tried to figure out the issue at hand by myself first before reaching out to others for help. I believe this is an effective way to both identify what one needs to improve on and how to move forward.
I definitely felt anxious and stressed out throughout my solo navigation and journey to a new country, but I recognize that I’m not alone. By taking part in Berlin’s public transportation, I took part in another country’s way of life. I am very appreciative for this, as I learned to become more comfortable with the unknown!
I’ve come to a deeper understanding that there are moments in life when you can experience happiness that streaks through you like a comet. Money can’t buy these sorts of fulfilling experiences that leave you as full as if you’ve recently finished a home-cooked meal.