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Years in America (episode 1)

I had some moments of trepidation on my flight over to Los Angeles—had I made the correct decision in going over to the States to further my studies? Could I get accustomed to the American culture and way of life? Would I fit in? These and other similar thoughts were gnawing into my subconscious, but then another comforting thought (perhaps my conscience) surfaced. It said to me quietly, “Cheer up. Relax. You’ve made your decision about this in England. Accept what is to come with open arms and an open mind.”

The Laker Skytrain touched down in LAX one cool evening in January 1981. Here I was, setting foot on American soil for the first time in my life! Ronald Reagan was about to be sworn in as the 40th US President. On arrival I cleared customs and immigration, then proceeded to Arrivals where I was met by this Asian guy (from a voluntary organization for foreign students) holding a signboard with my name on it. We exchanged greetings, he took me to one of the restaurants for a bite to eat, then spoke to me a little about American culture. Pretty soon it was time for me to go over to the domestic terminal for my flight to Tucson, Arizona via Continental Airlines. I said goodbye to him and boarded the short one-hour flight.

It was pretty late by the time the plane touched down in Tucson. Now I was feeling very much alone; I did not know a single soul here. But somehow I knew that I had to become independent, so I went to the Information desk and enquired about accommodation in the city. They recommended one of the less expensive motels, and I hopped on a cab (American for taxi) and checked in. I did remember to tip the driver because I’d been told about the tipping culture in the US. There were another few days before the University opened for Spring semester registration so I would have some free time at hand.

The motel was pretty basic, it had a clean bed and a nice shower. I remember going to a Village Inn diner nearby for my meals, and I was pleasantly surprised that people here were amazingly friendly. A greeting like “hi, how are you doing?” was enough to lift my spirits. When I went to the same diner on my second day, the staff were eager to exchange some small talk with me, and naturally I told them that I was going to start my undergraduate course at the University soon and that got us chatting away. I’m not very particular when it comes to food, and American food isn’t bad, plus the fact that I’m a coffee junkie (old habits die hard) made me feel at home here. Anyways my dad always reminded me that we eat to live, not live to eat!

I should also mention another fact that perked me up was the climate. Unlike London, Tucson had blue and sunny skies—it was wonderful for me to see this on my first morning there. The British weather can be so dull and depressing in contrast. Moreover it was very warm. Arizona is mainly semi-desert, and probably one of the sunniest places on Earth.

It soon came time for me to leave for the University of Arizona, since I had already arranged for dorm housing. Plus I would have to attend to my Spring semester registration and enrollment. After having one final breakfast at the Village Inn, I said my goodbyes to the staff there and left for the university.

2 replies on “Years in America (episode 1)”

Doris, if my memory serves me correctly, there was smog in LA during those years, but only in the Summer. Tucson was however, smog-free. And you’re right, the dry heat of Arizona posed no problems for me, as opposed to the humid conditions here in Malaysia.

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