This is it

The transition from New Zealand to the US was quite dramatic. I entered a completely different world. The one common factor is the English language, but that’s about it. Even then I had to realize that the “no worries, mate” did not get me very far in the US. It took me a couple of days to adjust and meanwhile people probably thought I came from a strange planet. The other big change was that we were back in the Northern hemisphere where the sunset is at around 5pm at this time of the year.

My arrival in Los Angeles was off to a bad start anyway. After a 14 hour flight we touched down at around 6am and as I walked off the plane it felt like sleepwalking. So I walk up to the immigration officer who engages me in the usual chitchat.

Q: What do you do for a living?

A: I am unemployed

Q: How long have you been unemployed?

A: For about 9 months

Q: How long will you stay in the US?

A: About 6 days

Q: Can I see your ticket?

A: Sure!

The officer kept starring at my ticket and by then it dawned on me that I had not yet changed my flights (my ticket actually said I was staying in the US for 6 weeks…) and that the other answers I had given were probably not very smart. Well, turns out the officer was thinking along the same lines and so I was handed over to another officer who took me to a special admittance screening. Thank God it was early in the morning and no one else was there, otherwise I could have spent hours and hours waiting…

Anyway, it was all smooth sailing from there… I had been to Los Angeles a couple of time on business but the place is so big I always found it tough to get my arms around it. Luckily, this time I was staying with my cousin Nathalie and her friend Sergio. Both of them are originally from Switzerland but moved to LA to pursue their careers in the music industry. They showed me around the city and it was great to see it from an insiders point of view.  But it was equally fascinating to learn more about the music business (a completely new territory for me) and meet some of their friends (of course also from the music business). So many of these young artists are living in hope of the big breakthrough and their life is a rollercoaster ride while they are trying to find the right contacts that will help them getting to the top. So networking is everything (just like in finance) and it was obvious that the US entertainment industry is in a completely different league (just like in finance). Also found it interesting to learn that the top stars earn relatively little with their music. These days its all about building a big brand name and getting as much juice as possible from that…

I had not seen my cousin Nathalie in about 10 years so we had lots of things to catch up on and lots of US experiences to share. She had arrived in LA about five years ago to live her dream (another thing we have in common!) and I was really impressed how much energy she has and much progress she has made towards achieving her goal of being an internationally known singer. In fact, she is about to make a major breakthrough and I really hope it works out this time. Go for it girl!!!

My impression of Los Angeles was much better than expected. There are a couple of really nice corners (if you know where to find them) and the pace of life is much slower than in New York.  Some areas like Downtown have received dramatic facelifts with impressive results. Ten years ago it was the most likely place to get killed and now the streets are buzzing with life day and night. The one big negative factor in LA though is traffic. Its hard to understand how people cope with hours and hours of commute every day and much of it being stuck in traffic jams (despite 12 lane highways!). I think this should be a big lesson for the rest of the world. Building more roads is not a solution as it simply increases traffic!

After catching up with Caroline, my other cousin who lives in LA (sorry we did not have more time) and a nice farewell dinner with Nathalie and Sergio I was hopping on a plane to New York. Arriving in New York always feels like coming home (after all I was living there for almost 4 years). I love the taxi ride from JFK airport to Manhattan via the Triborough Bridge as you can see the impressive skyline from far away. It keeps getting bigger as you approach Manhattan until you suddenly find yourself in the midst of the concrete jungle. Having lived in the Big Apple before there is no need to do all the sightseeing. It is rather all about catching up with old friends (even one from Singapore that I was bumping into accidentally), going to a few specific places, having a run in central park (its workout and people watching in one!) and maybe seeing a show or two. But things in New York change quickly so I was utterly disappointed to find all the CD shops I knew (who is buying CDs these days anyway?) and some of my favorite restaurants were closed down. But then again, new things still keep popping up and hence it was a nice surprise to find a brandnew Apple store. New York seems surprisingly resilient to the economic and real estate downturns (in contrast to LA where you could see and feel the impact) but to be honest a lot of the spending in the shops seems to be by tourists. At the current exchange rates shopping in the US is cheap as chips! But while the tourists shop till they drop, modesty seems to be the name of the (new) game for many of the locals. As my friend Nick pointed out, the savings rate in the US has gone from -2% to +5% despite a doubling in unemployment numbers.

After New York it was back to Switzerland and I got back just in time for the first decent snow fall. Sitting in the plane it slowly dawned on me that I was being transported back to the real world after travelling for 12 months. I feel blessed that I was able to see so many beautiful places and meet so many wonderful people. My batteries are fully charged and I am ready for the new challenges that lie ahead.

Living my dream was one of the best things I ever did! I hope my travel stories have inspired you to do the same.

Traffic jam with a view in LA

Relaxing with my cousin Nathalie in Malibu Beach

Dinner with Sergio and Nathalie

My cousin Caroline

Ice skating with a view in Central Park

Back in Winter Wonderland – Amden/Switzerland

Home sweet home with my nieces Mia and Ladina

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