Fourteen Septembers ago, I arrived in Paris alone.
Two large suitcases, late into the night, I rented an apartment for three months next to the Moulin Rouge. Paris was meant to be a “let’s try, let’s not commit just yet” midway stop – a place to regroup then decide where the next destination would be. At 28 years old, I had no idea that I plunged headfirst into the greatest love affair of my life, one that continues to be the most effortless.
From the start, it just felt right. I slipped into the map of Montmartre like a skater born on ice, gliding through cobblestone alleys dotted by windmills and quaint cafés with incredible ease. That first month was quiet, I was mute. I didn’t have friends, and I loved every second alone in the city. I journaled, I walked, I sipped wine, I ate…so well. Without voicing, without complaining. I was entirely immersed in gratitude.
Paris happened because I was miserable in Tokyo the year before. What was supposed to be a whole year – of living in a country which colonized Taiwan for fifty years – shortened to merely six months. Theoretically, I should’ve LOVED Tokyo. It was a tragic awakening to realize that Japan only fed the tourist in me but not the soul of me. Living there, I found myself struggling as a creative without bounds confined in a culture badged by rules, honored by the art form of ceremonies and discipline that I deeply respected though evaded to follow. So I struggled and felt like a failure, Tokyo wasn’t for me. Without it, oddly, I would never have discovered myself relishing on sheer silence in Paris because in life, gratitude couldn’t possibly arrive without adversity. I needed the blisters and the skin to come off in Tokyo in order for the shoe to fit perfectly in Paris. And man, am I glad to click those heels now.
When it comes to Paris, there was always a bit of destiny at play. When I first immigrated to America at the age of eleven, my parents enrolled my sister and I at a private school in Saratoga, California that required a second language course. Back then, Mandarin didn’t count and wasn’t highly regarded. Spanish class was full, so I took French by default. Just like that, I learned English and French at the same time. In 2018, I arrived in Paris with high school-level French which, honestly, wasn’t good enough. So even to this day, I play French Wordle and I force myself to read one French article a day. Out loud.
Sure, speaking French makes life in Paris a lot easier. By that, I do mean A LOT. But for me, it’s far more than a rite of linguistic passage. Even if I’ll never achieve 100% fluency; everyday, I pay homage to a local culture which has brought the gift of tremendous joy. Speaking French to its local people is the respect I want to give back to a place where I consistently feel embraced.
In recent years, Paris has become a dream where females flock to with expectations of vibrant fashion and even more colorful, romantic encounters. I’ve heard of “Paris Syndrome,” defined by an extreme culture shock or a sense of incredible disappointment attributed to the city’s inability to fulfill fanciful promises. Over the years, my Paris hasn’t been and isn’t glamorous. Sometimes it can be, but not always. My favorite moments, however, are never the dreamy captures. They’re candid snapshots of real life scenarios.
This is Paris: When I see a note of complaint at the bottom floor of the apartment building about some neighbor’s boisterous night over the weekend, I find myself chatting with Madame Godard for hours, letting her know that it wasn’t our apartment causing problems. Madame Godard and I jibber jabber about her note, going to the gym, holiday vacations and vegetables in season at the market.
This is also Paris: I’m at the pharmacy buying vitamins to boost immune system. Only to find myself in a circle with a group of pharmacists babbling on and on about suspicious customers asking for drugs because of a shelter across the street. It’s always meant to be a quick 10-minute grab-and-pay. I’m always there for an hour, or two. This happens ALL THE TIME. Somehow, these mundane moments have come to define my magic of Paris.
My Paris is putting on a fur coat to grocery shop and no one gives a rat’s a**. Come to think of it, rats play a big role in this metropolis, but my Paris is not whining about it. It comes with living in a city. ANY big city. Paris is feeling beautiful without an ounce of makeup on. It’s joking with cab drivers. It’s vintage markets on weekends when I’m not invited to a weekend in the countryside. It’s trying new restaurants. It’s getting tipsy with friends. It’s bottles of natural wine. It’s stinky streets and metro stations. It’s refusing to exit certain stations by knowing which neighborhoods to avoid. It’s wandering in dainty rain without an umbrella. It’s being mesmerized by the sight of the Eiffel Tower.
Still, after all these years. The Eiffel wows me to the core.
I could write a whole book about Paris. After all, it’s been fourteen years. But what I want to convey here is: the narrative that Paris is the city of love turned out to be true. This city taught me to love myself just as I am. Sometimes a bit extra, sometimes subdued. Sometimes in tears, sometimes in celebration. Sometimes moved, sometimes irritated. Sometimes bare from makeup, sometimes glamorous without trying too hard. Sometimes loquacious, sometimes silent. All of the sometimes add up to a whole lot of flow. At this point, easy in flow.
Paris is where I’m present, I’m flowing, I’m forever in love, I’m living, I’m being human.
I hope that everyone finds their own version of my Paris somewhere in their map of the world, because this city isn’t for everybody. But there’s somewhere in the universe where all of us can interpret our own rendition of wholeness. A place where you can exist just as you are. Without judgment, effortlessly strolling through with infinite gratitude.
Happy Thanksgiving weekend,