I’m a Northern California boy, through and through. I grew up ten minutes north of Berkeley, studied computer science engineering at Davis about 45 minutes away, and then was fortunate enough to have the industry I went to school for bloom around me. I spent my post-university career living around the Bay Area, the last four years in the Mission in San Francisco. I am attuned to things that are uniquely San Francisco: burritos, surly Asian women serving me pho, co-workers into fringe politics, passive-aggressiveness.
And then a year ago — practically to this day! — I decided to move to Miami to live with the guy I had been dating long distance for two years. He received a grant to open up an independent movie theater in Miami, and since I was between jobs at the time, I decided to test the theory that freelancers could work anywhere. Next thing you know, we’re renting an apartment in Miami Beach, a block from where they filmed Miami Ink and four blocks from where that Filipino guy killed Gianni Versace.
With my first year living in Miami behind me, I decided to make a list of the things I wish I’d known before moving here. Consider this the guide I wish someone had given me when I moved to Miami.
1. The Will Smith video is kind of accurate (but only applies to Miami Beach and not Miami)
There’s a scene in Will Smith’s “Miami” video where two chicks are in a convertible, and one of them is Eva Mendes, and they’re all “Bienvenido a Miami” while the camera pans out and they’re driving over a causeway. I drive that causeway to my co-working space. Then there’s the scene where Will Smith’s posse is walking in front of a bunch of art deco hotels, which happen to be two blocks from my house. There are Brazilian models, Italian families of five arguing with their hands outside of the Starbucks where you buy your morning coffee, and a Russian girl who nearly pushes you aside because she can and she’s wearing a fur coat because it’s 70 degrees and when else is she going to wear fur?
You are surrounded by so much ridiculousness in Miami that your baseline for what is normal gets completely skewed and you think to yourself, “Well, I can wear these white shorts, because it’s not as ridiculous as that German guy who is on the corner over there with his mesh top and the magenta hot pants.” And then your friends back home see your photos on Facebook and they’re all, “That asshole, he’s changed so much already.”
But all of this isn’t Miami — Miami is over the causeway and is much larger in area, mostly working class, and necessary to traverse by automobile, like Los Angeles or Houston. Most people I know in Miami don’t like traveling to Miami Beach, mostly because parking here is awful and seriously, who wants to hang around with people wearing white shorts?
2. About that tech scene here…
It would be unfair to compare the tech scene here to the tech scene in Silicon Valley, so instead I’ll say the following: it’s getting a lot better. When I first moved to Miami, I eagerly looked for co-working spaces, and my heart sank as the one co-working space I did find led to a disconnected phone number and a webpage that was overwritten with the Spanish word “cállate,” or shut up. There are now multiple co-working spaces here, including a really awesome one I found in the Wynwood district, The LAB Miami. There are hackathons here, incubation programs, talks of learning programs, opportunities to start big things in a small city and be known as the guy to bring big things to a small city, if you’re into that. Before a developer who grew up in Miami would leave for New York, California or Tampa (!) without a thought. Now that’s a little less likely, although the city is still very much getting into its groove as it tries to position itself as the tech city hub for Latin America. Which leads me perfectly to the following thought.
3. You don’t need to speak Spanish. But it really, really helps.
There’s a joke here: “The best part of Miami is that it’s so close to the United States.” This is true, Miami is a Latin city. More than half the city speaks Spanish as its primary language. You totally don’t really need to speak Spanish here, but it helps if you, like me, are nosy as all fuck and always want to know what people are talking about behind you. Especially when they say “Chinito.” (Jesus, especially when they say Chinito.)
Before moving to Miami, my knowledge of Spanish consisted of the following: two years of awkward high school Spanish before deciding that I should focus on re-learning Chinese because I thought it would be great if I could speak to my parents fluently in their native language; like the ending of the Joy Luck Club with just a little less estrogen. Also in high school, I went on a missionary trip to Mexicali, where I learned the phrase “lo siento” and a praise song we sang multiple times a day: “Yo tengo gozo, gozo, gozo, gozo, en mi corozon.” Which is great, because then I can go to Rodolfo, the handyman who works at my boyfriend’s theater, and I can declare to him that I have joy, joy, joy, joy in my heart. And then he can ask “porque,” and I can bow and shake my head and be all, “lo siento, lo siento.” I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
Which makes me uncomfortable, because that’s exactly what my mom does when she talks in English to people she doesn’t know: Shakes her head, apologizes all the time. (Holy shit, I am turning into my mom.)
So I’m trying to learn Spanish, or at least dipping my toes in it. I’ve been using DuoLingo, a website from the guy that created reCaptcha, so I’m beginning to recognize basic Spanish on the street, like how the car in front of me yesterday had the giant bumper stickers that said “COSTA RICA: PURA VIDA” and “TODO LO PUEDO EN CRISTO,” although I’m not sure how much of that is also flashbacks from singing songs about Jesus in Mexicali. I’m still pretty awful at conversing, though, so maybe some conversational classes will be in order this year. We’ll see.
4. There are a lot of Jews here.
This is not a bad thing, of course. There’s just a lot less of them where I’m from. Any Jews in San Francisco live in the Castro now, and they’re mostly Buddhist. Needless to say, more Jewish culture permeates here: During the holidays you see menorahs with your Christmas trees, the synagogue truck is usually parked on Lincoln Road, a couple of blocks from the blood donation van, and you can usually give directions from Miami Beach to Miami by “making a right on Meridian Avenue, and a left at the really sad Holocaust Memorial with the giant cast-iron hand rising from the water with the bodies attached to it.”
Also, if you see a group of men having dinner on an outdoor patio wearing yarmulkes talking in Spanish, and you are told that there is indeed a large Jewish Cuban community, do not ask loudly if you can call them “Jewbans,” as they will almost certainly hear you, and they don’t think you’re being clever at all.
Anyone reading this who was born and/or raised in Miami is thinking, “Fucking duh, Asian guy”, which leads me to my next thought.
5. There aren’t any Asians here.
In the eleven and a half months I’ve lived here, I have met exactly six non-tourist Asians here. Seven, if you include my boyfriend’s Chinese-Cuban cousin by marriage. Eight, if you count her two half Chinese-Cuban kids. To everyone living in this city, the seven other Asians here in Miami included, this is a non-issue.
Coming from a place where the levels of racial political correctness are on ultra-sensitive levels, I had been properly warned before moving here. People ask me where I’m from, and when I say I’m ten minutes north of UC Berkeley, they do a chuckle and they go “Nah, bro, where are you from?” And I imagine that I’m pulling down an imaginary world map and I point to where the Taiwan Strait would be. “So it’s China then, bro?” they ask. And I nod, even though my parents are technically immigrants to Taiwan from Mainland China, because I’m tired.
The question isn’t as offensive here in Miami, because I can at least turn it around with “Well, where are you from?” and they say “Columbia,” because duh, this is Miami, of course you’re Columbian. Although at moments like this, I wish I was from the Philippines, because that way I could at least use the word “archipelago.” It’s a neat word.
At my boyfriend’s birthday party at his movie theater, a woman from the street — an artist, just wandering around the galleries in the area — stumbled into the lobby where the party was being held and walked in on a conversation I had with someone about being what I felt like was the token Asian person in the city.
“So let me ask you a question,” she said. “Why are your people doing such horrible things to the people of Tibet?”
I looked at her a couple of seconds, waiting for a punchline.
She continued. ”Their freedoms are being taken away, and they’re being displaced! And I read that they’re building a railroad, right through their homes!”
“Well … ‘my people’ come from California so…” My voice trailed off and I gave an uncomfortable laugh. When she blinked back at me, I realized she wasn’t fucking around.
6. As a result, authentic Asian food is nonexistent.
They opened a boba tea place two blocks form my house, in Miami Beach, on Espanola Way, a super touristy block with outdoor string lights and Italian and Spanish tourists. When I went in, I ordered a large almond boba, a box of mochi, and almost burst into tears at the part-time cashier, an uncomfortable teenage girl. I asked if there were a lot of people coming in, and she told me that most people that come in ask if they serve chamomile and why the drinks have funny dots inside.
Just this week, I went to the only Korean place in Miami I am aware of, Sushi Cafe and Shilla Korean Restaurant. It’s a sushi cafe first because everyone eats sushi in Miami. The Chinese and Thai food is served with sushi. A place in Midtown Miami branded themselves as a ramen house, charged $18 for it, and then quickly removed their ramen and served sushi instead, to be served with “sushi cocktails,” which apparently is sake blended with a margarita or something horrible like that.
The Korean food was alright, although paying an extra eight dollars for banchan is kind of a downer. At least the Chilean waitress was nice.
Let me be clear: there are plenty of Asian restaurants here, but they cater to Western palates, or they’re fusion, where everything has coconut milk and a side of kimchi tater tots. The best way to get around this, of course, is just stick to what people know here: Cuban, Caribbean, sandwiches, fried stuff. You don’t go to China to have Italian food, right?
7. It’s tough to make friends here.
I often think to myself, “Why the fuck am I here in the first place?” It’s because I’m missing my friends — my second family — back home (or because there’s a drunk couple fighting outside my third floor window and I have to call 911 because the guy just slapped the girl and come on guys, really?)
But this gets a half-thought, because saying that it’s tough to make friends here is just being whiny, and applies to any city that you move to. I’ve only been here a year, after all. But I’ve been told it gets easier, and I look forward to that being the case.
On days where the homesickness is so great, I play different scenarios in my mind: searched for one-way tickets back to San Francisco, rationalized that living with my mom and my sister back in the suburbs wouldn’t be so terrible, and I could save some money that way. I could do simple web development work back on the Peninsula, have health insurance, tweet “THANK GOD IT’S FRIDAY” a lot. But Laurie, a London transplant who was my neighbor in San Francisco, gave me some advice that I still keep close to this day: Instead of missing the cool things about your old city, take in what is awesome about your new one.
So, that’s what I do: When it’s 10:30 p.m. on a Tuesday and I’m by myself because my boyfriend has a special event at work, I’ll take a walk on Ocean Drive, where the street is lit up by neon from the hotels and the headlights from the sports car rentals. The tropical warm air will hit my face and I’ll hear the house music coming in from the Clevelander, which is okay because I secretly love four-to-the-floor house music, and the sounds intermingle with the women from Brazil standing in front of the curbside cafes chatting away at tourists to sit down and have a $15 drink.
And at that moment, all is okay.
To read this post in full (the list is actually 10.5 items long), visit littleyellowdifferent.com.