I watched as the highway carried us away from the airport. To my dismay the first billboard I read after leaving Seattle touted “Crest Whitestrips” in English, not Italian. Forced by troubles with our first flight, we spent our supposed debut in Rome, laid-over in Philadelphia. Teasing us with arrival and then taking it away, felt extremely discouraging. How could Rome suddenly feel so far away? I was flying with Linda and Elice. We all agreed, never again will we book with US Airways.
One of my first images of Rome was stepping off our plane, flight # 76, and finally being able to say “I arrived.” I do not recall much about the airport but I distinctly remember the flood of elation I felt after seeing a man outside of baggage claim with the name of one of my fellow travelers. Finally something had gone right. As we followed him out, I gazed over to the line of confused tourists holding maps and waving madly at passing cars, trying to look assertive. The relief of not having to go through a queue for taxis was hugely satisfying. Kudos to pre-arranged transportation. I spent the whole taxi ride in a hazy trance. Letting my first glances of Rome treat my eyes, our journey could finally start.
The next image that reminds me of Rome is arriving at our hotel for the few days before the program began. I was caught off guard by the Asian Guesthouse manager. Linda and I actually communicated with her in Mandarin. Using Chinese completely alienated me from the surroundings and culture. For a minute I thought I had arrived in the wrong country. After that I spent the entire day noticing the similarities between Beijing and Rome. The epitome of nostalgia happened when we caught wafts of an alleyway that completely paralleled the scents of China. We soon realized we had booked a hotel in the center of the multicultural district, actually the Asian district. Everyone looked Chinese, Indian, Korean, Philippine or Japanese. After a few days in Rome, I noticed the scarce number of Asians in cleaner more refined parts of the city. The number of street vendors of Indian descent, and the East Asian women working along the beach in search of a person to massage at the price of five Euros for ten minutes, really took me aback. The association of Asians with working class citizens presented one of the hardest social stereotypes for me to wrap my head around. I suppose the real shock was not the presence of working class Asians but the lack of middle and upper class Asians. It presented a harsh reality I had never encountered in Seattle, especially on the UW campus.
The night of our first arrival the three other girls, Anyie, Linda, Elice, and I got acquainted by going out for a late night dinner. We cabbed our way to the Piazza Navona. All the cafes looked so inviting and gourmet bordering the rectangular strip illuminated by the glamorously lit fountain. This picturesque scene paralleled images plucked out of my dreams. I had no idea of the vivaciousness of nightlife in Rome. Before we sat down for a ‘welcome’ dinner, we walked a lap around the piazza. I carefully stepped on the street pieced together by actual cobblestones! Glancing up, I stared apprehensively at the glowing saucer a man had just thrown. As I studied him closer, all I could focus on were his colorfully flashing heart-shaped earrings. I questioned the peculiar sales methods in Italy. After a lap around the piazza, the four of us agreed on a restaurant. Before sitting down we rearranged all of the seats so each person could view the piazza while we dined. We spent this perfect evening learning about each others pasts, likes, dislikes and mingled our sense of humors over our first taste of Rome.