Monday, March 23, 2015

5 things I like about Portland

Spring comes to Portland.

March being almost over, a more appropriate title for this blog now would be "8 Months Since Ukraine". There's something conclusive about 8 months; it's just enough time to experience something new, reflect on it, and adjust or maintain course as needed. That's what happened when we truly started to settle into life in Kharkiv in 2012. And the 8-month trend continued as 2015 rolled around- exactly 8 months in an uncertain Ukraine followed by 8 months in the Pacific Northwest... to be followed by these next 8 months, April 2015 to November 2015.

I'm still itching to get out of here but haven't been completely immune to Portland's charms. Part of this is thanks to Polly Barks, an ex-expat waaaay on the other side of the country who just switched Moscow for small-town Virginia. She's awesomely living out that old adage of bloom where you're planted (read this) and I admire her spirit of adventure. If she can find inspiration in sleepy country roads, it should be easy to fall in love with this city of 2.3 million, right? Here goes!

#1: The big city life.

It's exciting to live in a metropolis. Buildings that stretch up into the sky like these ones, efficient public transport, and billions of shopping opportunities are all benefits of a large city.

Plus, instead of creating homogeneity, so many people in such a small space encourages uniqueness. It's totally cool to drive your cupcake around town-

-or play the bagpipes while wearing a Darth Vader helmet on a unicycle. Whatever floats your boat.

And while all big cities are diverse in ethnicity, Portland is especially so. According to the local paper, 1 in every 7 residents of the city was born abroad.

The last time we went to the supermarket I heard Spanish, Russian, and Somalian. My newest students this semester are from Germany, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burma, and the Netherlands. For anyone with an interest in languages, Portland is a fascinating place. For example, here's the story of what sounds like trouble- a local apartment complex shared between Somalians and Russian-speakers - but manages to make things work.

#2: Access to water. Two rivers run through the city, meaning plenty of summer watersports, boating, and swimming for the brave (since the water is often deemed contaminated).

Hop in the car for a drive and it's also possible to explore the Pacific Ocean, the Columbia Gorge (wind/kitesurfing), and Crater Lake. We have so far done pitifully few water activities apart from walking along the river and a single icy visit out to Multnomah Falls.

#3: Recreational marijuana. I don't actually use the stuff and hate the strong smell that lingers around bus stops, but everytime I see one of these pot shops life feels a little comical, like we're living in a South Park cartoon.

It could be argued that smoking and drinking are more or less the same vice, but I totally disagree, as would anyone who dodges a drunk stumbling down the street in Ukraine. Give me a stoner on a bench any day over that.

#4: Endless things to see and do. A "What's Happening This Weekend" write-up could go on for pages. There's always a new show on, a new band in town, a new exhibit opening, a new animal born at the zoo, etc.

Sometimes I don't even know what's going on until stumbling across it, like this march against police brutality.

For my brother's birthday we tried a paint-and-sip event, something I'd seen friends doing on Facebook. A teacher guided a room of us through a painting called Dancing Dandelions. Two bottles of wine later, we ended up with these:

Next up, I hope, will be one of the roving brewery tours-


#5: The four seasons. Not sure if this one really counts, since there didn't actually seem to be a winter here... but if that's winter, then I like winter!

End of summer (when we arrived).

So the past 8 months as a reluctant west coaster haven't been entirely without merit. Portland is what they say it is- a green, diverse city. It's been patient while we learned how to rethink everything, like buying food again without knowing how many grams it weighs (seriously, for $5 would you expect something that massive?) and getting back behind the wheel of a car (SO uncomfortable).

It's also been fairly easy to find housing and work here. Once we were installed in an apartment and working, I felt a lot of guilt over not being in Ukraine anymore, feeling like we'd abandoned our friends and family there. Portland has surprised me, though, offering up lots of other people in the same situation. It's a day-by-day thing still, but it helps to be able to talk things over with Ukrainians here in the city. I'm a total wannabe next to them, of course, and would never trade in my allegiance to the U.S., but there's still a piece of my heart that's been forever changed by all those months in Ukraine.

As for the next 8 months, they will be different. I'm leaving the non-profit job soon, taking a short vacation with D, and probably going in for a small surgery. While I used to be really focused on work, now health and home are way more important- what do we really have in life except for our bodies and our intentions towards others? Whatever happens now, I'll keep those two ideas close... and, as always, travel.

"The only thing we know about the future is that it will be different." 
- Peter Drucker


  1. I am always reading and enjoying your posts. Very thoughtful post. You take care of yourself and keep being open to what life brings you. Even if you don't know your readers, we feel we know you, (life in the virtual world) and it is interesting to see your steps in life.