My mom and dad came to visit me in NYC a few weeks ago. My dad hadn’t been to NYC since he left town in 1978. He has many aged maps in his head of places that really no longer exist in the world. The Korea he knows, no longer exists. And the New York City he knows, no longer exists. SoHo does not exist in his mind. The Bowery is off limits. Queens is picturesque. The subways are covered in graffiti.
We went around and visited my parents’ various haunts. Their grocery store in Yorkville, which they owned for a short time in the early 1970s no longer exists. The hospital at which my mom worked has grown in size over the decades such that it took my mom a few minutes to recognize the building.
My parents’ faces wore an expression of shock. On the subway, they insisted on standing so that they could see out the windows and observe the city. Other passengers offered up their seats. We refused. They insisted. I told them why. They were delighted. Had the city changed? A lot my father said. A lot. He stuck his tongue out.
But other places still exist as is–the subway system it self, the freeways, the apartment building in which they lived with me as a newborn, the pizzeria we frequented, and even the gas station my dad used to own and at which he worked, daily.
Meanwhile, the city was changing under my feet, too–my history of the city through my parents’ eyes, and in the literal ticking of time.
The shore of an ocean or river will change a craggy rock over time. And time will do that to a city.
For more on my parents’ trip, you can read my write up on the Asian American Writers’ Workshop Open City blog.