From Boston to SF to Raleigh?!

It’s been an interesting 3 months since I’ve started living in NC full-time. While I got out here in May of 2005, it was a temporary commitment for grad school. But over time, the area grew on me quite a bit. People still find it hard to believe that I would leave life in San Francisco for one in Raleigh. And having grown up in the Boston area, people find it hard to believe I wouldn’t want to return. The reality is that certainly your goals and expectations change over time but both those cities do have their own pluses and minuses.

Boston is a beautiful city that feels quite European. The positives: great universities, four seasons, great seafood and tradition. The negatives? Grumpy, rude people, wicked winter weather and a high cost of living. I was in Boston two summers ago and I’d have to agree with my cousin from NYC. Bostonians are very parochial and as such, are a bit closed-minded and racist. Hard to believe given its liberal reputation but we’re talking liberal politics due to a substantial amount of poorly educated people. So while the politics may be liberal, from a social perspective the area is quite conservative and very closed. Not the best place to be if you’re of color or have very liberal leanings.

So what about San Francisco? Boston and SF are often compared to each other but in actuality, they are worlds apart. While both are liberal politically, SF is so liberal, so far left culturally speaking, it might as well be off the map! But what’s not to love about SF? The weather is perfect, the food is fantastic, both the ocean and mountains are within a car drive away and you have all sorts of world class activities at your fingertips. Most people fall in love with the City when visiting and it’s easy to understand why. I got to live in Pacific Heights for four years and every day I would come out to bright blue skies and a beautiful backdrop of elegant apartment buildings and the hustle and bustle of a real city. It felt like living on a movie set at times. On the surface, it’s hard to believe there could be a better place to live in over SF.

All that perfection comes at a price: a ridiculously priced housing market and ridiculous expectations. One bedroom apartments for $1600/month without a parking space! (A $300/month option) There’s tons of traffic, parking is awful and the thought of buying a house seems preposterous without assistance. So you have to be making some serious money just to survive in SF and that causes a lot of issues. People are constantly under pressure to make good money and it shows in people’s behaviors. Dating was more akin to a job interview and under all the niceness was a “every man/women for himself/herself” attitude. I often felt that I was getting ripped off at times, not in a criminal fashion but in a way where people would try to squeeze as much money from me in transactions.

People, while polite, don’t treat each other particularly well. Personal and professional relationships seemed to me to be very non-committal at many levels. Alcohol and drug abuse was common along with relationships of convenience. People’s priorities just did not seem to be in the right place and life could get really complicated with all the options available. And for all the diversity and tolerance in the SF area, each ethnic group seemed to spend time with each other and did not interact as much as they could have. There’s a sense of entitlement for people in the area which permeated the dating scene. But to be honest with you, these attitudes were not entirely native to the area. There are so many transplants in the Bay area, a lot of the tudes were imported in during the dot.com boom

Now what about Raleigh? I came out this way for school but stayed after graduation. Why in the world would I do that after having lived in Boston and San Francisco? While there’s nothing truly exceptional about the area, there are a lot of very good things. First, the weather is decent, there’s little to no snow and the springs and falls are great. Two, low cost of living. Food, housing, insurance, you name it. Everything’s reasonably priced and while the area is growing, it’s not growing at a ridiculous pace. And finally, quality of life. It’s pretty good out here if you don’t need all the energy and amenities of a large urban area. In addition to the weather and costs, traffic is light and life is slower paced. And most importantly, people treat each other well out here.

What do I mean by that? If you’re buying your groceries, you might have a little chat with the cashier. She’ll ask your day is going and you should actually tell her! I’ve found that people go out of their way to acknowledge those around them, it could be a little nod of the head, a joke at the gym or the waitress calling you “honey” and admonishing you for not eating your veggies. Regardless of what you call it, I think it’s a sense of decency, a sense of humanity and a sense of community that I did not see in Boston or SF.

People don’t honk their horns and give each other the finger while driving, that is unless they’re from Boston or NYC. People hold open doors for each other and give back a thank you. I can’t tell you how many times people have said a pardon me or apologized when they thought that they might be inadvertently blocking your way. I can also tell you how many times that happened in Boston, probably never. And as an Asian person, I can tell you that I feel more comfortable and welcome here than I did in my hometown near Boston. I do believe that if you try and act a bit like a Southerner and respect their way of life, they’ll respect you back regardless of color. So the words “yes maam” and “no sir” have certainly become part of my vocabulary.

So yeah, Raleigh ain’t NYC or Boston or SF but it has its own unique qualities and is growing up quickly. More and more transplants are coming in due to the good weather and good living. I was at a chinese restaurant the other day and had a young, white fellow waiting on our table pushing a dim-sum cart. I had a young chinese gal take my food order with a serious Southern drawl. The area is growing up quickly with immigrants from all parts of the country and all parts of the world. I just hope we remember why we liked the area so much when we first arrived and try to keep it from changing too much. And oh yeah, Carolina women! They are wonderful but that’s another story…. 🙂

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