Time to say goodbye

Punk's not dead
All good things must come to an end eventually, and so my 6-week stint in California has just about reached its conclusion. Arguably, the biggest compliment you can give to a place is that you would like to stay there, even after the sweet honeymoon days turn into everyday worries and trivialities; I could definitely live here for a bit longer!

I have not been up to blogging speed and now face the blogger’s paradox of having only limited time to write about what seems to be an infinite number of things and experiences. That is why lists come in handy. Below is a way-to-too-summarised summary of things I like about California, the Bay Area and Berkeley in particular:

Democratic entrepreneurialism
During my stay, due to an administrative mess-up, I have neither had an office space nor have I had the right to work in the library, which means that most of my writing up has taken place in public cafes.

I considered this an obstacle until I learned that Berkeleyans are highly social creatures who love to approach strangers. Even better, they are not afraid of enrolling you in their plans and networks if they feel that you have something to add.

I have at least five business cards in my pocket from random people with whom I have had discussions or just a down to earth exchange of words. None of these guys hesitated for one second when it came to suggesting joint ventures and areas of interest.

What impresses me the most, though, is that none of these ‘strangers’ seem to conform to the usual Web 2.0 stereotype that abound elsewhere. The people I met have been labourers, retired and, um, plain nut cases.

I find it incredibly refreshing to see that innovation – or at least a certain desire to share good ideas – is not restricted to small communities boasting comprehensive membership rituals and specialised lingo.

Non-cuddly approach to sustainability
Like most other oh-so-concerned consumers, I am all for local and organic produce. However, I struggle to find the time and the resources to live in a ‘responsible’ way.

What I do not like so much about the enthusiasm for food in Europe is the way in which it is tied up to village-style marketplace behaviour, where words such as ‘authentic’ and ‘micro’ dominate the agenda (and the price tag!). I yearn for supermarkets like Berkeley Bowl and Whole Foods, where I can buy affordable, high-quality groceries without having to run to fifteen different places.

Sometimes you just want to buy your stuff without listening to stories about farmers hugging their vegetables and cattle to ensure premium quality. I like browsing marketplaces on the weekend, but most of the time I am fine with good old, industrial style outlets.

Any scribble on the positive aspects of California would be incomplete if it did not take into account the remarkable diversity of the Bay Area, which manifests itself anywhere and everywhere.

Few places exhibit such vast differences when it comes to ethnic and cultural groupings and even fewer places have turned this into an asset in and of itself; from Chinatown to the Castro, from the gold rush to the Silicon Valley miracle – there is no way of denying that diversity stands at the core of what California is.

The omnipresent features of living in a patchwork of belief systems and ways of doing things has created an environment where intolerance becomes unthinkable and undoable.

Living in San Francisco or Berkeley is like signing a contract of mutual respect, the only difference being that no-one will ever present you with the pen and paper.

This really puts into perspective the ongoing efforts back ‘home’ of wanting to create small boxes that contain cultural essences. A thriving culture needs not define itself in such ways and the use of strait jackets, metaphorically or not, should be preserved for the needy.

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  1. It’ll be nice to have you back. . . and I’m looking forward to getting over there myself next year!

  2. Christian Toennesen

    You should be looking forward; Berkeley is a great place, particularly if you like to get out of your office from time to time. It is very, very different from Oxford, though.

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