On Chicago

I arrived at Chicago O’Hare International Airport on July 3rd. It was the first time I landed in the United States. Beth Morrissey, EDGS Senior Program Coordinator, welcomed the four new 2017 Arryman Fellows at O’Hare. I didn’t expect anything, to be honest, in the sense that I planned to adjust as soon as possible, and hoped I wouldn’t cause any trouble for anyone around me or even for myself. After all, I am a transmigrant, I have always been on the move. Change won’t kill me, right? Or so I thought, rather snobbishly. Turns out, Chicago surprises me even now that I actually live in Evanston. Especially after Beth took us to Taste of Chicago, where for the first I tried a very large turkey leg. Chicago really gives me a strong impression.

Giant Turkey Leg


At the beginning of the Fall, I found myself literally blown away by the notorious wind of Chicago. I may have underestimated how fast Chicago’s wind can be. For someone who grew up on a sandy and hot plantation in the middle of Sumatra, Chicago is a radical change. Not a single day goes by without my Arryman Fellow friend Sofyan wondering how the wind can be any worse than it has been. I have to agree with him in silence, since the cold wind makes me unable to open my jaw just for talking.

Aside the wind, Chicago is nothing but beauty. I have heard about problems that build Chicago to where it is now: gentrification, racial segregation, gun shooting. My parents know about this and they are very worried. But I believe each city has its own problems that create its own dynamics. I decide to enjoy Chicago for what it offers. After all, I know Chicago has the vibe of funky blues that always makes me comfortable walking in downtown area.

Speaking about the blues, I am so glad that I live in a city where my favorite musician, Buddy Guy, developed his career and often holds a concert. His club in downtown Chicago, Buddy Guy’s Legend, is like a holy place for Mr. Guy’s enthusiasts. He has a showcase for himself every January, which I’m so eager to watch, forgetting Beth’s warning that January is very cruel time in Chicago because of its winter. I have seen the club, but I didn’t enter because I forgot to bring my passport – here in America, you need to show your ID whenever you’d like to enter clubs and bars. Sofyan also told me that he wasn’t into blues, and I yielded. Otherwise, I would have to walk down to the red line train station all by myself in the middle of the night. I guess I’m not that brave in Chicago.

Buddy Guy’s Legend


I enjoy Chicago too much. I spent the whole time on my second week in the US visiting a lot of places in Chicago, from the north side, to the south side, and to the west side. I have heard many shady stories about people on the west side or the south side, particularly about the culture of gangs there. But I fully agree with Khadin, one of the mentors at International Summer Institute (ISI, a program for international students at Northwestern to reduce their cultural shock in the US and to learn American English). She said that she didn’t like the concept of ‘no-go neighborhoods’ because of certain social problems. “They are people. They are not just about their places. They are communities with their own lives and dynamics. I don’t think it’s fair to label people like that based on what happens in their areas.”

And it’s true! I can’t imagine what kind of gems that I would miss if I never visited the south side and the west side of Chicago. I visited Forest Park to see Emma Goldman’s mausoleum – a feminist icon whose writing is I find very agitating and sharp. On the South side, I was charmed by the University of Chicago’s old British building style, its excellent bookstore called Seminary Co-Op, and the DuSable Museum of African American History which overwhelmed me by its collections. I have to give credit to the ladies at DuSable Museum who welcomed my ISI friend Yannick, his lovely mother, and me so warmly at the Museum’s gift shop.

Chicago has its highs and lows, hardships that I cannot feel as a foreigner, but can sense in the air or read in the news or books. Yet, to quote one of Buddy Guy’s song, Chicago is still a “Midwest hunny”.