Fragile American Dream

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A few years ago, when I was living in a condo in downtown Portland, a large billboard was placed in front of my building advertising for a coming high-rise apartment. Lucky it was not a neon or LED lights flashing style, as I could see it every time I walked into my living room. There was silhouette of a building with elegant calligraphy espousing: “ Live without a trace “. Every time I saw that ad, it made me think about people. Why would you want to live without a trace on the earth? Who was the target here? Spies? Logically it is absurd to think of a 10 stories building full of spies will live in at the same condo. If you are a normal person, you would not like to live in a place and act like you do not exist. No one would wish that unless something broken with that person. I was getting more pissed off at the ad each day. I imagine the billboard was trying to attract environmental friendly people who have enough money to buy a condo, and prefer living in downtown, without a car, using public transportation, and bicycles. Basically if you live in a small flat that is good for the green environment. It is fine to think that way. However I wonder living this life style how good for souls that might be argumentative.

Just to clarify the situation let me provide some numbers here: if you are planning to buy a small apartment here that will cost you at least $300,000. Let me remind you that you will live in a tiny place, just imagine a match box. Generally a 30 year loan to pay that place say at $2000 a month. In order to do so, you will need to work very very long time. Since you are going to be very busy of working to pay your debt, you will not have much time to visit your parents, family, of friends. Outside your 50 hours and work your hour a day commute, you do not have time, nor car, you will be trying to be happy in your own expensive cubicle life. Once sees bigger and bigger TV in the windows. So let me ask who is the winner here? When you are living in a tiny place, working so hard to pay your huge debt, are you going to have enough energy to be happy? I do not think so. How will I know. Because I came to this country and accidentally bought into the America dream.

I have been living in this city for the last 15 years. I have a good job. I do not have car, wherever I go I either walk or bicycle. I came to this country with 2 suitcases in my hand. You can call me a Turkish expat.  Before I moved here I only looked at the map, where this city was and saw a few photos of Portland. I did not make a detail research about it. Before I settle down I wanted to convince myself if I could run my own business. It took me two years to decide that. Meanwhile during that time I made many long trips to my country and around US. 
I came from Turkey as an educated woman. I did not immigrate here because I had to. I own my business and have a fully paid for apartment , a car, with a bit of savings in the bank. I came to America because I wanted to be free.
I am a secular person, and absolutely dislike Islam trying so hard to oppress women. I strongly believe that to have a good, working society you need freedom of expression. I wanted to travel, learn more, live happily by myself. In Turkey gender equality issue is terrible. Even though I was white collar entrepreneur, I was tired of dealing with stigmas, male egos, and narrow-mindedness in general. I wanted to start a new life somewhere so that I could pursue of my own happiness. That promise “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” made Jefferson in 1776.

Eventually I established my business and got to work. I made some money, I even got an apartment in downtown. Because I was working so hard, I did not have time for friendship, and after a while, I even forget about being friend with people. Americas have networks not friends. I had my work. And I traveled. When any opportunity was presented I traveled.
However even though I seen almost every place in Oregon and half of the USA, after certain point I got bored living in downtown. I said to myself  “it is time to move to somewhere else”. Something was missing in my life. A big void. My life should not be just work!
This time I was older,  so I wrote out my list. What I like about a place, what I do not prefer. Because of the nature and other features I thought perhaps I should try Hawaii. 

This time, I did not pack and leave. I visited Hawaii before I move. I wanted to check out if evening written about that place how true it was. I was so glad I did. 
Honolulu is a big ugly city on the beautiful island of Oahu. The nature is awesome, climate is very nice, however, I could not say too many nice things about people there. Natives, white people, Asians and tourist ( mostly Japanese ) all dislike each other. My observation of Honolulu, people have quite a bit hateful. Local do not like tourists, natives hate whites, rich whites hate natives, Asians hate tourists, the list keeps growing. It is amazing that you are in the middle of Ocean, the nearest place 6000 miles away from you, whatever direction you will go and have time to develop that much grouchy feelings. Yes, nature is spectacular but what will you do with these people? Nothing is welcoming there. They make good amount money from tourist yet, they treat tourist poorly, go figure?  Even you have money, you still deal with rudeness. People are mean to each other there with no particular reason. Perhaps I just could not figure out.

Let me give some numbers about real estate prices. Do not worry I will not give numbers for new apartments, since none of my readers are drug dealers, otherwise you could not afford anything there anyway. The old apartments ( the elevator works very dangerously, cockroaches in plain site running around, the studio apartment is so small that you can pee and cook at the same time without even getting up from the toilet), that you would not leave your dog in it, in Waikiki starts from one million dollars.  Not only that , that apartment comes with 2-3 homeless who live in front of it. That is right, you will pay million bucks and share the garden, building’s entry way with homeless people. They crawl by day and night,  sleep there, eat there, pee in the streets or the garden, leave the garbage around. If they are the rich homeless, then wherever they stole a shopping cart, full of their belongings, just try to survive in front of your eyes. Hawaii is homeless paradise, partly because of the climate. There is no winter, you can live outside all the time, without needing much shelter.  As if the island is trying to solve homeless problem there. I do not think they are very effective. Once in while, you see police are forcing them to leave from expensive private properties. Other than that, everyone is accepting homeless as part of the life situation. 

It is very pricey not only houses, food and drinks too. Unless you are seriously rich, you cannot afford to live in that paradise. It is indeed a fake paradise comes with a very high price tag. Perhaps you can go once in your life, have fun, then never think about it again.

When I come back from the island, I thought Portland is cheap. Think about it, two people eat just hamburgers in an ordinary restaurant, nothing fancy, the bill comes $50. They grow cocoa trees around, I bought a local made 28 gr. chocolate bar and paid $8. A single bagel was $9. I guess entering the paradise too costly, I just cannot afford it. I had to face to reality. 

As, I learned from that trip, Hawaii is not a good option for me, I had to re-think what could I do. Downtown Portland homeless situation was getting worse every day. Every time I take a walk I was getting demoralizing seeing so many people living in the streets. I had to find a solution. If you look hard, you can create a solution.

I did, shortly after my trip to Hawaii, I moved to Selwood area to a town house with a tiny garden. I started to grow my cherry tomatoes, ride my bicycle at Spring Water corridor each day. I had found my happiness. 

Last Sunday at noon, I put on my wind breaker and hit the road. The sun was bright, there was a slight wind, but before the rainy season started I wanted to ride my bicycle out as much as I can. This is Portland, I learned by October rain will start, and continue till June. Almost every day it rains lots, with many grey cloudy days.
There are a few benches by the Willamette River. Everyday I ride 6.2 miles, for health reason. The whole trail is a 40 miles loop. When I arrived at my favorite bench I saw a young man who was sitting and reading a book. I did not wanted to bother him. So I sat under a cottonwood tree by the river. After I rested, and before I start to pedaling I wanted to see the river. Because of there are many tall trees, thick bushes, you need step over thick vegetation to see the river. I got up and saw an empty whiskey bottle on the ground. When I looked at the riverbank I saw: thrown away clothes, an old wooden chair, a man was  sitting on it, chatting with somebody who was inside a tent. I could not hear what they were talking about it because of the loud sound of the river. There was four old tents on shore of pebble stones. Trash was everywhere. Apparently the homeless moved to the river.
There are many of them in the parks, sleeping, panhandling in the street. Surely there are big number of them mentally disturbed and have alcohol or drug problem. And many of them made poor choices in their life. Some of them also just like me. They had jobs, but at some point their luck ran out.

When I was riding my bicycle slowly on the narrow trail my mind was full of thoughts. 

America is a big and powerful country. They have brilliant marketing strategies. The well advertised promise “move to USA, be rich, your dreams will come true” is pretty strong. Even you do not get rich and just become in middle class, you can live a comfortable life, far better that many country can ever provide. Not only immigrants who moved to this country, expats, and many Americans believe in this dream. Everywhere they emphases this dream. The possibilities are here. It can be true. However what you are not aware of this: this dream is also very fragile. The system works pretty good. The system protects the institutions, corporations, and powerful companies more than individuals. In a slight mistake a person can lose everything very quickly here. 

Let’s say you are working, instead of paying rent, you can buy a house with a mortgage. If you get sick, because of your huge medical bill, you can be late to your house payment. Then bank takes the house back, you are one step closer to losing your job and become homeless very quickly. Your family or friends cannot help you much, because they are also paying high debts for themselves. So the American dream is actually false promise. In reality even you work hard to achieve your goals, one illness, one bad investment, one tiny mistake, perhaps losing a job can cause tremendous down spiral. You have to watch out your expenses, make sure, never make any mistake. Therefore people who are aware of this worked even harder.

I work as web designer and photographer. I am the number one A rated Angie’s list designer. I have many clients, my business phone always rings. I work six days in a week. I used to work every day. Until I got cancer. I even worked during my chemo therapy days. I finally beat my cancer in 3 years. Even though doctors told me I have 6 months to live. It cost more than $200.000. An insane number! I worked so hard to win my battle. Therefore I am alive. However the void in my soul got even bigger. Is that what life all about it? Work till death? What happened to people?

I woke up from the American dream to see it also propaganda. Feed the machine your soul.The capitalist are make far more money than I am. As they say it is a race. Even you win the race, you are still a rat.

I came home. I made a cup of tea, went to my garden. I took my iPad in my hand. I started search very seriously is there any country that I can work, have life and still be happy?  

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Reference:
http://www.oregonlive.com/portland-homeless/
http://www.civilbeat.com/topics/hawaii-homelessness/

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