I was told that New Orleans could change my life but I did not believe it. I’m a tough nut to crack and not the easiest person to please but this winter break, things were about to change – big time. The experience I had in New Orleans was for the lack of better word, life-changing and I didn’t believe it until I was there to experience it for myself.
I don’t say this about many places but this funky city really touched my soul – the sense of community, good food, music in every corner of the city and moderate tropical weather is all too good to be true, and a pain to leave. I guess we were lucky to have met some great folks during our stay in New Orleans which made things all the better, plus I was with my sister whom I love very much so nothing could go wrong.
We were lucky to have lived in a bed and breakfast owned by a host who genuinely cared about us and gave us tips on where to go and what to do. He was like a fatherly figure who told us to be careful and not bring eye-catching totes when venturing the streets of Garden District, he’d also told us that Frenchmen St. is the alternative jazz and bar scene if we wanted to get away from the rowdiness in Bourbon St., he even invited us to his Christmas dinner where I was introduced to more locals who are both friendly and warm. For the first time, being the only Asians (my sis included) in the party did not make us feel uncomfortably outnumbered, in fact everyone took a genuine interest in our lives and we had a great time just getting to know each other.
People in New Orleans, well they’re very different. They do not necessarily speak with a thick Southern accent like I’d expected because I found out that most of them were migrants from other states. I even met a guy who was from Wisconsin before he decided to move and settle here 20 years ago after visiting the Big Easy for the first time in 1989, so he did warn me about how I could potentially fall in love with this place and live here forever (won’t mind if I do). I’ve also met a laid-off high school photography teacher who waitresses at a local restaurant that took a great interest in my camera, a cab-driver pursuing higher education in law through self-study, and a retired professor in history who runs a carriage tour with his mule, Scarlette O’Hara. I respect how the locals are resilient in rebuilding their lives, especially post-Katrina in 2005. People here are all big characters who lives passionately and I really respect that. Most of all, they’re non-judgmental and take you as you are.
Besides the people, the food is also amazing. The local Cajun and Creole cuisine, which is absolutely flavorful, appealed to my palettes immediately. Its heavy use of sauces, herbs, seasoning and the fact that they eat everything under the sun in its true form resonates with my gluttony nature. I like my bones in, shrimp with their heads intact and whole fish served – I don’t mind getting down and dirty with my food and I’m glad New Orleans agrees with me. My favorite dish? Seafood gumbo! I could eat those all day everyday which I did while I was here. I can safely say that I’ve not had a bad meal at all. Except that I couldn’t get enough of it.
There was also so much talent around the city – street musicians and artists alike who played every show like its their last, and when I see them living a nomadic life performing from one spot to another, I can’t help but wonder why they’d chosen this path because trust me, it didn’t look easy at all. But of course when you’re doing what you absolutely enjoy, it will feel a lot less harder than it should be (just like how photography is to me). I could never live that way it’s far too little security for me to handle, however I have so much respect for them so the only thing I could do was to tip them if I liked the music they were playing, or the fun tricks they were pulling.
I felt renewed after staying in the Big Easy for a total of 8 days, in fact it’s the longest I’ve spent on a vacation in one single location but there was never a dull moment while I’m here as I was met with new surprises every single day, right from the moment I touched down in the NOLA airport till I leave. I met and talked to locals, learn about their stories, and was especially moved by those who’d decided to live in New Orleans after coming here for vacation. I can understand why one can be drawn to this place so much because I personally think I could live here too, provided I had the ability to. Besides that, I went on tours which I learn the history of New Orleans and origin of Dixieland Jazz from and took a cooking class which taught us how to cook local cuisine and met nice strangers like us, who seek to have their lives changed under the graces of New Orleans. It’s truly amazing and I will definitely revisit again and again. There’s more to New Orleans than Mardi Gras, Bourbon Street and binge drinking and I’m glad I was able to see beyond that.
This trip has made me realize how little I know and how much I’m dying to learn about everything around me. My desire to travel was ignited once again and I can’t wait to see where my next destination takes me. I will travel the world, one place at a time, with my camera on one hand, the desire to learn and give on the other.
More photos to follow, so stay tuned!