The two-hour wait in the JFK baggage claim and subsequent three-hour crawl in Connecticut Limo certainly didn’t alleviate my dreaded return to school. Most people without senior essays enjoyed the two weeks of leisure. Like the other smart students who headed for sunny places, I visited my roommate, Lauren, in Puerto Rico to recharge my melanin. The weather forecast for the whole week was basically “80 degrees and sunny.”
Although we rarely woke up before 2 p.m. to catch the sun’s most blackening rays, we managed to get the natural beach look in one painful, searing afternoon lying in the backyard. Two months of the paradoxically sunny and freezing days in New Haven make you appreciate the sensibly sunny and warm days in Puerto Rico.
A rectangular island in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico belongs to the United States but is adamantly opposed to statehood. Their distinctive culture is a fusion of African, indigenous and Spanish influences. I literally got a taste of their unique hospitality the moment I stepped off the plane and asked the Puerto Rican Tourism Company office for information about the public bus. Before receiving a bus schedule, I was served a strawberry-pineapple mixed drink (with Bacardi rum, of course) and given a plastic bottle of Gold Rum Liquor, along with the guidebooks.
Like in Europe, the official drinking age is approximately 18. Gambling is also legal for people over 18, but I decided to invest my limited budget on Puerto Rico’s beer, Medalla Light, because of its dependably positive return. I also drank rum with cranberry juice, Pasoa (a citrus mixed drink) and mouth-watering sangria, which now makes drinking sangria at Viva Zapata as absurd as drinking wine at Naples.
All age requirements are pretty lax, including at the up-scale clubs in San Juan. Curves-enhancing clothes, immaculate eye shadow and two photo IDs vaguely resembling Asian women got Lea — my Asian classmate from high school — and me into the first-rate Club Babylon, located in the swank Wyndham San Juan Hotel.
While in San Juan, we stayed in the not-so-swank “Hotel” Casa Blanca, which made my miniature Vanderbilt double look spacious. The amenities consisted of relatively clean towels, hand soap, repellent for the swarms of mosquitoes, a television with five fuzzy channels in Spanish and incoming calls on the only phone in the whole “hotel.” Luckily, the Ritz Carlton with its fabulous jacuzzi was only a block away.
We were also just across the street from El Ferrol Nuevo Restaurante with tasty and cheap food. When we went there to eat the first day, I was shocked by a menu written completely in Spanish. Horrid flashbacks of the seemingly useless page of food vocabulary in my Spanish textbook tormented me as I vainly tried to recall what pavo and pollo were.
I now love comida criolla (Puerto Rican food) and generally know what I’m ordering in Spanish. After trying the delicious mofongo, a mix of fried banana and garlic, I vowed to name my first-born son Mofongo. Although he might be teased in school, he’ll appreciate it once he tastes his namesake — as will his sister Sangria.
I first ate mofongo in Mayaguez with my roommate’s family. Although it is just a small college town on the west side, “downtown” Mayaguez has great bars and tropical weather. On Thursday nights, college kids in shorts and tank tops mingle in the streets, creating an informal block party with cheap alcohol and live bands. Surrounded by Puerto Ricans, it was hard to remember that Lea and I stood out, being virtually the only Asians on the whole island. Fortunately, my roommate knew her hometown well because otherwise we wouldn’t have known where to go.
In addition to expanding my food vocabulary in restaurants, I got to practice my Spanish when I met new people. I must have sounded like a five-year-old, hooked on phonics and trying to read Dr. Seuss. I would proudly bust out the “useful phrases” from the Spanish 115 textbook such as “Que chevere” (how great) until a bilingual person informed me it was like saying “how swell” in English. So I was more like a toddler, struggling with simple grammar and using archaic vocabulary. But communicating successfully felt like acing a Spanish exam.
I spent the second week in Los Angeles with my grandparents, immersed in Cantonese, another language I can’t really speak. Living by a completely different schedule, I slept from 9:30 p.m. to 9:30 a.m. everyday, which is more than I’ve slept all semester. I went from being a 22-year-old (21, depending on the fake ID) to being a pampered toddler. My day consisted of waking up, eating, watching television (T.G.I.F. reruns and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood), eating and returning to sleep. The most physical exertion was catching the bus with my grandparents to eat more great Chinese food, and I got to hold my grandma’s hand like a little girl again.
As much as I love staying up all night partying, relaxing with family and sleeping should not be overrated. From sangria and unintelligible Spanish soap operas to hot tea and incomprehensible Chinese soap operas, I had a great spring break.
Nicole Lim is a freshman in Berkeley College. Her columns appear on alternate Fridays.