Mexico City in July
It is my first time in Mexico City, also known as CDMX, or the D.F. I am visiting with some friends, and the four of us drive through the city in the evening from the airport to our Airbnb. It is cloudy, as if it’s about to rain. I read somewhere that Coyoacán is the historic center of Mexico City, it’s a small quiet charming neighborhood, so we book our stay there. The taxi drops us off on a corner, the corner of the Parque Centenario and some side streets. The red door to our lodgings is nestled between a taqueria and a cantina. There’s a lock box with a code that lets us through the first door and flight of stairs. Another white gate and stairs leads us to a landing with residences. It’s charming, with a further metal winding staircase to a roof and lush greenery. Our neighbors’ laundry are pinned up on a clothesline.
That first night, it’s 10pm when we go out to the park and explore. There’s a fountain, the Fuente de los Coyotes, fountain of the Coyotes. At a restaurant we sit outside and I try pulque for the first time, on recommendation from a friend. It’s a fermented alcoholic drink, made from the agave plant. It comes in a clay mug and is foamy and viscous and has a sour and slightly sweet taste. It instantly reminds me of jiuniang, a sweet fermented rice soup that my mom used to make for us as a treat. It will make you slightly buzzed if you consume too much.
The first few days in Mexico City I feel out of place. I speak the least Spanish out of my friends and I’m struggling to find words to make others understand me, even simple encouters like just ordering a cappucino. Do I want it to go? Cream? Sugar? Paying cash or credit? But then there’s an odd sense of familiarity, and I eventually realize it’s because the city reminds me of Taiwan. It reminds me of Taipei, my hometown.
I think it’s the humidity, the summer rain, the scattered thunderstorms. It’s driving at night through Mexico City and its wide streets, driving by closed auto-shops, dark storefronts occasionally peppered with a small lit open store block. An occasional bar, restaurant, something still open. It reminds me of sitting in a taxi in Taipei, driving through similar streets at night. Except there are fleets of scooters everywhere, and masses of people that all look like myself.
Even the crosswalk signs are the same, the tiny green man with a tiny hat, made of lights, sprinting in place as numbers count down to how many seconds you have left. As the seconds near zero, the man sprints faster and faster until he turns into the red standing man with a hat light.
I start to become reminded of so many things at once. I don’t speak the language, but Spanish sounds familiar to me since I live in California. Familiar but also new. It’s like when I’m on the Taipei Metro, overhearing schoolgirls’ conversations, but only partially understanding because my Mandarin is so limited. Walking around the neighborhoods— La Condesa, Roma, Coyoacán, stepping aside through puddles, raised concrete steps, the sidewalks also remind me of the ones in Taipei. Vendors with their carts are lined up, brightly glowing lights, bearing hot snacks and treats, vinyl blue and red characters proclaiming goods and prices on the sides. In both places I can only vaguely read them.
I don’t know how to express how it feels. Only that it is only my second time in Mexico but somehow after a few days it almost feels like home. Maybe it’s the enormous amounts of foliage and green on the streets too, giant mature monsteras reaching out at you as we’re walking by. Maybe it’s the thunderstorms, reminding me of running to the local coffee shop with my aunt under a tiny sun umbrella, caught in the sudden summer rain. The rain comes down heavy for 30 minutes or so and stops. It’s eating tacos at the creators of the carne asada taco, under a tarp awning at 5pm as we wait out the rain. It’s definitely when our server misunderstands me when he cheerfully asks me dos tacos? at the taco shop and I decline, ordering just one. But I change my mind after gulping it down, and I’m trying to wave him down to order another. He’s busy dropping in on all his other tables as I’m eyeing the huge vertical roast of meat at the front of the shop. And then to my surprise he swings by and drops down another taco in front of me. As if he knew exactly what I wanted.
I don’t speak any Spanish but somehow he understood I wanted another taco even before I realized it. Maybe it was just a mistake but I like to that maybe he just got me and had my back that time. Maybe I am almost somewhat accepted by the people here, the people that are so straightforward and open. This is unlike being in Taiwan, where there are so many social and familial norms, where they are surprised I can even speak any Mandarin, since I look so obviously like an outsider.
Being in Mexico City, I feel the same longing as when I visited Taiwan during my childhood. It’s the same during my last nights in Taiwan, when I’m not wanting to leave my grandparents’ apartment, listening to the soothing sounds of my grandmother doing laundry, the dim light of the back balcony on. It’s an odd feeling of safety, it’s small instances of belonging, small ways of feeling secure in a foreign place, wishing I could stay but knowing that in the morning or in a few days I will be gone.
Connie Chen is a software engineer working and living in San Francisco. In her free time she enjoys film photography and thrifting for brown clothing.