There is much to see and do in Chicago.

Lakeshore Drive

Run along Lake Michigan. Watch the endless pendulum of waves as you make your way down Lakeshore Drive. Breathe in the fresh morning air, or be a spectator of beach volleyball enthusiasts as they try to make the best out of fading sunlight. Cycle up to retirement-central Evanston if running does not suit you; it only takes half an hour. For those so empowered and inclined, rent a yacht and throw a party. For the reckless and the wild, people have skinny-dipped in quiet hours.

Walk the Magnificent Mile. Relive happy moments in Disney shops and perhaps buy a souvenir. After all, Walt Disney was from Chicago. Visit the Chicago Water Tower, a survivor of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and a symbol of resilience and recovery. After that, head down to the Hershey’s store for a cup of hot chocolate to ward off the winds.

Visit Wicker Park on an easy Sunday afternoon. Make a detour to its namesake, where you’ll find an unassuming fountain surrounded by couples, prams and old men playing cards. Take pretentious pictures by red brick walls and chic storefronts while avoiding locals with knowing smiles who have probably done the same thing too. Stroll down N Damen Ave to check out classy indie apparel. Pop into an alternative bookstore and realize that Neil Gaiman is still hip, in fact as hip as Japanese adult art and a full-sized ceramic she-devil with chipped horns. Be assured there will be no glitter-dusted vampires in this place. Save space for dessert; go to I Cream for custom flavoured ice cream made in front of you using liquid nitrogen.

Stock up on profile pictures in Wicker Park.

Bold travellers can go to Lincoln Park. This neighbourhood gives off a mysterious gritty vibe. Maybe it’s the Dunkin’ Donuts that is colloquially known as the Punkin’ Donuts. It could be the “gay bar” Spin with Thursday drag shows performed with pride and bartenders that wink at you and lose their shirts when you aren’t paying attention. Or the worn Second City stage that preaches wisdom under the guise of comedy. And when you’re weary of all the sights and sounds, have a perfect night at Wasabi — eating mochi while the candle light dances off your date’s face.

Cloud Gate in Millennium Park

I could go on forever. Navy Pier’s Ferris wheel, Sears Tower with its transparent floors overhanging the city, Millennium Park’s Cloud Gate! There is indeed much to see and do in Chicago. But to see and do Chicago is not to have experienced Chicago.

Experiencing Chicago requires guts, spontaneity and a simple “hello”. I have never spoken to so many strangers in so short a span of time. I confess that without being thrust into a situation where familiarity was not as forthcoming as I had hoped, I probably would never stepped out of my comfort zone in such a manner. I will not say that my experience was made better because of this situation; I am sure fun times can be created with friends too. However, I am thankful for the opportunity to get to know new people. In four months, I became part of a team that achieved third in a small basketball competition, made friends with a bartender, and got treated to dinner at a Michelin star restaurant. More importantly, I learnt a lot through the conversations I had with the Americans.

Having a pink cotton candy martini with my basketball team after a game. Note another empty martini glass on the table. That was mine too.

In short, do Google “best things to see/ do in Destination XYZ”. But live the experience.

I am a part of all that I have met;

Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’

Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades

For ever and forever when I move.

Ulysses, Lord Tennyson


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