Capitalism on steroids: This is my honest-to-god impression of Miami after visiting that mad place for just under a week for a conference. Luckily, I was able to stay at my friend Markus‘s place. Having lived in Miami for the last 6 years, Markus knew all the best must-see spots, most within cycling distance of his apartment in Coconut Grove (south end of Miami).
Day One: Tuesday
Markus was kind enough to drive to the airport to pick me up late on Tuesday afternoon. We went straight back to his apartment in Coconut Grove to drop my things off and then head out to dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. As we were about to leave, we heard rain falling outside. “Shall we head out, or wait for the rain to stop?” asked Markus.
“Well, you’re not made of sugar,” I said, and opened the front door. It was immediately clear that sugar or not, I was not going to be going out in that downpour. It had been so long since I had seen such incredible rain. It was as if millions of fire hoses were being directed straight out of the sky towards the earth.
15 minutes later when the rain finally eased up just a little (so much as to only now be a torrential downpour, as opposed to whatever it was previously), we sprinted to his car and headed to the local Mexican place. “The interior is pretty down to earth, but the food is good,” Markus said. And it was good. We had spicy cocoa sauce covered burrito, which tasted much better than it sounds!
Day Two: Wednesday
After a leisurely morning, Markus loaned me his partner Flavia’s folding bike to head to the conference venue: the Mariott Miami Biscayne Bay Hotel, a brisk 11km from Markus’ place. I packed a spare set of clothes in the pannier Markus loaned me, and set out. I’m glad I did pack those clothes…coming from near-freezing temperatures in Japan to around 30 deg C and very high humidity in Miami was a shock. I arrived at the hotel drenched in sweat. The mighty Dahon folder was up to the task however, and I enjoyed dodging the crazy traffic into the heart of Miami.
I took my time in getting to the conference venue though. I skirted around the Coconut Grove marina…
And took a side-route along the very southern-most end of Brickell Ave to check out some Halloween decorations…apparently Madonna lived on this street at one stage…
One thing that really struck me cycling through the city, was that the vast majority of people that I overheard speaking were speaking Spanish. You know, you’re sat at the lights, and you overhear a couple of people chatting at the crosswalk. Or you cycle slowly past a group of people outside a cafe. They were all speaking Spanish. I can’t recall hearing anyone speaking English to one another.
This first day of the conference was more about the pre-conference workshops, which I had not signed up for, so I just sat in the conference foyer doing some work. After the pre-conference reception ended, I changed back into my shorts and t-shirt and headed out to meet Markus for a late evening ride around Coconut Grove.
It was on this ride that for the first time I really saw how much of a paradox Miami is. We would be riding through one block and be surrounded by very low socio-economic-status homes, and the next block would be home to near multi-million dollar homes (complete with privately contracted Miami city police officers driving around in cop cars). “The poorer areas are slowly becoming more gentrified,” Markus explained. Slowly but surely lower SES families are having to move out of the area, with land prices on the rise.
Another thing that struck me was how much Miami reminds me of China. It was difficult to put my finger on it, but I think it has something to do with a general vibe of self-centered pursuit of personal gain? Great swaths of the city being knocked down for new developments…the rich getting richer…
The contrast was what was most striking. There seemed to be very little in between, at least where we were in Coconut Grove. Either million-dollar homes, or near-poverty.
Day Three: Thursday
I was up early on Thursday to catch the start of the conference, and most of the day consisted of checking out some of the presentation sessions. Most of my research focuses on cultural differences in how people use and behave on social network sites, so I mainly attended sessions that had some social media theme. What struck me was the seemingly firm conviction that for emerging adults (that stage of life between 19 to 28 ish years old), social network sites like Facebook are all about expression of an individualised identity. It’s all about me, me, me. Of course, that may be the case in ‘Western’ countries such as the US and also in New Zealand. But in Japan, social network sites are all about maintaining and nurturing (often strongly obligatory) social ties. It’s all about the expression of a collective identity (in multiple social spheres). What was clear was that the field of the study of emerging adulthood is still in an early stage, and cross-cultural perspectives are sorely needed…
In any case, the day disappeared fast. Markus met me at the hotel, and we cycled over to the Miami art district.
Markus explained that this area used to be a bit of an eyesore, with bland warehouses covering a huge area of town. Graffiti artists arrived and started transforming the blank canvases into a living artwork.
Now, there are luxury brands opening up boutique stores in the area, cashing in on the area’s chic vibe. Markus and I opted for a more down to earth spot for dinner, and he introduced me to mangu, a Latin American dish made from mashed plantain. This stuff is good!
On the bike ride back to Coconut Grove from central Miami, Markus took us on a short detour via the Rickenbacker Causeway. The Miami skyline is amazing from there.
Day Four: Friday
Today’s highlight was the invited panel discussion that I was part of – Globalization, Media, and Identity in Emerging Adulthood – and that went really well. Beyond that, in the evening I hung out with Markus, Flavia, and Flavia’s friends from Brazil. Some awesome Lebanese food was had for dinner.
Day Five: Saturday
“I know of some derelict missile sites south of Miami,” Markus had said earlier in the week. “Left over from the cold war, they’re perfect for an interesting bike ride. Do you want to check them out on Saturday?”
How could I say no?
The particular site we chose to head to was the Miami Dade AeroJet Rocket Facility, just south of Homestead. So we loaded up the bikes, and drove the 1.5 hours south to get there. Markus’s big bike on the car rack, the Dahon folder in the boot.
On the way we stopped in at a Mexican farmers market. It had a similar vibe to bazaars I’d visited in Central Asia.
On offer for food included ghastly sweet polenta cakes and tamarind juice.
The vege market looked well stocked though.
After the quick stop we carried on to the rocket site. It appears that it is all rather fuzzy as to whether being at the site is legal or not, so Markus parked a few hundred meters down the main road from the turn off to the site. Signs on the dead straight access way to the site did mention that no unauthorized motorvehicles were allowed, but there was no mention of pedestrian or cyclist access.
Along the way the road was shared by creepies and crawlies, giving the whole place a rather forgotten air about it.
About half way through the exploration, we came across a spot that allowed us a better view over the site. Vertigo was in full swing.
After a solid hour and a half exploring the ruins, we hightailed it back to central Miami, dropping in on Costco on the way (just the same as the Costco we have 30km down the road from my place in Chitose).
The evening was a much more civilized affair. I had mentioned that Thai food was something that is quite hard to find in Japan where I live, so Markus recommended we head to one of the better Thai restaurants in South Miami Beach. Flavia joined us also, which was great, as her chic presence got us into the Delano Beach Club afterwards: one of the more prestigious clubs on South Miami Beach. This place was amazing. And you’d hope so, considering the US$22 I paid for a gin and tonic (in a thin disposable plastic cup).
The waitresses were essentially super models (skinny as rakes and all arms and legs), and the club seemed to be working on a business model that relied on the bouncers manning the velvet rope at the entrance of the hotel to let customers in at an attractive-female-to-loaded-looking-male ratio of around 50 to 1. A quick peruse of the Delano Beach Club’s Instragram account corroborates this theory. The place oozed excess, but it was far from tacky. The hotel foyer was art deco exquisite.
Many thanks to Flavia for taking us along to see some of the Miami night life.
Day Six: Sunday
If Saturday night was the height of class, then Sunday morning’s visit to Miami airport was a return to reality. Markus very kindly dropped me off at the airport at the ungodly hour of 7am, and I soon found my way onto my All Nippon Airways flight back to Japan via Houston.
In keeping with tradition, I had ordered a different dietary restriction on this flight. This time I had ordered a ‘Muslim meal’. Despite being denied the tub of Haagen-Dazs icecream that everyone else got handed, the meals were great for an economy fare. These ‘Muslim’ curries are always much better than the standard meals.