My fiancé and I usually live in Seattle, but since October, we’ve been living in a beach house in California, in the southern-most town, near the Mexican border. We’ll be here through mid-March

We were at first hesitant to leave our home for so long, but I went ahead and researched the weather in this area and booked an AirBnB here. I realized since the pandemic started that spending time outdoors is very important to me. It’s helped me stay sane and find joy amidst the chaos.

We love it here. We walk on the beach every day and fall asleep to the sounds of the ocean.

two surfers on beach
Surfers on beach

This part of California is very remote and peaceful.

There aren’t many hotels or tourists here. Just a lot of local surfers. Even before the sun rises, there are usually a dozen surfers out there, ranging in age from 7 to 70. It’s inspiring to see people who are so in tune with the ocean, so connected to nature. 

I walk on the beach at least two or three times a day. One evening, my fiancé and I saw a brilliant orange sunset on the west, and simultaneously, a full moon rising on the east. We were right in the middle. It was incredible. 

I sometimes walk alone in the middle of the night when the ocean is lit only by the moon and the stars shine brightly. I never feel any danger or threat when I go out. Instead, I feel very safe and calm.

Outdoor space is so important. Just being outside gets you connected to your body and your breath and that triggers something in your mind and it gives you hope. 

We’ve both been very distraught by the pandemic and the politics, but we’ve felt better about life here. Seeing so much natural beauty is very healing.

Being in this place has really unlocked my creativity. 

two seagulls above beach houses

One night, during the first week of November, I was sitting at my computer, and this book idea that I’ve been carrying around with me for the past five years just completely sparked. I started thinking about this book idea in a completely new way. I immediately started writing down notes, asking myself questions that I had not had considered before.  

The very next day, I woke up early and went for my walk by the ocean. It started drizzling, but I kept walking. I was wearing a good jacket and being from Seattle, I was used to rain. I kept thinking about my book idea, and then I noticed this rainbow starting to form over the ocean. As I kept walking and thinking, the rainbow became larger and larger until it covered pretty much the entire length of the beach. And then it started to rain fiercely. I got completely drenched. It was so exhilarating. I know this sounds corny, but I felt like the universe was telling me that it heard my book idea and it was encouraging me to go forward with it.

It wasn’t like “Shazam,” I magically wrote a book! But the idea burst forth. Being here, surrounded by so much natural beauty, has dislodged a block in my mind. In the past two months I have outlined 25 scenes and written at least 100 pages. This is the most creative, exciting period I’ve had in years.

Life for me in the pandemic has been a mixed blessing.  

I constantly worry that someone in my family will either get sick and die, or get beaten up.

I’m Korean American and I’m horrified by the rise of racism against Asian-Americans. We’re being blamed for the coronavirus. When people see us, they think bats and disease. We’re told to go back to China, even when we’re not from there. I have a cousin who’s 23 years old, Korean-American and has been living in Florida all his life. He has been spit on, he’s had a beer can thrown at him and sprayed with disinfectant. He’s now so afraid of being taunted that he doesn’t want to go outside.  

There has always been racism against Asians, but it has intensified since COVID-19 started. Racists feel more emboldened because Trump says the pandemic is all China’s fault. I’m constantly worried about people like my cousin. 

I’m also worried about my parents’ health. Fortunately, they haven’t gotten the virus, and they’re vigilant about wearing a mask when they go out. They haven’t seen very many people, they haven’t traveled outside their town in New Jersey and they take the virus very seriously. I’ve wanted to spend more time with them, but I’m also scared that if I visit them, I’ll be transporting the virus into their household.

The one thing that’s been good about all this is that I now talk to my parents a lot more often than I used to. Before the pandemic, I would call them once a week. And now I call them so often, my mom sometimes feels like I’m harassing her. It’s a total role-reversal of when she used to call me in college and I would feel like she was checking up on me all the time. She Zoomed with me twice, but she prefers phone calls, because she doesn’t want to get dressed up and put make-up on when she’s just lounging around in sweats and house slippers. She’s quite vain, LOL. She doesn’t want anyone to see her when she’s not made up.

I question the American Dream

US border fence into sea
Border fence between US and Mexico

Being near the Mexican border is interesting. We can walk all the way to the south-westerly point and see the other side of the beach in Tijuana. It’s comforting to know our Mexican neighbours are right there. 

You can see the border fence running across the hills and all the way to the beach right into the water. Once I waved to a group of people on the other side of the border and they waved back. That made me so happy. 

We regularly get border patrol trucks driving through our neighborhood, looking for fugitives. In the past two months we have had two incidents. Last week, four people who had crossed over from Mexico were actually standing right underneath my balcony. It was 1 a.m. The border patrol came by, talked to them for two hours and took them away in a truck at around 3 a.m.

I was awake the whole time because I was trying to write, but it was all very unnerving for me to watch the scene from my dining room. In the morning, I found an abandoned wetsuit and a ruptured bag of snacks left near the house. I’m pretty sure that belonged to one of the people who’d been caught. 

US border fence  between Mexico
US border fence

I don’t know why anyone would want to come to the United States, especially at this time during the pandemic.

The idea that the United States is a better place to live is ridiculous. Especially when you have to give up your family and friends, your culture and your language. And then there’s the xenophobia. If my cousin who’s American is regularly taunted and told to go back to Asia, imagine what it’s like for someone who doesn’t speak English very well. I wonder if the trade-offs are worth it. 

A vacation home is not Home

sunny balcony with 2 chairs and palm trees

It’s strange for me being away from home for this long.

This place, which I found through AirBnB, has two bedrooms and two baths. It is on two levels, and it’s fairly spacious. We have a carport and a shared patio that faces the beach. And a balcony in the back. It’s tastefully decorated and very calm. 

It’s a really nice place for a vacation, but after about a week, we started noticing we weren’t very comfortable in the house. That’s mostly because the sofa isn’t all that great. It’s kind of uncomfortable. You can’t really sink into it and watch TV. The TV is a lot smaller than what we have at home. Our bed isn’t all that comfortable either. My fiancé has back issues, so he just hated the bed we were sleeping in each night. It made it hard for him to feel like he was ‘at home’. Luckily, our AirBnB host recently replaced the mattress, and he’s been feeling a lot better.

But this experience made me realize that your ‘home’ really is where you are most comfortable and where your friends are….and we don’t have that right now.

We have some acquaintances but we don’t have friends here. When we were in Seattle, we’d been able to get together with our friends for socially distanced walks and picnics. That was really nice, and we miss that terribly. 

kitchen and dining table of beach house

Here, we don’t have the comforts of home: our own bed, our own TV and our own couch. The cooking appliances…. I used to love cooking, but I hate it now because I don’t like the kitchen at this AirBnB – and the pots and pans are so flimsy they’re like Fisher Price toys!

We’ve realized that living in a vacation house is nice for a while but not for long-term.

beach house TV and stove

It’s made me re-think the minimalist movement. I was a fan of Marie Kondo and minimalist living, but now, living with just one bag of clothes, I miss a lot of the things I have back in Seattle. At home, we’re surrounded by things that we’ve chosen for ourselves. Our furniture, our clothes, pictures of family and friends, all of that is ‘home’.  Being away from all those things, we feel disconnected here. 

Working from a Vacation Home

desk in beach house

The best thing about working from here is the location. We can take a nature break any time and go for a walk by the ocean. 

But when we are working at our computers, the layout of this house makes it a bit challenging. I don’t have an office space and it’s really hard for my fiancé and me to have any noise separation. Whenever one of us is in a meeting, the other person can hear it. He has an area right outside our bedroom where he’s set up his computer. My work area is on the dining room table, where I use my laptop. It’s not very comfortable. I recently got a small office chair to make it a little better, but the ergonomics aren’t ideal for someone who sits at a desk for most of the day.

I wake up between 3am and 5am. 

double height space and sofa in beach house

I’m much more motivated to get up at that time and start writing because it’s very quiet. There are no distractions, so it’s a very good time for me to work on my novel.

After about three hours of writing I will have breakfast. By that time my fiancé will have woken up. He starts work really early, like 6.30-7am, and then he is on the computer. We will have coffee and oatmeal. And then I will go for my walk along the beach for about an hour. Around 8:30 or 9, I’ll start my other job – I work as a web designer for a company in Seattle. Depending on what is needed for that day I will either be in meetings or working on producing websites. I usually finish by 4 or 5. And then my fiancé and I will go on a walk to watch the sunset. Then we’ll have dinner. Since all the restaurants are closed, we usually cook or order take-out.

Back in Seattle, I went to bed around midnight, but here, I usually go to sleep about 8.30-9.30pm. I know that sounds super early, but without our friends here, and all the businesses being closed, there’s nothing to do at night. But the good thing is that it allows me to get up early and take advantage of that quiet writing time in the morning.

dining table as work area

Working from home has made me feel more connected to my colleagues

I like working remotely. It’s one of the reasons I became a web designer in the first place. Before the pandemic, I was already working 1-2 days from home and most of the people in my team were the same.

I’ve actually found that my relationships to my co-workers now feels deeper than when I was actually seeing them at work.

Part of it is because through our video meetings, I’ve gotten to see my co-workers in their homes. I’ve met their pets and their children… because they run in. We’ve also had a lot of meetings dedicated purely for social purposes. We have virtual happy hours and lunches, and I’ve gotten to know my coworkers on a more personal level than before. Another great thing about virtual gatherings is that when one person talks, everyone can hear them. There are no moments when you see two people standing ten feet away, talking and sharing a joke that you’re not privy to. So the virtual meetings are more inclusive in that way. 

When everything shifted online it was nice because suddenly I had more time for other things.  In addition to working on my book, I’ve been participating in numerous online storytelling shows. 

The first show that I did was for a Seattle radio station and it was all about life during the quarantine. I told a funny story about my fiancé. The quarantine has been a good relationship test for us. I feel like if you are in a relationship that can survive the quarantine, it can survive anything. 

Because of that show, I met a whole bunch of people. When social distancing measures allowed, I met up with two of those people at a park in Seattle and got to know them. I feel it was a small miracle to actually make new friends at a time when people couldn’t see each other. 

In May, I also started a food writing group with several people. We’ve been meeting every couple of weeks; we’ve had about a dozen meetings together where we discuss food, write and share stories. One of the people is an old colleague of mine, who I hadn’t seen in eight years, and because of these food-writing meetings, I’ve gotten to know him in a completely new way.

Again, I think it’s a small miracle that such a friendship has formed. It shows that even when we can’t physically see each other, we find ways to connect to each other in meaningful ways.

dramatic sunrise on Californian beach
Sunrise

To be out here… right now… during the middle of a global pandemic, when other people have lost their means of livelihood, I know I am extremely privileged.  

The economy is so devastating for small businesses. For example, I read that 1 out of 6 drycleaners have shut down because no one is wearing suits or fancy dresses any more; so they are not getting them cleaned. And of course, you see a lot of restaurants suffering. Gyms have closed. I have many friends in the yoga industry and they are all having a lot of financial challenges. But they’re very resilient people, and holding a lot of Zoom yoga sessions and trying to make the best of this. 

The pandemic has created this huge gap between the ‘have’s’ and ‘have nots’.

Those gaps existed before this, but now it has gotten wider and affects more people. I think the country is going to have to keep distributing money to people who are not working. I just don’t see how people will be able to survive and keep living in their homes if they don’t get the financial help.

I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be in third grade right now because for young kids a year is  so much more than it is for adults.  It’s like we are  going to have this weird lost pandemic generation.  Maybe we are going to raising a generation of introverts? 

For college students, they’ve been out of class for an entire year and it doesn’t seem like it will end any time soon. So much of the college experience is living with other students on campus and they’re being deprived of that.

The thing I miss most about lockdown is seeing my friends in person. And being able to plan a trip spontaneously and not having to worry about it. And not being afraid for my parents’ lives. 

sunset over the sea from beach
Sunset

Every single day we are being confronted with our own mortality and we see all the ugliness in the world – but we also see a lot of sweetness. We are getting rid of a lot of distractions and realising what is truly important to us. And that becomes very precious, and you really have to protect that. In some ways, this pandemic has made it easier to see what makes you happy, and to pursue a more authentic life.

Photos and text by Respondent

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights across the social/spatial sphere.

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