I love traveling to new destinations. This first major investment I made was an overseas vacation the moment I started earning my own money. There is definitely a long list of destinations to choose from and I have been happily planning my trips to what I thought were glamorous “must-see” locations across different continents. In the midst of all this research and planning, Minneapolis in the state of Minnesota, USA would never have entered my radar. I knew little about it and what little I knew didn’t spark my interest.
When I was told that I was headed there for a training workshop in April this year, I got curious and started researching the city on the internet. Yawn. You’ll find a bit here and there about the history, the temperatures, about these two cities but nothing more than that. You can’t blame me for being indifferent – the only thing these sites do is cause the reader to – yes – yawn.
Well, I am determined to change that perception. I spent four days in Minneapolis and what I discovered was a vibrant, uniquely wonderful city of creative people who are genuinely happy (most of the time), patient, tolerant and adventurous. I describe them together – the city and the people, because you can’t picture them apart. I was genuinely mesmerized and in awe throughout my stay.
Minneapolis in April is cold. I mean it. Minneapolis is cold (by my standards) most of the year. My wonderful colleagues came to work in light jackets and shook my hand as they exclaimed how beautiful a day it was, giving my ultra-thick winter jacket a second glance. They warned me “it is going to be down to the 30s today”. Well, that didn’t sound so bad, right? Wrong. They were talking in Fahrenheit. It translated to mean “zero” in Celsius! So, after a day of learning, I walked back to my hotel and looked up to the sky in shock as it started snowing – in April!
This brings me to my favourite discovery in Minneapolis – the skyways. I don’t know how it started and different people I spoke to told me different stories, but many years ago, the people here decided that it was just too cold outside to be walking around. So, when they started building and creating the city, they made sure they had a way to connect one building to another. Hence, “Skyways” were born. Every building has at least one skyway that connects to another building and this goes on. People here know exactly which skyway and which escalator to take to the next skyway. Signs are clearly displayed (they still confused me, though!) and people here walk and live above ground.
It is genius, actually. The skyways are huge glass-enclosed walkways and let in plenty of light during the day. People walk to work in office buildings, they walk to lunch, they walk to get to the train and every building connects. It is an incredibly extensive maze and everything shuts down at 10pm. These skyways are owned and maintained by the respective buildings – not the city – and so when the buildings shut down, these skyways do too. This is when people actually need to walk on the streets.
I walked from my hotel to a bookshop and crossed at least three skyways during this journey. I would look out from the skyways and just take in the view of the city outside. There were more vehicles than people and strangely, it made perfect sense. Everyone was going about their business indoors because they didn’t have to brave the cold temperatures outside. I was fully protected from the cold and I felt absolutely safe. All the buildings I visited had a huge lobby area for people to just sit in and soak in the sun – indoors. I felt like I was visiting another world, a world where people lived above ground. The term “skyway” is perfect for this. The people here live in the sky and for a short period, so did I.
I couldn’t bring home more than memories of these skyways but I gained two wonderful friends in Minneapolis. The people in the city are open, friendly, passionate about the arts and about building relationships and that was very clear to me. They are are genuine individuals, highly educated and well informed of the world outside the USA. My colleagues and friends – Peggy and Jennifer – not only taught me about work but also inspired me to be a better person.
I listened to their comments about life and chuckled at their stories about welcoming visitors from China to their home. I watched a high school play by local teenagers and headed to their home still in a state of shock at the talent I was lucky enough to witness. I enjoyed conversations with a handsome teenager who was well mannered, friendly and extremely entertaining. I bonded with their family members and their pets and told some of my own stories about life in Malaysia.
I insisted that they take me to one of the 10,000 lakes in the state for a walk and watched them giggle at the look on my face as I tried to stop my teeth from chattering in the cold. I let them take me to the Mall of America and rode a roller coaster in one of their indoor amusement parks, thinking to myself “these guys are kids in grown-up suits!” and loving the experience. I visited the Sculpture Garden and experienced a moment in heaven as I closed my eyes and stood there enjoying the music of the wind chimes hanging in the trees.
I know that I will visit again and I know how I will be welcomed. I miss you, dear Sky-People. Please don’t change.