To be very honest with you, when I first came to Lexington, Kentucky (KY), I was not impressed. I thought the city was so slow, I thought people did not have fun here. Unlike bigger cities, NOBODY’s walking around here. I thought at the time, “What is this? Is this big city? Is this a town? What is this place?” Being born and raised in Indonesia, which is one of the most populated countries in the world, yes, Kentucky in general can feel really empty. At times it can feel like it can use more human existence.
This is another face of America that Hollywood movies rarely capture. I might have mentioned in a previous article that there are over 19,000 cities in the United States and probably Hollywood movies may have presented you with only 30 of them (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington D.C., etc) in somewhat accurate projection. But there is another side of the country that is actually quite normal, quite laid back, quite relatable.
There are four regions in America: East Coast, West Coast, Midwest, and South. It is the same idea as Indonesia’s Western, Central, and Eastern division. If you’re into hiphop music, you may have heard in some of the song lyrics, how the rapper would proudly proclaims that he/she is from East Coast or West Coast (for some reason, nobody really proclaim themselves as “Southern!” or “Midwest!!”). Nicki Minaj, 50 Cent, P. Diddy, Missy Elliott, and Jay-Z are among the names of East Coast rappers, while rappers such as Dr. Dre (who now is also famous for his headphone products), Tupac Shakur, and Snoop Dogg (who drops it like it’s hot) are from the West Coast. Every region pretty much has its own characteristics. The region I live in right now, the South, is known for being big on hospitality, its love for fried food, and its major interest for horse races (maybe you’ve heard of Kentucky Derby?), and of course, its accent (the southern accent). When it comes to Kentucky, the first thing that Indonesians would say is “Kentucky, as in… Kentucky Fried Chicken?”… and that’s not wrong. But hey, if we put it on calculus function, Kentucky > Kentucky Fried Chicken. There’s more to Kentucky than just the fried chicken.
With just about 300,000 people, Lexington, KY is big enough to be a “real city,” yet small enough that it can still feel like a small town at times. That number of population is about 32 times smaller than Jakarta’s population. Now the mystery of why it feels so empty here is solved. 32 times smaller, ladies and gentlemen. I would say the whole city has the same amount of people as a neighborhood in Jakarta would.
People in smaller cities live in such modesty. I say modesty because here, in Lexington for example, we like trying out local businesses: we love going to local coffee shops, local pizzeria, there’s farmer’s market from spring through the summer, and people love hanging out at each other’s house or local bars. How different is it from Jakarta? When I was in Jakarta, after work we’d go to one of the posh cafes, clubs, or marble-floored malls, to see and be seen. Therefore, coming from that circumstances, on any occasion I am always, always, over-dressed: I dress up to pick up my husband from his workout (and I’m in the car most of the time), I dress up to church, and you should see what I’m wearing to Starbucks. Sometimes I need remind myself, “Kitty, girl, you need to chill.”
Don’t get me wrong. There are occasions where the Southern people actually dress up big time. Horse race such as Keeneland or Kentucky Derby is the place for it. The ladies will come in big hats, gentlemen in suit. Last year when I went to a horse race, I was kind of observing first. It was my first year going to a horse race. This year, now that I’ve done my observation, I dressed accordingly. I went with a big hat and a bright yellow dress and I looked just like any other Southern ladies except I’m not. It was fun, though. By the way, Lexington, KY is named the horse capital of the world. It’s not the fried chicken capital like what you think.
To all 90’s and early 2000’s kids: do you remember the old Windows XP display? The green rolling hills? Many, many lands in Kentucky look just like that. It looks just like postcards. Living here for a year and a half already, I’ve come to genuinely appreciate the natural beauty so much more now.
On sport, people here in Lexington adore their college basketball team, the UK (University of Kentucky) Wildcats, with their official color of white and blue. I’m telling you, people are pretty devoted to the team. At first, I didn’t understand what the hype is all about, but then I imagined it like Indonesia’ s soccer team and the legion of fans we have. Wait until you see the team play. The Wildcats is awesome, it’s way better than the other team we have in another city in Kentucky like Louisville (I know, this opinion is very subjective). With a great team, people also address their admiration to the team’s coach, John Calipari or Coach Cal. Of course I didn’t understand it at first. The coach used to go to Dunkin’ Donuts downtown for breakfast and I did, too. There were a few times when I had breakfast there, he was there as well. I didn’t know him, but I remember people would be calling his name, like, “HEY COACH CAL!” or “GOOD MORNING COACH CAL!!” and be waving at him. He is a big deal. And me, I was just sitting there completely focused on my donuts. I’ve come along way since. I know better now.
That glimpse of what people are up to when we don’t live in a big city. It takes time, but smaller cities will eventually grow on you. It will eventually capture your heart. For me, it took me a year to appreciate all the beauties and the local culture. One day, my husband and I were driving home. He was particularly surprised by this one thing that I said to him, something he would have never thought I would say. I said to him, “I love Kentucky.”
Content Edited by Artricia Rasyid
Photo Credit: Author’s personal collection, Reddit, Hauteliving