Been there. Got the t-shirt.
I do not live in Cardiff. But I used to. I am from Canada and live in Toronto.
I hated to fly. I was not “afraid” to fly, meaning I was not afraid of terrorists or the plane crashing. I just hated the whole experience and so did my body. I would always find myself sick at the other end of my destination. I hated it so much, in fact, one summer I was willing to take the 36-hour train ride from Toronto, Ontario to Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada is really effin’ huge). I thought to myself, “Roopa, if you don’t get on the 2-hour flight to Halifax now, you may never fly again.” I got on that flight in the summer of 2002, victoriously.
The next summer I braved the 8-hour flight and went to Cardiff.
I ended up in Cardiff because I had a met a Welsh guy in university. He was in Toronto on exchange. He made me fall in love with all things Welsh. He was very patriotic, but in an endearing way. We became very good friends. Unfortunately, before I was to make my way to Wales we had a falling out and I ended up in Cardiff without knowing a soul. You know what, though? I would not have had it any other way. Cardiff became mine and mine alone. I did not have to share those memories with anyone.
I arrived at the train station and hailed a cab to the Cardiff Backpackers where I had paid for three nights. I was ready to meet Welsh people and delve into Welsh culture, only to be driven through a very East Indian part of town! WHAT??? I am Indian! I did not want to see Indian people! I wanted to meet Welsh people!
I found a place to stay in Cathays via the Cardiff Free Exchange. I met my future roommates outside Cardiff Castle and trotted back to their home. I could not believe how cold it was in Wales. It was late April and the nights were freezing! I know. A Canadian girl who cannot handle the cold? Canada cold and Wales cold are two different colds: Canada is dry and Wales is damp. The cold got into my bones like no other cold. And because heat is so expensive in Wales my roommates only turned it on for one hour in the morning and maybe two hours in the evening. I even had to buy a winter duvet for sleeping.
Next thing I needed was a job.
I went to St. David’s Centre and looked around. I went to shops I recognised and landed an interview at The Body Shop (we have those in Canada, too). I continued walking around and found myself on The Hayes and in front of MVC. I had many years of music and video retail experience from Canada and thought they might like a foreigner who is into music. I walked in and heard U2. I am a huge U2 fan and I took it as a sign. I knew I was going to get that job.
My days at MVC were so much fun. The staff was awesome, the customers were nice (especially when they found out I was Canadian and not American), and I have never been hit on by so many men in my entire life! White boys in Wales sure do like their brown girls.
Going to Clwb Ifor Bach, drinking at the Owain Glyndr, buying jewellery in the arcade, visiting Caerphilly Castle, trying to understand why everyone thought people from Merthyr Tydfil were weird, stumbling around drunk and taking pictures on the stairs of Marks & Spencer’s, walking to and from Tewkesbury Street in Cathays to MVC on The Hayes are just some of the memories I hold dear of Cardiff.
Cardiff, to me, means overcoming a fear of mine and finding out more about who I am. I packed my bags, without a job, without a place to stay, without any friends and Cardiff embraced me. I have nothing but fond memories. Everyone was so nice.
In 2006, my old friend from Wales (the one I had had a falling out with) and I rekindled our friendship. I was over the moon because he and I were meant to be lifelong friends. Two years later, in the summer of 2008, I returned to Cardiff and found it as lovely as ever.
I fell in love again.
Roopa Cheema is a high school geography and dance teacher in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She likes to rock out. She used to live in Cathays.
Roopa photographed herself wearing a Spiller’s Records t-shirt
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