Letter from Miami: Take a deep breath, dive in, viva la vida

WHEN I told my friends in New York I was headed to Miami next, their first reaction was, “Be careful. It’s crazy there.”

Coming from Singapore, with its restrictions on social life and crowds, New York is already crazy enough – to be back with humanity again, to be breathing the same air with people from everywhere in packed theatres, restaurants and bars, to see Times Square in full glow and crowded with youths spinning round on skateboards and people dressed up in giant animal suits.

Times Square already took some time adjusting to, but what about Miami?

It’s enough to make your head spin, so it was with a bit of trepidation that I approached Miami. Could I ever be ready for it?

Well, turns out you have no choice but to be ready for it. The Delta Airlines flight is packed 100% as the crew kept reminding us. I don’t know whether that’s to cheer them up or to put fear in us. After the Singapore Airlines flight where I had a seat and social-distanced space all to myself, it took some getting used to having another human so close to me on my second flight in 20 months.

Once, our
elbows touched and I smiled outwardly at her, even as I shuddered inwardly. She
must have sensed it because she turned to me and said, “It’s my first flight, bringing
my daughters to visit their grandparents.”

Through our
masks, we share stories of family separation and reunions.

Along the aisle, a woman in designer sports wear drags a trolley behind her and I hear the distinct yapping of dogs. She pulls one out and another pokes its head out. “Oh look, there’s another one in there,” exclaims someone.

This bit of canine cheer puts me in a Miami state of mind – as I’ve been told, it’s different here, it doesn’t feel like an American city, it’s more Latino, more laidback, more colourful, more Viva la vida (live life) kind of philosophy.

At the Art Deco Historic District – dancing, singing, celebrating, it’s all happening.

This is delivered
to me in full blast when I walk along the Art Deco Historic District of Miami
Beach, where my hotel, the Royal Palm South Beach Resort is situated. The hotel
is part of Marriott’s Tribute Portfolio and I think the only tribute it is
paying to is that of a hotel built in the 1980s in Pattaya, but this is not a
hotel review.

Restaurants
and bars are packed and in one, there’s a couple dancing the salsa on stage
while around them, people are cheering them on. I walk past the late Gianni
Versace’s mansion which has been turned into a restaurant. People are posing
for selfies at the gate. The tourist’s penchant for the macabre hasn’t changed.

The attitude towards masks is definitely more relaxed here. Actually I take that back. There is no attitude, locals do not wear masks. This takes some getting used to after you’ve spent the last 20 months behind masks. “Oh, we stopped wearing masks a long time ago,” a local man tells me.

Covid, what Covid?

The only
reminders are in hotels where customer-facing service staff are masked, as are
Uber drivers who all seem to be from various parts of South America. All of
them believe Miami is “the best place in the world”, and they are full of
recommendations as to where I should go and what I should see.

One asks,
“Is Singapore part of the USA?” when I told him where I was from. I (dared to)
speak about politics and vaccinations with one, who was from Dominican
Republic. “Don’t believe all you read,” he said. “We believe in vaccinations here.”
He tells me that Miami is very different from the rest of Florida – high
vaccinated rate (this site says Miami-Dade County is 76.52% fully
vaccinated and 91.13% one dose).

Miami Beach: Before the rush

On Miami Beach, which goes on for miles and miles, the wind is strong and the waves pound. It’s good to see beach life in full motion – joggers, dog walkers, yoga practitioners, swimmers.

It’s not as crowded as it usually is, I am told. Tourists are not yet fully back – it was only on November 8 that the US fully opened to vaccinated travellers from everywhere – and this is one of the benefits of travelling at this time.

By Ernest Zacharevic, the same Lithuanian artist whose street art decorates the walls of Penang, Malaysia, as well.

Even the
Wynwood Art Wall, usually heaving with visitors from everywhere, is relatively
quiet and we are able to enjoy the jaw-dropping, in-your-face art pieces at our
own pace. One piece catches my eye due to its familiarity and it’s done by the
same Lithuanian artist, Ernest Racacevic, who’s behind the street art in
Penang.

Art unites.

A contemporary twist to a Geisha.

For dinner, we try out Inti.mo by Chef Juan Chipoco who specialises in Peruvian-Japanese cuisine. The Uber driver, himself from Peru, had recommended we try the fried rice and while we thought it almost sacrilegous to order such an ordinary Asian staple at such an exotic restaurant, we couldn’t resist – and it turned out to be a good choice. The tuna ceviche, flavoured with soy and ginger, was also outstanding.

Food
unites.

As we dine
alfresco, we watch cars of all makes (but only one size: big) – Porsche,
Ferrari, BMW – drop off well-dressed Miamians
out for their Friday night parties.

“It’s really busy,” I say to our
waitress.

“It’s been quiet till the past
two weeks,” she replies. “People are coming back.”

At the TravelWeekly’s CruiseWorld event I was attending, I learnt that cruise bookings are an at all-time high from second half 2022 onwards – not only in volume but at higher prices. The Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ 132-night World Cruise 2024 sold out in two-and-a-half hours.

After a enforced and prolonged hiatus, people are ready to splurge and I felt the first wave of it this weekend in Miami.

Pent-up demand unites.

Featured image: Wynwood Art Walk

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