Honestly, I didn’t come into Salt Lake City with high expectations. My friend, Sultan, and I were heading there for four days to check out the Sundance Film Festival, but other than watching films, I wasn’t sure what else there really was to see. My knowledge of the city was pretty much limited to the 2002 Winter Olympics and the LDS Church, though I also should admit that the latter (no pun intended) was greatly influenced by the musical The Book of Mormon. Spending these four days there introduced me to a different Salt Lake City — one that I came to appreciate more than I could ever have imagined.
Sultan and I flew into SLC airport from LAX on Tuesday night, but we actually didn’t have a room at our hostel until the next day. After spending the night at the airport, we still couldn’t actually check into the hostel until 3 PM, so we headed to the University of Utah to visit one of Sultan’s friends, Aishola, who came from Kyrgyzstan to study at the university for two semesters as part of some kind of exchange program. Aishola had class in the morning, so after dropping off our stuff in her room, Sultan and I decided to explore a little bit and headed in the direction of the Natural History Museum of Utah.
I guess this is a good place to point out that it was snowing that day and it was pretty exciting for someone who grew up in Los Angeles and rarely gets to see days like this. The temperature was in the 20’s, but I came prepared with all kinds of layers to beat the cold.
The Natural History Museum of Utah is located at the university’s Rio Tinto Center and contains several great exhibits focusing on, well, the natural history of Utah. These exhibits include Past Worlds, which showcases many of the dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals that use to inhabit the state; First Peoples, which provides information about the people who originally lived in the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau; and Great Salt Lake, which focuses on the plants and animals that call the Great Salt Lake their home.
Other exhibits are Land, Life, Sky, and Native Voices which has information on Utah’s geology, biological diversity, climate, and federally recognized native tribes, respectively.
The museum also had a temporary exhibit called The Power of Poison that looked at poison’s “surprising role in our natural and cultural history”. This was super interesting and covered various poisonous animals and plants before connecting to cultural elements such as Snow White’s apple, the origins of the Mad Hatter, famous deaths by poison, and poison in children’s books, such as The Princess Bride and Harry Potter.
Aishola was done with class, so Sultan and I went back to meet her and some of her friends at a dining hall near the dorms for lunch. There, we talked about different ideas for what to do next.
After we finished eating, Sultan, Aishola, Aishola’s friend Elvina, and I took a walk off campus to Hogle Zoo, a 42-acre zoo with over 200 different species of animals. The zoo was free that day, probably because a few of the bigger animals like the zebras, giraffes, and elephants weren’t on display due to the weather. The first animals that we saw were the lions and it was the closest that I’ve ever actually been to seeing them in any zoo. It was interesting watching the lions play around with snow in the background and it definitely was not anything that I thought I would see on this trip to Salt Lake City.
We also saw different primates and apes, including gorillas and orangutans, followed by bald eagles, otters, seals, a polar bear, grizzly bears, various wildcats, and more. Overall, it was a pretty fun experience and I noticed that the zoo was very into their puns. You had the Wild Zootique, the RendeZoo Room, the EdZoocation Station, the Beastro, and even the Cat Wok Cafe. After a short trip to the Zootique to warm up, we headed back to the university.
Sultan and I picked up our stuff from Aishola’s room and then took the Trax light rail system towards our hostel. We made a quick stop at the Sundance box office at Trolley Square to pick up our film tickets before finally reaching Camelot Inn and checking in to our room.
The hostel itself is so strange in that there isn’t actually a reception desk so you have to check in yourself. It wasn’t a bad place to stay, but it was also a little eerie because you weren’t really sure if there was another person in the building or not. After taking a quick nap, we woke up to start heading towards the Broadway Centre Cinemas for our first Sundance film.
Gook, written, directed, and starring Justin Chon, is a narrative film about Korean and African-American racial tensions during the LA riots in 1992. The film was great, mixing humor and drama to tell a really compelling story about two Korean brothers and their friendship with a young black girl named Kamilla from Paramount. Simone Baker, the girl who plays Kamilla, did an exceptionally great job and she was even there with Justin Chon for a Q&A at the end. I rated the film a 4/4 on our audience ballot and Gook ended up wining Sundance’s NEXT Audience Award.
It was a long day, so we headed back to the hostel to sleep. It felt good to be in a warm-ish bed and I was ready to meet some Mormons.
Check out other posts in the Sal Tlay Ka Siti series:
– Sal Tlay Ka Siti (Part 1): Hello!
– Sal Tlay Ka Siti (Part 2): All American Prophet
– Sal Tlay Ka Siti (Part 3): I Believe
– Sal Tlay Ka Siti (Part 4): Tomorrow is a Latter Day