Last winter break, I was fortunate enough to go California for 16 days. It was a nice getaway, being away from the cold and going to a new place. Seeing a different type of demographics, culture, climate, and terrain. It is very fascinating traveling across USA; the diversity in its terrain alone is very interesting. I went from a mountainous desert to a green valley within days, although the long drives do get repetitive after a while.
Throughout my journey, I stopped by San Fransisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego, with other little towns as our temporary base for our nature expedition. One thing that I vividly remember was San Fransisco, and that was not because I had a legit food coma.
SF struck out to me because it is a city with two faces. The thing is, most cities have two faces, but this one is different. Most cities don’t show both sides of their faces in a short period of time. Usually you are lulled by their flashing, shining lights, and their crowded city squares, filled with performers and attention-seekers, early on, before realizing the dark side of the city.
Probably I got off the wrong spot of the town, but the sight of old Asian women, packing away their cartons of milk and canned food, which I assume they wanted to sell, and hastily running away from the incoming police, and then coming back once the coast is clear, will be forever etched in my mind.
I do not advocate illegal businesses or crowding the sidewalk, but the fact that there are old people who are willing to take the risk of being confronted by the authorities in order to survive surely means something, no?
I am not saying that San Fransisco is worse than other cities, for I have not been to all the cities, and I do not know the real situation of other cities. Maybe it is more prevalent here in SF. Maybe I just happen to bump only into that group.
But as I walked more in SF and also in Berkeley, where the sight of the homeless people seems to be overwhelming, I wonder. I wonder how can one enjoy a vacation in this grand city peacefully? How is it possible to ignore those asking for a change without any feeling of guilt? As we tuck in our coat harder when the breeze from the bay sends chill to our summer-soaked skin, we try not to see the shivering homeless person sitting on the sidewalk.
Amidst the shining lights, I see people digging out of trash for food. I see their faces. Some look so young, so clean, so pure. Do they deserve to be on the streets? As I stand in the BART on my way back to Berkeley, I kept thinking.
How does one survive in this city?