A picture is worth a thousand words, but a picture with a thousand words is worth much more.

People say, “take photos of the place that you have been, so you can relive the moments. You can revisit the colours of the chipped brick wall, the different languages shouted all over the place, the bustling and hustling pedestrian lane, the mixture of the burning sensation of the sun, shining directly on your face, and the cooling breeze of the winter winds.”

But what if you wanted more than that? What if you wanted to revisit the thought process of your 21-year-old self when he rode the roller coaster for the first time in years? I think that must be the best part when you are spending your remaining days, sitting in your garden, after having been retired at 65; it’s good to have a picture, it’s better to have some context with it, but I think it’s best to have emotions with it –  so you can actually mean it when you say “great times”.

The Tales of Two Cities

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?


Like any other nights in college,
I lie on my bed,
Trying to close my eyes at 2 in the morning.

The sound of silence and the warmth of the breeze
keeping me company as I doze off to my dreams.
But tonight is not like any other nights.
Tonight is different.

Amidst the darkness of the room,
I got up from the bed.
I had to write this all down,
as tonight is not like any other nights.

Although just like any other nights
I find it hard to close my eyes.
Tonight, I cannot close my eyes
not because I took a nap in the evening.
Instead, I have read what has been happening.
Be it across the streets or across the ocean.
The next street or the next time zone.

Tonight, I cannot close my eyes
not because I am caffeine-induced.
I don’t even like coffee in the first place.
But this power of helplessness
Seeing injustices and all you can do is sigh.

So many things that I don’t even know where to begin.
If I were to begin with the trampling of civil liberties,
where can I put the trampling of human beings?
Rampant in our lives.
Instead of buying books, we are buying bombs.
Instead of maintaining peace, we are propagating fear.
Instead of trust, we prefer distrust.
Oath takers lie.
Religious leaders sin.
Innocents are killed.
Civilians are under surveillance.
People are coerced.
Thinkers are silenced.
News are muted.
Lands are grabbed.
Even our food is a lie now.
Water is a privilege, racism is a right.
Is there anything genuinely real nowadays?

Do what we say, not what we do.
Money talks, connections help.

Hashtag this. Hashtag that.
Pray for Peshawar. Gaza. Detroit. Cuba. North Korea. Ukraine. Africa. Hong Kong.

Now I know why people choose to be fools
because life seems easier.
The more you know,
the more you feel like everything is over.
Yet this is nothing new.

At 2:45 in the morning,
this is not a sign of defeat.
Just a sign of misplaced optimism.
Because tonight,
is not like other nights.