When the cat is away, the mouse goes to San Francisco… armed with a point and shoot camera

It’s been a while since I last wrote just for the sake of writing, and not for the sake of expressing and articulating my inner thoughts. I used to enjoy mindless writing, like documenting my favourite recipes or recounting tales of adventure that took place while traveling. But over the past couple of years, I’ve become such a serious thinker that writing evolved into a process where I formulate my thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and in the end come to terms with who and what I really am. Through writing, I’ve seen a lot of the good and ugly sides of me and it often forces me to face the reality. So you can understand why I haven’t been writing as often as I used to anymore. It is not because I haven’t been traveling, but simply because it is sometimes too painful to do. Seeing the words written before my eyes is like seeing the content of my heart being spilled out. Just as one would with a Pandora box, no sooner had the words materialised than I wished I could take them back.

When I found out that I would be moving to a new place halfway across the world, I told myself that I should learn to write for the sake of writing again. It’s surely going to take some conscious effort and some getting used to since I still tend to overthink and overanalyse things (if not more as I get older), but there’s no better time to change than when you’re starting a new life, isn’t it?

I started my trip to San Francisco with a pre-dawn drive from Mountain View as we had to pay the US Customs & Border Protection office a visit to correct our I-94 forms. Us being Singaporeans, we thought we should be kiasu and arrive 15 minutes before their opening hours, which we did. Not only was there no queue at all, half an hour later after we had completed our business, we were still the only ones there. The exact same thing also happened last Sunday when we decided to make use of a Google discount to watch The Hobbit at the movie theatre. Since we couldn’t book the tickets online, we decided to come an hour before the show to secure tickets. Not only was the box office not open yet, we ended up in a huge theatre with just 5 or 6 other moviegoers. Seriously, the kiasu habit is hard to kill.

Leo left me right smack in the middle of downtown SF after our business at the custom office as he had to drive back to Mountain View for work. On my own, as I have often traveled, I happily climbed the staircase from Filbert St all the way up to Telegraph Hill and was immediately rewarded with a prime real estate view of the bay area.

Bay bridge on a misty Wednesday morning

Bay bridge on a slightly misty Wednesday morning

The Golden Gate bridge from the other side of Telegraph Hill

The Golden Gate bridge from the other side of Telegraph Hill

As I sat down below the Coit Tower to eat a piece onigiri, I observed a group of old ladies in their exercise gears, doing some warm-up while chatting in Cantonese. The amazingly clear blue sky succeeded in persuading me to press on, so I walked all the way down and up again across the North Beach neighbourhood until I reached the infamous Lombard St, which was nothing but a narrow, twisty, one-way lane that goes downhill for about 2 minutes. Nothing special, really. But the view from the top of Lombard St was impressive. It was so high that you could clearly see all the notorious going up and downhill of San Francisco’s streets, including the Coit Tower. Upon seeing this, my first thought was that one would not need to perform squats at the gym anymore if one lived in this city. Let’s just say that my glut muscles were having a field day that day.

You can see all the way to Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower from the top of Lombard St

You can see all the way to Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower from the top of Lombard St

Just to give an idea of how steep the streets are

Just to give an idea of how steep the streets are

Cable car from the Powell Hyde line was going downhill towards the beach

Cable car from the Powell Hyde line was going downhill towards the beach

Lured by the promise of the sea against the clear blue sky, I decided to walk towards the waterfront. There wasn’t a single cloud at all and the sun was shining so brightly that some people were already walking in shorts and tank tops. I had to forcefully stuff my winter coat inside my backpack and walk around with a bulging back like Quasimodo.

Even the bird knows how to appreciate the view

Even the bird knows how to appreciate the view

I wasn't disappointed at all by the view. Trust a clear blue sky to make anything look a million times better anytime.

I wasn’t disappointed at all by the view. Trust a clear blue sky to make anything look a million times better anytime.

Ghirardelli Square

Pitstop at Ghirardelli Square

After a nice cuppa at Ghirardelli Square, I pressed on towards Pier 39 passing by a group of Indonesian tourists who were struggling with their selfie stick. I was very tempted to offer them my service to take their picture, but I decided to be anti-social that day. Besides, a bunch of lazy bums at Pier 39 were already waiting for me.

Explanation board by the side of the dock mentioned that the sea lions started arriving at this particular pier in the early 1990. Thanks to the abundant food supply and the bay’s protection against predators, they decided to make this place home.

No idea where the rest of the sea lions were. I believe there should be a lot more of them.

No idea where the rest of the sea lions were. I believe there should be a lot more of them.

What a bunch of lazy bums!

What a bunch of lazy bums!

While some people could spend hours sitting by the dock and just watching the sea lions do practically nothing, my interest in these animals soon wore off and I quickly moved on to my final destination before catching the 4pm Caltrain back to Mountain View.

Welcome to San Francisco's Chinatown, the biggest Chinatown outside of Asia

Welcome to San Francisco’s Chinatown, the biggest Chinatown outside of Asia

Honestly, in all my naivety I thought going into Chinatown would remind me a bit of home. Instead, I was assaulted by the sudden throngs of crowd, the messiness, and the distinct smell of market produce which was such a stark contrast from the rest of the city that I could have well been in a parallel universe. People around me were shouting in foreign languages, jostling one another, and moving haphazardly. I felt crippled not being able to understand what they were saying and what was going on, too intimidated to even enter a store. Luckily, I quickly realised that my future well-being depended on me completing the mission that brought me to Chinatown in the first place. I snapped back into reality and started scouring for Asian grocery stores where I could possibly buy some Indomie (hey, I’m still Indonesian after all). The Ranch 99 Market near my place, supposedly the biggest and most complete Asian supermarket chain in the country, didn’t even sell a single packet at all. I miserably needed the comfort of my favourite MSG-laden instant noodle.

Waverly Place, or "the street of the painted balconies". Couldn't see what is so special about this street, but they say this is where most of the temples congregate.

Waverly Place, or “the street of the painted balconies”. Can’t see what is so special about this street, but they say this is where most of the temples congregate.

My mission in Chinatown failed, though I did finally manage to buy some Indomie from a small and obscure Asian grocery store one night next to where I was meeting my uncle for dinner. But that day I realised how quickly my transition to living in California has been. Numerous friends have been messaging me since I arrived, asking how the adjustment and the settling down had been. I couldn’t give them any long story about how difficult and troublesome this and that are, simply because there hasn’t been any. Within the first week, I had figured out where the nearest farmers market, Whole Foods, Target, Walmart, and Asian supermarket are from my place and how to get there without a car. That’s all I need to get on with life, which has been exactly the same as before I moved here. I’m already back to 8 hours of sleep a day, reading Murakami’s book, hitting the gym, cooking my own meals, listening to French podcasts and Coursera lectures. However, as much as I enjoy this normalcy, I will be looking forward to the next couple of months when the provision from the relocation benefits ends and we have to fend for ourselves. I guess that’s when things will start to shake up.

 

For more pictures, please visit my Flickr.

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