The best part of any city are the days when you can just wander, no direction or purpose, just look around for interesting things and walk toward them for a while. I started at the South side of Chinatown, stopping for dim sum and milk tea. I sat in the park on Kearny Street where locals, mostly older Asians, hang out. They were there playing cards, or a game that looked like Go, and practicing Chi Gung, with children playing nearby. Rain broke out while I was finishing, and the park all but cleared in seconds.
I stood under the awning next to the elevator watching the last few people moving into cover. It didn’t last long, a fast light soaking before everyone moved back into their places. It’s interesting to see people who have adapted so completely to their environment, knowing that the rain won’t last long enough to be worth going home.
After that I wandered through a couple Chinese Herb shops, remembering when I first started Kung Fu in San Diego, passing through the herb shop to get to the school. In some ways I really miss those days, but if I hadn’t left them behind I wouldn’t be on my way to Taiwan in a few weeks. I wouldn’t have found all the people I knew in Mexico. I wouldn’t be who I am now, or who I am becoming. I wonder if that’s good or bad, but I know I would be wondering the same if I had stayed in that life.
I wandered toward Pier 10, avoiding the hills around Coit Tower since I had seen them before. I walked the coast along the piers as it slowly changed from industry to tourism around Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf. I was watching the people as much as the place, with runners passing me in both directions, families wandering with children playing on the benches, and a couple of homeless people heading the same direction I was. It was the first time I heard French while I was here, and it was the first time I saw a couple really kiss in public.
Americans don’t have the same physical connection to each other many other cultures do. I noticed it when walking with friends, especially women. Only the Americans kept space between us. With others I noticed it was me moving away from the woman, not avoiding, just trying to maintain that slight separation I grew accustomed to back home. That slight touch, the brushing of your arms together seems normal to everyone else, but I never had that with any of my American friends. To be fair, it may be the same for Brits or other English speaking nations, but I haven’t had as much chance to study it.
I walked up and down the piers taking pictures until my camera died near the yacht club in sight of the Golden Gate Bridge. I thought about heading back, finding my way to the subway station and going home, but there was no real reason to go back. Finals were easy this term, with my focus on gender studies coming more from where I am than from any book they might have us read.
I continued past Fort Mason and through the park, looking ahead and finding myself saying, just a little further and I’ll head back. At a certain point it didn’t matter which direction I went, it was a long walk either way, and at that point I figured I might as well get to the Golden Gate and try to catch sunset.
I find it strangest of all how much I’ve changed, how I don’t really like the way I fit into society here anymore, and how easy it has become to push myself past the pain and anxiety that were always my demons. I think the biggest step came from seeing them as demons, not as an inevitable part of myself. It’s hard for me to fight myself, at least compared to the difficulty of fighting windmills.
As I watched the surfers catching waves under the bridge, trying to avoid the rocks around Fort Point, I remembered my time in San Diego, feeling the scar in my back again. It still acts up if I go too far, and I wandered for more than six hours that day. I still believe our best days and our worst days should leave scars, not for the pain, but for the memory, for the reminder of what those days cost us.
I was on the wrong side of the coast to catch much of the sun, and by the time I reached the top it was down and there really in no vantage point without crossing onto the bridge.
I sat down to catch the bus, remembering the system in Mexico, where the bus stops wherever the driver wants, and how some of them ignore people waiting for them, like sad little gods tormenting the lesser people. The roads are wide, and at least a little cleaner. The fear of being run over isn’t there, and there are postings everywhere that show the routes and times of the bus lines.
What I love about Mexico is what I hate about Mexico. Nothing is really illegal, and you can go and do what you want. There are no signs that must be obeyed, and fences are only there as a suggestion. You want to wander into the unexplored parts of Teotihuacan just look to where the fence is loose or broken. You always have to worry about who you offend, but respect and power are more important than law. That means freedom from all the pain that conforming to the law brings, but with a higher awareness for your own safety and for how you treat people.
I find it to be the same here, what I love is what I hate. Order and structure, everything clean and well run, a kind of safety that doesn’t exist in Mexico. But that doesn’t exist for everyone here, and it only really works for me because I fit in with the people in power. Beyond race and class, I keep my head down and stay within the lines. Within those lines I have amazing freedom, but I’ve seen beyond them now. I know why they’re there, but I wonder if I’m free at all here. Social conformity and anxiety keep me from crossing those fences like I did in Mexico, and I can feel the difference now between who I was and who I am.
In a lot of ways I’m looking forward to being on my way again. I love San Francisco, but I can already see how easy it would be to fall back on my bad habits, my bad diet, laziness, anxiety, and a slow descent back into depression and rage. As much as I love it, it isn’t comfortable, which is what I’m looking for, in a way. Travel, language, and culture are all just things I can throw myself at to see what breaks. We always look for comfort, but we never really learn from it, and we never really become anything more than we were.