Final Days

My last week here, I’ve been making sure to visit some of the neighborhoods I’ve never seen before. It’s amazing how much of the city the tourists never see. Those are always my favorite spots.

Chinatown? Thrilling, beautiful, wonderful–but insanely crowded, expensive, and overrun with tourists. Inner Richmond is the city’s second Chinatown, and you can wander a bunch of super-cheap shops and buy all the paper lanterns you want. The other day, I went there in the afternoon and it was foggy and gray and I meandered through a bookstore that was pure book-chaos: stacks upon stacks of books, delightfully cluttered shelves, creaking stairs leading to more rooms and alcoves of books, books, books. I bought a novel for $6 and an old map of San Francisco for $4.

No tourists + cheap prices + pork bun = awesome.

Oh, right–more pork buns. I bought one from a bakery and walked the streets chowing down, looking over stalls of fresh produce, wandering shop aisles of porcelain dishes, and peeking into fish shops that had huge tanks filled with swimming fish soon to become someone’s dinner. I passed restaurants with ducks hanging in the windows. People had just gotten off work, and shoppers were picking up things for dinner, and there was an energy to the place. An almost homey energy–the rhythms of real life.

Yesterday I wandered around Hayes Valley, stopping into insanely expensive furniture stores and art galleries. The neighborhood used to be a slum, but after the Loma Prieta earthquake took down a freeway that used to run near here, the place experienced a revitalization. Now, it’s a pretty place to window shop and dream.

After Hayes Valley, I rode a few buses, mostly just to ride them and look out the window. The MUNI buses are my tour buses.

I rode the buses through the fog and cold until I got hungry. Then, I found my train and headed back to my own neighborhood and stopped into a Chinese restaurant for some sweet and sour chicken and Thai tea. The food was hot and fresh and good, and it was comforting to be inside and warm, looking out on the foggy street, where people went about their lives, meeting friends for dinner, getting off work, shopping for birthday presents.

As I walked to my apartment, I passed a little martial arts studio where small children were dressed in white uniforms and parents watched and waited while their children kicked the air. If they saw me walking by, I thought, they would see nothing other than a girl walking home after dinner. I smiled and kept walking.

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