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  • Elizabeth Cochran

The reality of San Francisco

San Francisco is the land of opportunity, of freedom, of expression in all of its forms. It is a truly an eclectic city that is full of various cultures: tech people, homeless, costume lovers, park goers, aspiring artists, and exercise fanatics. I have been traveling through various places in the last few months along the west coast and truthfully, I prefer elsewhere to here.. let me tell you why.

goldengatebridge, bridge, sanfrancisco, water, redbridge
Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco is not all the hype it used to be frankly. Culturally there is so much diversity and acceptance compared to other places in the USA, however there is a very prominent issue which is taking over the city that you simply cannot ignore. That is the homelessness. It is on almost every street corner. In some places it is worse than others, some more smelly, some more foul, but it is all here and you can't ignore it. You could, but then you would be so out of connection with the people, with your community; that is sad reality to live in. Truthfully though, I found it tremendously hard to enjoy this city due to the fact that so many were struggling, screaming, crying for help. The locals pass on by, ignore them, no eye contact, and pretend the homeless are not even there. But guess what, they are there. They are human, and they truly need help. They need support from the rich, from the community, from the government. How did it get this bad, what is there even to do..

Here is what we can do. We as a community can try to do better, by observing, listening to their cries, the needs of the people, and learning. We need to take action in any way possible. This issue has gone on long enough and I know the locals too are aware of this. The issue lies within our system, with gentrification, the wealth gap. It infuriates me truthfully. A city once filled with life, opportunity, newness, a new world, a cultural hub.. its dwindling, its changing, its suffering. Now, not all are suffering here. You can see that when you stroll through richer districts such as Richmond, Nob Hill, or the Financial district where all the wealthy people reside. San Francisco is changing, glamourising the city is a thing of the past; frankly a lot has changed in SF.

I however, found myself drawn to Chinatown, wandering around, and trying to connect with the locals. It truly feels like you are elsewhere when you are there. The buildings are different, people speak of Cantonese and Mandarin, the streets smell of dumplings, noodles, and fresh markets. I wanted to connect, but the language was our barrier. I know the stories from this place are profound. I met a lovely man who had his own shoppe and him and his wife made it all. It was very small, but their business was on the ground floor and they lived up top. I never got his name, but seeing him running a business in broken English was a beautifully woven success in itself. The name of the shoppe is unknown, but it was located across from House of Dimsum on 735 Jackson. The sign I saw was all you can eat dim sum 5.99. Come say hi to this fellow, he is truly appreciative of your business and will make you any type of dim sum dish.

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Chinatown, San Francisco

Another place I liked was the Royal Fine Jewelry shoppe, it is a fair trade crystal shoppe. I talked with the worker there about crystals, the families they buy it from, and of travels. He was born and raised in SFO in the mission district. He is bilingual, and was hoping I was from Mexico. I trick people sometimes with my looks, or was it my rucksack that was made in Mexico. He gave me suggestions of things to do that are more local. He told me to try the food in Mission district, enjoy the view from Coit's tower, enjoy the parks in SFO, and also always be aware. He asked what area of the city I was staying in. I told him the area. He said "not everyone is so friendly. . haha beware especially at night you know what I mean". Great advice, but also a harsh reality.

As I spend my last few days wandering in this city, I have learned the culture is vast here. It is still a place people come for opportunity. The history is rich here, as districts change meaning and people stick with their roots of their beginnings. I stayed downtown and was near the not so friendly Tenderloin district. This district is told to tourists to never go to. I resided near it in my hostel. I went unknowingly whilst going to a cheap banh mi place, because yes support Vietnamese businesses and I am still sad my journey to my father's homeland is on hold. I was walking through the Tenderloin to get to the small banh mi shoppe and was practicing the whole walk there how to use my Tieng Viet that I have been practicing the whole summer. I probably said it around 100 times in my head on the way. I don't know maybe I am a perfectionist, but it also helped me as I meddled through drug addicts, trash, pigeons, and the dodgy area. Once I arrived to the banh mi shoppe I was greeted in English, but I changed it to Viet. I said "Xin chao, toi moung banh mi ga" and she said to what I only can assume was how many sister.. and I responded with "Mot". I did it, I ordered in perfect Viet, she understood every word. I smiled under my fogged up glasses and face mask and grabbed a bag of jalapeno crisps. " sau do la" she said. I smiled gave her the money and wanted to speak more, Cmon, "Cmon: which means thank you, she said, but that was that.

Outside I wanted to eat it right away, but I realised just how extremely sketchy this place was around me. I remembered the walk to my hostel and never flashed my phone whilst I was in this area at all. I knew better than to do that. If I would have it for sure would have been stolen. People tried to talked to me, I could feel them staring, wanting to beg, scream at me, or who knows. It was creepy, it smelled, and in this area the amount of homeless were definitely in the hundreds per every couple blocks or so. I returned to safety and felt defeated. I don't want to ignore them. I want to help. I am just a backpacker, with hardly any money myself though. Its heartbreaking is what it is. The true reality is they are living everywhere with no refuge to call their own, just a pile of rubbish, the clothes on their backs, and the slight chance they have bags of belongings. I saw many of them wearing many layers, I thought of them when the air would crisp approaching the nighttime. I try to think good thoughts for them, send them my loving kindness, its all I can truly do in this moment, regardless of sharing their stories. As I would walk the streets of San Francisco, I would see some of the same homeless people at their spot, sitting, sleeping, crying, or acting well insane.. face masks suck sometimes. People can't see the genuine smiles under your mask anymore, even if they did though how would they react when for so long people just pass them by.

I took the historic cable cars, buses, and walked when able around the surrounding districts to explore SFO to the best of my ability. To make the most of it, to give this city a chance. I tried over and over, but its okay if you don't fall in love with every place you go. The enormous hills I can't say I love. The homeless, its heartbreaking, but I send my love to them. The prices, I definitely don't love. The nature, I love. The various cultures living here, I love. All in all, I didn't fall in love with San Francisco, there is a charm of course. But, I feel this city is clinging on to the used to be's. My perception is that people live in the past here, or are too worried of their destination. They cling to their upbringing, valid of course, or the idea of the new beginnings that are promised when moving to this city. Nothing can truly be promised, its relative, it changes, and sometimes life hits you hard. The present moment is rough in SFO. I know the pandemic hit this city hard. It is healing, its suffering, its amidst big change.

As I wandered through SFO , I say thank you. My heart is with the people here, with the community. A very inspiring thing I will share with you all is an artist I discovered while in the Museum of Modern Art in SFO. During the pandemic they created beautiful pieces to the suffering people and tried to share pockets of happiness, connection, and awareness through a project called " Flowers for sick people". They shared these vulnerable, yet joyful paintings with me, now I will share them with you.

All the peace, love, and light to you all.

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