Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Sep 25 2011

US trip part 1

I got a benz to the airport to the airport this morning. An old car, early 90’s vintage, but it still had enough class to get the job done. It had been a hectic couple of days since I finished reserve training in Danshui, which is another post altogether, and I hadn’t yet caught up on my sleep.

I got to the airport in plenty of time for my flight, but the check in staff told me that, as United had switched aircraft in the middle of the night, just to mix things up, they decided to reassign all of the seating, resulting in both of my window seats being turned into middle seats. I told them that was really screwed up, and they said they’d put in a request for window seats.

I proceeded through immigration, enjoying no line in the Taiwan Nationals section and even getting the new sped-up checkout setup they have there that uses biometrics to flash yourself through. Then I retired to the lounge for some breakfast and massage chair therapy.

The flight to Tokyo was pleasant. I’d gotten my window seat and was able to observe out plane’ shadow flitting over the shiny rice fields on the way in, and I felt an urge to just stay there instead of flying on to San Francisco. This urge grew stronger when I’d passed through the strange deplaning inspections and while waiting in the bright departure lounge admiring a certain bear, beheld the aging (though shiny and well-kempt) 747 that was to bear us across the Pacific. The exposed layers of paint on its nose betrayed a long history of many repaintings, and unlike most planes these days, the entertainment system consisted of tiny CRT screens hanging from the ceiling, and no choice of what to watch. In addition to that, I was stuck in the middle seat. It was at least an exit row seat, so I could get up and move around fairly easily, but the air on the plane was some of the driest I’d ever encountered, and my throat began to bother me even though I had convinced the rather surly staff to give me some water. Being in the middle seat meant nowhere to lay my head and sleep, but I think I did pass out a couple of time in the course of the flight.

Morning on the other side of the planet flashed into the windows, and it was the same time that I’d left Taipei, only now I was in San Francisco, setting foot in the US for the first time in over a decade. Some minor changes were immediately apparent, in the form of increased airport security, but I was treated nicely and even got a Taiwanese-American immigration officer who appreciated my situation. I was asked a lot of questions, but it wasn’t unpleasant.

We’d arrived early thanks to a strong tailwind, so my friend Ernie, whom I’ve never actually met IRL before, was there just as I walked out of the door. I’m afraid he didn’t exactly catch me at my best, disheveled and jetlagged and somehow froze-shrunk on the plane. Also, I’d shaved for training and my beard hasn’t really had a chance to grow back.

We drove out onto the freeway, and I was struck by simple sights that I hadn’t seen in a dog’s age, things like white speed limit signs and nervous drivers. While the airport was experiencing lovely sunny weather, we drove into the low, wet clouds hugging the city, through newly developed districts that weren’t here that last time I visited, to downtown, which looks exactly the same. The last time I was in San Francisco was also the last time I was in the US. It was early 2001, and I was visiting my friend Mindcrime, who was then working for e*trade, just before the dot-com bust. I would take the ferry over from his Oakland apartment where he spent a great deal of time playing Everquest, to his game-filled office near the Bay Bridge, and I would walk around. E*trade made noises about hiring me for some kind of Chinese-language content position, but though I was tempted, I’m glad I didn’t make that move. Everything went pieces not long after that. Today, SF is experiencing a new dot-com boom of sorts, and I hope that this one ends better, if it has to end at all. My visit last time inspired me to begin this blog, actually.

My hotel didn’t have checkins until 3pm, so we drove down to the waterfront and walked around the markets there. One of the first things I saw was a jug band on the dock. Called the Bakersfield Dozen, it was a three-piece group consisting of a national guitar/lead singer, a washboard player and a washtub player. He was using a metal tub, wire, and a stick with an armrest. He wore gloves and hit the wire with a stick. I almost squealed like a schoolgirl, and rushed up to chat with them. He let me try out the washtub, and I have to say I really prefer the plastic version for getting notes. Still, nice setup.

Ernie and I walked the docks, sipping fresh Apple-Cucumber juice (interesting combination, but too many seeds), until we ended up at Bubba Gump Shrimp. Ernie covered up his embassassment at being seen at such a touristy location by feigning interest in visiting the bathroom, but I could tell he actually liked the kitchy feel of the place. Vintage streetcars ran along the road, painted in wonderful shades of aqua and yellow, accompanied by tri-wheeled pedicabs similar to the kind that used to be common in Taipei before scooters became popular. I was surprised at how many people sported DSLR cameras hanging around their necks. I had the Rabbit on a sling, but I didn’t take many shots. I was too busy just Being Back to take photos.

We walked back to the car and drove to Ernie’s neighborhood, i.e. The Mission, “where working-class Latinos and techy hipsters largely ignore each other” as the sign says. We walked down the streets, looking at interesting shops like the place affiliated with McSweeneys, where they tutor kids on writing and sell parrot supplies. Wait, sorry, I heard that wrong, Ernie said it’s actually “pirate supplies”, which makes slightly less sense. When I held up my little camera to take a video, the young girl behind the counter protested, pleading that keep my account of the shop strickly non-photographic. The shop next door, a taxidermist/unsettling bookshop that featured odd noises coming from upstairs, as if there were some taxidermy/unsettling writing going on, also forbade photos. I wonder what the reason for this could be; surely they’re not afraid of another taxidermy shop, perhaps a large national taxidermy chain, to set up shop across the street?

Everything felt slightly off to me at this point, like I was in a play. We saw a really cool 50’s/60’s furniture shop (“midmod”, Ernie calls it), an ok mariachi band, and had a donut and juice. Ernie and I stood outside a taqueria waiting for his friend to show up, chatting and watching people walk by, mostly Latinos, some older fellows in big old 70’s Caddies. Lunch was real taco, slightly spicy.

I was feeling drained as we walked back to Ernie’s pad, which is very nice, though a bit smaller than the Water Curtain Cave. But it’s in a vintage wooden building, has high ceilings and lots of light, and is more nicely appointed (he has a real kitchen, something I wouldn’t know how to use even if I had one). His neighbor is having a party tonight and I’m invited, but I suspect I’ll probably just stay at the hotel.

Oh, the hotel. It’s the Hotel North Beach, across from the famous Zoetrope building, and it’s essentially just a really old hotel, just rows and rows of small, simple rooms with bed, sink and TV. Could be out of the 1930’s, a la Barton Fink, though the interiors have been refurbished so recently that I can still smell the new carpet and paint (which is why I have the window open, letting the air and sounds of the city inside). I love it so far, or at least the feel of it. By a strange coincidence, the Folsom Street Fair/Parade or something is tomorrow, which explains why all the rooms in town were booked this weekend. I’m not entirely sure I want to go, but I’ve got no real plans for tomorrow, so I’ll probably just see what happens.

posted by Poagao at 2:37 pm  

2 Comments

  1. 很高興你平安抵達美國。

    Comment by Chenbl — September 25, 2011 @ 3:02 pm

  2. Ah, you’re making me homesick. You’ve seen some good sights of my fair city.

    Comment by Nick — October 1, 2011 @ 1:02 pm

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