15 minutes after a quick call, Bill's future landlord, a handsome lady in a dark
business outfit, showed up in a white SUV. Under a lush head of black hair
trimmed in a bob, she was about 5'6", and looked her late 30s. Business was
conducted in Mandarian. In ten more minutes, they briefed each other, agreed on
the terms, and the deal was done. "Call me sister Fan." She extended her hand
with a smile. She was so friendly that she helped him move.
Crossing the 19th street, a major city artery, on the east and the coastal Great
Hwy by the Pacific, Noriega was a thoroughfare sloping westward through Sunset
district. Between the 19th and 33rd was a bustling commercial zone. Shops and
offices lining both sides of the street reminded Bill of his hometown. Banks,
barber's shops, grocers, restaurants, telecom outlets, etc., were all reachable
within a few blocks. One did not need a car to get around, but of course this
was America and everyone Bill met drove.
It was a two-bedroom unit on the second floor of a three-story house at the
northeast corner of the 33rd street intersection. The two bedrooms took the
south half of the floor with windows opening to Noriega and doors to the living
room. The living area, about 200 sqft, was bordered on the east by a counter and
the small kitchen behind and on the north-east corner by a walk-in closet.
Across the room, the apartment entrance and a bay window opened to the north and
Apparently, sister Fan had rented the place, divided it into living quarters,
and sublet them out. She took the master bedroom with its shower and bath shared
during the day. A young girl from Thailand slept in the closet. A stack of
bunkbeds sat at either end of the living area by the walls and Bill took the
lower-level of the one between the entrance and the closet.
The bunkbeds were only lightly used. Cheng, a mover, and Laowu, a skilled
construction worker, men in their 30s, sometimes spent a night. A native of
Shandong province, Cheng was wiry, dark-skinned, and of few words. Behind a pair
of gold-rimmed glasses, the Tianjinner Laowu was older, stockier, sunnier, and
looked more educated. Both men seemed more like sister Fan's buddies than
renters. The three often went out together for shopping and gatherings and
seemed to have numerous friends all over SF. Most of the time, Bill would have
the living room to himself.
Sister Fan herself was juggling multiple jobs. During the day, she dressed up
and worked as a clerk in an immigration lawyer's office next door. To Bill, she
assumed the role of a big sister and gave freely all kinds of useful tips and
advices from dining to transportation, places to go and to avoid, etc. She even
suggested that she could find him a part-time job, washing dishes at a
restaurant on weekends. That lady sure was street-smart.
The other bedroom rented for $800 a month but was vacant at the moment. A mother
with her teenager daughter fresh off the boat would soon move in, Bill was told,
and they came from Fujian to join their husband and father who worked as a chef
in San Mateo. The petite Thai girl studied at SFSU, worked part-time, and was
rarely seen in the dorm. She would always smile but rarely talk and that was
another thing Bill soon discovered: this was an Asian/Chinese colony where
everybody spoke poor English.
He was with a new group of people now, Bill realized, people with different
backgrounds and ways of surviving in the world. He had always admired those who
made living with their hands, because most members of his big extended family
did and he himself was bad at it. Among other things, it was to avoid laboring
with his body that he worked so hard to excel in academic. It might be an
illusion but, somehow and as a whole, they seemed more trustworthy than his
cohort of would-be white-collar professionals. He could climb up as much as he
wanted but if he would ever fall off the ladder, they would be there for him.