The Fall of 2000: Work Life

(2021-11-06 10:15:25) 下一個

Some would say Bill had no life in those four months. One would expect a

well-educated young man visiting America in this day and age act differently

than refugees or fortune-seekers coming by boat. But he was just as hungry and

much more interested in gaining money-making skills than experiencing art and

culture. He had a new trade with the mindset of a laundry owner with a family back

in China to feed a century ago.


On a work day, he got up and crossed the street to catch the early morning bus,

in 10 minutes switched to the Muni N car at 19th street and Judah, got off at

the last stop to board the south-bound CalTrain at 4th and King st for Millbrae,

and walk the last mile to work. A round trip on a good day would take three and

a half hours.


In the beginning at least, Bill liked his commute as he got to see the city. Eastbound

and beyond 19th street, Chinese restaurants and grocery stores gave way to little 

bookstores, flower shops, cafes, and bakeries. Young people dressed in dark carrying

coffee and suitecases trickled out of typical SF three-story wall-sharing houses, and

rushed to the bus. Many would get off 20 minutes later on downtown Market street

and disapeared into tall buildings. CalTrain was the most enjoyable part. He

loved its speed, assuredness, the smell and decor reminding of the past, and the

scenary out of the window. Riding, he could never focus for long on a book.


He was often too self-concious to talk to people on the road. When he did speak,

to sound smooth, he would prepare mentally the whole sentence before releasing

it. To him, a dialogue felt like a venture and he had to make sure that a

sentence, like a boat, launch perfectly. This strategy worked only for brief

text-book style exchanges, however. Attempts to convey humor, for example,

usually tanked, which often added to his insecurity.


The problem was more than grammar and vocabulary. Coming from a different world,

Bill started to realize that things he thought funny were often not in the west.

Exaggerating and likening a fire-alarm to a warning for a terrorist attack was

not funny, e.g. There was no need to feel insulted when being called a guinea

pig and pronouncing Doug as dog would win no laughs(It was usually degrading to

liken someone to a pig or dog in the Chinese culture). One rare occasion his

joke worked was when he told a friendly fellow passenger: "I thought everyone

wore flowers in their hair before I came here. So far, not a petal in sight." He

got the idea from the SF song which he first heard in the movie Forrest Gump.

English had become what he knew about his environment rather than exam skills.


He was young, alone, and simply too overwhelmed to worry about what to eat.

Breakfasts were often skipped out of laziness, but occasionally he would have

dim sum from a shop near his apartment. The steamed dumplings looked great with

mouth-watering shrimp meat under translucent rice flour wrappings. But they

tasted bland and a tad sweet and two or three killed his appetite.


Lunch and sometimes supper were Wendy's double cheese burger and fries. The

smell of grilled beef and caramelized onion was irresistable and the price

cheap. Bill heard bad things about fast food over the years but gave no mind.

After a meal at KFC when he was a junior in college, he was hooked. It was

considered a delicacy back then. Now that he felt rich working and had already

cut expenses as much as he could, nothing was wrong rewarding his stomach.


It was often past eight when he got back to his dorm from the chilly and foggy

streets. He would pull out a bag of fast noodles, cut some vegetables, crack an

egg or two, and make a hearty supper. For Bill, even the simplest cooking by

himself made a place home.


He couldn't take his mind off the future, which often felt just as foggy as the

city, which in turn killed his imagination and aspirations. A few blocks west

from where he lived was the popular Pacific beach but he visited only twice. He

never felt the need to set foot in Chinatown, Fisherman's Wharf, or even the Golden

Gate Park a few blocks to the north. On the weekends, he sometimes would still go to 

Burlingame. Not that he loved working so much but he felt he had nothing better to 

do. More often, he would ride to the Borders bookstore at the Stonestown mall to

read. There, he bought his first book since coming to the west, a $70 technical tome

on the workings of the Internet. All he thought about was to better his conditions

through hard work. If it were not for his new friends, there indeed wouldn't be

much to write home about.

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閱讀 ()評論 (2)
7grizzly 回複 悄悄話 回複 '暖冬cool夏' 的評論 : Thank you, 暖冬, for reading and sharing your experience. Cooking relaxes me these days, just as a friend told me a long time ago. Planning and preparing a gimbap, a jjigae, or any other meal engage my mind and body in a different way than working or sports. The change is refreshing.

Have a great weekend and look forward to yours on LA.
暖冬cool夏 回複 悄悄話 A very vivid recount of Bill's first summer in SF!
J once told me that her most enjoyable time of the day was actually on the bus after work, as she did not have to think or do anything. Once home she would have to cook:)
We went to eat dim sum again in LA. LA is very comparable to SF in a way. Maybe I should write about it too:)) Have a great weekend, my friend!