Tag Archives: apartment

my Year (of the Pig) in China, Pt. 1

After having lived the past year in the pulse of San Francisco’s Chinatown, I feel as if I have just participated in either a dare or an experiment.

It’s a long story as to how I ended up at this residency hotel that I called home for the past year. It is disguised by name as the Grand Pacific Hotel. It is neither grand nor located on Pacific Street and I am still uneasy considering it a hotel since the place seems only to house people in a long-term-permanent-home manner, there’s nothing temporary or fleeting about its occupants.

Before I continue, please cast aside any preconceived notions that you may have about hotels or residences as they may fool you into thinking I had my own toilet, shower, or kitchen or that a maid service turned down my bed each night and left small squares of chocolate on my pillows.

Grand Pacific (exterior)

This indiscernible building, located on Stockton Street between Broadway & Vallejo Streets, is located in arguably one of the most active hubs of Chinatown. The entry is nestled between Yee Cheong Hardware and Asia Mall and directly across the street from Chinatown’s Walgreens. The exterior is a terra-cotta-colored brick spotted with small windows and lined with fire escapes. Homemade clotheslines are stitched into this façade and garments can be seen hanging to dry from nearly every window, in constant rotation as the dry are retrieved and the wet immerge.

The entrance consists of a set of heavy-duty doors that lock between the hours of 8:00pm and 8:00am. Once inside, you can opt for the stairs on the left or the yellowing fluorescent filled old brown elevator that climbs floors so slowly you’d be better off taking the stairs. There is a sign next to the elevator that claims the building was seismically retrofitted in 1992 per California State Law in the event of another large earthquake (the last big one to hit was in 1989).

hallway

You’ll notice the wall color first, best described as an asylum green from the waist down, where the molding is. The top half is white including the ceilings, which are higher than one might expect. The second floor is the site of the building manager’s office, which has a barred window facing a landing. Inside, you will usually see a very old Chinese woman who speaks no English sitting on an old fold-up chair in the corner, surrounded by filing cabinets and piles of paperwork. On occasion, you will see Karen, a younger Chinese lady who is infinitely friendly and enthusiastic and speaks more English than her older counterpart. You will sometimes see Mr. Wong, the kind Building Manager who speaks less English than Karen but more English than his elder.

sinkdoor

My little unit, #405 (pronounced suh-ling-woo), was on the fourth out of five floors, half the size of the ‘biggest’ units they offer. It was a ‘cozy’ ten by ten foot box that included a small sink in one corner, a hardly larger closet in another corner, and a small sliding window that overlooked the gap in the middle of the building: a concrete pit. Another resident once asked me whether I lived “on the perimeter or in the vortex?” When I told him “the vortex” he made an expression with his face that could only be mistaken for somewhere between a grimace and a look of pity.

window

I, however, didn’t mind living on the inside circle of this structure. There was something safe and anonymous about it. It felt more private, too, since I didn’t have a window facing the bustling streets below. My room was well insulated from the sounds of the city and though I had expected the air to be more stagnant and warm since it faced a cement hole, it wasn’t. I received many a good breeze and gust of wind through my narrow window. Moreover, the four concrete walls of the pit served as an acoustic playground and I could hear the sounds of my fellow vortex dwellers. At the time, those sounds regularly served as a much-needed reminder that I wasn’t alone. A neighbor’s television, children’s chatter, and the resident who played Led Zeppelin covers on his guitar: they all became part of my Chinatown orchestra. There were bodies swarming around at all times of the day. Only four thin walls and 100 square feet of space separated me from the continual ebb and flow of that energy; it swirled like a perpetual dust storm in the halls, kitchens, and bathrooms.

My room was just two doors down from one of the two kitchens on my floor, a space filled with eight dirty electric burners, an industrial sink, and small cockroaches. The sounds of chopping on blocks drifted into my room regularly, as did the smells, which would range from an-almost-pleasant fresh steamed rice to a potent gag-worthy fishiness. The various odors would change directions with the wind in every hallway you walked down and every floor you visited. It felt like an olfactory adventure twenty-four hours a day, though I rarely enjoyed any of it.

kitchen

The kitchen was usually crowded and so filthy that I never once made a meal in it. I limited my time in the kitchen to the mornings, when I would use one of the eight burners to heat a tin full of hot water for my instant coffee. I do not care for instant coffee, but for someone who had no fridge and feared dirtying more than was necessary (cockroach phobia), it felt like my best option. The single worst experience I had in that kitchen happened around eight o’clock in the morning one weekday.

I’d been stirred awake before my alarm had sounded for work by a scream so shrill I actually worried there was a child in danger. With some hesitation, I immerged from my room with tin in hand to heat my water. I entered the kitchen to find four or five residents crowded by the sink, chatting feverishly in Chinese. I thought little of this spectacle as my neighbors often used the kitchen as their common area for socializing and conversation. When I returned five minutes later to retrieve my now boiling water, I was witness to the beheading of the live chicken in the sink they had all apparently been gathered around. Blood sprayed the walls by the sink and I quickly realized that the sound I had heard earlier belonged to that of a squawking panicked chicken. I padded quickly away back to my room, trying not to appear ruffled (pun intended) and tossed my hot water down the sink, fearing that some blood may have landed in it during the commotion. From that day forward, like when crossing a street, I always looked both ways before entering the kitchen.

to be continued…

jessi

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Filed under photography, Year of the Pig Studio // San Francisco, CA

a very full car, a flying cat, and a cranky turtle

so i did it. or perhaps it did me. i moved to San Francisco. i say ‘it did me’ only because the drive down here and the nights of packing that preceded that drive were nothing short of stressful, but i am already looking back and laughing at all that ensued. it all started with my apartment. since i’d missed out on a few weeks of my life (see previous post), i was a bit unprepared. and by a bit, i mean a lot. my poor mom showed up to my place the morning that i left to retrieve my keys from me and i was in the middle of packing my car realizing, box by box, that even the best tetris player in the world would not be able to lodge all of my belongings into the back of my car (a Subaru wagon which is bigger than the average sedan, sure, but it’s not exactly the size of a moving van).

i am now sitting at my desk (yes, the same desk), but i’m admiring blue skies in October. as expected (or I should say as planned since i heard October is perhaps the best month in San Francisco – hence my decision to move down here during this month), the weather is blissful. it’s been in the high 70’s and low to mid 80’s all week. i even went to the beach yesterday. the beach ! in October ! did i mention that i am happy ? i haven’t been this happy since, well, living in New York City (three long years ago). and that is a fact. i was built for city life it seems. that’s not to say i don’t enjoy places like the midwest, log cabins, or the like (because i really do, actually), but when it comes to my place of residence – cities are what make me happy. true walking cities. cities that do not require a car. cities that bustle on their sidewalks for most hours of the day and night (ok, so San Francisco is not the sleepless city that New York is, but it’s a close runner up). and i will not take this opportunity to say bad things about Seattle because Seattle is not a bad city, it’s just not for me.

so, my car was packed to the ceiling with my belongings. it was packed so tightly that in order to close the back hatch i basically had to body slam my car. on top of this, my dear friend drove me down and had a small backpack and computer case he needed to fit into the mix which, sadly, made an already tight squeeze even tighter (sadly only because a small backpack and computer case really ought not make or break how tight of a squeeze one feels in a vehicle). now why would a friend be driving me down ? i told you about a little health scare i had in the beginning of August that involved seizures – well, said seizures prevent me from driving for six months – so i needed someone legal to get me and my stuff down there. so, my poor friend sits in the front seat of my car on that fateful Friday afternoon of my departure. i could tell he was a little irked by my car’s fullness (which also forced the front seat to be closer to the steering wheel than was comfortable for him) and i do not blame him. it was absurd ! it was embarrassing ! and my poor car was so heavy it was lagging from gear to gear when shifting and to make matters worse more interesting i was bringing my cat down (in her crate) and my turtle down (in a box) so they were both perched on the front seat (because precious cargo rides shotgun). it was just hilarious looking at the situation. so my friend goes to start the car and he looks over at me and says, “it’s not starting.” my stomach dropped. it may have only been 2:00pm, but i’d been having a bad day.

for one, i had not slept and once i realized that not all of my boxes would fit into my car – i just ended up leaving a pile of boxes in my apartment. since i am ‘so great’ at labeling my boxes, i had no idea what i was leaving behind and what i was taking (as it turns out, I forgot all of my underwear and all of my paints – I’m so special sometimes!). at that point i didn’t care. it became a matter of which box will fit into that space? not a matter of which box do i really need? i had only begun loading my car around 6:30am, about an hour after my cat had decided she needed to try her hand at flying by JUMPING FROM MY TWO STORY WINDOW at 5:30 in the morning. i spent thirty long, exhausting, kill-me-now, crying minutes looking for her. i had decided she was gone and was walking back up to my apartment in a wrecked inconsolable stupor when i heard a MEOW upon opening the door. as it turns out, she decided to scale the wall BACK into my apartment during those thirty minutes i was outside calling her name, crying, and repeating one obscenity after another. at least she was safe and sound and i could get back to packing, but i think i had roughly ten years shaved off my life after that experience.

so, hearing the words: “it’s not starting” fall from my friend’s mouth was not exactly comforting. i was just about ready to throw my hands in the air and admit defeat. perhaps i was not destined to live in that fine city 950 miles south ? perhaps this is all one giant mistake ? i mean even my cat was jumping from windows in an effort to keep me there and/or end my life early. so i looked over at my friend and said, “really… ?” (not that i actually wanted him to answer that question honestly), and he said, “yeah.. watch” as he turned the keys in the ignition. so i held my breath and noticed that his foot had not compressed the clutch while he was turning the car on ! silly boy ! he must be so accustom to his fancy automatic transmission he’s forgotten how to drive a clutch ! relief washed over me until i thought a little bit harder and, with hesitation, asked, “you do know how to drive a stick shift, right?” his face dropped. I knew the answer immediately. As it turns out, boys who grow up in the Midwest, apparently, do not learn how to use a clutch. and I thought they all grew up driving tractors ! silly me. silly, silly me.

i did a bit of driving. shoot me. but i had to. you hear me ? i had to or else I was never going to get to San Francisco. so, when the road became straight and less populated I figured it was time for his first Stick Shift Lesson. now, he may have grown up in the Midwest without ever sitting on a tractor, but this boy went to Harvard, folks. so, he’s no dummy. we went to a parking lot off I-5 and i taught him the basic concept of driving a stick shift. started the car in first a few times and handed the wheel over to him and i have never seen or heard of anyone picking up the skill so fast in all my life. within minutes he was starting in first gear without stalling or uncomfortably jerking the car around. so, we were on our way. and although when we reached towns I would take the wheel over when we reached major intersections and/or any sort of inclines – we made it work. sometimes we’d just pull onto the freeway shoulder and i would put him behind the wheel and he would start from there. after all – getting a car into first gear is the hardest part of driving a stick shift. once you’re in first, you can slide all the way up into fifth gear and just glide south on I-5 without a care in the world.

because we’d left so late in the afternoon, we stopped somewhere to sleep around midnight. since the car was so packed and since i’d packed in such haste before i’d left, i decided to repack the car. at midnight. in the middle of nowhere. yes, i am a little crazy. i met a jazz musician whilst repacking – that’s cool, right ? i didn’t hit the hay until 2:15am – it was an intense game of tetris i was playing with my car, believe you me – but i eventually won and we were actually able to squeeze my friend’s back back and laptop into the back of the car ! so, for the remainder of the drive south – i resumed my position in shot gun. a cardboard box at my feet holding my turtle and a crate on my lap holding my cat. i was even so successful in the repack that i was able to move the front seat backwards a couple of inches to allow my friend to sit in the driver’s seat more comfortably – i’m such a good host, aren’t i?

i wanted to share an even longer story with you and describe to you, in painful detail, my new apartment and the surrounding area(s), but this post is long enough as it is and it’s taken me nearly all day to write considering i’ve been in and out of my apartment and have spent much time applying to jobs and making necessary appointments. that said, i bid ye farewell and a fine evening. i will post again in a day or two once the dust settles (weekends are for dust settling – are they not?). in the meantime, enjoy this picture i took of the view from my roof ::

[google images][google images][iPhone camera]

jessi

 

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