Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Final Meeting at San Francisco

(20-21 April 2011, San Francisco)

Meet again               
I arrived at the underground BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) Civic Center Station. I took out my large, purple bag out from the BART train and straight went to the EXIT area. I was a bit lost to find a way to go to the United Nation Plaza. I was supposed to meet Aparpon there. I stopped a woman, and I asked her the direction to go to the plaza. To my surprise, it is above the underground station. She told me to use the EXIT escalator to go out from the station. I thank you to her, and I dragged my bag to the escalator. On the way to the escalator, I saw two musicians, a White American, and an African-American. Both of them were playing violins. However, each of them had their own styles of playing violin. The white man played with a full of energy, and few people tossed their money into a violin suitcase. The African-American man, he played his violin but without any sounds. His violin was broken. I realized he just a bagger with a wheel-chart, who imitated the white man. Their acts made me smile.  
Above the station, I saw a United Plaza Coffee Shop on the left side. I was at the right place. I made a call telling to Aparpon that I already arrived in the United Plaza area. I asked her to find me near to a fountain. After 15 minutes waiting, I saw her walked into my direction. I was glad that finally I could meet her again, after she moved out from LSU to San Francisco before Christmas, last year. On the day, she flew to San Francisco; I was in Houston with Lina’s family. She did not pass her English exam in LSU, and she decided to try her luck in San Francisco. I could not ask her to postpone her flight until I came back from Houston. We just said goodbye through our mobile phones. Hence, my ultimate aim to fly to San Francisco was to meet her. I would like to spend with her within 24 hours, as our meeting would be the last meeting for both of us in the USA. Within two weeks, she would fly back to her country, Thailand.
I turned my back and saw her. She ran towards me and hugged me. We were happy as we managed to see each other again. We did not want to waste our time and began our walked to her apartment at Polk Street. Par needed to see her aunt in one of the shopping complexes at Powell Street. On the way to her apartment, I saw the City Hall and ASIAN Museum of Art. Aparpon or affectionately known as Par, pointed a small building where she took her English and GRE course. I only saw a small building that located across of another street. Not long after, we reached at a bus station. Our conversation never ended there. We talked about our life and then Par mentioned there was a bomb scare near to her school, a week ago. She described that there was a man standing at the roadside. He shouted to people along the street that he carried a bomb. It was a small bomb attached to his body. The authority managed captured him, and they denote the bomb. Listening to Par’s story, I suddenly remembered the September 11 attack. I could not believe that San Francisco can be another target by suicide bombers or terrorists. I asked Par whether the man had been caught, but she told me that she did not hear any news about that man after the incident.
We saw a bus was coming to the bus stop where we stood. Par asked me to get ready USD2. She told me that I could use the ticket bus for a day. This was the first time I came to know that a bus ticket could be used repeatedly from one station to another station within a day. I could say that the public transportation companies in San Francisco City were exceedingly generous with the San Franciscans. The bus stopped in front of us. We entered in and paid USD2 each to the bus driver. Then we sat at the back and continued with our conversation. Within 10 minutes, we reached at her place.
We went down from the bus, and then crossed the street to Par’s apartment. Par carried my bag to a building that looked like an inn for me. When I was inside, I saw the interior of that building was modest, with red carpets covered the whole floors and the walls were painted in white. Par’s apartment was at the third floor. Both of us climbed the stairs and walked to her apartment. When she opened her apartment door, I saw two beds in the living room, a kitchen on the right and a bedroom on the left. I realized that there were three of them inside the apartment. The living room was a bit untidy, but I did not mind for that. I changed my clothes to dress a little thick. We expected the weather would be cold, rainy and windy.
We went out, across the street and stood waiting for the next bus at the same bus stop. I saw an African-American man in shabby clothes sat down on the bench. Par told me not to look at the man too long, as he might ask money from me. I just could not understand why she warned me, and I asked why.  
“He is a homeless man. They are truly terrible. They like to ask money and food, without looking for jobs. Many of them are lazy. Some of them don’t have any qualifications that would allow them to work here. No job, then no money.”
I was a bit pity on them, but Par was right. There is nothing free in this world. The bus arrived, and we showed our tickets to the driver. Less than 10 minutes, we arrived at our destination. I was astounded looking at the old and new buildings lined along the Powell Street. There was an open stage at the middle of the area. Par became my tour guide, explained that the Powell Street is a heaven for hard shoppers. Par then brought me to the Nordstorm Building, one of the shopping complexes in the street. Inside, I saw many outlets sold branded American and European products. Par and I went to a handbag department at second floor, and met her aunt there, as she wanted her aunt to help her to change the Longchamp handbag to COACH. After exchanging the bag, we went to Calvin Kline outlet. Par wanted to change her two months old handbag to a new one. It was a common practice in the USA, as you could change the branded product that you had bought to a new one within two or three months, as long as you kept the purchasing receipt.
Then, we went out from the Nordstorm and entered into the H & M store. I supposed not to spend my money in the city, but the cheap price displayed for each cloth could not stop my desire to buy one khakis trouser, one black legging, two shirts and one flowery skirt. The total price was USD65. Next, we went to the American Eagle outlet. Again, I spent my money buying two shirts for my brothers, a girl top for my sister, and a jean jacket for myself. The time was 9.30 pm, and both of us decided to try Thai’s food at a Thai restaurant. The restaurant belonged to the same company where Par worked as a part-timer. Par did not work at the restaurant, but as a worker in the same company, she could get 25 % discount. We ordered a large bowl of Tom Nyam soup, a plate of chicken rice and a plate of Piad Thai. Within 15 minutes, the waitress put the ordered foods on our table. We tried to taste the food, and we were a bit disappointed as the foods were not hot, as we wanted to. We did not care so much, as we were hungry. While savouring our foods, we continued talking about her life after moving out from LSU.
“Dency, my life here is a bit hard. Not like in LSU. Everything is so expensive here. That’s why I have to work at the Thai’s restaurant that I had showed while we were on the bus. I work two days in a week. In a day, I could get USD100, but I was tired after doing my part-time job.”
I listened to her story and put myself in her shoes. It was hard for me to imagine her situation then. She continued with her story.
“My housemate, the one that has a boyfriend, she did not come back home for two days already.  They have problems in their relationship. My other housemate, she loves to socialize, but she knows how to make business here. She would buy cheap clothes and shoes here, and then she sold back at fantastic prices in Thailand. In a month, she will make a profit of USD2000. Sometime, I don’t like both of them. They played loud music and disturbed me when I tried to sleep. There was one time I told them to slow down the volume. For four months, I lacked  sleeping. You see I already have dark circles around my eyes.”
I pitied Par. She continued saying that she needed to pay USD400 even though she slept in a living room, where when she was in Baton Rouge, she just paid me UD300 to rent a small room in my apartment. Living in San Francisco is just as if you stay in Kuala Lumpur. Three thousand Ringgit Malaysia would be not enough to accommodate your living expenses in Kuala Lumpur compare to my hometown, Kuching. Par also mentioned that, many University graduate students from Thailand would come to San Francisco looking for jobs and experiences. Most of them will end up become blue workers in restaurants or small shops. Others come here to study English, and try to enroll themselves to study in the USA. We talked for almost one hour. After paying the foods, we went out walking along the street. We smelled tea-leaves were burned after passing a group of men. Par mentioned that men smoked pot or marijuana. The smell was invigorating, and Par mentioned that she loved to smell it. I just laughed at her for being an addicted second smoker.
The bus had already stopped at the bus station, while we reached there. We jumped into the bus. Within 30 minutes, we were in Par’s apartment. I met Par’s shopaholic housemate. Par introduced her to me. I left Par and her housemate gossiped about their other housemate, while I excused myself to take a bath before getting myself to have a slumber sleep with Par.
The final hours
The next day, we went to Par’s favourite coffee shop at Polk Street. After almost 30 minutes enjoyed drinking San Francisco coffee and blueberry donuts, we decided to go to Laguna Street. Along the way to the Street, we saw many beautiful, unique double story terrace houses just like in the old drama series “Full House”. I always thought the “Full Houses” were located only in one street, just like in the drama, but I was wrong. The houses are everywhere and at any streets. I took many pictures of those houses. Then, we walked again. I asked Par about her future, whether she would like to come to LSU to further her study next year.
“Are you planning to come back to LSU? I still want you to be my housemate.”
Par smiled and said.
“I’m not sure Dency. You know my Dean; he likes to change his policy. I managed to get a place in the UK, but the university is not the top ten universities. I want to do my Phd in the USA. If I could not make it, maybe I just go to your country. I’m thinking to enroll in UUM or USM. Next week, I will sit for the last GRE exam. I hope I can pass my GRE. Again, it depends on my employer also, whether they want to send me to the USA.”
I silent for a while, and then encouraged her.
“Take your time. We never know, what is going to happen in our future. Make sure you pass your GRE. You already passed our English TOEFL. Within two years, you can decide which one is the best for you. If you do your Phd in Malaysia, we can meet again in Kuala Lumpur, or I can visit you in Bangkok. It’s not so far from my hometown, Kuching.”
Par smiled.
“Ya, we can meet in Bangkok. I can be your tour guide.”
Both of us smiled, and we continued our conversation about San Francisco and Par’s two housemates. Not long and we reached the Japanese neighborhood in Laguna Street. We explored that area and took many pictures. Time flew so fast. We went back to Par’s apartment. Not long after that, Helena called me that she would be a bit late. Par wanted to this one electrical shop. I followed her and to find out the company closed for lunchtime. We walked back slowly, allowing both of us to cherish the moment we had together. I received a call that Hellen and her husband were almost reaching Polk Street. I told Par that Hellen and her husband would be arrived within 10 minutes. We went to her apartment, carried down my bag and wait at the roadside. We did not see Hellen’s car parked at the opposite of the road until Cynthia who followed them, called me to look at the opposite road. I saw them stood next to a parked blue-grey car. We crossed the road and met them. I hugged all of them and introduced Par to them. For the moment, we did not say anything, and then Par broke the silent.
“Dency, we keep in touch through Facebook. No matter where we are, we still keep in touch.”
I nodded my head agreeing, and we hugged. I tried not to cry in front of her; instead, I put a smile on my face. Par then excused herself. We said goodbye to each other. I saw her crossed the road. At the other side, she waved her left hand goodbye to me for the last time. I waved back to her again, and then I entered into the car. When I looked at the side window car, I did not see Par anymore. I just looked at her apartment, and remembering the moment, we went through together in Baton Rouge, Louisiana to San Francisco, California. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A morning on Eve Valentine's Day

(13 February 2011 at LSU, Baton Rouge)

Strolling along the lake

It is 6.30 am. I put on my shoes and wear my winter jacket. Then, I carry my backpack and put Richard’s binocular around my neck. Today, I am going to do bird watching at the LSU Lake. It is a cold early morning with the temperature of – 2 °C. I see fog engulfs a small field near to my apartment area. When I look down at small leaves along the side road to the lake, I notice the leaves covered with ice. It is a marvelous thing that I never see in my life before. I take few pictures of the ice-covered leaves. After taking few pictures, I continue on walking until I reach an area of oak trees. I cross the area, and I feel like walking in a mystic forest with fog surrounds the oak trees. I stand for a while, allowing myself to appreciate the nature beauty in the morning. Then, I continue on my journey until I reach the lake.
At the lake, I see a boy is watching a group of Egrets opposite of the lake using his binocular. I recognize the boy as one of students who takes the same bird course as me. I sit down on a bench, while waiting for him to finish his work. I open my backpack and take out the book of Field Guide Birds on Eastern of South America. I browse the book from one page to another, looking for the birds that I will observe at the lake area. I expect to see, Great and Snowy Egrets, Great Cormorants, Brown Pelican, Green Heron and many migrated birds. February is a perfect time to see migrated birds that are migrated from South America to North America. Louisiana is one of the stopping or transit area for these birds. I jot down few bird names that may be found at the lake, on a piece of white paper. It will make my observation easier without me struggling to open the Field Guide book again. After the boy has left that area, I start my observation. I adjust the lens focus of Richard’s binocular, and then put the lens parallel to my eye level.
I can see three Great Cormorants sit on a large trunk in the middle of the lake. I put down my binocular, and I reach my pen to write the number three next to the Great Cormorant that I had written on the piece of white paper. Then I put up the binocular, and suddenly I see a flock of Egrets on two large trees that grew along the lake. They are more than ten birds, but I cannot differentiate between the Snowy and Great Egrets from afar. I make a decision walking around the lake, and expecting that I can find more birds. While walking, suddenly I see a large brown bird, standing with one leg near to a sandy area. I suddenly know it must be the Great Blue Heron. It is a giant bird. I never see that bird in Sarawak. I slowly walk to see the bird closely. I stop at 50 meters away from it. Then, I straight take my camera out of my jacket pocket to shot a picture of that bird. I manage to get a clear shot. The bird feels my present, and it flips its wings to fly across the other side of the lake.
It is 7.30 am. The temperature steadily increases to 13 °C. Many joggers are already at the lake. I continue with my activity. I do not realize that the white paper contains the bird list dropped from my pocket.
“Excuse me, ma’am. You dropped your paper.”

An Asian man gives the bird list to me. I shock for a while, and realize that I have dropped the bird list. Luckily, he found it, and then gave it to me. I thank you to him, and he continues on jogging. After ten minutes walking, I see two male and one female Mallard ducks, swim happily. I jot down the number of the Mallards that I have seen on the bird list. I walk for another 50 meters, and I see a pair of Wood-Ducks on the branch of a tree. I just amaze to see both of the ducks perches on a tree. I cannot let the moment go, and I straight snap a photo of the male duck. As usual, I add more numbers for the duck species. I continue on walking, and meet two old women.
“Good morning.”
I reply the same words back to both of them. It is a common practice here, when there is a stranger greets you. They may say ‘Good morning’, ‘Good afternoon’ or ‘How are you?’ I seldom start greeting to them, as I know they will greet me, first. In Malaysia, it will be weird if there is a stranger politely greets you. It will be the same if we greet any strangers; they will look at us suspiciously. My first week I was in the USA, I felt weird, but eventually I used to the ‘friendly’ culture. I meet an old man with his dog, and I greet him. He smiles and greets me back. 
I walk and pass many grand houses that circling around the lake. There is one house with a small door covered with bushes. The door makes me remember a classic story, The Secret Garden, written by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I keep on walking until I stop at a big tree. I still remember three months after settling down in the Land of Freedom; I sat down crying alone to pacify my broken heart under of that tree. I do not want to think that, and I quickly opened my pace. I try to control myself, but I cannot contain my tears from straining down on my cheeks. I wipe my tears from my cheeks, and tell to my heart to be strong. I walk faster and faster, until I feel I need to stop. I look up in the sky to see a group of Least-Terns fly circling the lake. I walk while looking at the terns. I do not realize that I already reached the end of the lake. I look around, and suddenly I see a Green Heron, standing under a bridge. The bird becomes the last bird that I have seen on that morning. The time is 10.30 am. Three hours bird-watching shall be enough for me. I manage to list 11 species. I hope this assignment can help me to score 10 points bonus after failing to score full 10 points for my first quiz.
A poem for an Angel
I walk back to my apartment using the other route. At the junction to my apartment, I meet an old man with a shabby look. He carries a brown cardboard. There are words written on the cardboard, but I cannot see the words from afar. The more I approach the old man, the more clearly the words written on the cardboard. The old man wrote:
“I’m looking for a job so that I can buy food.”
I am speechless after knowing what was written on the cardboard. He wants people to hire him and pay him so that he can buy food. I have never seen anything like that in Malaysia. Beggars in Malaysia will ask money without putting much effort on how to find a job so that they can get money. When I close to that old man, he stops me.
“Hi, I’m John. Do you speak English? I’m cannot speak in Spanish.”
He thinks I am a Latin woman.
“You can speak English with me. I’m an Asian. I also cannot speak in Spanish.”
He smiles and then takes out a small white paper from his left pocket of his trouser.
“I want to read a poem for you. The title is ‘An Angel’. I want you to listen. You don’t mind spend five minutes listening to my poem?”
I ask him to read.
“There is an Angel. An Angel sent by God. She…..”
His poem is beautiful. I am carried away by his beautiful words. Once he finishes reading, he asks whether I like it. I just smile and nod my head. Then, he asks whether I have a job for him, so that he can get money for him to buy food. I feel guilty to tell him the truth that I also need money. Being a poor student, I need to be rigid with my spending.
“I’m sorry, I can’t help you. Maybe you will meet someone else that can give a job for you. I’m just a poor student. If I have extra money, I can give some for you to buy food. I wish I can. God can help you. Just pray to Him.”
He says.
“Every day, I pray to God so that He can help me. I know God will help me, but until when I need to suffer like this.”
I am stunned to hear his words. I motivate him that God is gracious and will not make him suffer too long.
“God always listens to our pleas. It just that, He will give His helps when the time is right. Since Adam and Eve disobeyed Him, we will always suffer in this world. But, God is gracious. He sent His only son, Jesus to save us. God does send His Angles to look after all of us. Perhaps, there is another Angel for you. You just need to be patient. Patient is LOVE. John, God do LOVE you.”
He smiles listening to my words.
“Dear Girl. You know what; you are already an Angel for me. You are right. I need to be patient. I will wait until there is someone willing to hire me. Thanks for your advice.”
I smile, and I give my hug to him. I do not know why I suddenly want to hug him. I see tears streaming down on his cheeks. After hugging, we say goodbye to each other. I continue on walking, and when I turn my back, John shouts at me.
“Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you my dear Angel.”
I receive the three magical words from a stranger on the Eve of Valentine’s Day. I wave at him, and he does the same. I know that I cannot hold my tears. I turn myself from looking at him, and then I walk as quickly as possible. I just let my tears flowing down for the second time. In my heart, I ask God to make myself be loved by those who love me.