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.”
“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.