The Chinese usher in a new lunar year with new clothes and a clean house; in Jenna’s bizarro world, it is not a new year but a new era, and the offerings are a new computer (refer to my Twitter feed) and a sparsely-furnished studio apartment in the Tenderloin.
The new era has not gotten off to an excellent start. Chinatown, a place where I have previously felt at home, might as well have been a foreign country today. It made me angry. I couldn’t think clearly until I was on my way back downtown, headed south along Powell, at the edge of the neighborhood.
I was angry because I felt neither here nor there. Mind you, this was where I came for my dim sum fix back when I lived in Berkeley. I loved to watch the old folks play cards and yell at each other in that little park a block off Grant. I loved to order food in my mediocre Mandarin. I loved not getting a second look because I blended in with the crowd – my own kind.
This afternoon, I felt alien. It wasn’t because I couldn’t find a decent cellphone shop that sold cute phone covers and stickers (which are a dime a dozen in Singapore, where I had gotten used to living.) It wasn’t because there were tourists everywhere, stopping in the middle of sidewalks to take photos of dumb things they will probably neither remember nor care to. And it definitely wasn’t because practically everyone was yelling in Cantonese and I could not understand a damned thing.
Like I said, I felt neither here nor there. I was no longer comfortable in Chinatown, and I felt empty walking around out there alone on a Saturday afternoon, searching for something that I was unable to find. I had felt out of place in Berkeley because I was younger than most of the people I knew and could not relate to anyone, and I felt out of place in Singapore because many of the people I’d met were sheltered and uninspiring. And here I am, trying to forge my own way in the world, trying to become a full-time writer – which I can tell you right now is a HELLUVALOT more difficult than becoming a full-time chemist. Holy Jeebus.
Doubt has begun to stalk me. It creeps outside my door and windows and nips at my heels when I’m getting fresh air in town. Just when I start to enjoy the sunshine, the aromas from the bakery, the music from buskers filling the crisp autumn air, the words of the question materialize in my mind: What are you doing here?
*The title is something I picked up from my friend, CEO. I miss that guy.