Monday, October 15, 2007

Little Boxes

"There's a green one and a pink one / And a blue one and a yellow one / And they're all made out of ticky-tacky / And they all look just the same"

Nine years ago this month, I packed up all my worldly belongings and moved across the United States to California. I had just graduated from University of Maryland with a double degree in public relations journalism and Chinese language and literature [I thought I would be a diplomat. HA!] and I had gotten a job as Assistant Product Manager at a Filipino American telecommunications company. I had visited the San Francisco Bay Area a few times during college and fell head over heels in love with it. San Francisco has a hip, but not too-cool-for-school vibe that seems to welcome everyone, give them a hug [and maybe a toke], and say, "Hi! You're neat. Can we be friends?" SF had a storied hippie past and a promising geeky future and I wanted to be a part of it.

Unfortunately, then as now, apartments in SF were astronomically unaffordable for a single person. The next best thing to living in SF was living in Daly City, the next town just south of "the city". Daly City's population comprised a gargantuan Filipino community. It was said that when the fog rolled in, it was because all the Filipinos in Daly City took the lids off their rice cookers at the same time. Living in Daly City was like living in a gentler, cleaner, less crime-ridden Manila. I could speak Tagalog to the cashier at Target, eat a decent longsilog [spicy longganisa sausage, sinangag or garlic fried rice, and itlog or fried egg] breakfast for dinner if I wanted, and get my favorite pan de ube [sweet rolls with purple yam filling] at 7-11.

I lived in Daly City's Westlake district in one of the ticky-tacky little boxes that Malvina Reynolds describes in today's blog song, which she wrote after driving through Daly City. My ticky-tacky little Westlake box looked a lot like this:


The in-law unit I lived in was located behind the garage, with a sneaky back entrance. When I stood in the middle of the sidewalk outside this house, I could see the Pacific Ocean on one side and the San Bruno Mountains on the other. Let me repeat that: ocean on one side and mountains on the other. Sometimes, when I find myself driving for miles upon miles upon miles of prairie flatlands here in Alberta, I miss geographical distinction.

My Westlake house was within walking distance of a grocery store, a Fiipino food store, and a pho place. This was the beginning of my Pho Proximity Requirement: anywhere I live MUST have a readily-accessible pho place. I'll live somewhere that doesn't have pho nearby, but anyone who lives with me in such a place would really wish there was pho nearby. Why not just get a recipe so I can have pho anytime I want? Good idea! I also want a framed reproduction of Caravaggio's Medusa. So I'll print this out and color it while I'm eating my crappy homemade pho. [Can you tell it's been a week since I had pho?]

My first home was basically one big living/dining/bedroom that I subdivided with creative placement of bookshelves and furniture. There was a tiny kitchenette and a small bathroom with no tub. My pantry and closet were both just part of one huge shelving unit with doors. Most of my furniture was borrowed or second-hand, but I felt like it was all mine. I felt like I was A Real Grownup for the first time; after all, the bills were in my name.

A few weeks ago, I came across the Telstar Flickr photo set of Westlake. The photo above is from the set. It turns out Westlake was "one of America's first master-planned postwar suburbs." dooce called this photo set "mid-century modern porn." I call it fond memories of the first place I chose for myself as home.
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