Life and Thoughts in Mexico
I am having a croissant at The Crepe House on Valencia Street in the Mission, this restaurant seems to me perfectly represents the whole gentrification spirit of the city of San Francisco: cute outdoor seating areas, high ceilings, wooden interior decoration, diverse local beer options in the same menu with coffee and brunches, and of course, people drinking champagne while typing on their laptops. For the record, I only ordered iced coffee. Across the street is the City College of San Francisco Mission Campus. I have taken some courses in this community college, hoping to make myself more competitive in San Francisco’s job market, where most of the people seem to be awarded for their talents at a level so high that they can dine at places like where I am right now all the time. On the facade of the building is a round-shaped marble installation, it symbolizes the sun with a human face in the center. I’ve seen it, been amazed by it, and been curious about its meanings many times, but only until this moment I realize that it is the Piedra del Sol, the most beautiful sculpture I saw in Museo Nacional de Anthropología in Mexico City.
It happens to me sometimes when my life situates itself into a routine and I would lose my sensibility towards the common but unknown. I become too lazy. That’s why sadness was one of the overwhelming feelings Mexico City kindled in me.
It’s been already a week since my trip to Mexico city. Like most, I had known of Mexico since I was introduced to geographies of the world. I knew one thing or two about its colonial past, about its struggle for independence and democracy, about its food, and cowboy boots. But when I was zigzagging through different parts of the city, rushing between museums, stuffing myself with cheap and delicious food even at 2AM, testing out different modes of transportation, looking for every opportunities to practice my Spanish, getting excited by the city’s never-ending offerings, I came to realize that, this is it, this is me, a well traveled person, getting educated, and my expectations surpassed.
I have to admit that I was trying so hard to understand Mexico city during my visit that it sometimes kept me from access the raw/unexpected feelings I would otherwise experience if I had been less rational. However, by the time I sat on the plane destined to San Francisco, I still wasn’t able to have a clear description for the city. I told my friend, Mexico city is the combination of Shanghai and San Francisco. It has diverse neighborhoods just like in San Francisco. La Condesa, the neighborhood I stayed in, together with La Roma, are the hippie-yuppie part of the town with cool bars and fancy restaurants catered towards young people at all income levels. There are also neighborhoods in the historical center and its vicinity where you would be able to see magnificent buildings with colonial influences, and narrow walkable streets allowed for automobile uses (which I oppose), and of course, lots of tourists. There are also outskirts neighborhoods offering me the impression of a lifestyle much more traditional and community-centered. On the other hand, the city is so massive that it is difficult to get around, just like what you would experience in large cities like Shanghai. There is always too much traffic, it takes long time to get from one place to another. And I would get very angry at seeing too many wide freeways cutting through neighborhoods. The city seems to be well connected by its metro system which enjoys high ridership thanks to its density, but the metro, with no air conditioning, is always hot and smelly.
Everything is super cheap (in US standard) in Mexico city. You could find tacos from street vendors for less than $1, and those with REAL meat in fancy restaurants range from $2 to $5 depending on whether you would want to add REAL cheese. I had an amazing Argentinian beef plate, I mean REAL beef, it only cost around $10. Metro ticket is 5 pesos one-way trip (see, I don’t even make the effort to convert it to US dollars). Ticket for Museo Nacional de Anthropología is around $4, for Museo de Frida Kahlo is around $10, and many museums are actually free. Uber and taxi are cheap too, a 25 min ride to the airport at 4:30AM costs less than $10.
I chose to ride mostly in Uber for most of my trips within the city since it offers a much more pleasant experience compared to public transit. But I stayed conscious about the accessibility and affordability of this service to the people of Mexico city. Cities like Mexico city would of course have an affluent class, a struggling bottom class, and a divided middle class, I don’t have statistics to analyze the distribution of income and the degree of inequality of the society. What I saw is a divided society where every day people I came across seem to be content with what they got, but what do I know? It is always seems to me very insincere of a tourist of a place to comment on the socio-economic issues of the people who live there. To speak of the poverty of the people in a place one visits oversimplifies and overgeneralizes the struggles, the experience of depress and hope of the people. Or maybe I am just being too serious?
Mexico city is a conflicted city. There may be visible conflicts such as street fights, or protests happening any time in the city, but what I experienced was a city without a vision or goal, without civic engagement, without a spirit, which might have been resulted from the intangible conflicts. I heard several time from local people speaking of the corruption and negligence of the government, complaining about the chaos of every day life. I had wished I could see civic alliances and organizations organizing people to have their voice heard, and to have their lives bettered. Maybe I am being the insincere kind I was referring to, but it is just a glimpse of how complicated the city is for me to fully comprehend.
There is a bookstore called Fondo de Cultura Economia in La Condesa. When I visited it during a thunderstorm, I was amazed by its emphasis on philosophy, art, literature, history, and political science selections. When I walked along the bookshelves, I suddenly felt excited. If this bookstore could be an anchor of social movement for those young hippies, and yuppies in the neighborhood, there might be some hope for the city to become better, not for touristic purposes, but for its general public.
I had finished my lunch and moved to Ritual Coffee Roasters on the same street. There are also many gentrifiers like myself frequenting this place. I have always hoped to spend more time with young people in the city of San Francisco, be civic-minded or not, be progressive or moderate, their enthusiasm and energy always excites me, inspires me, and gives me hope. They are the rising sun of the morning, and the future will be theirs eventually.
June 5th, 2016