As a child, I remember dreaming about living in San Francisco. My father had an opportunity to move there when we were in elementary school, and he asked if we wanted to go. I said "No" because I knew that one day San Francisco would be my permanent home, and I wanted to savor that experience as an adult.
After I finished graduate school, I planned to move to New York City, and I had actually shipped half my belongings to one of my closest friend's place in Brooklyn. Then, when I was temporarily staying in Chapel Hill before the move, I met a friend who had just returned from Hanoi and was getting ready to drive cross country to San Francisco. He asked if I wanted to move with him, and I immediately changed course.
We had no plans, no jobs and no place to live when we arrived in San Francisco. As we drove cross country, every evening when we checked into a hotel we would scour through Craigslist to look for an apartment. The only thing we knew was that we wanted to live in San Francisco.
When we arrived the city was more than beautiful to me — it was magical. People were generally friendly and open-minded, and we were surrounded by picturesque vistas and hilly streets lined with gorgeous Victorian homes.
I stayed in San Francisco for only one year before landing what I considered my dream job in Hanoi. I felt conflicted because, while I knew that a part of me wanted to stay in San Francisco, a larger part of me wanted to pursue my dream. Five years later, after another detour to Geneva, I returned to San Francisco, hoping to rediscover the city I had fallen in love with before.
After living here for seven years, I realized that just as we change as people, cities evolve as well. While I still love aspects of San Francisco and have a solid community here, I must admit that the city has changed, and I have changed. And now, I don't quite feel the love that I felt in previous years.
Because of the cost of living, many of the artists and creatives — the folks who add to the colorful character of the city — have moved out. Many of my friends continue to question how long to stay here and when would be the right time to move to a more affordable city. Given all these changes, within the city and within myself, it seems almost natural that my heart would be open to somewhere new.
At the end of January, I visited New Orleans, a city I haven't been to in nearly 20 years. For the first time in a very long time, this trip reminded me of what it felt like to fall in love with a new place.
I spent my first evening in the Garden District, and I was in awe as I strolled the streets lined with beautiful historical homes. They reminded me how I felt when I first discovered San Francisco. I was taken aback by the warm hospitality. When I got off the plane and two women smiled broadly at me and gave me a warm "Hello." And, then there's the food that I love — from the jambalaya to the crawfish étouffée to the gumbo. When we were kids, my uncle sent us crawfish from Louisiana because he knew how much we loved it.
For me New Orleans is more than a creole town; it is also a place that holds a special place in my heart from childhood and where I first developed an understanding of Vietnamese community.
New Orleans is home to a large Vietnamese population, over 14,000 people of Vietnamese origin have made their home there. My cousins grew up in New Orleans, so every summer when I was in junior high and high school on our way to summer vacation, we would stop in New Orleans and pick up my cousins before heading Florida. My aunt and uncle owned a pharmacy in a strip mall with all Vietnamese stores and restaurants; something I had certainly never experienced growing up in Indiana. I still remember my uncle taking me to eat beef pho, a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup, very early in the morning for breakfast and asking him why Vietnamese people ate such a heavy soup for breakfast.
Returning to New Orleans after all these years certainly reinvigorated something in me. It reminded me of that special feeling of falling in love with a city, while also remembering parts of my childhood.
I'm not quite sure how my newly found love for this city, or my current relationship with San Francisco, will evolve. I don't foresee myself moving to New Orleans, but at the very least it reminded me of what it's like to fall in love with a city. Perhaps, that experience will inspire me to somehow see San Francisco with fresh eyes and forge a new relationship with an acceptance of how the city has grown and changed.