After 2 years and 23 days – not that I was counting – my family and I moved back to Singapore from San Francisco. In that time I don’t think I met anyone who didn’t love San Francisco when they visited or had spent some time working there . Sure longtimers can get a bit weary of the City by the Bay, but generally all references to SF (never call it San Fran) were so positive I felt like Miss Negativity when I mentioned some things I had found a bit challenging about the place.
The articles you read on the cost of living are very true; it’s very expensive, it makes Singapore seem cheap and that is saying something. And I am not only talking about $19 Avocado toast. For example a thousand square foot apartment in the centre of the city can cost $4,800 a month. Parking can cost $6 for every 20mins. And of course, what you see on the sticker is never what you pay: tipping 20 percent – even when the service is crap because you are worried you will get abuse if you don’t – bumps up the prices even more.
The homelessness situation in San Francisco is worse than I have seen in any other first world country I have visited, and given America is the land of opportunity it was an odd check on reality. And it wasn’t just that people were hard up for cash and needed a roof over their heads, there were many people who looked like they needed medical attention, either physical or psychiatric care, and they are eating, sleeping and eyeing out an existence on the streets, often in a tent, usually under an overpass or in a doorway. You get used to seeing people lying in the street, often half naked, looking like they desperately needed help. That’s not something you want to get used to.
It may be a beautiful city but it is also one of the dirtiest and smelliest cities I have lived in. There is a joke about only a true San Franciscan can tell the difference between human poop and dog poop when you pass it in the street in SF. Nevertheless, you pass plenty of it. That along with the smell of pee sometimes makes you forget for a moment that it is suppose to be such a breathtakingly beautiful city.
SF (note: acceptable abbreviation) tries very hard to be cool, and, OK, it is cool up to a certain point. But it’s also hard work, and that hard work can leave people slightly stressed and sometimes forgetting to be nice to each other. When I moved there initially I felt like a contestant might feel like on a show like ‘Survivor.’ I moderated my behavior like a new prisoner in ‘Orange is the New Black:’ head down, don’t look at anyone. Or maybe I just wanted to be in an American TV show, who knows! You are in a race to be the best, the fastest, the most successful. And if you aren’t you will be squashed. People you meet on the street didn’t always seem very happy. I have no research to back this up, but I was used to people on the whole being pretty friendly in other cities I lived in. My kids are used to people giving them a smile on occasion if they passed them on the street in Singapore or the UK or Ireland, but not so much in SF.
In fact it got to point where you might worry if someone did smile at them. They have been cursed at, shouted at and told to be quiet when swimming and playing on a Saturday afternoon in a swimming pool. You know how quiet children can be when swimming, right? I also had people shouting at me for some transgression or other on a pretty regular basis. “Calm the F*** down… I see you!” Yelled one woman after she nearly hit me with her car and I looked a bit put out. I think I was worried that my stroller might have been crushed by her vehicle but I did my best to acquiesce. And “Get off the F****** road,” as I gently made my way down a side street… one with no footpath. Right, sure, happy to oblige. Anything to stop you yelling at me. I only bring this up as my impression of SF before living there was of a laid back city that welcomed everyone. I, for one, did not leave my heart there.
It’s not all bad, and my next post is on five things I miss about SF. And I never did acquire the talent of recognizing human poop from dog poop.