A Bomb Shelter Under Every Dream

Always account for the time where you just come across something and you’re just emotionally wrecked.

I moved around a lot as a kid and as a result I find myself giving a warning to my friends when they’re in the process of moving. But now, after 9 years in one apartment, I’ve put off much of the move until the last night.

I don’t want to leave.


It’s hard to come up with any kind of statement or rumination on what “home” is without sounding like some kind of inspirational meme designed to be passed around by the motivational speakers of Instagram. But home has always been a fairly elastic concept in my family.

Both my parents are Chinese but neither are born in China. And the United States is not home to them either. And neither was Panama, Taiwan, or Colombia. So when we’d travel, even if we’d only be there for a weekend the hotel would casually be referred to as “home.” Home was simply where we slept that night.

Over the 31 years of my life, I’ve had at least 15 “homes” in the most traditional sense of the word.

In August, I will have lived in California for 10 years. This decade was what I originally aimed to commemorate with a mixtape but as more time has passed it’s become increasingly clear this mixtape is about what home is for me.


“Where are you from?” was always difficult to answer for obvious reasons, but also as a person who can’t answer that question without listing at least 10 cities.

But California was the first place I got to choose to move to. Packed into a 2007 Civic, I, along with 3 other friends, moved to San Diego to ride out the worst of the Great Recession.

Eventually I would end up in San Francisco for work and for the hope of finding a career among the economic rubble that has been left for many in my generation. It was in San Francisco where I discovered the joy of not being one of 10 Chinese people in my particular city, but instead to be one of 180,000.

And in San Francisco, I held desperately onto my little rent-controlled studio in the Mission. It’s innards covered with wood paneling, and at one time, brass furnishings, my home here looked more like a houseboat than a house.

When I first discovered this apartment, I was on Craigslist, staying at a hotel by the airport, eating what was probably the third of twelve peanut butter & Nutella sandwiches I would eat that weekend. Eventually a voice dryly told me over the phone that there was a lot of interest and I should show up to the showing on Sunday at 2pm. 

Unsure of parking, I arrived in my trusty Civic at 1pm.

I waited as the apartment was set up and would be the first person to be let in. I glanced around for all of a minute to make sure there were no cockroaches and that it had running water. By five minutes I had signed the application and given my check over to who would become my property manager.

I was in such a rush to get this apartment nine years ago that I completely ignored the fact the houseboat’s ceiling was a series of asbestos laden tiles that hung slightly above my head.

For my first three years here, I never really felt like I could put an anchor into this city. Everyone seemed a couple years older than me, more established in their careers, and definitely making significantly more than me. The ceiling tiles always appeared ready to cave in, and an inevitable move back to the American South seemed ever present. 

I wish there was some kind of moment or anecdote I could point to when I felt like I would be fine in San Francisco, but that doesn’t really exist. It’s just a feeling that, like a recurrent STI, has flareups and remissions, but is always lingering below the surface.

Looking back at the mixtape I made five years ago, “A Bed of California Stars” I can’t help but notice a lot of what I was feeling then still applies, although the story is different.

I share this shitty little houseboat with the love of my life and while many of my friends have left to head somewhere back east, I don’t feel as lonely as I did then.

When I first met Maribel she had been to San Francisco, but it was her first year living in the Bay Area. With glee, I told her about my favorite places to eat and my favorite places to drink. Couple that with a couple cool places to walk around, I had summed up most of San Francisco for me.

Our second time hanging out as friends, I walked her down 24th St and all it’s glory as I seemed to have a story for every building we passed. I told her about the time I ran around the city taking photos of buildings for a newspaper project and about the time I first met people in SF that I definitely did not want to be friends with.

Looking back at that time, I realize how much San Francisco, and the Mission, in particular has felt like home for me. I mostly know how long it takes to walk to various cross streets, and can name the majority of the busses that pass through the neighborhood.


Tonight, I have to finish putting whatever bullshit in boxes to get moved up to Bernal Heights where I will probably throw half of it away by the summer. And while I feel sad about saying goodbye to the little houseboat that has survived spells of unemployment, burn out and the rare feeling of belonging, I am ready to leave.

Moving around habituated me to always be ready to leave at a job’s notice. The Mission was home and wasn’t. But at the same time I can’t think of any other way to describe this neighborhood. We have shared a studio for about six months now and we’re finally moving into a place with more than a door to the bathroom.

Finally, with Maribel, I’m ready to put the anchor down and call a new place home.

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