On the edge of the United States, looking up at Sutro Beach.

San Francisco

It was time to get a new visa, so back to the States I went. The visa run, a time-honored tradition for expats living in China, may seem quite inconvenient, but I love the opportunity to travel on the company’s dime. A free trip home? Why not!

This time, the timing was especially convenient because it gave me a chance to spend some quality time with my sister before she ties the knot in October. Plus I hadn’t been out to see her in San Francisco since I left for China five years ago. (Fun fact: I got my company to book me a flight with a layover in San Francisco, so my sister was the last person I saw before I moved to Beijing.)

(Fun fact: She’s visited me in China three times.)

(Does that make me the bad sister?)

I’ve never been particularly fond of San Francisco; even though it has a rather apparent homeless problem, it’s still too nice for me. I prefer dumpier places — which, come to think of it, is probably why I live in Beijing. I need to see grit, struggle and glamor commingling into chaos. I need that tension. When hipsters and eco-friends super in tune with their minds and bodies have turned everything into a better way of living, it can start to feel bland and artificial. I mean, the homeless in San Francisco have blankets, sleeping bags, cushions and even pets! And the weather is pretty mild all year round. That is nice (for being homeless).

But nice is, well, very nice after living in the wilderness of Beijing for a while (or three months). I won’t lie, I can’t remember much of San Francisco from my last three visits, but this visit has convinced me that it is better than I give it credit for. I will probably even remember some of it now. Good job, SF!

Photo: On the edge of the United States, looking up at Sutro Beach.

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