A Different World
Violet Wang shares her childhood experiences in San Francisco, how they shaped her, brought her closer to her parents' home, and how she has grown since.
April 16, 2019
My childhood weekends are filled with memories of napping on long car rides and having my mom shake me awake as we reached the Golden Gate Bridge. Crossing the intersection of quiet Petaluma and the bustling streets of San Francisco marked a segue to a different world. For as long as I can remember, my family and I took the hour long trip to San Francisco almost every weekend to get traditional Chinese groceries. We would spend the day browsing the aisles of D&T Shop, Sheng Kee bakery, and countless other nameless stores.
I would run through the aisles mesmerized by the assortments of ramen, the spiked vegetables, and the barrels of bitter spices; Costco and Safeway just couldn’t compare. Mom would buy the jie xia hua that she used to eat for breakfast in her youth, and Dad would pick up the lotus root and tofu knots that his mother used to cook with. When we returned home, my mom would prepare traditional Chinese dishes for dinner with the fresh groceries. San Francisco brought my parents the comforts of their home and immersed me in my Chinese culture.
As the years passed, my childlike fascination in the endless aisles of noodles and live catfish butchery gradually waned. My parents began dropping me off as they shopped, and I began a cycle of visiting each art museum in San Francisco. Perusing the rooms at the De Young, MoMA, and Asian Art Museum sparked that childlike curiosity in me once again. I began painting and drawing and sketching at home, desperate to embody Dalí’s mystique and Picasso’s emotion. It was when I turned 16, I was finally allowed to volunteer at the Asian Art Museum. I remember the first day; it was a chilly Sunday and the opening day of the new kimono exhibit. I expected my partner to ignore me because she seemed so professional, whilst I barely knew what I was doing. However, Evelyn and I immediately hit it off and talked for the entire shift. She told me her story immigrating from the Philippines and about her career as a patent attorney. Evelyn gave me advice for my future and even offered me an intern position. In just a few hours, a stranger had become a friend and a mentor.
In the next few months, I found myself meeting someone new during each volunteer shift and learning all about different life stories, careers, and experiences. One of the most memorable interactions was with Alex, who had studied art history at Duke University and just gotten a curator position. She told me all about the intricacies of popular Asian art pieces, bringing us back into the social conditions that explained and inspired different aspects of many works. Those three hours inspired me to enroll in an art history course at the junior college, where I’m learning about worldwide cultures and history that have produced artistic expressions. It’s so satisfying to see art as a vehicle that connects everything – culture, psychology, politics, and aesthetics. To understand why and how the Sistine Ceiling, Rembrandt’s portraits, Van Gogh’s landscapes, and Munch’s Scream still touch people today, is to truly realize the extent of the visual language. I see the Asian Art Museum through a new lens now, wondering how the distinctive life experiences of each visitor allows them to interpret different pieces.
San Francisco has given me a broader view of the whole world. Each month, I’ve met someone new, learned a unique story, and discovered interests. In San Francisco, I’ve traveled to my homeland, and visited places around the globe, experiencing thrills in the unique experiences of others.