Passing cars sweep plastic bags and other delicacies of trash across the busy streets of Union Square. A woman in a brown coat, shorts, and sandals stares at her reflection in front of one of the storefronts— her hair a frizzy light brown, and her hands absentmindedly at her side. We pass around the corner again and see her examining the different angles of the woman she sees. I wonder if she feels the wind.
It's interesting how clashing the views of this city imprint on the mind, or maybe this is a privilege of growing up in a suburban asian-dominated area where half of the people I see are elders carrying groceries from the nearest sprouts/market and the other half are groups of high schoolers carrying boba. Though it's not so different here from parts of downtown LA, except my neck hurts a lot more having to look up at these tall tall buildings sprouting up from the ground.
The store we eventually walk into is a pristine, sleek corner for a new tech shinything "imported" from San Mateo—a single robotic arm hosting a cafe, Cafex. The robot looks sort of cute, actually, making swift movements to pour, and serve coffee orders. During empty queues, it busts into a dorky dance that I assume the engineers built in to gain the awe and praise of people, but really, this aesthetic choice hides a scarier truth. It's a bit strange how you automatically attribute human qualities to something purely running on an impersonal algorithm, and it's even scarier to realize that the one mechanism behind the coffee cup in your hand displaces at least two to three human jobs. But is this a worry if you can get your morning fix in < 60 seconds by a cute robot barista doing a silly dance?
There was something about these villages that struck me in some sort of way. I wish there was a better way to explain or describe it besides having to live and grow up there but it was like, even though the village had no running water, electricity, computers, restaurants, or plain technology--kids were happy. They were untapped by industrialization. Some days were spent playing badminton in the open fields or soccer with old rocks and other days, kids would sling long sticks over their shoulders to go spider-hunting or climb roofs just for the sake of climbing roofs. In the village you wouldn’t complain about not having wifi or not having the AC on but more of there being chicken/pig/stray dog poop slathered on your feet and not having any sinks or faucets to run to to wash it off.
I stayed for 3 weeks-month (or maybe it just seemed longer since there weren’t many clocks…) but the bus leave and the bus ride was surreal. It was just a bunch of kids and their parents huddling around telling us to return soon. And then they were gone. A quick nap on that bus warped us from muddy dirt roads to skyscrapers peeking out at every corner.
On my second visit I expected to meet the same kids to see how everyone was doing but the village just felt dead. In the span of 2-3 years, all of the “kids” had moved to the city to work. What was left in the shacks were elders who stayed to spend their last years in the home they grew up in and stray dogs roaming around waiting for people that would probably never come. I don’t know why describing this makes me so sad (like I’m tearing up over kids little 8 year-old me met??) but it’s just that these villages… if anyone saw pictures of these kids, the houses they lived in, the food they ate, their makeshift toys, they’d just be “starving kids” and nothing more. Pictures of places never fully do it justice. It would never fully capture the vibrancy of pure youth I had felt.