Chinatown

A slow drive through heavy ground fog before sunrise makes me think I should advance cautiously. But I think that way about many things. Civilization itself, it seems to me, is rushing forward too quickly, changes being made too abruptly and thoughtlessly, at a time when the planet’s resources and environmental limits seem subject to an inordinate amount of stress and uncertainty. The number of people on the planet keeps growing while driving room on the roads diminishes. Grocery stores have more food than ever before, but it is of far less quality, even though blessed by the lovely combination of big business and government.

It seems that this will be a busy year for the technical universe that is Silicon Valley. Much of the industry related to computer chips appears to be expecting a year of innovation and success. In terms of technical progress the outlook is quite positive. For some reason, even though I find the technology advances interesting and quite remarkable, I tend to want to resist, to pull back, to reflect, to remember the way life used to be when I was much younger. And yet my well-being is so utterly dependent on this crazy pursuit of advancement.

I feel as if our society is playing a game of chicken with itself, racing toward the edge of the cliff as quickly as it can just to see who will jump out of the car first before it tumbles to the depths below. Some want to push that accelerator peddle to the floor and force a new destiny for all of us, while others would like to slow or stop this race completely, and just enjoy the scenery. I know where I stand in all of this race of progress, but I don’t understand the thinking of those around me very well. Maybe I am not meant to understand, but only to reflect.

This past New Years Eve weekend, I went to Chinatown in San Francisco. Grant Street was so heavily stacked with tourists, like myself, taking pictures of this odd and old-fashioned market place. A new generation of people discovering the same cheaply made things I marveled at long ago myself, like bamboo back scratchers, little plastic Buddha statues, and brightly-colored paper lanterns hanging in the ceilings of the little shops. As I meandered through this human density I couldn’t help but see Chinatown as a metaphor for all of life on the planet. This special little place is old, worn out, somehow still quite a commercial success, interesting to view, much too crowded, crazy busy with life.

Chinatown, San Francisco

I guess what I really like about Chinatown is that it is a town, actually a town within a town, and not a sprawling suburbia. I know that when I turn off Grant Street and head downhill toward the bay I have gone beyond the narrow limits of the town. Even though I don’t much understand Chinatown, I understand where it ends and how to get out of it.

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