Stop! Ask is a Mission Loc@l feature that does exactly what it says: when something looks particularly interesting, we stop and ask, “What the heck is going on?”
After a couple of unsuccessful hours surveying the Mission for the above-mentioned interesting people, I took a seat in the shade at the 16th Street BART station. I sat next to an unassuming man in aviator shades reading David Talbot’s “Season of the Witch.” He pulled out a gold cigarette pack inscribed with Chinese characters. It caught my attention and I asked to see it. He handed it to me. “They’re Chinese,” he said.
Mission Local: Cool — thanks, man. I appreciate it. So, are you visiting from China?
Ron: Yes, I’m a journalist from Beijing on assignment for Lens Magazine to write a 30-page piece on San Francisco. Every issue, we do a big piece about a city. We’ve done some cities in Europe and even covered Cairo, but we haven’t covered many American cities.
ML: That’s amazing. What have you done?
Ron: I went to the Castro yesterday and interviewed some nudists. They said the only places they won’t go naked are in the Tenderloin and the Mission. I really enjoyed talking to them; they are out there living the life they want to live.
ML: What’s wrong with the Mission? Why won’t they be naked here?
Ron: To tell the truth, as it’s my first time in the States, the homeless people seen everywhere, especially here around the BART, really looks like a problem to me. Maybe there is some complex background to it, or this is just the way here. But I can feel something is wrong, instinctively. As there are so many of them, won’t the government do anything other than ban them from sleeping on sidewalks?
ML: What have you liked about the Mission?
Ron: Mission seems to me a unique part of San Francisco. Of course, each part of San Francisco is unique. But, Mission is more energetic both in a good way and a bad way. In Beijing, there are places with art salons and all, though they usually don’t lie side by side to a seemingly dangerous neighborhood. It’s the most diverse place I’ve been in the U.S. so far. On this trip, I’ve been to Los Angeles and Portland. San Francisco’s the best. LA was boring and monotonous; Portland was fun, but not culturally diverse at all. I thought San Francisco would be boring as well. I was expecting a bunch of tourists, but it’s been very exciting.
ML: Did you visit Chinatown? What did you think?
Ron: Yes, I did. There wasn’t much to write about. Even though I am Chinese, the residents were very short with me and talked in a very general way. It’s just the way the Chinese are; they like to keep their lives to themselves.
ML: Your English is great. How did you get so fluent?
Ron: I studied translation in university. Before I was a journalist I translated books. I’ve translated all of John D. MacDonald’s books. He’s a mystery writer. Have you heard of him?
ML: No, I haven’t, but you are one interesting person.