“Do you like fortune cookies?” an elderly Chinese woman named Maggie asks me as I sketch one afternoon.

We’re sitting on a sidewalk bench outside a store specializing in woks, rows of red paper lanterns strung overhead between buildings. On a nearby street corner, a man plays a two-stringed erhu, often called the “Chinese violin,” that fills the air with plaintive melodies. And when I give Maggie an affirmative answer, she stands up, heads into the wok shop, and returns with a bag of individually packaged treats.

As soon as we each crack one open, Maggie begins regaling me with stories of growing up in Hong Kong—only we’re not on Chinese soil, but in San Francisco, nearly 7,000 miles from her birthplace.

Maggie moved to San Francisco, settling in its Chinatown district four decades ago, but I have called the City by the Bay home for only a matter of months.

After traveling and living overseas for seven years, I decided to slow down and plant a few roots. San Francisco felt like a fitting new home base, for as Leonard Austin writes in the preface to his 1940 book, Around the World in San Francisco:

“No other American community presents such an interesting mosaic of authentic colors—the foundation and pattern of San Francisco’s famed cosmopolitanism. Here, in a world condensed, is a veritable cyclorama of international customs and cultures.”

Since experiencing different cultures is the lifeblood of why I travel, it was the thing I was most afraid of losing as I settled down again stateside.

What would my days look like if they weren’t filled with the constant discoveries that traveling in an unfamiliar place yield?

To hold onto this sense of wonder, I created a quest for myself, vowing that, even as I established new everyday routines in (Read more...)

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