“What is your intention for the day?” I both asked and reminded myself as I walked out of the hotel and into Oakland, California. My intention was to discover. Discover what? Discover what there was to be found. Google maps had shown me where the nearest coffee shops were located, which parks were nearby, and exactly how far it was to a couple tourist spots that were open 24/7. My flight out at noon meant I only had a couple morning hours to discover what I could, knowing many typical tourist activities were closed at this time and day.
My steps had only taken me to the end of the block when I heard firecrackers going off, hundreds and hundreds of them. After a minute, it seemed like thousands. I turned and saw grey-white smoke swirling out from the sidewalk in front of a store where they had been lit.
Right! It was the second day of Chinese New Year, the Year of the Dragon, the luckiest year in the Chinese calendar. Chinatown began a block from my hotel, and would be under continuous party atmosphere for the next few weeks. I wanted to head in the direction of the fireworks to see what else was happening, but it was so early hardly anything was even open. The people out and about were intent on going to work or running an errand. They did not look like New Year revelers about to begin the party anew. Besides, what do I know about Chinatown and what there is to do there?
“I hesitated to move 100% toward my intention when faced with the unknown.”
Intention: “Discover.” Time to head toward Chinatown. More fireworks went off in various places along the way to the heart of Chinatown. Stores were opening and goods were brought to the sidewalk. Fresh flowers in enticing bouquets crept out one door, while plastic knick-knacks and toys overflowed bins placed outside another. Around the corner fresh produce markets were abundant with oranges, apples, roots, nuts and other produce. Some I recognized and some I did not. People were already poking around, checking the feel and texture, deciding what to make for their next meal. I knew it would be nothing like mine.
It seemed firecrackers were often set off just before the store opened its doors for business. Hundreds of firecracker wrappers and containers littered the sidewalk for several feet in front of each place where they had been lit. It was drizzling; red wrappers melted into the dampness making red sludge from door to curb. There were Chinese signs and newspapers everywhere. The street signs were doubled up, with one in English and one in Chinese. Buildings changed from typical American architecture to Chinese, with at least a dragon or two in each park and playground.
I passed a Chinese bakery and wanted to stop in, but didn’t see any place to sit. Besides, what if I picked poorly, like I did in Japan last year when I found myself biting into a roll with fish mush inside instead of the apple cinnamon I expected? I set aside my intention for a moment and headed back toward the original coffee shop I had chosen, the Brown Couch Café. There I ordered a latte and Louisiana bagel and sat down on a couch, a brown couch, to enjoy. It was good, the proprietress greeted me warmly and called me by name as I left.
“It is easy to leave your intention behind for the comfort of the known.”
I felt like I had let myself down a little bit by being such a coward about ordering from the bakery, but I was full and it made no sense to eat more – even in celebration of a new year.
There was still nearly an hour of discovery time left. I wanted to make the most of it and headed to the Fortune Cookie Factory for a tour and taste. It was only a few blocks away. I arrived and found it wasn’t a place worth discovering. A teeny, tiny boring little run-down shop presented itself with absolutely no enticement to it. It had a dirty feeling to it as well, which didn’t perk up my interest in sampling the fare. Skip it, there is plenty else to discover. So I did. I walked around and through Chinatown, taking photos and enjoying the difference between Chinatown city life and rural Texas life. Then I headed back to the Chinese bakery and picked out two treats for my trip home. I didn’t have to worry about fish mush after all, because the display listed both English and Chinese descriptions. I was pretty confident the Almond Cream Cheese Struddel would be yummy, even if it was spelled wrong, and I was right. Discovering it was delicious.
“If you leave your intention behind, go back and pick it up. It’s waiting for you.”