Goodbye, Cupertino

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Nicole Ong

The story's headline and writer's name superimposed on a darkened picture of the Cupertino City Center.

Nicole Ong

There’s a children’s book that starts like this: Goodnight room, goodnight moon, goodnight cow jumping over the moon. For Cupertino kids, however, perhaps our bedtime stories should read more like this: Goodbye Vallco, goodbye Blue Hills, goodbye Cupertino.

Perhaps I am too young to consider Cupertino my home beyond the literal, but after living here for nearly 10 years, I fondly remember my memories of a thriving Vallco. 

Every other weekend of my youth, my family would cram into my mother’s car and my father would drive us to the Dynasty Chinese Seafood Restaurant located on the first floor of the building. There, we would take a numbered slip and chatter away while waiting for our table to be called. Surrounded by other families, my brother and I would play tag around the building’s pillars, or beg my mother for a quarter to play the lone claw machine. When called, my family would assemble at the white cloth-covered tables as waiters pushed dim sum carts around the large room. From succulent char siu bao to sweet dan tat, we always ordered enough for leftovers, and I left the restaurant with a full belly and fingers sticky with sauce. It was heavenly.

On lucky weekends (or unlucky weekends, depending on which parent I was with — sorry, mom) I would be dragged there to shop. On a hunt for new clothes or replacement jeans, I could be found either reading while perched on the benches of the JC Penney shoe section or playing with Sephora’s nail polish display. I distinctly remember dragging my dad to the Vallco Macy’s in search of the One Direction perfume and being pestered by my mom to not buy glittery temporary tattoos from Claire’s. I never got the perfume, but sometimes, I bought the tattoos.

From watching “Rise of the Guardians” at the AMC 16 Theater to having Chinese New Year celebrations at Dynasty, Vallco is prominent in my Cupertino memories. Was Vallco a marvel of architecture? Absolutely not. Did it have every store I ever wanted? Nope. But it was close and it was convenient, and that was enough for me.

Today, Vallco is a dirt plot. The change from thriving shopping center to bulldozed land didn’t come suddenly; even when I was younger, posters depicting a plans for a “revived Vallco” or “new apartments” were plastered in the plaza. I know this change may be for the greater good (I mean, what good comes from an abandoned building?), but I only wish I could have eaten one last family dinner at Dynasty, seen one last movie in the run-down AMC 16 movie seats, had one last chance to say “goodbye” to Vallco. 

Vallco may be the most prominent symbol of a shifting Cupertino, but it is definitely not the only one. As I pass by my elementary school — Blue Hills — I notice smaller class sizes. Even the teacher roster holds unfamiliar names, with many of my favorite teachers leaving for other schools or having been swept away by life’s circumstances. Some days, I ask myself where those teachers have gone, wondering if I will ever be able to show them who I grew up to be. Blue Hills is still Blue Hills, but it doesn’t feel like the school I remember: a space where I camped in the library at lunch, nurturing my love of history and allowing myself to grow

Even the smaller things — like the Original Pancake House where I ate brunch with my dad or the TPumps on Stevens Creek which was so popular in my middle school years — are disappearing. And at some point, everything becomes a memory: I blink, another location disappears and it is quickly replaced. There is no grieving for the memories lost and those yet to be made — there is no remembrance. 

Maybe I feel this way partly because I’m not a naive 7-year-old anymore. Now, I’m 17, and my Cupertino is framed by skyrocketing housing prices, Bay Area traffic, the STEM bubble. But any loss is not solely about the physical, it’s about the intangible significance of these places. For me, and many who grew up here, the material evidence of childhood memories in Cupertino is slowly disappearing.

Cupertino, for better or for worse, you’re changing. At the end of the day, I’m not quite sure if this is a “hello” or a “goodbye.” Perhaps in five years, when I’ve graduated from college and have my first office job, you’ll be unrecognizable. By the time I have kids, it’s likely they won’t see the places where I met my friends or know the same Cupertino where their mom grew up.

These memories are slipping through my fingers faster than I could ever hope, so while I still can, let me say this: Goodbye Vallco, goodbye Blue Hills, goodbye Cupertino.