Sunday, November 6, 2011

San Francisco Stories (1)

Opening scene: Japanese restaurant in Japan Town, San Francisco, where we're staying. In the booth next to us, a family of mum, dad, 10-year-old daughter and mum's sister are talking.

Mum (to daughter): "Don't you want to learn Chinese?"
Daughter: "No, I don't like Chinese."
Mum: "But you ARE Chinese."
Daughter: "I don't like Chinese, it's stupid."
Mum: "But honey, there are over a billion Chinese people in the world, and if you speak good English and good Chinese, that's a big advantage for you, honey."
Daughter: "OK then, Mum, what's 'cactus' in Chinese?"
*Stunned silence from the adult end of the booth next to us.*
Daughter: "Like I told you, it's stupid."

That's what I like about America, they've made a success of multi-culturalism in so many ways. Every time I turn on the TV and see that they're about to interview the Chief of this government department, the spokesperson for this group or that, or the person in charge of XYZ corporation, the weather person on TV, the news reporter, or the whatever responsible for something: you don't have a clue who is going to show up. It could be a person of any ethnicity, either sex. It could be a Romirez, a Wong, a Kowalski, Gutenburg, Smith, Lorenzo, Mobutu, Malouf, Sandeep, Papoulis, Kim – whatever. Sure, the multiculturalism is of the 'integrated into the mainstream' sort, but I really like the fact that this is a country which doesn't seem to have a problem with where you come from.

Anyway, now that I've got that little editorial off my chest, it's time to tell you about San Francisco. First up, steep streets, then Chinatown. I'll save up the rest for San Francisco Stories (2).

Steep streets. San Francisco has more really, hugely, steep streets than any place I have ever been to. Walking around here is like mountain climbing on asphalt.

This remarkable shot taken by Pam looks as if it's taken from the top of a building, but she is standing on the sidewalk at the top of Fillmore Street (major shopping zone, well worth visiting), looking back towards the harbour, and back down the peak she had just climbed.

Look at a simple street map of San Francisco and you think "That's only four blocks from X to Y, should be easy" but when you do that short walk it includes two urban Matterhorns along the way. Good exercise for legs, San Francisco, but not sure about hearts, though.

The other wonderful discovery here in San Francisco is Chinatown. For starters, it's big, much bigger than Chinatown in Sydney and way, way way bigger than Chinatown in New York.

Chinatown covers a really substantial area here, stretching several streets in all directions. While it is in parts a tourist trap with lots of the usual shops selling the usual crap, it's also a very old Chinese community that bustles with business activity and is aloud with Chinese voices chattering in their familiar, staccato way. Old men sit in groups noisily playing some kind of game that's not Mah Jong nor Checkers: not sure what it is but they all have an opinion on what the next move should be, or at least should have been.

It's a fabulous place to just wander around aimlessly, looking up at the balconies with the clothes drying, the murals on the walls, the vivid colours in the posters, lanterns and advertising banners.

There's so much to cover with our brief San Francisco visit and so we'll tell you a bit more about our very enjoyable stay here tomorrow. A few friends who have been here mentioned that San Francisco (Edit: thanks Michelle!) is a bit like Sydney, and we know what they mean now. It is like Sydney in many ways – both are harbourside, scenic cities with a gay-friendly culture and breezy interest in all things new and fashionable – but San Francisco is its own town, so is Sydney, and so we'll look at a bit more SF-ness tomorrow, just before we fly home.


michelle said...

Oh what fun it has been to see the US through your eyes. And I was having particular fun seeing MY city, the place of my birth, the city of my heart through your eyes. And then, ack, oh no! he used the F...... name! Call it SF, call it The City, use then whole tongue stumbling name, but we never call it F..... The natives are awfully tetchy about that. Very very tetchy.

Sorry mate, just couldn't give you a pass on that one. But then, I did read this post pre-caffeine... On the other hand, you now have a free pass to give me a tongue lashing when I a commit a faux pas when I finally get to visit beautiful Sydney, which unfortunately will not be soon enough.

It's been a fun trip!

Jamie said...

Yikes, Michelle. Consider me thoroughly chastised! I'll edit the offending stumble, right now!

Evelyn said...

I am fascinated by that building in the last pic. I look at it ever time I am there. Love the mural and the clothes drying! Don't see people drying clothes like this much elsewhere in the city. Fabulous pics.