Note: I started writing this yesterday but have only gotten around to posting it today.
Happy 4th of July and belated Canada Day! Once again, I'm reminded that Keith Lockhart of the Boston Pops is the cutest pro conductor ever. And the fireworks look amazing everywhere but here-this is the first time I've only seen three or four fireworks shows from my house because it's so hazy tonight. I think the record I've seen from the living room window was 24. Yes, I'm spoiled.
I look depressingly normal with my hair wrap cut off. My new hair cut makes me actually look a bit more mature. I'm getting off topic again.
Disclaimer: I can't help that I keep sticking in random pop culture references in my entries. It's like I've been brainwashed by Speedlearn
.The San Francisco Expresssomewhatcynical
(Annie) is in town at the moment, so her old roommate from last summer, eyepiece_simile
, (Sophia) kindly invited me to join them on an expedition up to San Francisco on Monday. I tend to visit SF at most twice or thrice a year either with my parents, godparents or to visit a former English teacher for brunch-but that last one is a classic story of forgetfulness and awkwardness that I've told here before. At any rate, it's much more fun going anywhere with friends.
We took Caltrain up to Milbrae and then switched over to BART to get to the Powell Street Station (right across from the San Francisco Shopping Center on Market). After the SFO airport stop, there was a cute Japanese family whose patriarch kept asking us about which stop they would need to get to the Japanese Tea Gardens. The Caltrain stop that I took last time deposited me in a sketchy area near that "Is your dog bulimic" graffiti mural; I'm grateful that I didn't get approached by any strangers. Needless to say I didn't really want to repeat that experience even with a group, so my parents suggested taking BART into the city instead. I've never used BART before, but it was surprisingly clean and efficient, like a regional train service with subway/tram cars. It would be really nice if they had more stations in San Francisco proper, though, besides stretching out all over the North and East Bay. But despite those minor complaints I definitely would want to use BART again, perhaps to visit dragonfly66
We got into SF at around 10:30 or so in the morning. Luckily I know the Union Square area very well as I've gone there every Thanksgiving except for the year my mother just came home from the hospital with endocarditis. There weren't any protestors for once (sorry, I can't help being facetious), but it was a weekday and they tend to come out later in the afternoon to pester the tourists waiting in line for the Powell and Hyde cable cars. We went into Union Square and acted touristy and stared at the random mini-palm trees at the corner facing Macy's. I have no idea how palm trees can survive the fogginess and semi-freezing temperatures of San Francisco, but apparently they can. And as Annie pointed out, the park benches there are an aesthetic attempt to prevent homeless people from sleeping on them.One is always a wanderer; three are always going somewhere together.
After that we marched uphill and then downhill to Chinatown. We approached from the back side first as we wandered around the unofficial "natives only" stores, restaurants, temple-looking churches and the ambiguously named benevolent societies. Surprisingly enough, I've never been to the SF Chinatown before. I don't know how to describe it, really; it's not quite like Hong Kong (most of the SF Chinatown inhabitants were speaking Cantonese with the Guangzhou dialect, I think), and it's definitely not what one would call mainstream American. There's a sort of directness about the place, "what you see is what you get," no pretense about what it's like to make a life for oneself as an American immigrant. It's a heady mixture of pragmatism and nostalgia. The goods they sell-they're a sort of parodic representation of what it is to be Chinese-American, as if the image of China that they remember has become a farce in itself; they're selling and almost believing in the myth they've created for the tourists. It was all eerily familiar. The shopkeepers could take one look at me and knew that I couldn't speak their language; I'm as assimilated as they come nowadays. That was more embarassing than having to ask them to speak English. But I knew where they were coming from; I just wish I could've explained myself somehow.
We later moved towards the more touristy section where the store displays included antiques, higher class counterfeits and jewelry rather than groceries and cell phone charms. We randomly stopped for boba at a sushi place (?!) as Annie had never tried the drink before, but unfortunately it was way too sweet. Sophia got some firecrackers of dubious legality. Annie got some gifts for her family and a plastic sword, and I now have some mini paper lanterns for my dorm room next year. The sort of do-it-yourself dreadful affair...
We climbed uphill a few blocks-San Franciscan hills feel like mountains-to catch a cable car to Fisherman's Wharf. We got smooshed into the back of the car and tried not to fall on top of each other whenever the cable car suddenly started climbing uphill or speeding downhill. The views were incredible, I'll admit: Coit Tower, Lombard Street and the Bay with Alcatraz dead center. We headed towards some kind of marina featuring historical ships through the ages. Annie and Sophia tried tying a bunch of different kinds of sailors' knots; may I say for the record, Annie is a knot-tying queen. Afterwards we browsed amongst the various little shops and stands-it's a capitalistic paradise but a fun one. There was this one store in particular that sold these intricate Russian nesting dolls of all different sizes. And of course we had to stop by Ghiradelli Square to get chocolate. At one point I swear I thought I was going to get trampled over by the chocoholics on the way to the register.Almost-a word that sticks edgewise in the throat to strangle one. Still, it was a lovely scheme.
Being cheap and energetic (not to mention slightly hyper after the intense
chocolate) we decided to eschew waiting in the long line at the Wharf cable car stop and go further up the hill to catch one without having to pay the five dollars. Well, we realized after passing the first two or three stops (conveniently placed every two blocks or so) that there'd be no way we could get on the still-full cable car, so we decided to go up a little further...and a little further...and a bit more up to the top, and so on and so forth. We'd randomly stop every once in a while to admire the view from a stationary position. By the time we reached the top of what seemed like the steepest, highest hill in San rancisco ("We made it! Oh wait...there's another block to go, but it doesn't look as steep, right?" x4) we pretty forgot about jumping on the silly cable car. A couple of blocks downhill never did anyone any harm, right?If you must get us lost, could you do it a bit faster?
Well, a few blocks downhill soon turned into many. We stopped about halfway and debated about how to get back-there was no point in taking the cable car at this point as we hadn't seen any in a long time.
I'll be honest with you-I can get pretty arrogant when it comes to directions. If there's one vaguely useful skill I posess, it's my sense of direction that I must've inherited from my dad. This is probably why I tend to be the navigator on school field trips. Even if I don't really know where I am I can usually find my way back to where I started. Needless to say, I be very stubborn in thinking that my
way is the best way to get somewhere. And usually it is. Luckily Sophia and Annie are nice people and put up with me and my reiteration of "we're almost there; only five blocks [down this direction]." We passed the time about talking about Lifetime movies and such-now I really must see Snow Queen
sometime. Surprisingly enough I didn't feel the least bit tired, which is surprising as I tend to be the weakling. Maybe it's because I ate more chocolate than everone else.
We stopped inside Grace Cathedral to take a break and sat on the pews to admire the stained glass. I wish I could've felt the majesty of God or some higher power, but I couldn't. I can appreciate church architecture from an aesthetic, intellectual standpoint, but nothing more than that. I couldn't stop thinking that the money spent to erect this cathedral could've been used to help the people of the community-construct homes or fund schools or keep kids from getting into gangs. And you just know that the people who helped construct this cathedral thought that they were celebrating God. I didn't feel the least bit awed by God's presence. It seemed like such a hollow splendid empty gesture just wasted on me.
You'd never believe this, but if someone introduced me to religion at an early age and got me into the whole church youth group thing I'd be terribly devout. It's too late for that now. There's this horrible cold rational logic that interferes with my desire to have faith in something other than a secular, universal hope. But I'm getting angsty, and that wasn't the point of this entry. It's a lovely cathedral, I'll give you that. Somehow I prefer the missions, if only for the historical aspect.
We headed back into familiar territory as we approached Union Square again and miraculously (I'll try to cut out the sarcasm, sorry) managed to make the BART back in time so that we wouldn't have to wait 45 minutes to catch the Caltrain at our connection in Milbrae. For the first time ever I managed to do a decent amount of reading (John Le Carre's The Honourable Schoolboy
) while riding backwards without feeling any sort of motion sickness.We could make our daring, resourceful and nauseatingly punctual escapes...if only the door weren't locked.
But the adventure wasn't quite over yet. We had a three minute time window to make the Milbrae Caltrain connection but it felt like way less. I was being an idiot and ccouldn't figure out which platform we needed to be on until Sophia pointed it out. By this time we had about a minute left and ran for our lives up and down the stairs to cross over to the other side. It really felt like something out of an action movie-the train conductor yelled something like "Last chance!" and we all practically jumped on. For a few moments I was afraid that Sophia was going to be left behind, but thankfully that didn't happen. And we had a very interesting conversation on the way back that makes me miss my friends from Harvard and the IHL already.
All in all, I had a lovely time with Sophia and Annie and would definitely want to do something like this again. Anyone else up to such an expedition, perhaps during a college vacation reunion? This summer is good, too.