Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Revisiting My Heart and San Francisco

San Francisco is my favorite city so when Alibris sponsored a booksellers conference in this city, I was among the first to enroll. I had not been back in ten years so it was time to return plus I wanted to hang out with my niece, Janette and her husband Peter. Janette came to San Francisco after she graduated from Georgetown University a few years ago and we could not persuade her to return to the Midwest. I can see why.

I booked my hotel via Hotwire. (I'm cheap.) With Hotwire, you don't get the name of the hotel until after you pay. I was pleasantly surprised with Club Quarters (on 424 Clay St at the Embarcadero) which was strategically located, a block away from the conference venue, five blocks to China town and five blocks to the Embarcadero waterfront in the opposite direction.  Club Quarters is a business hotel with few frills. The elevator can only be operated with a card key, lending a sense of safety. Senior travelers and single women would feel safe here. The room was comfortable, clean and equipped with free wi-fi connection. The bed was comfortable.  Hotel price included the use of computers with printers in the club room (convenient for printing boarding passes) and free exercise room (or you could get exercise equipment sent to your room.) Coffee and tea was available all day and a guest closet in the hallway provided extra linen, bottled water and irons and ironing boards.

My late husband, Felix and I always visited China town in any city that had one. Friday was a free day so I woke up early to explore.  Up and down the hills I went in search for breakfast other than bacon and eggs. Felix chose Chinese restaurants by watching which one Chinese denizens patronized because he believed he would get the real thing.  Unfortunately, the first one I found filled with Asian customers did not have English speaking servers nor a menu in English.  I settled for a dim sum bakery where I instinctively ordered won ton and noodle soup (for breakfast?) and steamed pork bun.  It wasn't until midway through the meal that I realized why.  In my starving medical student days in 1960's Manila, this was all I could afford and I remembered days upon days when this was my lunch fare. In a way, it was like being home again.

For a small city, parks are every place in San Francisco.  Within the same street four block from each other was Trans America Redwood Park where redwood trees are beginning to tower and a China town park populated by young and older Asians chatting, playing, exercising and playing chess. I hoped to find a tai chi group in full swing and found none. After taking pictures of colorful Chinese lanterns and pagodas and losing haggling battles with jewelry and clothing vendors, I cut my losses and walked the opposite way to the Embarcadero waterfront.  By now, it was lunch time and the park was full of people on their lunch hour listening to street musicians while they ate and tourists shopping the various craft stands around.  Some, as I did, just sat on  benches watching the water, boats and people.

San Francisco holds tender memories for me.  It is the first US city Felix and I lived in when we arrived from the Philippines in 1967, $200.00 in his wallet, a suitcase a piece, and no employment. We got our social security cards with consecutive numbers here.  We spent hours upon hours in the library looking at job ads and walking the streets looking for work. Coming from a conservative upbringing, we were in culture shock with the hippie generation, flower children, people protesting the Vietnam war and making love in the parks.  Revisiting these places forty three years later, San Francisco is still quite enchanting.  Haight Ashbury which had been a rundown drug haven in the 60's is now home to the affluent.  The flower children are now senior citizens, perhaps more conservative but still fun loving.  They are still in the parks watching their grandchildren play, sitting on the dock by the bay, or rocking to music in the night life of the city.

It is hard not to live a bohemian life style here. The city is only 46.7 sq miles so people live, work and play close to each other. In 2008, it ousted Seattle from the top rank of the most fit city in the US, rated by the American College of Sports Medicine based on personal health indicators, environmental health indicators and health care providers.  There is walking, biking, jogging, surfing, tennis, golf and any number of sports activities.  In the beaches, attired parents play ball with their children in close proximity to naked men and women without embarrassment or judgment, no big deal. It has the bay, wonderful weather, great sports teams, restaurants, and diverse culture.  

I remember loving San Francisco for its great tolerance and even embracing of differences and uniqueness.  Many cultures meet here, people from different countries, (Filipinos comprise a good chunk of the population.) people of different religions, sexual persuasions, professions, and beliefs.  Artists perform in street corners. There are restaurants to fulfill craving for different ethnic cuisine.  My niece and I pigged out on adobo and kari-kari at Goldilocks one of the ethnic restaurants where Filipinos go for the taste of home. ( We had been craving for daing-and tuyo- fried dried fish. They ran out just as we got there, big disapointment.)

I met my brother-in-law Mario for the first time in San Francisco.  Barely out of his teens and the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy, Mario spent months on end at sea as first mate on a merchant marine vessel.  Our paths did not cross until one day in China town, by happenstance, Felix turned around and saw him. Neither one knew that they were in the same city.  Mario had a one day furlough while his ship unloaded cargo and we had a very moving reunion.  Mario is now a mild mannered, accountant, devoted husband and father, land-locked in the Midwest.  Few know of his youthful escapades and wild adventurous past.

It was a great weekend of reminiscing.  The weather was great, the flowers colorful, the city as I remembered, only better. The conference was good, too.  I learned so much about selling books I am confident I can make a profit this year.  As I revisited familiar places, I felt that Felix was there,too, with his opinionated comments about people, food, shopping and what have you, while at the same time thoroughly enjoying himself.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Weekend in Sedona

Ten years ago, I trained in Reiki, an energy healing technique but never really got into it so I decided to hone my skills and become more proficient. Where else should one go to study healing techniques but to Sedona, Arizona, the place of red rocks and vortices and healers.  It was also a test to see how well I would enjoy traveling alone

The training was on a Saturday and Sunday so I gave myself time to get there a day early and leave a day later. From Kansas City, it is a 2 1/2 hour flight to Phoenix and a two hour drive to Sedona.  I decided to enjoy the convenience of a shuttle van and leave the driving to a courteous knowledgeable shuttle driver doubling as a tour guide. (Reservations have to be made ahead of time, cost $99.00 round trip plus tip.)  Red rock mountains and tall saguaro cacti populate the landscape along the Sonoran desert.

I stayed at Iris Garden Rodeway Inn, a bare bones but comfortable inn with free continental breakfast and helpful staff. I chose it for the reasonable rate, ($100.00/night for senior citizens) and the proximity to the training center. (Be prepared to spend upwards of $1,000/night if you check into one of the resort hotels which offer different cuisine and resort amenities.) 

The towns of Sedona and Oak Creek rest in the foothills of the southwestern rim of the Colorado Plateau.  Being on the high desert, it boasts of mild year round temperature (47F-75F) and clean air.  From anywhere in town you can see red rock formations. Golf, art galleries and resorts abound here. The main drag is filled with tourist trappings of expensive clothing, crystal stores, healing practices and food establishments.  There are psychic readers on every block, aura scanners, yoga, massage practitioners and what have you.  For an alternative medicine practitioner such as myself, this was a candy store though I was not buying. Go further out and Cococino National Park and other nature preserves offer unlimited possibilities for the nature lover and outdoors man. 

The story goes that Theodore Carl Schnebly who settled in from Gorin, Missouri had petitioned the US Postal Service for a post office in the area. Oak Creek Canyon and other names submitted to the post office were rejected for being too long to fit on a cancellation stamp. Schnebly's brother suggested Sedona, the name of Theodore Schnebly's wife, to be the postal town address.  It has been Sedona ever since.

There are many activities in Sedona. Different tours are available almost on the hour every hour.  There are red rocks tours, vortex tours, hiking tours and native American spiritual guided tours.   I embarked on a Pink Jeep tour of the red rock mountains. The pink jeep is a pink all terrain vehicle.  It is a bumpy but enjoyable ride that takes you to the top of the mountain and back down along rocky terrain sometimes with an almost 100 degree angle drop.  My children would certainly have been upset had I met my demise there. "Elderly woman crushed under jeep in bottom of Red Rocks Canyon."      

The mountains are given names befitting their shape.  Submarine mountain which looks like a submarine is a great photo op location. Snoopy is a natural formation which looks like Snoopy laying on his back.  This rim of the Colorado plateau is amazing and awe inspiring.  Millions of years ago, the sea went inland into this place and when it dried out, the formations appeared.  Copper gives the red rock sandstone its color. Mountain bikers, hikers and rock climbers enjoy the challenges here.

Standing in the midst of this grandeur, I learned a couple of things about myself. I learned that that I could enjoy traveling alone, exploring the world alone, going places I might not have gone before and meeting people of different ages, nationalities and cultures.  I found out that I was still in good shape and could hike as well as the 30 something kids I was with. (Hike, not climb. The jeep did all the climbing.) 

Just like my earlier life experiences standing on top of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls, I felt humbled by the majesty of the universe and how a lifetime is nothing more than a blink of an eye in the face of the eternity that these places signify. The most important lesson came in one brief moment on the canyon when I was one with the universe.  In a precise same moment, I felt as vast and timeless as the red rocks and the blue sky beyond and as tiny and rooted in time as the tiny grain of red rock sand I stood on. 


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