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.


Holly Renee said...

I feel like you've had so many experiences in your life. It's so cool. I have been to San Francisco once and I love it. China town is really interesting. I don't know what I would do if I got a menu in Chinese. LOL. Sounds like a nice trip.

Nora Quiason said...

Thanks Holly:

When I travel now, I see places and experiences with a different set of eyes and that's what I'm trying to capture.


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