Category Archives: Cityseeker Stories

Once upon a time, in a land called Marseille

I am going to tell you a story about a city in France. Everybody all over the world knows Paris, but my story is about a town in the South of the France. Maybe some of you had heard about it, maybe in a positive way or maybe in the negative way. This city, snuggled up at the heart of Provence and on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, is also commonly known as la Cité Phocéenne (The Phocaean City). Marseille, town of a thousand facets, fascinating and bewilderingly complex, is my city.

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Marseille, Land of Immigrants

I was born in Marseille in 1984, to Italian immigrants parents. Why Marseille? Because  for many people who make the choice to leave their country, the city has a big port open on the Mediterranean sea. Near Spain, Italy and North Africa, the town has welcomed many different culture over the years. When you are in Marseille, you just need to drive 3 hours to cross the Italian border. Easy! The new inhabitants arrive also by boat, trying to built a better life. Marseille has never closed its arms in front of any wave of immigrants. This made it strong, a multicultural city. Everything isn’t perfect, because some differences can create conflicts. Indeed, language, religious, or cultural differences can cause real integration problems. Despite that, Marseille stays the most welcoming city in France, a town where my siblings and I have grown up and where we proudly carry our Italian heritage and our dual citizenship.

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Marseille, Land of  Authenticity

If you like beautiful and authentic attractions, Marseille is made for you. When I think about my city, I can’t forget the smell of the sun on my skin, its daylight beauty, and its mysterious side at sunset. Rich in history, Marseille is where ancient architecture combines with the new face of the city. The first thing to do, even if you aren’t catholic, is to visit la Basilique Notre Dame de Garde, commonly refer by the Marseillais to “La Bonne-Mère.” Built on the hill overlooking the town at 490 ft, the view on the top is wonderful. The best moment is early in the morning when everything is still quiet. With a 360 degree view of the city, it was consecrated on June, 5th, 1864, and each year, the pilgrimage for the Assumption Day, on August 15th is really popular event. This Neo-Byzantine church supports a monumental statue of the Madonna and her child, which is 27 feet tall and made of copper gilded with gold leaf. La Bonne- Mère, is the guardian and the protector of Marseille. The other religious site is La Cathédrale de la Major, built from 1829-1874, in a Byzantine-Roman style. With a capacity of 3,000 seats, it’s one of the largest cathedrals in France. It’s 469 ft long, with a main cupola of 231 ft high.

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But in Marseille, there is another strong religion: football. Not in general, but the football team of the city, l’Olympique de Marseille (OM). Taking place in the famous Stade Vélodrome, the night of home matches are events not to be missed. The ambiance and the fans are considered  as the best all over the world.  Built in 1937, the stadium welcomes 67,394 spectators and is also used for shows. Indeed, le Vélodrome is a wonderful stage for several artists, such as The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, The Police and AC/DC. The other site associated to the team is La Commanderie, it’s the training center of l’OM. Many fans from all over the world come to see their idols and dedicate jerseys.

The town is also known for its different authentic districts, such as le Panier, which is located in the oldest part of the city and surrounded by famous places such as l’Hôtel de Ville, les Grands Carmes and La Joliette. With narrow streets, shops and its own old architecture, the district is considered the most picturesque place in Marseille. It’s defined as a popular area because it was the first place of the immigrants in the city.  It soon became a tourism venue and many artists opened studios because Le Panier served as a place of inspiration as for the famous local TV show, Plus Belle la vie, shot in Marseille. You can also visit La Vieille Charité, a a museum and a cultural center and former almshouse for the poor. This Baroque structure was constructed between 1671 and 1749 by the architect Pierre Puget. It is filled with beautiful architecture such as structure with pink and yellow tinted stones. In the center of the courtyard a round church was built. If you continue to walk, you will arrive on the MuCEM, (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations), inaugurated on June 7th, 2013, the year Marseille was designated as the European Capital of Culture. The museum is near the wonderful site of the 17th century le Fort Saint-Jean, built by Louis XIV at the entrance to the port. The two places are linked by a high footbridge.

There are so many places to see that the best way for you to take it all in will be to book a ticket and fly Marseille. But if you want more right now, I of course have to talk about le Vieux Port (the Old Port), which is located at the the end of the most historic street of Marseille, La Canebière. Since 2013, it’s mainly for pedestrians with few cars. Each morning it welcomes the fresh fish of fishermen. It is the historic and cultural center of the city since it dates back to sixth century BC. From the port you could take the ferry boat to visit the islands of the Phocaean City, such as, the archipelago of Frioul and le Château d’If, fortress and prison known for being one of the settings of Alexandre Dumas novel, Le Comte de Monte-Cristo.

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If you continue towards the Southern districts, you will follow the ledge called la Corniche du Président John Fitzgerald Kennedy, named after US President Kennedy. It extends from Les Catalans beach to Le Prado and its famous for its naked statue of David. It offers one of the most beautiful landscapes of Marseille, with the Mediterranean Sea and its islands on the horizon. On the way you could see the famous fishermen sheds, “cabanons”,  houses of the 19th century (Villa Valmer, Villa de Gaby Deslys), hotels and famous restaurants (Le Petit Nice, Peron, Chez FonFon), where you could stop to eat the inimitable, bouillabaisse (fish soup). Under La Corniche, hides the little but picturesque port of Vallon des Auffes, where the time seems to have stopped.

I can’t finish this part without talking about the amazing Calanques de Marseille. The massif is the best place to hike and climb with is wild and rugged landscape between Marseille and Cassis. The site is the one of France’s great natural beauties. The geology and ecosystems are protected — In 2012, the Calanques were declared National Parks due to their uniqueness. Even though nowadays we can’t visit it, the Cosquer cave is located underwater, in the Calanque de Morgiou. It’s a cave of the Paleolithic area, covered with paintings and engravings of animals dating between 27,000 and 19,000 BC. The Calanques can be see by boat and if the weather allows you should swim in this warm, blue water. But please be a responsible tourists! Protect this land of dreams.

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Marseille, Land of Pleasure

Oh my taste buds quiver with pleasure evoking the food in my city. Okay, I’m vegetarian but even though Marseille has the best fish restaurants, we are also known for the best pizza. Remember, Marseille is a city of immigrants with close proximity to Italy. We are the city with the most pizza in France. In each area, you can smell tomato sauce and wood fire. I could damn myself for one of these piece! If you want make your own pizza, the best venue is Sapori di Napoli. It’s a little Trattoria in Château-Gombert’s district, which combines a shop full of Italian products with a restaurant. The owner, Raffaele Paparone, imports products such as the mozzarella di Bufala, Panettone, wine and deli meat from Napoli.

If you like different kinds of food, I recommend la Baie du Dragon. It’s a Vietnamese restaurant on Notre Dame du Mont district. The place is perfect for vegetarians and the chocolate nems are just divine. It’s my king of headquarter, the go-to for when I have to celebrate something, such as my departure for the USA.

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In Marseille you can easily find all kind of restaurants — Indian, Italian, French, Moroccan, Japanese etc, and for all your events. Even though Marseille has some good restaurants, for me, the best place remains my family home, with the real meals made by la Mamma. But take your ticket and wait your turn, because I can’t invite you all in the same day.

It’s time to say goodbye to Marseille, with a little twinge in my heart, thinking about these venues, the food and my mother’s arms. But do you smell the perfume of the Mediterranean? Do you smell the garlic, tomatoes, basil and olive oil? Do you smell the flavor of freedom?

If yes, you are made for Marseille, the city of the Epicurean

Sorry, I have to leave you, it’s now time for l’apéro, (a kind of happy hour, after work where you drink and eat snacks), the most important moment in a day in Marseille, to drink the legendary Pastis.

Allez santé! Salute! (Cheers!)

San Francisco Pride

I’m Florent, from Grenoble, France, a small city located in the Alps, “my mountains”. I finished my studies a year ago and I decided to spend six months in an American city to improve my English. I studied English for three months in a school in downtown San Francisco, and am now working as an intern at Wcities. It has been a valuable opportunity to improve my English speaking daily with Americans in a professional atmosphere.

Pink Saturday

I knew before arriving in San Francisco that the Pride Parade is one of the most legendary events in the colorful city. I also knew that San Francisco is open-minded and liberated, but I couldn’t guess how much. During my first week in the city, I was strolling by Fisherman’s Warf with my friends when I saw two guys, completely naked, skating towards the Golden Gate Bridge. I looked at my friends and said, “Is it usual to see naked guys here?” They laughed and answered me: “This is nothing, in San Francisco, there are the Up Your Alley Street Fair, the Folsom Street Fair, and the biggest Pride Parade in the world,” they said. The Up Your Alley Street Fair is a summer fetish fair, and the Folsom Street Fair is an annual BDSM and leather subculture street fair.  It was at this moment I knew my six months in the city might be a bit kinky.

On Saturday of Pride Weekend, I looked for a costume shop to buy some items and put myself into a proper state of mind. At five o’clock, we ventured to the Castro neighborhood to experience a night on the street. We went to this eccentric neighborhood by subway and many people wore costumes.

Photo by Florent Bridot

Photo by Florent Bridot

Photo by Florent Bridot

Photo by Florent Bridot

 

Walking on the street or entering a pub was almost impossible because of interminable lines. My costume was a real success and a lot of people asked to take pictures with me. I wondered what place I had set foot in when I saw throughout the night maybe one hundred naked guys. That was a bit strange, but I had fun, sharing moments with gay, lesbian, transsexual, and heterosexual people. For the first time in my life, I did not see any difference, judgment, or barriers between genders. Everyone was really friendly and outgoing, perhaps because of the impressive amount of alcohol in their blood. At 2am, we were on the way back home, and we realized the party wasn’t only in Castro but everywhere in the city: a day, a night, and a whole city dedicated to Pride and equality.

I didn’t expect such an evening. I participated in the Pride of Montpellier, my home city in France, and it was more relaxed, less extravagant, and much smaller. This is strange but awesome: when a crowd gathers with the same values ​​and beliefs, and for a specific event, all social and behavioral boundaries disappear.

 

Sunday Morning: The Pride

The next morning, I had a difficult time waking up after such a surprising night in the Castro. At 10am, I was on the way to the Pride Parade that kicked off on Market and Beale Streets. The entire city was dressed as a wonderful rainbow, the same rainbow I saw on peoples’ cheeks, t-shirts, and flags. Market Street was closed to cars, and boundaries were placed along sidewalks. The ambiance of the Pride Parade was similar to Saturday night’s, but I had the impression the goal was different. Indeed, families with their children, old couples, students, and workers stood across the barriers, celebrating the values and beliefs of Pride. The parade was less extravagant and anarchic than Pink Saturday.

In order not to miss anything, we watched the parade from the foot of San Francisco’s City Hall, where Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California, once stood and addressed Pride-goers more than thirty years ago. After thirty minutes of waiting, the first contingent of the parade came towards us. Every contingent looked different, with Djs and dancers on some of them, and politicians and celebrities on others. Many groups walked the route, and I can say that each one was a real surprise for the little Frenchi that I am.

 

Photo by Florent Bridot

Photo by Florent Bridot

Photo by Florent Bridot

Photo by Florent Bridot

Photo by Florent Bridot

Photo by Florent Bridot

 

After seeing more than 200 contingents in four hours, with a heat approaching 90 degrees, and especially after the awesome party in Castro, I was really exhausted but it didn’t matter. The colors, joy, and madness that reigned in the streets and on the faces of everyone gave me enough energy to stay.

 

 

Photo by Florent Bridot

Photo by Florent Bridot

Photo by Florent Bridot

Photo by Florent Bridot

Photo by Florent Bridot

Photo by Florent Bridot

 

Afterwards, I remember thinking that there was no specific age, profile, or mindset needed to participate in the fantastic and open-minded event. I saw on the street a young girl, she was around 7 or 8 years old and was carrying a banner that said, “I’m not gay but I love rainbow.” It is difficult to describe the feeling I had watching her. It was moving, and the girl seemed happy celebrating Pride spirit.

SAN FRANCISCO: A CITY FILLED WITH WARMTH AND SURPRISES

I’m Sally Cui, born in mainland China, but I’m also a university student in Hong Kong. I have noticed the differences between mainland China and Hong Kong. This journey to America gives me a totally fresh feeling about American culture. I visited America four years ago. On my first visit, I experienced the Great Canyon, Los Angeles and Yosemite, but in a hurry. This time, as an intern in San Francisco for about two months I got the opportunity to do some deep exploration. My experience will be as a temporary resident in this compact and technological city. I have to say that San Francisco, is like a good brandy; quickly intoxicating and easy to love.

Photo by Florian

Photo by Flickr user Florian CC 2.0

Transportation

Before I arrived here, I was told that America is a country where it is difficult to travel without a car. So at first, I was worried about the transportation in San Francisco. However, from my experience so far, I can say that it’s convenient as well as inconvenient. Why so contradictory? Let me compare Hong Kong and mainland China with America. The metro in Hong Kong is well developed, so much that people prefer to take the metro rather than the car to go out. In mainland China, there’s a huge bus system with many buses arriving frequently. Public transportation in America offers a different convenience. Firstly, all forms of transport have an exact schedule to follow and people can download the schedule from the Internet. Drivers conform to that schedule and are very punctual. Supposing that smooth traffic leads to early arrival, drivers will wait at the bus stop to stay on schedule. In China, you know that you are going to get on the bus only when you can see the bus is coming in the distance—there is no specific schedule. Secondly, all transportation systems aim to maximize the interests and convenience of passengers. On all buses, there’s a movable ramp at the front door of the bus, which can let senior citizens get on the bus without climbing the steps. It is convenient for the people who are not flexible on their legs and for disabled people who use wheelchairs. Caltrain, a commuter train in San Francisco, goes through several cities. Many people take it to get to work. I was surprised to find free wi-fi on Caltrain. It’s convenient for those people who want to do some work during their long commute. There are only some upscale trains which offer this service in China. Muni buses, environmentally-friendly trams and trolleys can always be seen in downtown San Francisco. If you want to tour the downtown area, good news for you– you pay for a timed ticket so if you take other bus within this period, there is no need to pay again. It’s different in China, where if you take a bus, you have to pay the fee for each bus. Also, if you are an avid cyclist, you can take your bike on the bus; every bus has bike racks. I have never seen this in China.

 

Photo by Sally

Photo by Sally

Atmosphere

The Statue of Liberty in New York is known all over the world and even in San Francisco I feel the air of freedom. City hall is open for all visitors during business hours. You can see the secretaries working, take a picture just in front of the door of the mayor’s office and even see the mayor come and go. In many countries, including China, government buildings are not typically open for visitors, and citizens even seldom see the mayor in daily life.

Photo by Sally

Photo by Sally

The fourth weekend in June is the celebrated as Pride Parade weekend and I was fortunately enough to attend the festivities. I went to the Pink Party on Saturday night in the Castro with my friend. The Castro is a neighborhood famous for its prominent gay and lesbian community. Various distinctive restaurants, bars and pubs can be found in this part of the city. On the Saturday evening, you can do anything you want to do at the party. There was a sign people held which read “Free Hugs,” you can come forward to hug them. You can sing with someone you don’t know, you can dance with someone you don’t know and you can chat with someone you don’t know. People are totally free, friendly and open in Castro. I definitely saw two different Castros during the day and in the evening. During the day, the Castro is quiet and peaceful, like a shy little girl. However, in the evening, Castro shows her wild side, it is noisy and crowded, like a passionate and dynamic adolescent.

Photo by Sally

Photo by Sally

 

Photo by Sally

Photo by Sally

After the Pink Party on Saturday, Sunday is the day for the famous Pride Parade. There’s no such Pride Parade in China, so I have never seen a parade before. People who support gay rights paraded on Market Street.  There were not only individuals in the parade, but also some important corporations including Google, Facebook and Apple. I was moved by some signs people held which read “35 years together, married 2 months ago.” Everyone has the right to love and be loved, no laws and rule should prohibit this. I appreciate that this free city allows people to love each other regardless of gender.

Photo by Glenn Euloth

Photo by Flickr user Glenn Euloth CC 2.0

People

Because people are so free and open, Americans are filled with enthusiasm and energy, and are helpful and honest. I would like to tell an amazing and heart-warming experience which took place when I first arrived in San Francisco. It shows how kind-hearted and friendly Americans are.

It was past 11 o’clock at night when I left the Pink Party on Saturday. Since I don’t have a car, the only way back home is finding the 292 bus stop. I’m a road nerd, so all my sense of direction comes from Google Maps. After 20 minutes, I asked a person who was waiting for a bus. I thought she would say “I don’t know” because her bus was almost coming, but she took me to a big station board with many routes on it and found 292 for me. She didn’t find the bus, but she asked me where I wanted to go. I told her South San Francisco, she asked someone nearby whether knew which bus towards to South San Francisco. Nobody knew, so she suggested me take BART and almost wanted to lead me to BART station and show me how to use the vending machine, and she felt relieved and went back to her bus stop. Thanking her, I continued looking for the 292 bus stop. A kind person riding a bike pulled up in front of me while I was looking at Google Maps and asked if I needed help. I told him I was looking for the 292 bus stop, he said he had no idea but pointed to where it might possibly be. I walked in the direction he pointed and fortunately, I found the bus stop a few minutes later. When I was waiting for the bus, he rode back and told me I could take BART if I still had not found the bus stop. I said I had already found it, and he left with a satisfied smile. Getting off the bus at my stop, I needed to walk 20 minutes to get home. It was 1am and dark as I was crossing the road on a green light.  Perhaps the driver didn’t notice the red light, and almost crashed into me. To my surprise, he stopped and rolled down the window and apologized to me several times, and even asked where I was going and gave me a lift.

In just one night, I met some enthusiastic, proactive and honest people. I have come across nice, helpful people every day in America. That’s a huge difference from busy Hong Kong and mainland China where people hardly stop to ask whether you need help and chat with you. Perhaps they are eager to help people at the bottom of their heart, but everyday pressure and busy crowds push them to live a hurried lifestyle and ignore the beauty of life. I really hope people in my country can slow down and enjoy every day.

Because of these treasure memories, I have really enjoyed these last two months living in America, loving these sincere and unguarded people.

 

SEATTLE: CITY, NATURE, HISTORY PLANES

As many other travelers, my first impressions about Seattle came from the famous movie “Sleepless in Seattle”. In that movie, Seattle is a beautiful, romantic and rainy city. Also, when I was preparing for my trip, I read that Seattle is a good place for business and that Seattle residents enjoy one of the best qualities of life in the United States. With inspiration and high expectations, I departed for Seattle to spend my Independence Day holiday. I found that the impressions about Seattle indeed matches the reality; it has both an impressive cityscape, natural landscape and a rich history as well as being a special place for aviation fans.

Seattle night scene from Kerry Park Flickr user: Anupam_ts CC 2.0

Seattle night scene from Kerry Park, Flickr user: Anupam_ts CC 2.0

 As the largest city of Pacific Northwest region, it has over 650,000 residents and countless skyscrapers. Located in downtown Seattle, the Space Needle is an observation tower built for 1962 World’s Fair that has become an internationally-recognized symbol of Seattle. At 184 meters’ height, it is not only a part of Seattle’s spectacular cityscape but also a perfect place to appreciate the urban and natural surroundings. From the top of the Space Needle, looking south, I could see Seattle’s skyscrapers. Looking west, I saw busy Puget Sound but ships looked as small as toys. To the north was Union Lake that looked like a swimming pool and looking southeast, the symbol of Washington State, Mountain Rainier rising in the distance. I was so glad that I chose the Space Needle as the first stop on my trip so I could see an overview of Seattle and then decided where to go next.

Photo took by Ronal Law

Union Lake from The Space Needle, Photo by Ronal Law

 Located just north of the Space Needle, Union Lake was my second stop. Seattle has more to offer than just skyscrapers; there are also peaceful spaces that let people feel relief in this busy city. People can run, relax or paying with pets in the park that surrounds the lake and can even take a canoe out on the lake. Union Lake became crowed in the evening because people gathered to the lake area to see Independence Day fireworks. At the beginning of the fireworks show, a helicopter hanging the Star-Spangled Banner flew over the lake while the crowd stood up and sang the Star-Spangled Banner together. As a foreigner, I felt Americans’ strong patriotism in that moment. The fireworks show was fantastic! It lighted the sky colorfully and the crowd kept applauding.

 Mt Rainier National Park is the highest mountain in Washington State and is about a 2.5 hour drive from Seattle. The drive was quiet long but it was definitely not boring because there was always a magnificent sight to see like a lake just around the bend that I stopped a bit to take photos. When I finally arrived to Paradise, the most popular view point of the national park, I saw a huge mountain covered by snow and ice with an endless green forest below. In that moment, I felt as if I was in a real paradise! Besides Mt Rainier, there are many other beautiful places to visit in the vicinity of Seattle such as Olympic National Park, Snoqualmie Falls and Skagit Valley but sadly I could not visit all of them.

Photo took by Ronal Law

Mountain Rainier, the top is covered by thick cloud. Photo by Ronal Law

 After returning from Mt Rainier, I continued exploring the city. My next stop was an underground city tour to learn about the history of Seattle. In 1889, a fire burned Seattle to ground and the city was later rebuilt. During this period, the city leaders decided to lift up the whole city to solve the perennial flooded problem. As a result, this project created an underground city under downtown Seattle. On this tour, a funny tour guide told us the story in detail. At the same time I could explore the underground buildings. I always like to learn more about a city’s history, and the underground tour showed me the rich history of this fascinating city.

Flickr user: Larry Jacobsen CC 2.0

A tunnel of underground city, Flickr user: Larry Jacobsen CC 2.0

 Another place that I visited in Seattle is Pike Place Market. It is the oldest farmer’s market in the United States. Fishermen sell their fresh products and street artists perform for visitors every day. However, what really caught my attention was that the first Starbucks store is located here. In the very beginning, Starbucks was a small café that served local fishermen, but has become the most famous coffee shop in the world. I arrived here later in the day when fishermen and street artists had left. However, there was still a long line in front of Starbucks because people are eager to taste the original Starbucks coffee just like me.

Photo took by Ronal Law

A staff of first Starbucks was making coffee, Photo by Ronal Law

On my last day in Seattle I visited the Boeing’s factory. This well-known aircraft manufacturer, was founded in Seattle, which is why the city is a very special place for aviation fans. It was an exciting tour! I never imagined that I could really go to the factory to see how a plane is built. During the tour, I saw the enormous machines used to put together different components of a Boeing-747 while the tour guide explained each process.

Flickr user: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff CC 2.0

Boeing factory, Flickr user: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff CC 2.0

After the Boeing tour, I was still so excited about what I had just seen. Therefore, I decided to visit Museum of Flight to continue my Seattle Aviation tour. The museum has more than one hundred planes including famous fighters like the SR-71 and passenger jets like the Concorde. I watched some documentary films that help me learn more about these planes as well.

 I had to leave this beautiful city after this three-day trip. On the plane back San Francisco, the Boeing tour crossed my mind and I suddenly realized that Seattle is not only a good city for tourism, but also is a city that is changing our lives! Boeing, founded in Seattle is changing our way of travel; Microsoft, founded in Seattle, is changing our way of working; Amazon, founded in Seattle, is changing our way of shopping. Considering all this, I believed that it was very much a worthwhile visit.

Chinese New Year Parade: a colorful cavalcade through downtown SF

When I arrived in San Francisco, one of the first things I noticed was the huge Chinese community. In my home country–France, Chinese people represent a very small part of the population, but here in San Francisco, they form the biggest immigrant community. Chinese-Americans represent more than 21% of the city’s population. Chinese culture was so foreign to me; all I knew about it was dragon puppets and sticky rice! Naturally, I was very curious to learn more, so one day I decided to visit Chinatown.

Sentinel building. Photo by Laura Damase

Sentinel building. Photo by Laura Damase

Located right in the heart of downtown and covering 1.34 square miles, this area is an important part of San Francisco. In fact, it is the largest Chinatown outside Asia, and the oldest in North America. When I ventured to Bush and Grant streets, I found the grand entrance to this famous neighborhood. I walked through its lovely gate, which is the only authentic Chinatown Gate in North America. Upon entering, I was surrounded by indecipherable Chinese characters, small stores, typical tiny restaurants and stalls selling fruits I didn’t even know existed. Behind their little windows, bakeries offered the best prices on fortune cookies–my favorite! This day, I literally felt transported to a land that is over 6000 miles away from the City by the Bay. Afterward, I realized that was nothing compared to what I was going to see later during my stay in this incredibly diverse city.

Food vendors on the street. Photo by Laura Damase

Indeed a few weeks later, I read on the Chinatown website, “Saturday February 15,Th 5pm, Union SquareThe Chinese New Year Parade will go from Market Street to Powell, then Kearny to Colombus. “What is that?” I wondered. I had no idea what to expect, but reading that people were coming from all over the world for this celebration, I really didn’t want to miss it.  Nowadays the parade is a major annual event in the Bay Area. The parade began more than 150 years ago to when the first Chinese immigrants arrived here in 1848. At that time, the California Gold Rush attracted a mass of Chinese people to the area to work as gold-miners. The parade quickly became a way for them to celebrate and share their culture.

UC Davis Marching Band at the Chinese New Year Parade. Photo by Laura Damase

UC Davis Marching Band at the Chinese New Year Parade. Photo by Laura Damase

On the day of the event, I arrived just on time, right when the first loud firecrackers were lighted to announce the celebrations launching at Union Square. A vast crowd was already gathered and I understood that being on time only means accepting to stand behind people who arrived hours in advance. As soon as the first trumpets sounded, the processions began without interruption. From the beautiful dancing girls to martial arts groups, the parade was so varied! It included stilt walkers, boy scouts and church groups, all smiling and holding huge flags, wearing costumes and uniforms. I also saw glimmering classic convertibles with politicians who greeted people and waved while passing the crowd. High school bands marched down the street, preceded by big banners announcing their arrival,  as well as lion dancers and acrobats.  Suddenly, loads of floats passed in front of us, all impressively decorated with glittering paillettes,  painted flags and with amazing imagery of dragons, every single detail of the floats was resplendent. Some floats were quite long, beautiful and moved slowly. Other floats carried wonderful women who posed like movie stars in their incredibly refined dresses—they looked perfect! I noticed a common theme among the handmade paintings and statues that decorated the floats . . . horses! Everywhere, of all sizes, all shapes, all poses imaginable, horses. Why? Well, in China, the horse is the symbol for 2014. In fact, this animal is a part of the 12-year-cycle of animals in the Chinese zodiac, which is also associated with one of the five elements. 2014 is the year of wooden horse, which in Chinese culture means good luck and prosperity. The wooden horse, also, should make people who are born this year more likely to be energetic, bright and intelligent.

2014 is the year of the wooden horse. Photo by Laura Damase

2014 is the year of the wooden horse. Photo by Laura Damase

But let’s go back to the parade! A few minutes past 8pm, the dragon I was anticipating finally arrived. With a big head and long red and yellow tail, it was even more impressive than what I was expecting. When I saw it emerge from the well-known Sentinel building corner, I imagined it was going to be very long. In fact, I had the feeling it was just never-ending. Like a snake, it twirled from one side of the street to the other, in a crazy dance.  At this point, the parade truly looked like it may never end; a whirl of participants continued to walk in front of us. The parade proved to be amazingly diverse with more than 100 groups marching. After the dragon, the cutest part came: kindergarteners! Riding in wagons or proudly walking, they were wearing traditional makeup on their eyes and very sophisticated outfits. Some of them were dressed in traditional silky red tunics trimmed in black, with thin belts tightened around their waists. Other kids wore a very traditional Chinese outfit, called a Hanfus, which is also red, but with many other different colors! Their outfits boasted shiny beads and lovely embroideries that formed gorgeous geometrical patterns. The color gradients in the patterns were so elaborate that they almost looked unreal. Right above those pretty ensembles, their sweet little faces were capped by Phoenix crowns–colorful hats covered by stones and strands of beads.

 

Kids participating in the parade. Photo by Laura Damase

Kids participating in the parade. Photo by Laura Damase

On my way back, I finally realized how big the event actually was: hundreds of pedestrians were walking around the closed streets, holding balloons or sparklers. In fact, almost 1 million people were celebrating the Chinese New Year in San Francisco on this Saturday . . . and it doesn’t include those who watched it on TV!