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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.

 

Off the Beaten Track: San Francisco’s Hayes Valley

‘Great Adventure’ is painted in giant marquee letters on the side of a Victorian mansion on the corner of Hayes Valley’s Octavia and Page Streets. This Ben Eine mural is a constant reminder of the district’s steadfast spirit. Since suffering a crucial blow from the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake and subsequent fires, the community has continued to surmount itself. Bold entrepreneurs moved into the area after big-scale renovations had tidied up the neighborhood. Now, twenty-five years later, a unique ambiance has spawned with exciting shops, mural masterpieces, food truck dining, blossoming public gardens, and a relaxed atmosphere. Hidden away in the shadows of Civic Center’s domes, Hayes Valley has risen to contain all ingredients that make San Francisco so special.

When approaching the neighborhood from the east, coming from City Hall, picturesque Linden Street offers the prettiest entrance. Rather than lined-up cars, planters dominate this lively alley. Appropriately titled ‘While You Wait’, a monochromatic mural by Zio Ziegler offers the perfect distraction while waiting in line for Blue Bottle Coffee. Stashed away in a garage, this coffee hut is believed to have the best coffee in town. The New Orleans-style iced coffee, in particular, gloriously kick-starts your morning. The stretch of greenery that lies ahead is Patricia’s Green, the epicenter of neighborhood life. When sun bathing on the park’s lawn, give in to one of Smitten Ice Cream’s many surprising flavors. How about brown cinnamon shortbread or strawberry white balsamic for a change? Consume your icy delight away from local razzle-dazzle in the narrow public gardens flanking Octavia Street. Quoting one of the sayings painted on pieces of wood, ‘let your thoughts pass thru you like wind’ when you perch down on a bench in these fenced botanical retreats. Pass through Page and Laguna Mini Park and zigzag up to Koshland Community Park before fueling up in Samovar Tea Lounge. Sumptuous lunch dishes along with artisan teas are guaranteed to provide you with the kick of energy needed to further explore Hayes Valley.

Hayes Valley

Photo by Flickr user: Charles CC2.0

Tree-topped Hayes Street accommodates the area’s trendiest stores. One of the most notable ones, Flight 001, is a traveler’s Valhalla. Decorated to look like the inside of an airplane, this swanky shop sells everything from international power adapters to stylish travel bags. With branches in major cities like Tokyo and New York, setting-up shop here demonstrates the upturn of Hayes Valley as an up-and-coming destination. Styling the city’s most fashionable residents, Undefeated has a diverse selection of the coolest sneakers, clothing, and caps. Shop for vintage one-of-a-kind items and apparels at Reliquary, just around the corner. This neighborhood trump feels both enchanting and unhurried. Comic book nerds and aficionados meet at Isotope on Fell Street. More than just a comic book store, Isotope is also a place for art, workshops, and relaxation. Chill out on one of their comfy sofas with a graphic novel in hand while discussing the latest adventures of Spider-man, Batman, and the X-men.

Just as diverse as the district’s shopping scene is the munchscape, ranging from casual eateries to posh diners. On sunny afternoons people line up for one of the many food trucks that cruise the city. Within these mobile mini-kitchens talented rookies and established chefs cook up the most delicious meals for the most satisfying prices. Baking a mean Arugula pizza, Casey’s Pizza truck has been spotted regularly on Saturday afternoons. Derived from ‘mazza’, meaning small dishes of appetizers in Arabic, Lebanese corner restaurant Mazzat serves hummus and tapas-like dishes. Every morning, grandma prepares fresh meals for the day, making this family-enterprise highly authentic. Souvla on Hayes St. is the newest addition to the exclusive Greek dining scene in San Francisco. In this rather modern walk-in, a communal table for twelve replaces the typical ramshackle seats that one might expect in traditional Greek diners. With all those enticing fragrances, choosing between pork, chicken, or lamb (or veggie) has never been this hard. No place else screams bearish German food like Rosamunde Sausage Grill in Haight Street, just west of Hayes Valley. Head here for a hearty sausage on a bun or gigantic burger, only served on Tuesdays. Expect little space to maneuver yourself to the counter as this joint is gaining popularity.

Acknowledging the great marriage between sausage and beer, next-door Toronado allows you to bring in your grilled meat. Their infamous selection of beers and divey vibe make this place one of the Bay area’s finest beer bars. If you’ve become intrigued by San Francisco’s street art scene don’t forget to take a quick peek at the mysterious ‘Two Beauties’ mural on the corner of Steiner and Haight Streets. For tall mugs of German beer, descend back to central Hayes Valley’s Biergarten. The dozens of picnic tables, alongside the shipping containers that house the bar and kitchen, are packed with people looking to spend a carefree, sunny afternoon. Cross the Atlantic in the belly of a pirate ship in Smuggler’s Cove. Looking like the set of a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, this tiki bar serves up great cocktails and ensures a fun time. One of the lesser-known music venues, Rickshaw Stop, is the go-to place for live music of your favorite indie band or underground DJ. This venue on Fell St. gives you the opportunity to see up-and-coming acts before they go viral.

If it’s department stores, Michelin stars, and nightclubs that you’re after, you came to the wrong place. But if you are looking for trendy shoes, finger foods, and happy-go-lucky drinking, Hayes Valley will win you over. The neighborhood’s unconstrained atmosphere provides a breath of fresh air compared to downtown’s fast pace. Together with the community’s appreciation of innovative ways of living, this completes the recipe for San Francisco.

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!

Back in Time – City Lights Bookstore and Vesuvio Café

The spirit of the beat generation and legendary publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti are cause for inspiration as our intern explains in this final part of the series. Books, history and culture are just the beginning of her adventure in North Beach.

I’m Janis from Beijing, China, and I am working as a summer intern for Wcities. San Francisco has always been an attractive city to me, maybe because of a few glimpses I have seen of it in the movies or because of the song by Scott McKenzie. This is the second time that I’ve been to the US. I joined a summer camp seven years ago, and we traveled from the West Coast to the East Coast but missed San Francisco somehow. So, I’m here this time.

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