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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.