Many people call SF the Europe of the US. I can see how that comparison works – their winding streets, quirky bohemian air, Victorian-style houses and architecture, and even their weather is similar.
However, it is precisely because of this that SF is my least favourite US city – to be really honest, I found it kind of boring. It was less American than America, and less European than Europe, and their whole hippy/laid back/chill vibe didn’t particularly appeal to me. I’m a girl of extremes – I love New York for its amazing street food, fast paced lifestyle and Manhattan nightlife, Orlando for its uniquely Americana experience (mad outlet shopping, chain restaurants, fat and friendly tourists, super fun theme parks), and DC for the history and the beautiful architecture but SF didn’t quite wedge itself deep into my consumerist heart the way the other cities did.
For one, the shopping was kind of sad. I was so disappointed by how small the Macy’s at Union Square was – even the outlets were just okay. The food, though was undisputably yummy.
Anyway I’m here to blog about our day at Haight-Ashbury – or the birthplace of the Hippie, which I enjoyed tremendously – quality time with my mom and three of my younger minions .. I meant, siblings.
We took the packed trolley down the quaint winding roads and slopes of SF – which was really a rather beautiful sight. However, I found it a little .. lifeless. It was the height of tourist season, the sun was shining, but there was hardly anyone around and the houses were so unrealistically pretty and perfect that I felt a bit like I was on the set of the Stepford Wives. BUZZ – yes, that what was missing for me.
Indoors, however, there are so many interesting things to discover.
Like.. a shoe repair shop. Specializing in BIRKENSTOCKS. How much hippier can you get?? I half expected a Stevie Nicks sort of woman wearing a frayed skirt and shell belt with a torn t-shirt and rainbow peace sign to come sashaying out wearing those Jesus-type Birkenstocks and smoking a suspicious looking joint.
It was so very Summer of Love and flowers-in-your-hair.
A real gem of a find was this bookstore my sister and I insisted on going into, and it was full of the smell of ink, paper, binding glue – the scent of magic and the imagination.
After exclaiming over just about everything I saw (writer’s remedy magnets, anyone?) I came to the Kid’s Classics section, saw these rebound versions of my favourite childhood classics, and swooned.
All these titles are books I used to read voraciously growing up – until they were so well-thumbed and yellowed (and most of Anne of Green Gables dotted with either angsty teenaged tears or crumbs of whatever junk I had been eating in bed) and they had been specially rebound by Penguin with beautiful motifs and illustrations.
My all time favourite childrens’ classic has to be A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I have re-read the book at least 60 times. At least. Everything about it resounded with me – a skinny, dark haired girl named Sara with a soaring imagination (of course without all the super-riches) and a head full of stories. I dreamed about what her pale rose dancing dresses and ermine silk muffs would look like. I fancied myself a little princess just like Sara waiting to be rescued. I cried when her Papa died and when one day in the lonely dark attic her positivity and optimism simply deserted her and she broke down and cried. The tattered and torn edition my mother first bought me when I was 10 still sits on my bookcase today.
And so, my mummy bought me this new version too. There’s a little private message she wrote onto the first page for me, and it moved me to tears. 🙂 Back then, I had such terrible issues about myself and didn’t believe I was loved, but today, years later, I truly know deep in my heart that I will always be my parents’ Little Princess.
We lingered in the shop for almost an hour, my sister and I running our fingers down spines of books and just breathing in the atmosphere of being in a real bookshop run by people who loved books.
Quirky, but so thoughtful and personal – I loved this touch !
Staff and people leave behind their reviews of the books – handwritten on post-its, no less. I think it’s really useful – When I go to bookstores like Kinokuniya in Singapore, I ask for recommendations and get a generic rattle off of NYT bestsellers. Dude, my KOBO could do better. This makes buying books so fun, too ! Like interacting with strangers who are also kindred spirits, without the danger.
Further down on our way to the Golden Gate Park, Amoeba Music – another hippie era store full of old and new records from Indie bands so obscure you probably couldn’t google them. My little brother Daniel loves records and old CDs – he was really psyched about exploring the place. My mom wanted to score some old-school Eagles LPs for my Dad. I scorned their hipster behaviour and was punished by being made to stand outside, wait, and be their bag lady while they got their fix.
Next stop: WHOLE FOODS! To get our lunch picnic.
My sister and I were totally excited about going to Whole Foods. We keep seeing it on Top Chef and all those other reality cooking shows the both of us are huge fans of (they are very bad for you, they make you hungry and greedy and binge at night).
The concept is great ! The stuff is really healthy with a pretty good range for every kind of selective eater – vegans, pescatarians, raw vegans, and all the other -ans.
Of course, we weren’t interested in the veg. Ice Cream Aisle. Red Velvet Ice Cream. Mission accomplished.
Was it good? It was better than good. It was a pint full of happiness. Chunks of moist chocolatey red velvet cake in a cream cheese ice cream base. It wasn’t cloying at all. The four of us made fast work of the pint. I hardly got any.
The Golden Gate Park was nice – and it was a beautiful day. We were a little spooked by the drugged out homeless hippies at the entrance who smelled quite bad and then the groups of half naked backpacker chicks baking in the sun (COVER YOUR EYES, DAVID AND DANIEL) but once we settled on the soft dewy grass under the shade, all was good and well and we had some really good mother-sister-daughter bonding time. My brothers just rolled around and fought.
Some of my friends commented that the last thing they would ever think of doing in an overseas country was going on a picnic. I never thought it was unusual – my family just loves picnics. My parents used to force us out every Sunday evening for a picnic, a walk, and some soccer at ECP. My mom would pack sandwiches, sometimes we would takeaway those giant Golden Pillow Curry Buns (so convenient!) and for one evening a week, just spend quality time with each other and not locked away in our rooms doing our own thing.
I hated it then, and I resented it (MOM OTHER PEOPLE HANG OUT WITH THEIR FRIENDS NOT THEIR PARENTS AND DORKY SIBLINGS) but I really appreciate it now. There’s really nothing that helps you experience the real pace of life in a foreign country than a picnic in their parks – okay so dragging A to the Versailles Palace for a Marie Antoinette picnic may have been pushing it but STILL.
That day at the Golden Gate Park, the fresh cut spring grass was green and smelled bright, the sky was a Rembrandt blue. I felt a bit like a kid again but most importantly completely secure and and safe with my family, who left a hole in my life bigger than I knew when they moved to HKG.