There’s a lot of reason to hate the US lately. There’s a lot of reason to hate San Francisco too. In both cases, it seems that the wrong people are in charge, ruining everything for the rest of us. That’s probably a gross generalization, but that’s how it feels.
So I’m going to not think about our broken healthcare system today. I’m not going to think about the homeless problems in the city, or how our rents are too high, or these jerkass douchebags starting up jerky douchey apps that take away our public parking spaces and restaurant reservations. I’m not going to think about how San Francisco is so expensive and ridiculous that my friends are moving away.
No. Today, I’ll think about the parts about San Francisco that I love. And I’ll think about the parts of America that I love.
I like that all the neighborhoods are so different. The Sunset has such a different vibe from the Haight, which is so different from the Mission. If the only places you visit in San Francisco are downtown and the Golden Gate Bridge, you’ve missed out on 90% of the city. The Ferry Building is lovely, I’ll grant you, and Union Square is not too bad. But it’s not where people live. You want to really experience San Francisco? Go to where people LIVE.
I genuinely do like the Mission, despite its hipster-ism. The burritos are the best. Get one from La Taqueria, Taqueria Cancun or El Farolito. Taqueria San Jose’s okay too, if you wander that far down. Papalote is okay. The salsa’s pretty good, but everything else on the menu is perhaps a bit precious. It’s not a true Mission burrito.
Another thing you should have in San Francisco is Vietnamese food. If you’re already in the Mission, get the banh mi sandwiches from inside Duc Loi supermarket. They’re massive and delicious. And if you want pho, Pho Huynh Hiep 2 in the Outer Sunset’s pretty good.
The Sunset and the Richmond are almost never visited by tourists, which is why you should go there. You’ll probably need a car, though MUNI does bring you there. Golden Gate Park, a massive urban park of around 1,000 acres, sits in the middle of the two districts. It’s, quite frankly, fucking gorgeous. The botanical garden is beautiful, as is the Shakespeare garden. It’s also home to two world-class museums — the California Academy of Sciences as well as the De Young art museum. The Japanese tea garden’s pretty good too.
Oh, and there’s a ton of activities you can do in the park. You can run, jog, hike. You can play frisbee golf. There’s also a part of the park reserved for bison. Yep, free roaming bison. Right in the park.
If you want good Chinese food, don’t go to Chinatown. Go to either the Sunset or the Richmond. Ton Kiang is a great dim sum place. Shanghai Dumpling King and Kingdom of Dumpling are both pretty good. Old Mandarin Islamic is some of the best damn Chinese food you’ll ever eat. There’s also really good Korean and Japanese food here too. Manna is great. Izakaya Sozai is amazing. There’s a lot more that I’m not mentioning.
At the edge of both these neighborhoods is the ocean. The ocean in San Francisco is cold, this is true. But it’s also the fucking ocean. On a nice sunny day (which is rare), it’s gorgeous. I’ve gone out there, laid out a towel, and just lied there and read a book. It’s so peaceful. And this is a thing that you can do in San Francisco without much effort — it takes me like 15-20 minutes to drive there, tops.
Also near the beach is one of my favorite places, Beachside Cafe. They have used books from Green Apple Books on the shelves that you can read. I’ve sat there for hours just reading a book. It’s really nice.
I’ve lived in San Francisco for more than a decade and I still find things to do and places I haven’t seen before. There are small tiny little parks in the city that I’m discovering all the time. We have an amazing symphony orchestra. The ballet and opera here are pretty freaking good. We get visiting Broadway plays and musicians all the time. The Punchline and Cobb’s are great if you want to see stand-up, and there are dozens of smaller improv shows around town. And if you’re into nightlife, well, there’s a lot going on there as well. If you honestly think San Francisco is boring, then your standards of entertainment are much higher than mine.
And there are so many other things that I’ll just throw them into a list: House of Prime Rib where they wheel out a zeppelin of meat, Green Apple Books is one of the rare well-stocked used bookstores in the city, City Lights Books in North Beach, Borderlands if you dig sci-fi and fantasy, Coffee Bar with its free WiFi and lots of outlets, Wexler’s with its southern inspired fare and cocktails, State Bird Provisions, Maruya and its amazing omakase menu, all of Japantown, Alamo Square, the takoyaki at Izakaya Sozai, Faye’s Video & Espresso Bar, the pastries at Tartine, the Armory Club, the ice cream from Humphry Slocombe / Bi-Rite / Mitchell’s / Smitten, the pizza from Pizzetta 211, Hog Island Oyster Co, world-class fucking baseball at AT&T Park, and god so much more.
The other great thing about living here? You’re never far from nature. A quick drive north, and you’re in the red woods. A little further up, and you’re in wine country. Go way up north, and you’ll be in glorious glorious Tahoe where you can go skiing or snowboarding. Go south instead, and you can drive to Santa Cruz for the boardwalk, the Monterey Bay Aquarium (dare I say one of the best aquariums in the damn country), Carmel by the sea, and picturesque Half Moon Bay.
This is a damn beautiful place, with great food and lots of things to see and do no matter your inclination.
Beyond that, San Francisco simply feels like home. I remember visiting San Francisco for a week’s vacation in 1999. I immediately fell in love and I knew I wanted to move here. It was that easy. My mind was made up. I didn’t really think twice about it.
I’ve heard that one of the things that people don’t like about San Francisco is all the tech startup d-bags and brogrammers. Sure, I hate them too. It’s a good thing I don’t hang out with them. Oh, yeah, that’s a decision that you can also make. Did you know that? There are people who live in San Francisco who don’t work in tech. There are also people who work in tech who are nice. I know. I just blew your mind.
Meet other people. Seriously. Attend a knitting class, join a book club, go to an improv workshop, talk to the people in line at theTrouble Coffee Company. Don’t live inside the bubble. I have friends who aren’t on Twitter or Facebook. They live and work in San Francisco. It’s entirely possible, you guys. Talk to friends via email or chat — don’t rely on catching up via social media.
Don’t live inside the bubble. San Francisco is more than that.
And that’s just my schpiel about San Francisco. America itself is a far bigger and more majestic thing.
This is what America means to me: it means freedom. It means freedom to be myself. To be my true self. My true unadulterated flawed self.
I suppose there are other countries where I can be free to be me. But the US is the one that introduced the concept to me first. Before I moved here in 1998, I would hardly utter a cuss word. I didn’t know how to talk to strangers. I’d keep most opinions to myself. I was a very sheltered person. I had never met an openly gay person in my life. I had never met anyone with a different lifestyle other than the usual one you see on family sitcoms.
That’s pretty different now. Very different, in fact.
America is also where I gained an independence of sorts on my own. I learned to cook here. I learned how to live by myself in an entirely different country, with norms and customs unlike the ones in my home country, without anyone around to help me do it. I figured it out without my parents helping me. I just figured shit out on my own. And I’m pretty damn proud of doing it.
The US is a big country, and there are a lot of great things about it. California, for all its craziness, is pretty awesome. San Diego is a great little town, and Comic-Con is actually kinda fun to attend at least once. Los Angeles is not my favorite city, but it’s not really that bad either.
Seattle is very pretty. The Space Needle is a place you should visit at least once.
Hawaii. Hawaii Hawaii Hawaii. It’s the most beautiful place ever. You’ve got to go at least once in your life. There are volcanoes, beaches, and, just, everything. And it’s part of the US. That’s really amazing to me.
New Orleans is magical. It’s unlike any other place in the US. The food is different, the culture is different, everything is different. Cajun and creole food is something else. Beignets and chicory coffee at Cafe du Monde is a must, no matter how touristy it is.
New York. It’s a huge fucking city. And I love it to bits. The food is great, but also just walking around is entertainment unto itself. And the museums! I love all the museums. I’ve been to MoMa, the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, etc. I’ve been to Rockefeller Plaza and attended two Late Night with Conan O’Brien shows. The Highline is pretty gorgeous. Shake Shack is the best fast food burger in the whole world.
And that Statue. Maybe it’s me being sentimental, but seeing that Statue does mean something to me. Actually, a lot of American patriotism means something to me. The national anthem, America the Beautiful, the declaration of independence — all of that. I know I wasn’t born here, but I’ve learned enough about it that I’ve grown real reverence for it all.
I’ve lived here so long that when someone says “You Americans”, I take that to include me. I am an American. I’m a citizen. And yes, if you say something bad about Americans, I’ll probably feel defensive in some way. I can’t help it. I love this place, flaws and all.
Like San Francisco, it’s home.
Happy independence day.
I wouldn’t pimp stuff I’ve written unless I’m actually proud of it. And the realities of my job dictate that most of the things I write are out of obligation rather than interest or passion. It’s just how it is.
But a rare opportunity came my way about a month or so ago, where I was given the keys to write longer form stories, about topics I actually cared about. So, what the hell, I did. And the surprising thing is? People actually liked it. Or at least, they do a good job lying to me that they liked it.
So, in case you haven’t been keeping up with my life (and why would you?), here’s a short list of a few articles I’ve written that I’m inordinately proud of, rightfully so or not.
- Shh, it’s a Secret: The allure of the anonymous internet
- Flickr struggles to capture the selfie generation
- From Dodgeball to Swarm, Foursquare seeks to move beyond the check-in
- Surviving Yahoo: Upcoming’s social calendar rises again
You might notice that all of these have to do with the Internet in some form. That’s because that’s sort of my new thing at the place I work. But it’s also because I kinda dig the Internet. It’s not always all that great, I grant you. But sometimes, just sometimes, it can be incredible. And I hope to capture that whenever I can.
Wondering out loud here, but is the age of developers making apps/sites for the sheer love of it over? Is there always a need for VC funding these days? Or are there still people who work at a mind-numbing job in the day and slog away at a great community app/site at night?
In short, does everything need to make money? Can a thing on the internet exist these days without any revenue whatsoever?
During our flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong, our plane flew over the International Date Line. Instantly, we were propelled into the future. At the same time, my mind delved into the past, uncovering memories of my childhood, my family, and the country I once called home. Late night suppers at hawker food courts, annual reunion dinners, and high school shenanigans flipped through my head like an internal View-Master. But while I was a tiny bit apprehensive at entering a strange yet familiar city, I was most nervous about reuniting with my father’s family (My parents divorced when I was in my early twenties, and I haven’t seen my father or his side of the family for about 14 years).
It’s not to say that I don’t appreciate the pleasant times we’ve had together in the past. I certainly do. But the bad moments so heavily overshadow everything else. The feeling that you’re constantly being judged, that you’re never good enough, that you’re expected to do so much, is one that never really fades. Perhaps if I were born into a different sort of family, I could just brush those expectations aside. But I wasn’t. I never felt like I really measured up to what people wanted of me, and worse, I had the ingrained cultural training to feel guilty about it. Additionally, my immediate family did not make the happiest of households. Calling it dysfunctional would put it mildly.
Perhaps as a result, I learned to keep my head low. The worst thing in the world was to have unwanted attention heaped upon me. So I tried the best I could to get decent grades, though it didn’t always work out so well. I kept to myself most of the time and didn’t like rocking the status quo. I didn’t know it then, but I owed my sanity to three things: 1) Books, 2) The few friends I had, and 3) The fact that I insisted on attending public school instead of the private one my father wanted. Being around spoiled rich kids as I was growing up would definitely have worsened my already well-developed inferiority complex.
School was the center of my universe. As an only child, this was one of the only chances I had to socialize with people my own age (aside from one of my cousins, who was a fantastic friend while growing up, especially during those awkward family reunions). Through some miracle, I did actually make a few friends at school. The only way I can explain it is that despite the miseries of life at home, I had an incredibly healthy sense of humor and found a way to find joy in even the most dire of circumstances. I smiled and laughed all the time, perhaps because it was far away from the confines of home. That isn’t to say school was all fun of course — it takes me a long time to warm up to people, and I made a couple of faux pas in high school that put me on the social pariah list (aka I was most definitely NOT one of the popular kids). Still, I did make a couple of good friends, especially towards my late teens.
Recently, I’ve had to face a few challenges in my adult life. Everything from finances to my job to my relationships have taken some kind of hit. Some of it is my fault, and others aren’t. It’s made me terribly cranky and I haven’t felt that depressed in ages. As I reminisced about my childhood, I couldn’t help but compare how I felt back then to how I feel now. How did I survive all of that crazy family drama despite being so young? Even more bizarrely, how was I able keep smiling and laughing despite all of the issues at home? How the hell did I do it?
It seems that I was a harder and tougher little girl than I realized. I remember just forcing myself to suck it up and deal. I found solace in books and school and television. I also wrote a lot — in fact, I kept a private journal for most of my life. Sometimes I would call my friends and chat on the phone for a few hours. It’s not to say that I never cried — of course I did. I cried a lot. But I somehow figured out a way to soldier through it all.
In a way, little 14-year-old me has a lot to teach 34-year-old me. She was strong and brave, even if she wasn’t happy all the time. She created her own happiness, her own little moments of joy, far away from the harsh reality of the outside world. She sucked it up, and she dealt with it. She grew the hell up. Which is exactly what I need to do.
Which is exactly what I WILL do.