Happy Chinese New Year!
We are currently in the middle of the Chinese New Year. The new year celebration is a long one, 15 days, and as one could imagine is very celebrated here in San Francisco. Last Sunday was the first day of the celebration period, and I happened to have the day off, we had to visit Chinatown to see what was going on.
But before that we did a little exploring closer to home. If you go all the way through the Presidio to the beginning of Golden Gate Bridge, at the base of the bridge is an old fort called Fort Point. Zac and I have walked around the area and seen it from the outside, but last Sunday we actually went inside. It is an imposing stone building from 1853 and was built to defend the bay against hostile war ships. It is free to visit the fort, and many of the rooms have been turned into exhibits, some more interesting than others. I particularly liked the exhibit about African-American integration into the army and the Buffalo Soldiers. There are also lots of cannons and gunpowder on display and lots of exhibits on weaponry and it’s evolution through the ages. I definitely recommend going up to the roof. The view of the bay is incredible and it’s trippy to be under the base of the Golden Gate Bridge and hear the cars rumbling overhead.
We kept walking along the water until we got to our next destination: the wave organ. Zac and I have wanted to visit the Wave Organ ever since we moved to San Francisco but for one reason or another hadn’t made it until now. To get there you have to walk on this strip of land behind the Golden Gate Yacht Club that’s kind of hard to find. It consists of a series of pipes that go down into the ocean, and from various listening stations you can hear the wave noises it produces. The tide was out, so we didn’t hear anything on our visit. Also, much of the stone that makes up the structure and the benches to sit on is recycled from the demolished Laurel Hill Cemetary. It’s a special place. It was nice to hang out there and watch the water even if we couldn’t hear any of the secrets of the sea that day.
Our curiosity finally satisfied, it was time for Chinatown! We hopped a bus in the Marina that took us straight there. Chinatown was actually quieter than we imagined. As it turns out, Saturday night (New Year’s Eve), was the cause of much celebration, and Sunday was spent hanging out at home with the family. We wandered up and down the streets, enjoying being just being there, and bought some treats as gifts for our landlords. We were wandering on Grant, the “main drag” of the touristy part of Chinatown, when we spied a sign for free tea tasting. I like tea and I like free, so we went inside.
I have been wine tasting several times but never tea, so I was quite excited. The shop was called Vital Tea Leaf and was really nice. Our server, Will, was cool and knowledgeable. He seemed like someone you’d hang out with who just happens to know a lot about tea. I love tea, but didn’t realize that I was doing everything wrong. According to Will, you shouldn’t use boiling water for your tea and should not steep it for more than a minute. Otherwise, the tea releases tannins and will taste bitter. He sampled so many different kinds for us, including a green tea from a tree that was 800 years old and expensive. Everything was amazing. We particularly liked the ginseng oolong. Even the small taste we had was refreshing and invigorating. Zac bought me some of the lychee black tea as a Valentine’s day present. Some girls get flowers and chocolates, but I’m happy with awesome Chinese tea!
A big part of the celebrations in Chinatown are fireworks. Chinese people are really into them, and have many different kinds of fireworks. It is by no means legal to set them off in the streets, but everyone does, usually in alleys when no one is looking or sometimes right in the middle of the road to spice things up. We saw so many different people with fireworks, and as we walked around would hear them every now and again. My favorite were these two mischievous middle-aged women who worked in a shop on Grant. They set off a little firecracker, and as they ran cackling back into the shop one said to me “Wait! We have a big one!!!” Sure enough, when they returned it was with a long strip of red paper that was unmistakably a Chinese firework. While one woman stopped the traffic on the sidewalk, the other one held a piece of incense to it, then dropped in and dashed back in the shop. It was noisy and bright and so much fun! We applauded them as they grinned and laughed and disappeared back into the shop.
As we left Chinatown darkness had fallen, making it an even more magical place. It was time to go back home, to reality and supper. But like I said, the Chinese New Year celebration is a long one, and before it ended we found ourselves on still more adventures. . .
Good Luck and Happy Travels,