Monday, my new friend and roommate, Marion, took me all around the city. We first went to Japantown. She showed me all the stalls filled with people shouting in Japanese, forcing me to practically fall over. Even the banks were employed with Japanese men and women and as I pushed open the door to ask if there was a bathroom I could use, she politely directed me across the street, behind a bakery. Little did I know that she was pointing to the town square. Marion and I walked quickly across the chaotic road and entered the square, where we saw groups of elderly men and women sitting on crates and cardboard boxes, playing cards.
After that experience, I was ready to move out of Japantown and somewhere new. So she suggested Chinatown and I was captivated. I had been to New York City's Chinatown with all it's fake designer bags and begging men who whispered "Prada, Dior, Gucci" under their breath. But I've heard many good things about San Francisco, and one of those is its Chinatown. Food was everywhere. Shops were filled with it, priced at numbers one cannot imagine. I picked up some fruit at a bustling shop where no one spoke English. I saw a sign for 49-cent strawberries. Say it isn't so! I thought I misread, but motioning to one of the store's workers, he verified the price doing the universal language of hand motion. Marion and I happily walked out with our purchases. (An aside: I tried the strawberries last night and they were absolutely delicious.) Marion chose one of the many bakeries and picked out two egg tarts and a lotus bean roll. The way they were made showed the craft and experience these women have; they have been doing this for their whole lives. We went in store after store, most of the time not buying, just looking. And while I did see some cheap luggage, there was not a faux bag in sight. Unlike New York, these people were not pretenders, but seemed to have a different West-coast air about them; a genuineness that comes from the ease of the Pacific waters.
Marion and I walked out the gates of Chinatown, and amazingly, across the corner was an extremely different area. Men and women in business suits and heels walked with a purpose and destination. Haute couture appeared on mannequins in shiny glass windows. Security guards sternly eyed the crowd. Tourists were looked at annoyingly, separating those who knew the city, and those who didn't (me). I felt rejoiced to enter a place that I knew: H & M. Phew.
We went in some more shops, and even though my feet were screaming in pain, I wanted to explore more. Realizing that we had ignored our hunger for long enough, we went to the King of Thai restaurant. She ordered the Green Curry with vegetables and steamed rice, while I ordered (my favorite) the Pad Thai. We split each, and both were delicious. The curry had a heat that was welcomed with the flavor of the coconut milk sauce. Over the rice, it made a thick sort of con jee, rice gruel, something that I learned from reading Lisa See's books. My pad thai proved to be all that it claimed. Stir fried rice noodles were accompanied by chopped eggs, and marinated and fried tofu. It was seasoned with garlic, shallots, red chili powder, and soy sauce, and finished with bean sprouts and peanuts. I quickly sprinkled more peanuts from the center of the table and enjoyed the dish, filled with each sense of taste: salty from the soy sauce, sweet from the palm sugar, umami also from the peanuts, sour from the garnish of lime, and bitter from the herbs. It was by far the best pad thai I have ever eaten. But then again, it seems that California is the paramount of all foods (except of course, pizza [insert laugh]).
Marion had to leave for her class at the gym, but I laid down in bed and thought some more about this city and all it's offerings. I was dreaming of Joy.
I woke up the next morning feeling refreshed and energetic. Today would be the day that I finally got to meet Chef Annie Somerville, the person I would be working with all summer to learn more about the kitchen, as well as myself.
I spent a few hours Skyping my friend, Mason, and finally got myself dressed up for the tour of Greens. I slipped into my sheer pink blouse, teal pencil skirt, and brown wedge heels. I dared to walk to the bus stop with my phone attached to my ear, asking Mason for the thirtieth time where I needed to go. The bus was filled up to the extreme with people of all sorts: different races, classes, and cultures. I rushed off the bus, grabbing my (quintessential) decaf-venti-iced-americano-light-ice, and spinach-feta egg white wrap. I grabbed a bus to Fort Mason, where I searched and searched (in my 5-inch sandals, mind you) for the restaurant, until I found a woman who looked sane, and knew where she was going. I thanked her when she told me to just "go down that hill." And a hill it was. In fear of falling the entire time, I walked down the steep stairs.
I screamed inside with delight when I saw the "Greens" sign. And I even was ten minutes early! I did it! (Acknowledgments to Mason, the bus driver, and the power-walker who pointed me in the right direction.)
Annie's happy face was so welcome after my courageous trip to the restaurant. She held out her hand to shake mine, and I embraced her instead. I'm more of a hugger anyways. She led me into the kitchen where I met many Mexican men by names like Carlos and Edgar. They prepared brochettes with undeniably fresh tofu, mushrooms, peppers, and corn. The line cooks were sautéing and grilling, while Marina, the lunch sous-chef, expedited orders. Everyone was working hard, but, like the last time I entered the kitchen, smiling brightly.
Annie and I ended my tour with her talking to me about my experiences. She reassured me that every question is a good question, even if that question has been asked before. She also said that there are plenty of people to support me if I ever need help. I silently sighed in joy. The feelings I got being around her made me lose my fears of working in a restaurant again. My feelings mattered in this kitchen. This place was not one of fear, but one of learning and growing.
I met Todd Erickson, the man who Annie introduced as, "the man who does everything." This is the person who I would be communicating most with. He was generous with his directions about scheduling and told me ways to get around this big city, sharing personal experiences he has had during his travels in San Francisco. My intuitions were so strong, telling me to move forward and continue this path.
Before we parted, Annie invited me to go to the farmers' market at the Ferry Building at some point. I was honored. She continued having me shake the hands of new faces, happily greeting me with a "hello!" I left the doors of Greens feeling all the more energized and excited to start the next day.
I then thought I should take the time to enjoy more of Fort Mason and visited the reader's donation center, where money was raised to support the library system. The clerk who checked out my new book, Elsewhere, a memoir by Richard Russo, was also from Rochester - another new friend. What are the odds that I would come poop-to-arm with a pigeon one day, and the next, meet a woman from the same town? The world sure is a mystery…
I then strode over in my impractical shoes to the Museo Italo Americano, where I gazed at the art of modern Italian artists in this city. Although I only was able to buy a Florentine wallpaper, the woman behind the desk spoke to me with a beautiful Italian accent, not hurried or rushed despite her work. She helped me find my way to a spot that I could sip a smoothie and look at my new pamphlet for Italian classes. And that is what I did when I found The Plant, an organic health food café. I ordered an açai berry protein smoothie with hemp seed and kale, along with a salad I chose all the ingredients for. In my opinion, dressing is what differentiates a good salad from a bad. It could be a very simple lemon vinaigrette, as I had. But if there is too much (which is often what happens), the greens are sabotaged and turn into limp vegetation. But this was perfect.