sf chinatown. photo by SeenyaRita.
RED BEAN. LEMON-PINEAPPLE. BARBECUE PORK. Custard. I’m staring at the display case debating over which filling sounds best on this particular morning. The bakery is packed, and Nick and I are the only white guys in the place – a sign that the buns are good here. And I love a good Chinese bun.
We had woken up relatively early that morning, stumbled sleepy-eyed through the hostel to get showered before heading up to Cafe Trieste on Vallejo. With a mostly wood interior and an aged, bohemian feel, it reminded me of the coffee shop I once worked at back in Seattle. But the baristas at Trieste aren’t too keen on bullshitting – you order, you pay, you sit or you go. They show affection best through a strong cappuccino.
Both of us had been eager for a breakfast of buns since the previous night, when I had gone searching in vain for char-shu-bao (bbq pork bun). And so with coffees in hand we began to meander through the arteries of Chinatown, passing by produce markets as they stirred to life. We passed several bakeries, but stopped at the one with sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves steaming in the window. Inside, some of the pastries were as cheap as 50 cents – this was the place.
I decide on lemon-pineapple, while Nick settles on red bean. We take a seat and begin nibbling joyfully on the sweet dough, both reflecting on the fact that we could never get something like this back in our respective home cities. The sidewalk bubbles and churns with people and incomprehensible conversation, and by the time we step outside we both half-expect to be in Beijing.
We ride towards the Marina District in search of bike shop where Nick can get a bolt for his cycling cleats – one had unexpectedly popped out yesterday, producing an ugly “ka-CHUNK” as it exited. The guys at Bike Nut help him out, and suggest a good place for lunch to boot. We wheel just down the block to Real Food Company (strikingly similar to Whole Foods) and order a couple sandwiches, which we consume outside in a gentle breeze. We both comment the mustard is especially pungent – an overwhelming, nose-wrinkling taste that smothers the ham. We strike up a conversation with a guy sitting next to us who’s here visiting his Aunt, and searching for a new city to call home.
“Where you guys from?” he asks. Seattle, we say. “Ah…another affordable city,” he laughs. We collectively bitch and moan about ridiculous living costs, in cities nationwide. “When I was in Seattle it seemed like the streets rolled up around six o’clock,” the man says, puzzled at this observation. We tell him that there are districts that have better nightlife than others, but cede that it barely compares to the ceaseless pulse of San Francisco.
Bellies full (mostly of mustard) we scoot off towards the Golden Gate Bridge – today’s main event. We decide to make some exercise out of it and hustle into the headwind coming off the Bay and up a hill that will lead us to the bridge’s footpath. Winding around we stop just at the mouth of the bridge, which is choked with tourists on this sunny Friday. Opting to not be associated with the lycra-clad sprinters who are damn near knocking people over the railing, we just walk the bikes and take in the view.
From a distance the topography of the San Francisco peninsula is almost indistinguishable because of the urban blanket that covers it – buildings simply look inexplicably tall in some places. It is a beautiful, glittering mess. Nick says that for the former prisoners of Alcatraz having a barred window with a view of the city must have been the worst kind of torture.
Having done our touristing for the day we zip back towards North Beach, and it’s almost beer o’clock at the San Francisco Brewery (actually, almost 4 o’clock, when pints and pitchers are half price). We order a deep red, rich brew and sit outside in the company of couples and businessmen who are all getting a head start on their weekend. A pleasant buzz washes over me and Nick says, “Man, I could definitely live here.” I nod in agreement.
We spend that night back down at my friend Danielle’s place, drinking beers, eating pizza and watching Just Friends on TV. Perhaps a normal night if we did live in the city. After a few slices food coma sets in, and the hours are wearing thin – it’s time to head back up to the hostel. Nick and I step outside the apartment just as our bus whirs by, and we sprint off down the street towards the next stop.
(Next: More San Francisco…)