Wednesday Postcard: San Francisco’s Chinatown

Hello! This week’s postcard features the Dragon Gate in San Francisco’s Chinatown!

Photo: K. Glaser, Jr.
  • The Dragon Gate was completed in 1970
  • China donated 120 ceramic tiles depicting parts of Chinese history
  • Located on Grant Avenue and Bush Street, the arch marks the south entrance to San Francisco’s Chinatown

After our lovely lunch at Wayfare Tavern, my family and I took a stroll around nearby Chinatown.

Portsmouth Square Park with a view of the Transamerica Pyramid
“This marks the site of the first public school in California” (1848)
welcome to Portsmouth Square Park
Rack of San Francisco postcards at souvenir shop in Chinatown
one of many souvenir shops in Chinatown
Red lanterns and statue wearing face mask
spotted on Grant Avenue and Clay Street
a view of the Bay Bridge from the cable car tracks on Grant Avenue and California Street
across the street from this French bistro, you can see…
…the Dragon Gate!

Over the years, I have accumulated hundreds of postcards from around the world, which I’ve either purchased from my local antique shops or received from thoughtful family and friends who know I collect them. When I travel, I also like to send myself a carte postale just for fun!

I hope these postcards will make you want to revisit a favorite vacation spot or to embark on a journey to the destination of your dreams (when it’s safe to travel freely again, of course!)

And if you’ve been to the destination featured, tell me about your experience there – I’d love to hear from you.

Until the next Wednesday Postcard, take care!

Woman taking photograph of statue with her phone
Thanks to my dear husband for this “behind the scenes” snapshot 🙂

San Francisco’s Wayfare Tavern is for (Organic Fried Chicken) Lovers

Tyler Florence, celebrity chef and television host, recently featured one of his San Francisco restaurants, Wayfare Tavern, on the Food Network show, “The Great Food Truck Race.”

The restaurant opened in 2010, but briefly operated as a food truck at the start of the pandemic when many restaurants had to close. Their food truck service is now on hiatus, but their restaurant has reopened!

Wayfare Tavern and the Transamerica Pyramid in the background

Chef Tyler’s Organic Fried Chicken was named one of the Best Fried Chicken in the United States by Food & Wine Magazine (2019).

The magazine even reveals the cooking technique used to achieve its special quality. (Hint: after marinating in buttermilk brine, the chicken is baked on low heat for a few hours before frying!)

Enticed by the idea of trying this special chicken on a special occasion, my husband immediately booked a lunch reservation at the Financial District restaurant to celebrate our anniversary.

Burrata Toast, Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco

For appetizers, we ordered charred country bread with burrata. The soft, creamy Italian cheese was lightly sprinkled with balsamic vinegar, served with several cubes of watermelon, cantaloupe, and pear, and topped with some fresh microgreens. My elder daughter called first dibs on the prosciutto di Parma. (By the way, she snapped all of the photos shown here. 📸)

While we waited for the Burrata Toast, we nibbled on warm popovers (our American version of Yorkshire pudding). My younger daughter and I thought they were freshly baked croissants until we tore off a piece, revealing a soft, hollow inside. The popover was especially tasty with a spread of butter!

As for beverages, I recalled Sancerre’s recent win as « Le village préféré des Français » on the France 3 program of the same name, so I decided to have a glass of the Karine Lauverjat Sancerre 2019. I thought it was light-bodied and soft. I wondered, Is this typical for this appellation? Didn’t matter – I liked it anyhow! Meanwhile, my husband enjoyed his red sangria cocktail of Tempranillo and rum with licorice-flavor from the French tarragon.

Preceded by the distinctive scent of roasted garlic and the woody aroma of rosemary, the main course arrived, at last. After removing the rosemary sprigs that were perched atop five assorted pieces of golden fried chicken, I squeezed some lemon on top and took a bite. I decided it was definitely worth the splurge: the chicken was simple, but tender and seasoned to perfection!

Organic Fried Chicken, Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco

In San Francisco, mask-wearing and social distancing are still required indoors (regardless of vaccination status), but neither rule seemed to be strictly enforced here. Despite the full house, the noise level was comfortable. At our table, we could hear each other without having to shout. We couldn’t hear others’ conversations either over the cheerful music playing softly in the background, like this tune:

🎶

With its mahogany walls giving warm British pub vibes, savory Italian cheese appetizers, lively Cuban music, and sweet French wines from the Loire Valley, Wayfare Tavern is true to its name – the atmosphere lent a feeling of journeying to distant lands!

Overall, I had an enjoyable experience – and that’s not the sauvignon blanc talking! 😉

Cheers / à votre santé !

Throwback to 2018: Bastille Day SF

[Updated July 2021]

Wishing “Joyeux 14 juillet” to our friends in France who are celebrating their Fête Nationale! 🇫🇷

In 2021, the one-day Bastille Day San Francisco event is a week-long celebration.

“Bastille Week SF” runs from July 11 through July 17, 2021 and participants are encouraged to take part in their “Bastille Photo Week” contest for a chance to win prizes.

They want participants to visit French businesses, take photos there, and then share the photos on social media.

It’s a clever way to support and discover local French businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area!

Throwback to Bastille Day SF 2018

In 2018, I joined the Bastille Day SF volunteer social media team. My job was to update the event’s Facebook page (@14juilletsf).

Photo credit: Bastille Day SF (dot) org

Here are some photos I took at Bastille Day SF 2018 at Embarcadero Plaza:

img_7696

img_7687

the line for crêpes was endless

Pétanque

Slideshow: Exhibitors, Performers, and Vendors

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

[Originally published July 2018]

What are some of your favorite French or French-inspired shops, restaurants, and service providers? Tell me in the comments below. I’d love to check them out!

I Took BART to San Francisco for the First Time in Over a Year

Since the pandemic began in March 2020, you could say I took the “stay at home” orders quite literally. I haven’t been on a bus, plane, train, or ferry! So after 15+ months, I was thrilled to take BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) again!

Masks are required on BART property through September 2021 | Lake Merritt Station

There’s never a dull moment on BART! 😉Here’s a sampling:

A woman sitting next to me on a bench asked me, “Do you smell smoke?”

When I said no, she whispered, “I hope it’s not a fire. Last time I smelled smoke, they evacuated the station.”

Later on, after arriving at our stop, that same woman shouted at the top of her lungs to the people on the escalator, “Stand on the right, walk on the left! Ugh, TOURISTS!” As soon as she said that, the escalator came to a gentle halt.

BART has 50 stations and they’re piloting free high-security bike rack systems at five of them | 16th Street Station

Then on my return trip, I spotted a bevy of beauties who looked like they’d just walked out of a music video! Sporting sparkly tops and white form-fitting pants, they commanded attention as they sauntered through the station to the beat of the music blasting from one of their tiny designer handbags.

Translation services available | Powell Station

Finally, while I was walking up the stairs to exit the station, I witnessed a man yell “EXCUSE ME!” at another man ahead of him who was apparently climbing the steps at a pace too slow for his taste. They exchanged some lovely hand gestures and colorful expletives before going their separate ways.

Time stood still: This is a poster for the March 22, 2020 Oakland Marathon | Powell Station (June 19, 2021)

“Sisters With Transistors”

My reason for going to The City on Saturday, June 19, 2021 was to see a limited screening of “Sisters with Transistors” at the Roxie Theater in the Mission District.

My elder daughter invited me to go with her to see the documentary that she’d recently learned about in her music history & industry program in college. The 2020 documentary is about women pioneers in the field of electronic music. In particular, I enjoyed learning the stories of Daphne Oram, Eliane Radigue, and Laurie Spiegel.

Daphne Oram (1925-2003) was a British musician who created the Oramics technique, which produced sound through lines, waves, and other shapes written or drawn on film that were then played back on a sound system.

Eliane Radigue (born 1932) is a French electronic music composer living in Paris. Her signature sound is created with an ARP synthesizer and recording tape.

Laurie Spiegel was born in Chicago in 1945. She created the music composition software called Music Mouse.

Ferry Building at the Embarcadero

Before going to the movie theater, we stopped by the weekly Farmers Market at the Ferry Building.

shops inside the Ferry Building
The notice says that “masks are no longer required for shoppers, sellers, and staff” at this farmers market

Juneteenth Celebration on the Waterfront

June 19, 2021 | San Francisco

Juneteenth, a portmanteau of the words, June and nineteenth, has been celebrated in various U.S. states since 1866 to commemorate the day (June 19, 1865) that people of Galveston, Texas learned that slavery had ended two and a half years earlier (after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became law on January 1, 1863.) On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden declared Juneteenth a federal holiday.

June 19, 2021 | San Francisco

We caught a glimpse of Mayor London Breed visiting the various food stalls!

London Breed, Mayor of San Francisco

Reopening of California

On Tuesday, June 15, 2021, the State of California officially reopened and many restrictions were lifted (Visit Safely Reopening California to learn more!)

The state may have reopened, but I believe it would be prudent to keep wearing masks (even if fully vaccinated). It’s clear that the pandemic is not over. Knowing that variants of the virus that cause COVID-19 are appearing and infecting people around the world is frightening.

The fact that many countries are still waiting to receive an adequate supply of vaccines boggles the mind. Meanwhile, vaccine-hesitant people here need to be lured with “Vax for the Win” incentives, like cash or dream vacations! Un embarras de richesse? (Or, just plain embarrassing? Sigh.)

A giant reminder to get vaccinated | Westfield San Francisco Centre

Please stay healthy and safe! 💕😷

Wednesday Postcard: The Exploratorium in San Francisco

©️1983 The Exploratorium

Hello! This week’s postcard features “Words and Colors” from the Illusions and Other Surprises Postcard Exhibit at The Exploratorium, San Francisco’s Museum of Science, Art, and Human Perception.

Instructions:

“Read this card aloud — but rather than reading the words, say the color of ink that was used to write each word. It’s not easy; the written words have a surprisingly strong influence over the actual color. The Exploratorium’s Language exhibits let you explore some of the patterns of meaning you make with words, sounds, and symbols.”

San Francisco (2017)

I enjoy visiting museums and I’m glad to see many of them gradually reopening after being closed since the pandemic began.

From 1969 to 2012, the Exploratorium was located at the Palace of Fine Arts. In April 2013, it opened its doors at its new location: Fisherman’s Wharf at Piers 15 and 17.

The Exploratorium is a popular school field trip destination, too! I went as an elementary school student, and in recent years, my daughters have gone there with their classes. I was even a chaperone for one of their field trips to the interactive museum.

There are hundreds of educational, entertaining, and hands-on exhibits at the Exploratorium. My favorites include:

  • Sip of Conflict (video)

Over the years, I have accumulated hundreds of postcards from around the world, which I’ve either purchased from my local antique shops or received from thoughtful jet-setting family and friends who know I collect them. When I travel, I also like to send myself a carte postale just for fun!

I hope these postcards will make you want to revisit a favorite vacation spot or to embark on a journey to the destination of your dreams (when it’s safe to do so, of course!)

And if you’ve been to the destination featured, tell me about your experience there – I’d love to hear from you.

Until the next Wednesday Postcard, stay well!

Wednesday Postcard: NYE 2021 in San Francisco

a mural along Highway 101

After being indoors for most of 2020, I just had to get out and go somewhere beyond the mailbox or the grocery store! I also wanted to do something special to ring in the new year since fireworks were cancelled. So, to feed two birds with one scone, my family and I decided to go to San Francisco!

Normally, we’d take BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) or the ferry into The City because finding parking there can be challenging. But this time, we decided to go by car to limit exposure.

Since we hadn’t crossed the Bay Bridge in almost a year, we were surprised to learn that there were no toll collectors. You either use FasTrak (the Bay Area’s electronic-toll taking system) or they snap a pic of your vehicle’s license plate and send you a bill.

How efficient! There was no usual backup on the approach to the Bay Bridge either. Not sure if it was due to it being New Year’s Eve or because of no-stopping at the toll booth! Either way, it was much appreciated. I figure we saved at least 10 minutes of driving.

Here are some of the places we visited (or drove by while I took pictures from the passenger side):

Haight-Ashbury District

In the summer of 1967 (“Summer of Love”), thousands of young people gathered in the Haight-Ashbury District of San Francisco. Because they believed in peace, love, psychedelic drugs, nature, communal living, and rock ‘n roll, they were called “hippies” or “flower children” (scornfully or affectionately, depending on whom you asked!) 🌼

For 43 years, the district was also home to the Haight-Ashbury T-Shirts store. Sadly, it suffered financially due to the pandemic and had to close on December 31, 2020.

On the last day, everything was 50% off: vintage-looking (reproduced) shirts with popular ’60s bands on them, minor league baseball shirts, and tie-dye shirts. Some postcards were even complimentary. Right on! ☮️

Which brings me to… This week’s postcard featuring (you guessed it): the Haight-Ashbury District in San Francisco!

Images: A. McKinney/K. Glaser, Jr.

On the left are images from one of the annual Haight-Ashbury Street Fairs. On the right is a sidewalk memorial for Jerry Garcia (1942-1995) of the American rock band, Grateful Dead. In the late ’60s, members of the band lived on 710 Ashbury Street.

“We will get by. We will survive.” – from Touch of Grey by Grateful Dead 🎶

Now that’s the right attitude going into the new year!

San Francisco – December 31, 2020

Quelle heure est-il ? It’s always 4:20 here 🙂

San Francisco – December 31, 2020

Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream

Piedmont Boutique

Piedmont Boutique is not only a costume shop, it’s an institution. After nine years in the Castro, they moved to Haight-Ashbury in 1981. You can’t miss it: the fabulous gams that dangle provocatively from the window above the shop is an attraction in itself:

San Francisco – December 31, 2020

San Francisco – December 31, 2020

San Francisco – December 31, 2020

Just an idea: if they painted the soles red, they’d look just like Louboutins!

Cliff House

San Francisco – December 31, 2020

In 1864, Mark Twain was quoted as saying, “If one tires of the drudgeries and scenes of the city, and would breathe the fresh air of the sea, let him take the cars and omnibuses, or, better still, a buggy and pleasant steed, and, ere, the sea breeze sets in, glide out to the Cliff House…”

In 1879, two years after his presidential term ended, Ulysses S. Grant visited Cliff House and reportedly used a telephone there for the first time.

San Francisco – December 31, 2020

The structure shown here is not the original Cliff House restaurant from 1863. It was destroyed by fire, rebuilt, destroyed again, and rebuilt again in the same location. This Cliff House was built in 2003.

Unfortunately, the owners of Cliff House and the National Park Service weren’t able to reach a contract agreement before the end of 2020. As a result, the landmark restaurant had to close its doors.

On December 31, 2020, the public was invited to watch the removal of the letters spelling out “Cliff House.” By the time we drove by, though, all we could see was the sign’s frame.

San Francisco – December 31, 2020

St. Mark’s Lutheran Church

St. Mark’s Lutheran Church is the largest German church in California. It was dedicated in 1895 and cost $56,000 to build.

The name on the cornerstone, St. Markus Kirche, reflects the congregation’s German heritage.

San Francisco – December 31, 2020

We’re still under stay-at-home orders due to the pandemic, so we headed home well ahead of curfew.

Enjoy this 8-second video of the drive back to the East Bay from San Francisco:

My related posts about San Francisco

If you enjoyed this San Francisco postcard, check out my postcards from Alcatraz or City Lights Booksellers & Publishers or The Presidio.

Did you know that dozens of music videos were filmed in San Francisco? I was in one, too (check it out, just don’t blink!)

My “only-in-San Francisco” favorites include the annual Bay to Breakers foot race; the Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina District; a new rooftop park by Salesforce; a laundromat-café; Grace Cathedral’s solidarity concert after the Notre-Dame fire; and the Blue House that inspired a French song!

Over the years, I have accumulated over two hundred postcards from around the world, which I’ve either purchased from antique shops or received from thoughtful jet-setting family and friends who know I collect them. When I travel, I also like to send myself a carte postale just for fun!

I hope these postcards will make you want to revisit a favorite vacation spot or to embark on a journey to the destination of your dreams (when it’s safe to do so, of course!)

If you’ve been to the destination featured, tell me about your experience there!

Until the next Wednesday Postcard, take care! ✌🏽+❤️

Wednesday Postcard: Presidio of San Francisco, California

Photo: A. Taggart-Barone

Bonjour! This week’s carte postale features the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands as a backdrop to the Main Post in the heart of the Presidio of San Francisco.

The Presidio is where San Francisco began.

  • The indigenous Ohlone/Costanoan people lived in this area for thousands of years
  • In 1776, Spain established a military fort on this land
  • In 1821, Mexico won its independence from Spain and controlled the post and established a new pueblo nearby called Yerba Buena (later known as San Francisco)
  • In 1846, the Presidio became a U.S. Army post
  • In 1994, the Presidio became a national park site

For more information:

Main Post at the Presidio

Until the next Wednesday Postcard, stay safe. A bientôt!

If you enjoyed this post, you may be interested in reading about my experience volunteering at the Presidio.

Music Monday: San Francisco

Now playing on my French song playlist:

Title: San Francisco

Songwriter: Maxime (Bruno) Le Forestier

Performed by: Maxime Le Forestier

Lyrics I like:

C’est une maison bleue

Adossée à la colline

On y vient à pied, on ne frappe pas

Ceux qui vivent là, ont jeté la clé

 

On se retrouve ensemble

Après des années de route

Et l’on vient s’asseoir, autour du repas

Tout le monde est là, à cinq heures du soir

 

Quand San Francisco s’embrume

Quand San Francisco s’allume

San Francisco, où êtes-vous?

Lizard et Luc, Psylvia, attendez-moi!

Translation:

It’s a blue house

Leaning against the hill

We go there on foot, we don’t knock

Those who live there threw away the key

 

We find ourselves together again

After years on the road

And we come to sit around the meal

Everyone is there at five in the evening

 

When San Francisco is foggy

When San Francisco lights up

San Francisco, where are you?

Lizard and Luc, Psylvia, wait for me!

🎶

In early 2020, the famous blue house was put on the market for $3.45 million: Iconic Reimagined Three Level Dolores Heights Victorian

Until next Music Monday, have a good week ahead. Stay safe!

*music & lyrics | all rights reserved*

Orange Haze Over the San Francisco Bay Area

What’s new in the Golden State?

In California, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is nearing 750,000.

During this past 3-day Labor Day weekend (September 5-7, 2020), temperatures fluctuated between 97-103 °F (36-39 °C) in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live.

On Sunday morning, we had a relatively small (yet still scary to me) 3.4 magnitude earthquake.

At the same time, wildfires burned throughout the state. Sadly, hundreds of firefighters are still trying to contain them.

Today is Wednesday, September 9, 2020 and look at the sky:

Skies over San Francisco: Sept. 9, 2020 at 9:45 am (PDT)

I took this picture with my phone (no filter) at 9:45 am (PDT) today, which also happens to be the 170th anniversary of California’s statehood.

The orange glow is said to be a result of wildfire smoke that’s trapped in the atmosphere, which explains why there is no smoky smell.

Apocalyptic. Beautiful. Confusing. Dramatic. Eerie.

These are some of the words I’m hearing to describe today’s skies. It’s a bit disorienting, too. Is it dawn or dusk, a sunrise or a sunset? But since it’s not changing, it’s like the sky is on pause.

What does the sky look like where you are?

Music Monday: Les cornichons

Now playing on my French song playlist:

Title: Les cornichons

Songwriters: James Booker, Nino Ferrer

Performed by: Rue ’66

Lyrics I like:

On n’avait rien oublié

C’est maman qui a tout fait

Elle avait travaillé trois jours sans s’arrêter

Pour préparer les paniers, les bouteilles, les paquets

Et la radio

Le poulet froid

La mayonnaise

Le chocolat

Les champignons

Les ouvre-boîtes

Et les tomates

Les cornichons

Translation:

We didn’t forget anything

Mom did everything

She worked three days without stopping

To prepare baskets, bottles, packages

and the radio

cold chicken

mayonnaise

chocolate

mushrooms

bottle openers

and tomatoes

gherkins

🎶

Until next Music Monday, have a good week ahead.

*music & lyrics | all rights reserved*

Bay to Breakers: San Francisco’s Famous Foot Race is Going Virtual

The 109th Bay to Breakers 12K foot race through the streets of San Francisco will now be a virtual race taking place from Sunday, September 20, 2020 to Friday, October 2, 2020!

Instead of the traditional “live” route through San Francisco — from downtown SF (“Bay”) all the way to the Pacific Ocean, where the waves break and touch the shore (“Breakers”) — participants will get to choose their own route. Each day, there will also be a costume theme.

They call it virtual, but it won’t be filmed. Instead, participants will have the option to run around their neighborhoods or on their treadmills at home. It’s not quite the same, but Bay to Breakers organizers are determined to keep its spirit alive!

So far, I have done Bay to Breakers three times – in 2011, 2014, and 2018. I’m a long-distance walker, not a runner, so I go for the fun of it.

Bay to Breakers 2011

Doing Bay to Breakers is like being in a parade. It’s festive! It’s like a traveling fashion show. It’s a great opportunity to re-use an old Halloween costume. One year, I felt especially creative and made Frozen-inspired costumes. My friend was Queen Elsa and I was Princess Anna!

Bay to Breakers 2014

bacon-wrapped hot dogs

I spy a French bakery – do you see it?

Alamo Square and the Painted Ladies

Bay to Breakers is an all-ages affair, but if you want to bring the baby, you’ll need to wear the child in a backpack-type of carrier. A few years ago, they banned alcohol and anything on wheels, like floats.

But part of the fun is trying to see what you can get away with, right? So, you’ll see the course dotted with the occasional baby stroller. Also, some people carry alcoholic beverages in plain-looking water bottles. Security officers are not likely to stop or cite rule breakers if they are discreet.

The event is also educational, let’s just say! You learn about plants (cannabis), anatomy (nudity), and games (adult toys and paraphernalia)…and so much more!

But no one judges and no one cares because it’s all for fun. Sure there’s serious prize money involved, but those winnings go to the top two finishers who usually reach the finish line around the 30-minute mark. Incredible! It takes me 30 minutes just to locate the starting line for the walkers’ corral!

Bay to Breakers 2018

“athletic” is used loosely here

Traditional tortilla toss at the starting line

The Murphy Windmill, one of two windmills in Golden Gate Park

Every registered participant who reaches the finish line gets a finisher’s medal and all the free snacks you can eat courtesy of event sponsors.

By no means did I win any costume contests nor break any speed records (my personal best remains at 2:15:50 at my first Bay to Breakers in 2011.)

Bay to Breakers 2011

But walking through San Francisco —literally from downtown SF all the way to Ocean Beach — provides a feeling of satisfaction like no other. It’s kind of addictive. Maybe that’s why people sign up year after year!

Question is: Will people sign up this year for the virtual race? I’m concerned about everyone’s safety. We’re still in the middle of a pandemic, with recent spikes in new cases in many places (California, sadly, being one of them.) We are still required to practice physical distancing.

It’ll be interesting to see how the virtual race will go. According to the Bay to Breakers website, “You can run wherever. The beauty of a virtual race is you can create your own course – we recommend something that’ll shock the neighbors.”

Like what? Participants wearing face masks and not much else, perhaps? I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s Bay to Breakers – that’s the spirit!

Stay healthy and safe, everyone! 😷

Tales from the Presidio of San Francisco

Baker Beach

For three and a half weeks in the summer of 1996, I worked at the Presidio of San Francisco on an international volunteer project. Along with the National Park Service and CIEE (Council on International Education and Exchange), I hosted 11 participants from Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

This was my second workcamp (a commonly used term for volunteer projects like this one), but it was my first one as a Group Leader. I wanted to spend my summer doing something meaningful, while giving back to the community. I wanted to meet new friends from around the globe. I wanted to show them my city! I wanted to hear their stories. I wanted to understand the big wide world out there. Gather ’round the campfire and sing kumbaya, everybody!

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…

My group and I loved the idea that we could learn from each other through this cultural exchange and volunteer project.

We envisioned that at the end of it, we’d return to our respective homes, individually satisfied that our collective effort helped beautify parts of the historic Presidio. Our mission of serving as goodwill ambassadors accomplished!

But seriously…

As we all know, the vision sometimes does not match the reality.

The truth is: the workcamp was a vacation! You could say it was more camp than work! It provided over three weeks of freedom from the monotony of our student or professional lives at home.

While we did work hard, we mostly hated the meaningless work we were assigned to do (Replace tennis court nets? Inventory appliances in former housing units? Assemble metal shelves?)

assembling metal shelves

clearing brush outside a small museum

Home Life

We stayed in one of the former barracks and each of us had our own room. We took turns preparing meals and cleaning our shared living areas.

On the weekends, we enjoyed some fun activities. We rode Muni buses across town and strolled through Golden Gate Park. We camped out at the World War II-era Battery Chamberlin and took swigs from a shared bottle of Southern Comfort whiskey. We slept in our sleeping bags on cots in eerie D-Block prison cells on Alcatraz and watched Half Dome take on an orange hue as the sun went down in Yosemite!

Alcatraz Island

Yosemite National Park

One of our meals with another volunteer group

Reflecting on my group leader experience

While I was confident in my flexibility and my high tolerance for challenging situations, I must admit that I was stepping out of my comfort zone when I accepted the Group Leader role.

During the workcamp, my people-skills got sharper. As a leader, I had to be more sensitive to what people were thinking and feeling. Cultural differences also inform body language, which I found challenging to decode at times. For example, standing close to someone’s face may be perceived as either aggression or friendliness depending on one’s cultural background.

Unlike the workcamp I had participated in the summer before — where there were two co-leaders who worked cooperatively — I felt there was no such support at this workcamp.

Since I didn’t have a co-leader, I had to motivate myself, emotionally pat myself on the back, and support my decisions. That part was tough.

This workcamp experience really pushed me to discover my limits, too. My patience was tested — to my surprise — by the park ranger assigned to oversee our project.

What an insufferable bully! He often withheld information from me. When I wasn’t around, he would share information with the group. Of course, that made me look and feel foolish. I felt undermined. Not one to get confrontational, I just ignored it.

Well, today (over 20 years later!) I reflect and decide that I should not have ignored it. I recognize it was a missed opportunity to work out different working styles and navigate personality clashes. Sometimes people just don’t click despite their best efforts and that’s OK, too. After all, we just needed to get along. We didn’t have to like each other.

You live, you learn

I remember a popular song at the time was “You Learn” by Alanis Morissette. How her lyrics ring true: you live, you learn!

Let’s just say I learned the hard way that a local person does not necessarily make the best tour guide.

Either that or my new friends just asked all the hard-hitting questions, like “Why is it called Dolores Park?” or “How much is one of those Victorian houses?” (Fun fact: one of the “Painted Ladies” on Steiner Street was on the market recently for 2.75 million dollars!)

I was, however, able to:

  • share my firsthand account of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake (Terrifying shaking for 10 seconds that felt endless)
  • point out Galileo High School, which was O.J. Simpson’s alma mater (It’s in the Russian Hill neighborhood)
  • coach my new friends (who wanted to sound more local) to say “San FrIncisco” but never San Fran, or worse, Frisco! (cringe!)

Still, there were many things about “The City” that I didn’t know.

It didn’t help when the park ranger told me one time:

“You don’t get out much, do you?”

Did I mention he made the disparaging remark in front of our group? Oh, that Jim – such a charmer!

But you know what? He was absolutely correct.

Say what?

That’s right. I choose to look beyond the snark and distill the sweet advice instead: Do more exploring closer to home! Play tourist or traveler in your hometown! Look inside yourself!

  • Only then can you begin to understand the big wide world out there.
  • Where are they now?

    Over the years, seven of us from the Presidio workcamp have managed to keep in touch. We have traveled to each other’s hometowns and a few of them have returned to San Francisco for a visit. For the workcamp’s 20th anniversary in 2016, I set up a Skype call and we had a virtual reunion.

    A sort of kumbaya for the digital age, wouldn’t you agree?

    If you have participated in a similar work project or cultural exchange (paid or volunteer), what did you learn from your experience(s)? Please share in the comments below!

    If you enjoyed this post, you may be interested in my post >> Volunteering in Hérisson, France

    Note: It appears that CIEE does not offer the international volunteer project program at this time.

    To learn more about other educational exchange programs that they offer, visit their website here. (This post is not sponsored.)

    *Today is Palindrome Day: 02/02/2020!*

    It’s also Super Bowl Sunday: Kansas City Chiefs vs San Francisco 49ers! 🏈