One Day Trip – Latin America, Japan, China

I have been very fortunate to have lived/studied in so many diverse cities around the world.  Great experiences all around.  However, there is one big drawback in that you severely miss the city you just left and will continue to miss it FOREVER!!!

The case is the same for many of my personal friends who have also gotten around a bit.  We tend to forget the challenges/hardships and enhance the wonderful experiences we had.

For me, when I lived in Tokyo I couldn’t wait to get back to visit the USA and enjoy all the comforts America has to offer.  When I left Tokyo for Saigon I would continually reminisce about Japan and tell people how great Tokyo was.  Now that I’m in San Francisco I continually miss Saigon, Tokyo and my hometown of Columbus, Ohio!

Yet, should I leave San Francisco I would really miss this place as well.  It is almost like a feeling of restlessness.  You are satisfied with your current city until you have everything figured out and enjoyed what it has to offer.  Then it is time to move.  Some people call this the “travel bug.”  For me, it is more like the “go somewhere else and live for a while bug.”

So, trying to put this “bug” to sleep for a bit, my wife and I went to the a few “ethnic” places in one day right here in San Francisco.

Here is my day on June 5th, 2010

1. Latin America

For a taste of all things Latino one must head to the Mission District.  You will mostly hear Spanish spoken here and the district is characterized by the many murals painted on the sides of buildings as shown in the link above.

Our first stop was at the BEST taco/burrito place in the Mission which is without rival, called La Taqueria.  I had the Carne Asada tacos with a Horchata.  I have no idea what Horchata actually is but I would describe it as almost a vanilla milkshake with a subtle hint of spice.  It is DELICIOUS!!

As I love speaking Spanish I get the opportunity to use it only a little because most of the folks I interact with also speak English.  Many times they will humor me and speak back to me in Spanish but I usually get a slight smile which says “Ok, white boy why are you speaking to me in Spanish?”  HOIASLKERJHAPOISERHLKAJ;SELK!!!!!!  This is perhaps the most frustrating, yet funny aspect for language learners here in America.  Too many people speak English!!!!  But, this cannot be helped and no sense it getting myself into a fluster over it.  The people are great and I love the atmosphere.

After our excellent lunch we heard some music playing by the Bart station so headed over for a listen.  It was so good that I decided to take the following video.  As I was recording a homeless man decided to try out his salsa skills with minimal success.

2. Japan

Next we went to Japan Town to go shopping at Nijiya market.  This is the only place we can buy Japanese rice, Miso, Yakult and other Japanese food items.  I have always found their tiny little shopping carts interesting.

Japan Town has suffered in recent decades due to the Japanese community fully integrating into American society and frankly, the young people don’t really care about Japan Town anymore.  Therefore, many of the businesses were bought up by Koreans.

I’ve heard many reasons for the decline of Japan Town and I’ll list a few here

1. Detention Camps – During WW11 many Japanese Americans were rounded up and sent to detention camps.  After the war they were very anxious to not be identified as Japanese anymore and did not return to Japan Town.

2.  The children of the detained and later arrivals revitalized Japan Town a little bit but are now in their 50s and 60’s and their children are fully “American” if I can say such a thing.  One example of this is the “Queen” of the Cherry Blossom Parade.  Previously, they had to be fully Japanese, then just half and now it has been reduced to a quarter to be able to participate.  There are simply not enough full blooded Japanese to be able to create a full court.  

I had planned to do a post on the Cherry Blossom parade this year but took too many pictures and video then was too lazy to get it all organized.  I will share a video I took of the “Mikoshi” which comes at the end of the parade.

Getting back to our day out, we took a peak inside the Japan Town mall and it looks like they have made some progress in making it look attractive again.  They now have a Kinokunia book store which is the ultimate in everything Japanese.  And by Ultimate, I mean everything as demonstrated by the picture below.

They also have a small scale replica of Osaka castle now which I thought was pretty cool.

3. China

Finally, we took a trip over to China Town.  In San Francisco, there are actually two China Towns and if we were being liberal about it (imagine that in San Francisco) there could be many other places considered a China Town.  The closest one to us is of course the “touristy China Town” on Grant Street.

My favorite place to visit here is Vital Tea Leaf which offers free tea tastings.  Often times tourists are put off by the price of tea and quickly leave.  This is REAL tea from China and is completely amazing, so no, it is not cheap.  But, actually it is not very expensive either.  The tea is priced per pound and is often about $100 per pound.  Yet, a pound of tea is a LOT of tea!!!  I usually only buy a quarter pound and it lasts me for a month and a half.

I had no idea that tea could really wake you up in the morning and my favorite brand has Ginseng in it.

These guys were not playing when we were there but I thought I should include a video of some Chinese music that I took previously in China Town.

**Video was deleted and no longer exists**

4.  Vietnam

Ok, we did not actually go to Little Saigon but so as not to leave out one of my favorite locations so I’ll post a video of the Tet Celebration that was held not too long ago in San Jose.

I guess San Francisco really does have it all and is able to squash my travel bug a bit.  But even with all the diverse neighborhoods here, I am restless…..

AND Finally, on a political point (yes, I have to make one, I can’t help myself)… DIVERSITY is FUN!!!  Be open, get out, EXPLORE!!  The world really isn’t a dangerous place that the media would have us believe.  Everyone wants to enjoy life and for the most part people can get along very easily!  All we have to do is to decide we want to get along, throw all the politicians into the sea and PRESTO!!!   🙂

By Mateo de Colón

Global Citizen! こんにちは!僕の名前はマットです. Es decir soy Mateo. Aussi, je m'appelle Mathieu. Likes: Languages, Cultures, Computers, History, being Alive! (^.^)/