San Francisco was a city that I had always yearned to explore, and when my family chose San Francisco for our summer vacation, I read travel books and planned an itinerary of the sites that I most wanted to see. Among the list were the usual tourist sites: the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, the Board walk, the street cars, and Haight-Ashbury. As my family and I bumbled along the steep and narrow streets of the hilly city, we happened upon China Town. I enjoyed exploring the streets and alley ways of this culturally vibrant district, perusing the various shops and sampling the local cuisine. While making our way back to our original trolley stop, we found that we were lost. In search of directions, we turned down a small alley which was filled with tourists and the faint smell of oranges. The tourists were lined up in front of a tiny warehouse looking building, a curious hole in the wall type of shop, with an opening large enough to allow only a single file line. So what we found instead of directions was the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory.
All of my senses were engaged as I entered the factory. The cookies were not your average stale, mast produced, after dinner searcy. They were fresh and fragrant with a hint of orange. For a dollar you could customize your cookie by writing your own fortune. Yet I found that the cookies were not the only remarkable attribute of the factory, nor were they the most memorable. Don’t get me wrong, the cookies were delicious, but the best cookie is still only a cookie.
The fortune cookie factory had an eye-opening simplicity. Ordinary women working at their stations, turned flat cookie disks into folded golden delicacies. Throughout the building, behind the less authentic decorations placed for the tourist, were items of deep cultural meaning. There were mantras in Chinese characters, pictures of family members, and a small desk cluttered with a collection of personal papers and figurines. Things brought with the people from China, their cultural heritage.
However, the old met the new inside of the place as well. One of the younger employees was listening to Rihanna in the background and singing along as she folded cookies. The women were all dressed in modern work garments, with hairdos that could be found in magazines at any salon. I could smell faint hints of Glade air freshener, could feel the tile below my feet, all modern assets. In this infusion of new and old, I saw the real San Francisco, the people.
It was the experience of the place that set it apart. The busy modern city was left behind, for I experienced the beauty of San Francisco’s true core. The heart of San Francisco was in this unlikely place. It is rare today to be able to see this in a big city, to see history, not in landmarks or concrete flowers, but in the people. San Francisco is one of those few cities where one can see the culture of the people over the culture of the nation, the local versus international flair. Where, through the blending and mashing of thousands, a culture has been created that is truly unique.
It is for this reason that I would recommend visiting this beautiful city to anyone, whether or not you like cities, or street cars, or even fortune cookies, because San Francisco still has a heart, a core to it, a people, a culture. San Francisco is a wonderful place to feel that most exquisite part of travelling, enlightenment.