“From the Middle Kingdom to Marin…”

“Well, I’m back.” After sixteen months away, I have returned to the bay area. The flight from Xi’an was for the most part, uneventful except for one thing. I flew to Guangzhou to change planes for the flight to San Francisco. Once we were seated in the new aircraft, we were informed that, due to storms, we wouldn’t be cleared for take-off for another hour. About the time the hour was up, I noticed that the food carts in the kitchen were being loaded with food trays. NOT a good sign, I thought. Shortly thereafter, we got another announcement that we weren’t going anywhere anytime soon and furthermore, the pilot had no indication when we would take off. So, relax and enjoy a late night (11:30) dinner, sitting on the tarmac of an airport. 

Halfway through our meal, the pilot announces that we’ve been cleared for take-off, immediately. I must say, I’ve never been in a plane before, where everyone’s still eating as the plane taxied onto the runway.  Obviously, the crew was frantically collecting everything before we took-off and did so. We were not even given the usual pre-flight safety demonstration.

Nancy and Sophie collected me from SFO and off I went for the 45 minute drive to Marin. Driving through the city, back to Marin, it felt like no time had passed since I was last here. I awoke quite early on Saturday morning. Nothing was planned my first day back because no one knew what condition I would be in. I was fine; no jet-lag backlash, at that point. So, I went shopping. I went to the one indoor mall in Marin to buy some ties (of all things) to take back to China. Ties are not standard wear for most men and the selection in the few stores that have them is rather limited. So I went a bit crazy, buying about a dozen new ones. For all of my Xi’an friends and colleagues, take a look at the photos I took at the mall. Compare them to what you see at SAGA Mall, anytime it’s open. What do you notice?

As I mentioned in the previous posting, Saturday night, my friend from middle school was having a birthday party at a restaurant in San Francisco (see photos.) Dinner (including wine) for ten people, not including tip was $1018 ($200 extra for the tip) for a total of 8078 RMB. More expensive than a Xi’an restaurant? Oh, a tad! 

Yesterday (Sunday), I went to Sophie’s apartment to fix the items from her “honey do” list, that required attention. She lives very close to the Haight-Ashbury District which for the past 50 years has been an area of the city famous for its “hippie culture.” Although gentrified, it still retains a feeling of being in a time warp, with all of the offbeat,1960’s style storefronts, record stores (remember “record stores”?)  and tie-dye that’s everywhere. Unfortunately, it still attracts young people from across the country who end up homeless and on the streets. We invited Nancy’s sisters and their husbands over for a very nice dinner. On our way into the city, we stopped at the Presidio which is a decommissioned military base just off the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s now used by the public and has a variety of venues including the Walt Disney Museum. On the weekends, there is an event known as “Off the Grid” which is an enormous picnic with foods from all over the world, mostly served by food trucks which is a very popular form of “street food” dining in San Francisco. 

The next few days will be spent visiting and catching up with various friends and family. 

My former home. My old home office is now the guest room I sleep in when visiting.

The one indoor mall in Marin County. Anyone in any big city in China can easily see the difference between the scene captured in this photo and any mall scene in China. This is the food court at about 2:00 on a Saturday.

What’s different? Where are the people? In comparison to any mall in China, this one looks deserted. In fact, it is. But even when it’s “crowded,” it probably has the same number of people that you find on a couple of the escalators in SAGA Mall, for example.

Malls are all but dead in America. However, they are thriving in China on a scale that most Americans simply wouldn’t believe.

The Mission District (where I had dinner Saturday night) is a famous area of SF and is heavily influenced by Latino Culture.

The Foreign Cinema restaurant menu, where my friend, David celebrated his 60th birthday. These food items are individual and not meant to be shared. Everyone gets his/her own single plate of food. 

My friend of 47 years is the handsome chap at the end of the table, center. That’s Sophie to his right.


The idea is that during dinner, movies are played on the giant screen on the back wall. No audio, although there are subtitles, not that anyone was watching.

Sophie, Nancy and David.

It’s not Halloween but as you can see, I’m getting ready.

Who doesn’t like looking at food? This is Whole Foods Market. A chain of overpriced gourmet food emporiums, popular in the bay area. It was just bought out by Amazon and they’re lowering all of the prices. Just not when we were there. 

Cheese is far more popular and varied in America than in China.

Most food items in Chinese markets and restaurants cost far less money than in America. There are a couple of exceptions, beef is one of them. Not only are the cuts a lot thinner, but more expensive. I’ve never seen a steak anywhere in China that look like what you see in these photos.

This is the “Off the Grid” picnic at the Presidio. It’s on every weekend beginning in March.

In the background, you can make out the fog on the SF Bay, just beginning to burn off. Typical summer day, where you almost always need to wear a coat until the fog burns off in the afternoon, only to return in the evening. There’s a famous quote attributed to Mark Twain but there’s no evidence he actually said: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”

Grilled cheese sandwich for 75RMB

A great shirt, if you know the reference to the TV show, “The Office.”

Sophie with one of her roommates, Ilana. They’re eating a carved mango on a stick.


Looking out from the Presidio across San Francisco Bay to Marin county. To the left and out of the photo is the Golden Gate Bridge.


In Sophie’s kitchen: Kitchens in America are much larger than what’s usually found in China. There’s a table for eight in the foreground.

…And refrigerators are also larger. Much larger.

Sophie’s living room

Her bedroom. It’s no secret that SF has the highest rents in America. For a three bedroom, one bathroom flat, the rent is just under 30,000 RMB a month.

Dinner: Lamb meatballs with zucchini “noodles.”

Most everyone who knows about America in the 1960’s, has heard of “Haight-Ashbury” although most probably don’t know it’s simply an intersection. This area is famous as the epicenter of the counter-cultural “Hippie” movement in America that began in the mid 1960’s. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the infamous “Summer of Love.”





1 thought on ““From the Middle Kingdom to Marin…”

  1. Great blog, Brian.

    Believe it or not, I think I briefly shared an apartment with the guy who owns the grilled cheese food cart in your photos! When I was in Oakland, Mike was in the process of quitting his job to set up his catering business: “the grilled cheese guy”. Maybe he’s lost an “se” and gained a “z” on the way!

    It’s a small world.

    Tom (from Xi’an)

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