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Portsmouth Square: San Francisco's Great Hidden Public Space
Or so I learned on a recent visit. Since one cannot seek out the Barbary Coast without going to this historic public space, I finally climbed the dozen or so stone steps from Kearny Street and plopped myself onto the square. And what a surprise. The place was crammed with Chinese locals--it borders on Chinatown and the Financial District--many of whom were in tightly clenched circles, energy bursting from each one. Some were squatting in that intriguing Chinese manner, playing a board game called Go or cards. A couple non-Chinese were anchored on the periphery of the square in full lotus position, deep in meditation. Locals strolled by flashing curious looks at them.
Starting in the 1850s, Chinese immigrants came in waves after waves to get in on the Gold Rush. At first they were welcomed, but when more and more began turning up at the same time the unemployment rate was going up, laws were put into place to restrict and tax them. They persevered and today Chinatown and its particular Chinese-style architecture was a symbol that they intended to stick around a while. And thank goodness for that. After I left the square, I popped into a bakery and bought a barbequed pork-stuffed bun (for just one dollar) that tasted, at least for that moment, like the best thing I've ever eaten in my life.