Year of the Pig
February, normally the rainy season in San Francisco: Most strange, not the lack of snow, or the torrential downpours, but the sights seen on walks. Living in “the city,” as many locals call San Francisco, is fun. But without family, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people, being "alone" can be crushing. The ocean can take hours on a bus; parking in the city is a nightmare—even near the coast. The city is all about walking. Its sights, sounds and smells—its elegance—are bracing, and even thought-provoking.
David Grimes walked the city (the thing to do), but to the "tenderloin," believing he'd find steakhouses. Of course, David Grimes is a humorist, but there is truth in his observation. Even though Union Square and Chinatown (and the areas surrounding both) are easy walking distance to the Tenderloin District (and the many three-story walkups on O’Farrell Street), the tenderloin is not pretty.
“Our hotel was in midtown,” he wrote, “close to the Tenderloin District. I thought that was a place with an abundance of good steakhouses. It turned out to mean a place where an abundance of people slept outdoors on cardboard.”
In February the rain sweeps the cardboard away and washes the streets clean. The homeless go to shelters, and the famed hills (even "Snob Hill") mellow, and especially on the short walk from O’Farrell.
Even the financial district, which runs south and east of San Francisco’s Chinatown—or thereabouts—is open to all. The empty, damp streets void of activity in the late evening when darkness fills mind and body with the need to wander.
Perhaps this is why the city is “The City.” On Polk Street, for example, a reporter, talking comfortably with a stranger, discovered his new friend harbored a pepper spray canister close to her chest while walking and talking, the moon rising out of Oakland in the distance as they parted ways.
The Chinese New Year, according to MSN Encarta, is always lunar. It is a celebration of the New Year in Asian communities around the world. The date of the New Year, determined by the lunar calendar, begins with the new cycle of the moon that falls between January 21 and February 19.
According to another source, written by a young scholar, Natalie Walker, very few people know when this holiday is celebrated without looking at a Chinese calendar. The ancient Chinese used a lunar calendar, and on the lunar calendar (instead of the more modern solar calendar) the new year begins the first night of the new moon after the sun enters Aquarius—or sometime beginning January 21
Both sites record many activities, usually involving family, community and a lot of people. In San Francisco one of the more popular activities with the tourists is the dragon dance.
According to the article in Encarta, as many as 50 or more people, supporting long dragons and lions made from vibrant paper and cloth, dance in processions down city streets.
“The dancers perform to the beating of gongs and drums, while other celebrants perform acrobatic displays….
“The eve of the New Year is the most strictly observed part of the holiday. It starts out with a late night feast with members of the family. Ancestors are honored and offering of food and incense are made to the gods. At the strike of midnight, the celebrating really begins. The sky is filled with fireworks and the streets are filled with people wishing each other a happy new year. The next morning, gifts are exchanged among family members and friends.”
The celebration lasts 15 days. People return to work somewhere between the fifth and eighth day, but the spirit of celebration lasts through the Festival of Lanterns on the 15th day of the New Year. After this, life takes on its normal routines again.
On a side street one damp, dark night, between Chinatown and the financial district, no lanterns hung from storefronts, and there were no people, save for the dancers. They were underneath a moving dragon, their coach guiding them. A wandering reporter saw the celebration and marvel at the wonder, watching until realizing the dancers were practicing.
Oddly, many who live in the city never visit San Francisco’s Chinatown, ride cable cars or walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. Like Paris, where most residents seldom visit the Eiffel Tower, San Franciscans just don’t do what the tourists do…. And yet the dragon did what dragons do best on cold rainy nights. They make the world less lonely, and people less fearful.
Interlopers can watch, but not for long. The dragon moved on....
Editor’s Note: Our thanks to iNetours for these images. There were no cameras on the street in the damp of 1983. Please visit iNetours.com to see and learn more.