It’s San Francisco! As the bus approached the city, my mind brought me back to the scene of me, a 13-year-old girl in Taiwan, singing this song:

If you’re going to San Francisco
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
If you’re going to San Francisco
You’re gonna meet some gentle people there

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For those who come to San Francisco
Summertime will be a love-in there
In the streets of San Francisco
Gentle people with flowers in their hair

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All across the nation
Such a strange vibration
People in motion

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There’s a whole generation
With a new explanation
People in motion
People in motion

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For those who come to San Francisco
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
If you come to San Francisco
Summertime will be a love-in there

 

The song was released in 1967. We would listen on a 1960’s stereo in our living room. My older brother, a high schooler, followed the fashion and started collecting American pop records. Spending my weekends sitting next to the stereo and singing along with them was one of my favorite activities when I was in middle school. I fell in love with this one for its beautiful melody and lyrics. “Why does the song praise a city full of gentle people, and ask them to wear flowers in their hair?” I had asked myself, but I never got an answer. “The song must be made for the purpose of tourism!” I explained to myself satisfactorily.

Apparently, I was not educated enough to understand how historically important the song was to this period in history. As the bus arrived in the city and I started to hum the melody, I still had no idea that this song was not for telling tourists to spend money shopping or sightseeing in San Francisco, but for advocating a city that had become the symbol of the antiwar and counterculture movement. It reflected the dramatic radical 60’s in American history — the Cold War began, the brutal Vietnam War worsened, and the Civil Rights movement rose to its peak.

Taiwan has always been closely connected with America not only politically, but also culturally. The Chiang Kai-Shek government, which was defeated by the Chinese Communists and fled to Taiwan,  became a close ally of the democratic world, especially America. A decade later, many people like me enjoyed many aspects of American culture, especially American pop music, although we we did not understand its background. Now I can certainly blame the nonexistence of the internet, as well as a poor curriculum, which failed to equip students with a global view, as the cause of my ignorance.

Henry was excited to show us the skyscraper where his previous office was located. We took the cable car up and down the streets like the scenes I saw in the movies. We visited the park and Golden Gate Bridge. I was startled by the sight of the bright red bridge. Its thick metal wires hung in curves like a huge red garland decorating the dome of the blue sky and ocean. Henry enthusiastically addressed how relaxing it was to walk through Golden Gate Park, breathing the fresh air with the smell of pine trees on the weekend.

In the shopping district, tourists spoke in many different languages, walking by and looking around curiously with smiles on their faces. We were among them. Anelise grabbed my hand tightly in fear of getting lost. At the Fisherman’s Wharf, many street artists were miming statues. I wanted to observe their subtle movements, but Anelise tried to pull me away from them. “They look scary!” she exclaimed. At night, we stayed in the Holiday Inn outside of the city. We sat on the floor eating crab that we bought from the Fisherman’s Wharf and watching “E. T.” on TV. “E.T. gave me a nightmare that night!” Anelise remembered, years later. I guess for a little kid, such a huge, unknown world was not as fun as the adults thought it.

Our last stop was the city of Solvang. It’s a tourist destination famous for its Danish style architecture. Danish immigrants settled there in the 1910’s and gave the town a name in their language, meaning “Sunny Field.” The bright blue sky and dazzling sunlight bathed the towering windmill, thatch roofing, and half-timbered facade of the buildings. The sights made me feel like we were in a fairytale book. A statue of the Little Mermaid sat on the street. I saw the plaque of the fairytale creator, H.C. Anderson. It reminded me of how sad I felt when I read the heartbroken Little Mermaid turns into sea foam.  The streets were narrow, with the small stores tightly packed in and close to one another. Most of them were bakeries or souvenir stores. We sat in a cute cafe and enjoyed their Danish cookies and croissants.

Can the tourists, who is busily taking pictures, shopping and eating, understand lives 100 years ago? I started to imagine the pioneers who were hustling with errands: they were on horses or wagons, exchanging their produce, shopping for goods, chatting about weather, farming and their family. This village’s vibrations, with its coziness and charm, lay in contrast to Hearst Castle – sitting alone on top of the hill, huge but empty.

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