the US Pacific Fleet(Navy)
A few weeks ago, we visited the San Francisco Bay Area, courtesy of one of my husband's nephews. I was the first time I have been to San Francisco, Mani's favourite American city, since the events of 1984. Such memories, it brought back! I can't really share these with anyone here, so I'm sharing them with you, my online friends.
One year, I think it was 1978, but I'm not sure, we decided to celebrate our anniversary/my birthday by taking a holiday in San Francisco. Very unusual for us, we decided to leave Sandeep in the safe hands of the family and set off for nine days and eight nights in The City By The Bay. Family had our hotel number, of course, along with a promise not to phone unless it was a life-altering emergency. No such emergency occurred and we had a wonderful time. OK, I'll fess up. We called home each evening to say hi to our Sikhling.
One of the few things Mani and I could never agree about was our manner of dress. His appearance was very important to him. His clothes were always perfect, his turban beautifully tied, shoes, when he wore them, perfectly shined. He even ironed his jeans! (I refused to do that because I thought it was stupid.) I, on the other hand, insisted only that my clothes be neat and clean and cover me decently. And be comfortable. They must be comfortable. Beyond that, I really didn't much care what I looked like. We did agree on a few important points. No high heels, no dresses, no make-up.
On the farm, my appearance didn't matter all that much. He expected me to be a bit messed up, mucking around with the cows and goats and chickens (kept for fertiliser) and also with our various crops. I usually indulged him in the evenings by showering or lounging in the Jacuzzi for a while and then putting on a Punjabi suit, a salwar kameez. He usually lounged around evenings in kurta pajama. We might not have been a Punjabi couple, but except for his grey eyes and my brown hair and pasty skin, we certainly looked like one.
For our trip to San Francisco, we reached a compromise. During the day, while we were walking, hiking, goofing off, I would wear jeans - ironed by him! - and something colourful and attractive on my top. This was necessary because walking shoes look really stupid with dressy clothes. When we went out in the evenings, I would dress to the nines, looking every inch the proper lady, while he also dressed up - in full bana! He looked really cool in bana - what Sikh doesn't? - and he looked somehow silly in a suit.
We quickly found out that many fine San Francisco restaurants had a dress code that men had to wear jacket and tie. We avoided those. As Mani said, "They probably don't have decent vegetarian food anyway. We had a glorious time, walking from the Embarcadero to the Pacific Ocean - one side of San Francisco to the other, rambling through Golden Gate Park, exploring those strange, little neighbourhood shops that San Francisco seems to be full of. We spent a whole day at Fisherman's Wharf, watching the tourists shiver. Most people don't realise that San Francisco is quite cool most of the time, and so dress inappropriately for the weather. We also went hiking in the Muir Woods amidst the giant redwoods and hiking up Mt. Tamalpais across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County.
I really want to write about one particular afternoon and evening. We decided to go see a Toshiro Mifune movie playing in a theatre in Japan Town.
|Japan Town, San Francisco|
We arrived for the afternoon matinee and, much to our surprise, there were only a very few others attending. I guess weekday afternoons don't bring out the samurai crowd. A very lovely Japanese lady, clad in traditional kimono, not only sold us tickets, but also tended the refreshments counter and acted less like an usher than like a hostess. When we first came in, she looked at Mani shyly, but still with open curiosity and perhaps a bit of apprehension. She was even shorter than I am; he must have seemed a giant to her. "Sir, "she asked in a heavily accented voice, with that high, squeaky voice that Japanese women traditionally affect, "may I ask you a question?" She waited for him to answer, which he did in the affirmative.
|Our lady was really quite a few years older|
I just knew she was going to ask if he were an Arab, but she surprised me. "I see you have a katana, a sword. Are you some sort of a samurai among your people?" In spite of the accent, her English was excellent.
We were both startled at that question; I was very curious how he would answer. "We are Sikhs who have been initiated into the Khalsa Knighthood, so I suppose you could consider us a sort of samurai." He went on to explain a bit about Sikhi, which she had never heard of. When he finished, she was grinning broadly, obviously happily impressed.
Then she turned to me and said, "Great lady, you are also this Khalsa?"
Great lady! I could live with that. I smiled at her and replied,
Her smile faded briefly as she asked, "Then why do you have such a small sword?" I didn't really have a good answer, so, on the spur of the moment, I came up with the explanation that I was so short that it would drag the ground., Actually, that is close to the truth. The answer seemed to satisfy her and her smile returned. She also wanted to see them both unsheathed; we were happy to oblige.
She was obviously impressed and asked if there was anything she could do to make us comfortable. She clearly wanted to do something, so one of us suggested that some Japanese tea would be nice. I mentioned that we were visiting San Francisco to celebrate our wedding anniversary as well as my birthday. She brightened up immediately. "Then you must have long noodles for long life to celebrate." He explained that we were vegetarians and ate only "Buddhist food." (We had learned that was the easiest way to get correct food in what used to be called Oriental restaurants.)
"No meat. No egg. Tofu is OK?" She asked."
A bit taken aback, we agreed.
"I be right back. You go sit down, enjoy watching the people stab each other." She disappeared into a back room and we went into the theatre and watched "the people stab each other."
After a time, she returned with a large tray of not only with tea and noodles (in miso soup), but also a sumptuous feast of vegetarian sushi, inari sushi, norimaki with vegetable and tofu filling, and small mounds of vinegared rice with various thinly sliced vegetables on top where normally there would be raw fish. And lots of wasabi, ginger and shoyu.
"I am Shinto," she told us. "I worship Amaterasu-no-Kami, the Sun Goddess, our foremother.
"Last night, she sent me a dream that I would meet some great warriors, not Japanese, but worthy to be samurai. I saw you and knew she had blessed me with your holy presence, so I could have the honour of serving you. I am descended from a very old samurai family that was impoverished when the samurai class was outlawed. They took all our swords and melted them down. You know, all our women were also taught martial arts and sword fighting, so we could protect our homes and our honour, if need be. Without our swords, what could we be?"
A most important note: As usual most of these pictures are roached from the Internet, compliments of Google Search. Two are not. That strange-looking being on the Golden Gate Bridge is me, as a giant Nihang. Why not?
That very handsome Sardar Ji I have used to illustrate bana is the father of my little sister Kamal Kaur. His name is Sarbjeet Singh Ji and he, like my own Dad, is a Canadian from Punjabi. Notice the twinkle in his eyes and that lovely smile.
My medical caretaker,Irene pointed out to me that if he is my sister's father, then he must also be my Dad. An interesting idea, as I believe he is somewhat younger than my 57 years! My thanks to these two for letting me use this picture.
One further note about Kamal Ji. You might have noticed her listed as an author, although she has never contributed a post. This is for a very special reason. For some time, she has been downloading and saving each post's html on her computer. Anything can happen on the Internet. This site could be hacked, Blogger could decide to delete it for some reason, new laws in America might restrict the freedom of speech and/or the press. If this blog should, for any reason disappear from the blogosphere, dear Kamal Ji will have preserved it, so it will not be destroyed. Of course, I also download it to my computer, but my poor old compy isn't very reliable and if something should happen to me, it might sit forever here with no one the wiser. So she is performing a great sewa, in my opinion. This will probably embarrass her, but, little sister, I want to thank you from my heart for doing this.