Saturday, April 3, 2010

Returning to good old Philly.

Philadelphia. It's like my second home, or the first. It's where I spent my young days, my middle school years, and where I made many friends. I don't remember too much of the days when my family lived down near Washington D.C. before we moved up to the Keystone State, and though I spent no more than four years up there out of a total of ten I spent in the U.S., Philly means more to me than any other place in the country.

Looking back at the days, it's where I grew up most while living overseas. It is where environmental studies caught on me, while simultaneously being drawn into participating in activities that do social good for the communities, locally or globally. I still clearly remember the days when I did volunteer work every other week with the Whosoever Gospel Mission, a homeless shelter in Germantown, helping the homeless to empower themselves and become independent, or helping fundraisers for the UNICEF and the Kobe earthquake. Come to think of it, how many middle schools in other parts of the country or in Japan have volunteering with the homeless as part of the curriculum? Maybe some in the U.S., but I've never seen nor heard of in Japan. Looking back now, it helps to make you feel that they're not too different from us, but maybe just born in socially handicapped families, and together with unfortunate circumstances and some mistakes, have become 'homeless'. Well, this leads to a different topic so I'll stop here...

I revisited Philly in March, as part of our 'graduation trip' I went along with five other friends at my university. In my words, Philly is like a countryside city of charm sleeping or rather 'hidden' between the economic powerhouse of New York and the capital Washington D.C. However, it's not any other mega city nor just a countryside city. Having been the first capital of the nation, the historic Old City area or the many cobblestone streets accompanied by well-preserved homes, churches, and various other monuments help to keep the rich history alive, while Center City has blossomed into a world-class downtown with towering skyscrapers, five-star restaurants, theaters, and galleries.

Philly is a city that has also given birth to a handful of favorite local foods that are now known throughout the country: cheesesteak, soft pretzel, and water ice. So I definitely made sure we didn't miss out on having a taste of those, especially the cheesesteak. Some say that "a proper cheesesteak consists of provolone or Cheez Whiz slathered on an Amoroso roll (definitely a must!) and stuffed with thinly shaved grilled meat", however, it's pretty much up to personal preference. Some like the rolls toasted and crispy (that's me), while others like them soft and chewy. Some would dip it in grease, while others would complain that too much grease makes the roll soggy (me). Some prefer the meat to be diced as thinly as possible (yup, me), while others prefer larger chunks. Some love the artificial Cheez Whiz (me too), while others prefer American or provolone cheese. Where to get the best? Again, up to you, but my favorite is Jim's Steaks. Although Pat's and Geno's both claim to be the first cheesesteak, Jim's produces better. Jim's has four shops, with the original one still located in West Philly, but the one that attracts most is the one down on South Street. It was 15 years ago when I went there the first time.

South Street is one of many shopping districts in the city. Offering an eclectic mix of over 300 mostly independently-owned shops, including diners to ice cream parlors, head shops to tattoo parlors, hip-hop clothing stores to jewelry shops, records stores to home and gift shops, and add to that lingerie and sex goods shops, South Street offers a unique selection of shopping opportunities; no wonder Jim's at South Streets gets a waiting line every weekend. Another shopping district I like, despite with a totally different atmosphere, is Chestnut Hill in Northwest Philly. The only business district in a largely residential area (big homes too), Germantown Avenue, with cobblestone and trolley tracks, is like the Main Street in a small old town with quaint storefronts, Victorian lampposts, and shoppers who stop to chat with one another. It has a modest selection of antique shops, upscale home goods shops and clothing shops, and several independent art galleries. It's a nice place to stroll on a weekend afternoon.

Oh boy, am I missing Philly. :)

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