At the Presidio Twilight picnic with San Francisco For Her Meetup group. Thanks for the photo, Gina!

10 things I’ve learned so far from my US experience

Today marks exactly 1 month since I arrived in San Francisco. Now that I have somewhat settled in, I feel like I am in a much better position to write about what I think about this city with the famous fog with an Instagram account named Karl.

It took me 3 weeks to really settle in San Francisco. I think it is the biggest city that I have ever lived in before. Brisbane, Australia is no comparison. There are so many parts to this city, each with its own unique character and history.

I knew I was settled when I started recognizing places as more than just the foreign names on the map apps in my phone. Over the first few weeks, I had gotten myself to several events, such as to a Toastmasters meeting in Macy’s building, or the networking event in Linked in, in the hopes of accelerating my familiarity with the city with my eyes following the route on my phone closely. Always searching for which BART (train) to take, which Muni (bus) will take me closest to my destination. And I got into the bus going the wrong direction pretty much all the the time the first 2 weeks.

Suddenly, I started recognizing places that I’ve seen on my little excursions and see how it fits into other familiar routes. Like yesterday, when I was on the way to a homeless shelter to volunteer during dinner service, I realized that it was just a block away from the place I visited a week before to help out with crafting projects for my friend’s wedding. And it was so close to the BART Civic Centre station too. I felt silly for feeling so lost before.

It feels like the pieces of a puzzle are finally falling together and everything makes so much more sense. Of course, to come to this realization, I had spent much time walking and getting lost.

Here are the 10 things I’ve learnt so far from living in a country and a city that I never thought I would ever have a chance to even visit:-

#1 Microclimates are a real thing

I read a lot about this before I arrived in San Francisco. Yet, nothing could prepare me for the real thing until I experienced it for myself.

What is summer in San Francisco, anyway?

When I first arrived, I felt that the weather was so cold and miserable. My colleague declared that it is not usually that cold and windy. It was a mere 13 degrees Celsius, and I was so happy I brought a thick jacket with me. I did not look forward to changing my clothes to get into bed.

This was how cold it was when I first arrived
This was how cold it was when I first arrived

Then one weekend, it was 40 degrees Celsius! I remember walking to get to a coffee shop, and I was suddenly feeling nauseous. I thought, what could possibly be wrong? Then I checked the temperature and realized it was the heat and dehydration that was making me feel sick.

For two nights it was so unbearably warm I couldn’t sleep. It didn’t help that my room didn’t come with air-conditioning or a fan.

This was how hot it got last week (it got hotter after)
This was how hot it got last week (it got hotter after)

The changes in temperature could happen in a span of one day as well.

Just recently, I joined a Meetup group, aptly named “I wanted to do that… just not alone!” Just to find people to go with to watch a movie outdoors in Union Square. It was so cold in the afternoon, I had second thoughts about going. I even bought a sweater from a Goodwill store in preparation But funnily enough, after the sun set, it wasn’t as cold as in the late afternoon, which is so weird and does not conform to what I know about temperatures back home (hahaha, I know right?)

#2 San Francisco is probably the most Asian place I’ve been in in a Western country.

You can easily find Vietnamese, Japanese Korean, Thai, Chinese and even Malaysian food (if you’re motivated enough to look for it) is widely available among the many Mexican Tacquerias. I even found a very good Pakistan / Indian restaurant just a block from where I work, and I just love a good chicken biryani or cheese naan with tandoori chicken. So I haven’t really have the opportunity to miss the food at home so much yet. There are plenty of Asian grocery stores as well.

And well, I found a Malaysian brand of snacks while browsing through Walgreens in the Mission. What are the odds??

Haluuu Malaysian snacks!
Haluuu Malaysian snacks!

San Francisco also has the oldest and largest Chinatown out of China, which I spent a delightful afternoon exploring with a guide from Free Tours by Foot. And there is Japantown with Daiso (very important! For good and cheap things!). In fact, there are recognizable shops like Uniqlo right smack in the middle of the city.

Does this look like Japan? :P
Does this look like Japan? :P
Chinatown mural
Chinatown mural

Thanks to all these Asian elements, San Francisco doesn’t actually feel so much like a foreign city to me

#3 The work dress code is smart casual.

Suits are rare and jeans are pretty much the norm. Backpacks are the chosen gear to carry your stuff over briefcases. Just catch the morning train to work and you’ll see what I mean.

It is after all, where the first pair of Levi’s blue jeans was created.

#4 You don’t actually need a car

Other than the occasional delays, the public transportation ranging from the BART, Muni and streetcars are well connected and accessible to get you wherever you need to go. Besides, who wants to be caught in traffic or pay so much for parking? It generally takes me just a little under 20 minutes to get to work and back each day. Though the monthly pass IS quite hefty a price

#5 There is so much to keep you entertained.

I mean it when I said I probably don’t need to visit so many other cities in the US, when there’s so much to discover in this one city alone. If you are a geek like me, there are plenty of museums and walking tours to take advantage of. Museums usually charge quite a high admission fee, but you can wait for special free days, which usually happens unfortunately, during weekdays when I am working

Free entry!
Free entry!

#6 SF is where a lot of great things happened.

Yes, SF is famous today because of the surge of tech companies like Google, Apple, LinkedIn, Uber and all the many startups.

But the fame of San Francisco goes way back to the 1800s from the time of the Gold Rush.

You will also hear a lot about the Great Earthquake that happened in 1906 (Remember San Andreas?)

The birth of United Nations? Yup, it was here.


The rise of Flower Power social movement? The birthplace of America’s counter-culture, the Haight was Ground Zero during the summer of 1967, a.k.a. The Summer of Love. Come here to see the place where Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix once lived in Haight-Ashbury.

Rosie the Riveter – the famous poster which is the symbol of feminism from WWII? Yep, it was here.

Recognize this?
Recognize this?

The birth of blue denim jeans by Levi Strauss? The best working gear for the men during the Gold Rush.

The term “Sugar Daddy”? I learnt about this during the Free SF Walking Tour at Union Square, where there is a statue of a lady on the top of the monument. She is the grandmother of SF, named Alma Spreckles who came to the US at the age of 19 and married a man who was 44 years old and owned a sugar factory.

San Francisco is also a place where many films and tv series were set. Full House anyone?

While we were in Chinatown, we were in this alley called Waverly Place. Immediately it brought to mind a book I loved in my early 20s called the Joy Luck Club.

The movie we watched in the park was the Graduate, played by a very young Dustin Hoffman. And yes, it was set in San Francisco.

#7. Meetup, Yelp, Nextbus, Maps, Lyft

These, and Eventbrite are you go-to apps that will help you survive during your time in San Francisco. They tell you where’s the best place to visit, how to get there, when you can expect your next bus to come, and in case all fails, a ride to your destination.

Although San Francisco is the perfect city for solo travelers and introverts, there may be some days when you just wish to have company (Because hanging out after work doesn’t seem to be a norm here). I’ve so far been to a couple of meetups to meet people, see some places that I wouldn’t go alone. You will find that a lot of the people who attend events on Meetup are also people who just relocated to San Francisco and would like to connect with other people. Eventbrite is also a great resource for finding events that you can go to, which provides ample networking opportunities.

Yep, you can order a burger without talking to anyone!
Yep, you can order a burger without talking to anyone!

#8. Be ready to see many homeless people

I work in the Mission district and live just in the outer Mission where a lot of homeless people hangout, and it stinks like the devil, not to mention filthy. A Canadian man who visits SF often says I am brave because of it.

That’s why I guess my first impression of San Francisco was a downer, but generally, the homeless are harmless. They do approach sometimes ask for money in various ways, like saying their home is in Oakland, or that they burnt their leg and needs some money, but they will not bug you. Most of the time anyway.

I always feel bad about turning them away, and that is why I decided to just volunteer one day at a homeless shelter through an event I saw on Meetup. That’s the only way I think I can help.

#9 Goodwill and Recycle boutiques

Shop for a good cause when you buy from Goodwill. Sometimes you might even find a Liz Claiborne tote bag for only $7 (I had to tell myself very firmly to put it back because I don’t need a bag :P) or some Ivanka Trump heels maybe? I always love the idea of boutiques that buy back preloved & vintage clothes and resell them. Good for the environment

#10 A different way of working

One of the things I really enjoy about working here is how there is no real “boss zone” – everyone is accountable to their own work and there is no hierarchy or unnecessary power play. Each team meeting starts with a light chat about how is everyone doing in their personal lives before going down to business about what everyone wants to achieve during the week. I especially enjoy that I am able to learn a lot about the issues from the variety of reading materials available. I also learnt how important LinkedIn is here, for professional reasons.

I think I am forming a strong idea about what I want to do at the end of my fellowship from what I have learnt so far from work.

I definitely feel blessed that opportunities has led me to be in San Francisco for my fellowship. There are so many avenues from where I can learn and bring what I’ve learnt back home.

One thing’s for sure. I am going to start organizing a Shut Up and Write event in my hometown!

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