Places where I call home – Downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Part I -
My husband’s definition of a place where we can call home is much narrower than mine. I thought of a home as a place where I have a deep emotional attachment. My husband thought of a home as the country where one was born or the place where one calls the primary residence rather than a temporary accommodation. I like my definition of a home. I like the idea of having several places where I can call home.
Philadelphia is one of the places where I called home. I lived in downtown Philly for about 3 months while I was working as a summer intern at Corestates Financial Corporation (formerly Philadelphia National Bank), located at the corner of Broad and Chestnut Streets in downtown Philly, now known as One South Broad. Corestates merged with First Union in the largest merger in US banking history in April 1988, but still kept its name. First Union later merged with Wachovia Corporation in April 2001. Corestates was then integreted with Wachovia. Corestates no longer exists now. What you see now is called Wachovia.
When I was young, I didn’t really care about the quality of the living environment. To me, it was just a place to sleep. I don’t like staying at home, not then, not now. I always feel suffocated staying home. It will be a rare scene seeing me at home. If you do see me at home, I am either gluing myself to the TV or sleeping all day long. I am a very lazy person. If I stay at home, I will end up having headache from watching too much TV or sleeping too much.
Downtown Philly is not a nice area. I chose to live in downtown Philly for its convenience. It is less than 5 minutes walk to the company I worked and about 10 minutes walk to China Town and downtown shopping centers. The tradeoff for the convenience is the harassments that I had sometimes encountered. I had a beggar throw a begging cup at me because I tried to avoid him by crossing the street before bypassing him. I had an old lady, out of the blue, shout at me and call me names, telling me to go back to my country. I had an old man keep squeezing me with his body in a narrow hallway of a bookstore. I even had a black guy try to touch my feet while I was trying on new shoes in a department store. Even with all these bad experiences, I still love Philly, a place I once called home though it has changed a lot since I last resided there. By the way, I did have tons of good experiences. I befriended a wonderful girl, also interned at Corestates. She is a so-called 2nd-generation immigrant. She speaks fluent Taiwanese but not a word of Chinese. We are about the same age. I had a really good time chatting with her, someone who shares similar background. During my internship, I met a group of bankers from Taiwan. They were visiting Corestates and receiving training at that time. It was an interesting experience acting as host and interpreter for a group of people twice my age. The most exciting experience I had was the visit to Philadelphia Stock Exchange and to watch the trading in action.
Why I love Philly? For its richness in culture. If you love American history, you will love Philly, a place where the Declaration of Rights and Grievances was drafted and a place where the Declaration of Independence was signed. For a walk through American history, you should start with National Constitution Center on North 6th Street and Race Street. You will find one of the rare original public copies of the Constitution on display and George Washington’s statue in Signer’s Hall. On its northwest corner is Franklin Square. Across Market Street was where the Liberty Bell Pavilion used to be, a glass pavilion facing Independence Hall, which used to house the Liberty Bell. It was demolished in 2006 for redevelopment of Independence Mall, about three blocks north of Independence Square, encompassing the National Constitution Center and Independence Hall. Now the Liberty Bell is housed in the new Liberty Bell Center located in Independence National Historical Park, on Market Street between 5th and 6th Streets.
If you cross Chestnut Street, you will come to Independence Square. On Chestnut Street between 5th and 6th Streets is Independence Hall, once known as the old state house, where the Declaration of Independence was signed. Adjoining Independence Hall is Congress Hall, which holds the chambers of the 1st United States Congress. Next to Independence Hall is the Old City Hall, home of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1791 to 1800 and Philadelphia's City Hall from 1800 to 1874. Right in front of Independence Hall is Philosophical Hall on 5th St. between Chestnut and Walnut, a central meeting place for members of the American Philosophical Society, the country’s oldest learned society founded by Benjamin Franklin.
Across from Philosophical Hall on the cobblestone Library Street, you will see the restoration of the first public library, Library Hall, the forerunner of the Library of Congress. It was founded by Benjamin Franklin and his friends. On its left is the Second Bank of the United States with architectural design modeled after the Parthenon in Greece. Crossing 4th street, following the redbrick path, you will reach the Carpenters’ Court. On your right, you will see Carpenters’ Hall, where the First Continental Congress met to draft the Declaration of Rights and Grievances. It functioned as a ward during the Revolutionary War for American soldiers. On your left, you will find the New Hall Military Museum. Continuing on the redbrick path, the First Bank of the United States will come into sight.
Passing Chestnut Street on 3rd, you will find National Liberty Museum on your left. Between 3rd and 4th and Chestnut and Market is Franklin Court. On 7th and Market Streets is the famous Declaration House, where Thomas Jefferson wrote his draft of the Declaration of Independence. Nearby is the Atwater Kent Museum, which chronicles Philadelphia’s history.
As you walk north along Market Street, you will run into the picturesque Elfreth's Alley, the oldest residential street in the US. To the south, you will want to visit the trendy South Street neighborhood, where shops, restaurants and nightlife abound. South Street neighborhood stretches from Front Street to Seventh Street on South Street. If you like seafood, South Street district is a place not to be missed. I had been a frequent visitor at South Street for the cheap lobster meal I could get. By the way, don’t forget about the famous Philly cheese steak too.
Nearby South Street is the river waterfront, which stretches along the Delaware River. My colleagues and I used to have happy hours at the bar near the waterfront, watching the Delaware River. You can take ferries to the Adventure Aquarium from Penn's Landing. The Independence Seaport Museum is a isitors can tour the USS Olympia and the WWII submarine Becuna.
Circling around the City Hall are Chinatown, the financial district, shopping centers and the Parkway / Museums district.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is a must see. Sitting on top of a hill at the end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Fairmount Park, it is among the largest art museums in the United States. The Philadelphia Museum of Art houses more than two hundred galleries with collections spanning 2,000 years and comprising over half a million objects. I used to hike to the Museum. It is about 2.5 miles from where I lived and it would take me about 30 to 45 minutes to hike over there. I like visiting Art Museum not only for the magnificent collection but also for the architectural beauty of the building. I am mesmerized by the sculptures depicting Greek gods and goddesses on the pediment and the Parthenon-inspired design.
Fairmount Park runs along the Schuylkill River. Inside Fairmount Park, you will also find the Japanese House and Garden, Boathouse Row and the Philadelphia Zoo.
At the intersection of 16th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard in downtown Philadelphia is JFK Plaza serving as the gateway to Fairmount Park's Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the Parkway / Museums District. There is an interesting LOVE sculpture there. I thought that it is an icon of Philadelphia.
There is too much to write in an article. I will talk about my venture outside of downtown Philadelphia later. Stay tune for part II.