September 4, 2014

My Life In Savannah (Part 1)

My Life In Savannah 

(Savannah, Ga was the first stop of my American adventure. Though my life there was extremely challenging, the beauty of the town and my rich life experience made it an unforgettable chapter of my life.)

1. Savannah, GA 

English: The view looking southeast from atop ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In my memory Savannah was always hot and humid. Maybe that's why those giant oaks threw their dense shadows all over the town, cooled down the brutal summer heat. Streets were laid out neatly, on each sides stood elegant old style buildings and houses, which was why Savannah drew tourists. At intersections of streets there were garden-like squares, in which you would see people walking leisurely, or sitting on the benches chatting friendly, while feeding pigeons or squirrels. Everyday, colorful tour buses drove by with the speed of snails, some time even stopped for a while, let passionate tour guides to finish their fascinating stories. Old style coaches moved by now and then, also slowly, but those handsome horses would keep their paces brisk. The showy coach drivers in colonial costume occasionally took off hats, gently greeted to people with smiles. The crisp sound of horse hooves sometime could be heard from blocks away, made the town even quieter than it was.

Yes, quiet and slow. It was south. Nobody was rushing to nowhere.

Outside of downtown was Nature's territory. Driving towards east to Tybee Island, the endless vista stretched all the way to horizon. Swamps scattered here and there, water glittered under the Sun, vaporized in the heat. Sometime, the vapor could be so dense that it became a transparent milk-white sheet, floating ghostly a few feet above grass, giving a mysterious touch to this otherwise a bit empty view. But most of time, the vapor would carry damp heat and penetrated through every inch of air, created that typical sticky humidity of deep South. At Sunset time, the intense color reflected in swamps, turned the whole view into a crimson landscape oil painting. Every time, when this “painting” appeared in my mind, I always heard that familiar song by Ray Charles: “Georgia On My Mind”: 

Georgia, Georgia 
The whole day through 
Just an old sweet song 
Keep Georgia on my mind … 

Savannah is a small city located on the east side of Georgia, about 15 miles away from Atlantic Ocean. It is small, only about 2.5 square mile in downtown area, but it’s old, famous for its rich history.

In 1733, authorized by British government, James Oglethorpe led 114 men, women and children, after months journey across Atlantic ocean, landed in Savannah. Together with local Indians they built the city. Oglethorpe designed the city by himself, made it the first “planned city” in United States.

Savannah was both the first city and the first capital of Georgia. Most buildings were made in 18th and 19th century, and they luckily survived through all these centuries, especially Civil War, during which majority of southern cities were destroyed. In 1864 just before Christmas, after ransacking Atlanta, Union General William Sherman and his army occupied Savannah. Deeply impressed by the beauty of the city, the general decided to keep the city unharmed, and gave it to president Lincoln as “Christmas gift”.

Walking around downtown area, one can hardly not impressed by all those elegant architectures, from Italian or Victoria style houses, to Greek or Roman style buildings and churches. Among all of them, the most outstanding masterpieces I can remember would be the Telfair Museum (Regency style), Cathedral of St. John (Gothic Style), Forthyth park (French style). Of course, the 23 squares scattered in downtown are also inseparable part of this harmonical design.

Savannah was once left behind, almost forgotten. As someone described it as “a beautiful woman with dirty face”. Fortunately, in 50s of last century, several rich and far-sighted women founded “Historic Savannah Foundation”, so Savannah was finally back on its way to revive. Started from 70s of last century, Savannah not only began to draw tourists, also became an ideal place for filming. The well known movies made in Savannah include “Midnight In The Garden Of Good and Evil”, “Force Of Nature”, etc. and the most famous probably would be “Forrest Gump”, which begins with a piece of further drifting above the downtown Savannah.

Savannah College Of Art And Design (SCAD), the school I once went to, is located in the downtown Savannah. Instead of building school in an empty area, this school purchased existing buildings of city, one after another, so the project of constructing the school became project of preserving the city. This process ended up that the whole downtown area is SCAD’s campus.

SCAD was found in late 70s, so it’s development was perfectly synchronized with Savannah’s tourist industry. I still remember vividly when I worked as a greeter in SCAD, there were always tourists asking me: “Where is that bench Forrest Gump sits in the movie?” “Where is the bus stop that Forrest Gump waits for bus?”

However, even though I lived Savannah for almost 4 years, I had not learned her rich history until years after I left her. Throwing myself into a New World without much “preparation”, my life in Savannah was extremely challenging. Yet I survived. Not only that, when looking back, I found my life there was the most unforgettable chapter of my “American adventure”.

(To be continued)

part 2


  1. That is beautiful, Yun. I could hear the horse hooves on the roads shaded by tall trees. You have written it like a painting.

    Incidentally, I love that song (as sung by Michael Bolton).

    1. Thanks Uma! It was indeed beautiful memory. Glad you like the song too. :-)

  2. yunyi, I was totally captivated by your description of Savannah. So charming and elegant. Unfortunately, my experience of the city was quite different. I got to see only the seamier side. This was in the early 60s, apparently before the restoration began. But that's another story. Glad you have such wonderful memories. Thanks for sharing them so poetically.

    1. Thanks Marty! Yes, sometime reality can be very different from what we remember. There were indeed some broken down areas, also crimes. But it looks like I only care about beautiful things in my memory and article.

  3. Savannah is a gorgeous, vibrant city. I spent quite a bit of time there during medical school, mostly partying and hanging out with friend who'd elected to move there for their clinical years. You really captured the hot sticky feeling of the deep South, as well as its laid back charm. Outside of Atlanta, no one's in a hurry to get anywhere. Tybee Island is truly beautiful...have fond memories of spending time on the beaches there with my sons.

    1. Glad you spent some good time there too, Kris. :-)

  4. Wonderful post, Yun! I love the name “Savannah” it has a musical ring to it (I believe the name comes from Native Americans and the river), but I’ve never been to the city. Interesting that it was your first stop in America, and a place of adventure and memories for you. You paint a lovely visual image with your description of the city so rich in history and beauty. Through your words I could envision those stately old homes, the giant oak trees and horse-drawn carriages. That really is the epitome of the South, a much slower and quieter pace than the North where I’m from. The nature you described sounds so beautiful too. I’d especially love to be there at sunset! I love the Ray Charles song, “Georgia On My Mind.” In fact, as I was reading your post and you mentioned the song, I just had to go to youtube and play it!

    Thanks for adding the remarkable history of Savannah. I knew some of the history (including that Gen. Sherman had kept the city unharmed during the Civil War as a present to Lincoln), but I did not know that it was the first “planned city” in the US. (I always figured the first planned city would have been Boston or thereabouts, but of course I’d think that, I’m a Northerner LOL!) Easy to see why, after the revival of the city, movies were filmed there. After reading your colorful descriptions of Savannah, I really must visit the city one day! Loved you post!

    1. Thanks Madilyn for reading this blog. I have such a special affection to Savannah that I spent this first part just for her beauty and brief history. I wish you can visit it some day but I am sure my writing somehow beautified reality a little. So don't expect too much when you go there! lol
      And I hope you could read the rest of the article, which contains more personal experience, also quite unique as well, as I know not many people worked as an street artist like I did. :-)