Thursday, October 30, 2008

San Francisco Chinatown - Part III

Our City Guide , Mae, told us that residents of Chinatown viewed the main streets to be for the tourists. The alleys, on the other hand, are where the real business occurred. They were safe places to keep away from the foreign eye, especially while the Chinese Exclusion Act was in effect from 1882 to 1943.

Wentworth Alley used to be called “Salt Fish Alley”. Since the waterfront was only two blocks away at that time, this was a convenient place to salt the fish before they were exported to China. Sadly, this is also where slave girls were auctioned off. The girls were often picked up after they disembarked from ships coming in from China and their intended San Francisco connections failed to meet them.

Some alleys housed Chinese Opera theaters, as advertised in the window above. Ma Tsu Temple, 30 Beckett Street, is a beautiful and inspiring place to make an offering and to say prayers.

Other alleys offer acupuncture treatments or herbs like ginseng root. Mae recalls her mother making medicinal soups for her family. She said those soups provided a lot of motivation to get better after only one dose because you never wanted a second dose, and you definitely never wanted to look at the bottom of the pot.

When we entered this alley we heard "America the Beautiful". This musician was playing two-stringed violin, named erhu, which was outlawed during the Cultural Revolution. He is very proud that he was in the movie "In Pursuit of Happyness":

We watched fortune cookies being made at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory on Ross Alley. I’m partial to the sesame cookies they sell there.


Behind these barred windows and doors we heard the chatter of mah jongg tiles. Some of these games go on all night long. A tunnel system underneath many alleys allows for easy escape.

Speaking of gambling, Mae gave some very practical advice for crossing Portsmouth Square. If you see a card game in progress, please keep walking because if you stop to watch, you may be suspected of cheating for one of the players.

Thank you, Mae, for a very informative tour. I’m sorry we had to leave the tour early because we had lunch reservations at CafĂ© de la Presse, just across the street from the Chinatown gate.


Relyn Lawson said...

Oh what a trip you had! I think Mae must have been the high-light of the trip. Through her you, all of us, learned so much we would never have known. Your post is wonderful, wonderful.

I think of my parents' many travels. They are so blessed because when they travel they are almost always able to stay with people who really live in the country being visited. It is so inspiring to learn about another way of living, from someone who is actually living it. My parents always have so much fun. One of these days, I am going to have a chance to join them.

Dutchbaby said...

What I didn't mention in the post was that about 2/3 of the way through our tour, I figured out that I knew Mae from our high school days! We weren't able to talk much because I had to leave early, but we've been in touch via e-mail. She said she recognized me right away; she even remembered both my first and last name! It was one of those Twilight Zone moments.

tangobaby said...

I'm definitely having to go back to Chinatown. I've been spending so many hours in the Mission and I realized that now I need to go inside some of those places I only looked at from the outside.

I remember that temple. It's such an incredible facade. Okay, back to Chinatown for me. Thank you for the inspiration!

Dutchbaby said...

I can return to Chinatown time and time again. In fact, I took my son and three of his friends there on Sunday. Stay tuned for more photos.

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