Chinatown, San Francisco, California.
No Visit to San Francisco, California is complete without spending some time in it's wonderful Chinatown neighborhoods. San Francisco itself, so full of tourist from everywhere in the world, and at all times, is like visiting another country already; but when someone from out of state sees Chinatown, the experience is very special, and guaranteed to be a unique experience.
As for me, and I read lots of fiction novels, and really love spy novels, and those sorts of things; I'd always been aware of Chinatown in New York City. I've been to New York State, but not the fabled huge city where everything happens, and all the influential people live. But if you were, as I did, to assume that that was the biggest "Chinatown," then you would be wrong.San Francisco's Chinatown is the oldest and largest Chinatown outside of Asia. It all makes perfect sense, as San Fran is so much closer to Asia than the East Coast of America is.
Visiting San Francisco's Chinatown should be done on foot. If you've never been to that city, then let me tell you that the traffic there is "impressive," or, more likely, nauseating. There are city buses everywhere, but I'm not sure that they actually go through Chinatown. San Francisco, one of the most beautiful and progressive cities on the planet Earth, has electric city buses, quite unlike my near native Dallas. You can most certainly catch a bus to the outskirts of Chinatown, and take it on foot from there.
San Francisco's Chinatown.
Of course that's Me, sitting in a Sake Bar in Chinatown.
Sights and Sounds!
Walking through Chinatown is a thrilling but crowded experience. If you are a "white," "black," or Hispanic individual; you will be very, very outnumbered by Asians. I saw absolutely nothing to be afraid of, but then again I'm awfully ugly, so perhaps nobody wanted to be near me! I also had two military veterans with me, and I look like one myself; but seriously; have no fear, because there is no reason for it. I think going anywhere in any large city alone at night is not advisable though, so if you go it alone, go during the day.
Simply put, Chinatown is NOT just a tourist area, it's home for a very large number of people, so one shouldn't think that everyone there is going to be thinking about tourists, but certainly, there are hundreds of tourist oriented shops and restaurants, and bars. But if you want to really experience Chinatown, then I would suggest that you not only go into tourist looking places, but also visit the places where the residents frequent. You do not need to know any Asian languages, and me and my buddies certainly didn't. There are dozens of markets, shops, and eateries where pointing is enough to get you what you want so long as you are patient and polite; and this is exactly how I enjoyed my lunch in Chinatown. You can be sure that the proprietors of any business in Chinatown will know enough English to tell you the price of things.
Now, I must confess total ignorance of Chinese calenders, and things of that nature. I was there early this Spring, 2010. I do not know if the People dressed in Dragon outfits, and the people following them with drums, and then popping firecrackers on the city streets is a regular, day to day thing or not. But I know that it happened just like that as I was eating in a very non tourist type restaurant in Chinatown. Oh, I'd heard them and seen the spectacle from a distance, but I didn't realize that the entourage came into every single business, but they did. They went from one, directly to the next one. The group of people operating the dragon would come in, turn around, and go out - all the while followed by drummers, and after they would leave a location, fireworks went off. I wouldn't want to say that it scared me, but it was certainly unexpected, and exciting. I have no idea what it was about, if it was a ritual, or what, and I have no idea whether or not you will see such a thing should you visit Chinatown this year, next year, or ever.
Chinatown, San Francisco.
Free Tea Tasting and Tea Shops
No trip to Chinatown is complete without visiting some of the many tea shops there. Tea tasting is often free, and never seems to stop; and there will most certainly be a plethora of interesting teas for you to taste, and along with the tea, there will be an American Chinaman or woman who will be giving a very informative and interesting dissertation on the teas as he serves them to you one small shot glass sized serving at a time. This was a wonderful thing to me, and I think most all will enjoy it, my friend Johnny, as he was with me and my friend Rey; said something to the effect of not believing what the tea guide was saying during his story about one particular tea.
"Listen," he'd said, "my people have been drinking tea for 5,000 years, how long have your people been drinking tea?"
As for myself, I never doubted anything that he'd said; and I enjoyed every minute of it. I knew green tea, and I knew white tea and black tea; but I'd never heard of red teas, and there might have been more "color" teas that I didn't know of either; but within each "color" of tea, there were many varieties and variations offered during the free tea tasting - and surely not all of them will be exactly to your liking, but surely some of them will be. What I particularly thought interesting were the tea balls, and I've a picture of some to the right. You heat water just to a boil, and then pour it over a class or even a vase, with a tea ball inside of it, and if you watch, the tea ball will slowly unfold into a flower; a very beautiful flower in a vase full of tea; which you can later drink, and pour more water over for more. It's not just one kind of tea flower ball either, but there are many of them, and I bought one of several different kinds to bring home, as I knew my Mother would be thrilled with the thing. There was a couple sitting next to me, and I didn't know them. They were on my right, and my friends were to the left of me; and as I was asking the Chinamen/Tea showman about the balls, I got excited. Well, the man next to me asked me where I was from, and I told him.
"hahahah! Yeah! I know where Kaufman is! I used to live in Dallas! No, nobody in Kaufman is going to know about the tea balls! Those cops in Kaufman would probably arrest you for those things!"
And that's when I realized that the man HAD been to my hometown before.
I Did Not See The Taoist Temple, But I Wish That I Had. You Shouldn't Miss It If You Go.
Most every large city in the United States has an Asian community in it, but none of them will or ever can touch Chinatown in San Francisco, the oldest, and largest Chinatown outside of Asia. If you visit Northern California, then you shouldn't miss San Francisco's Chinatown. Surely, it's the closest thing to actually visiting Asia in the North America.
This Hub was last updated on July 22, 2012