Through the eyes of a 唐人埠 native
I was born into Chinatown. Not in it, since I was actually born in a nearby Kaiser Hospital on Geary Boulevard, but into it – the community, the people, customs and culture. From the time I was a baby, I was brought weekend after weekend into Chinatown restaurants (like the infamous Empress of China above), force-fed Chinese food and soups, compelled to witness such traditions as tea ceremonies, red egg & ginger parties and family association banquets, and even occasionally held captive in the alleyway garment factories, eavesdropping over grinding sewing machines as my grandmother and other workers gossiped about the local goings on. In fact, by age 4, I was fairly well-versed in the San Francisco Chinatown affairs, like which restaurant manager ran off with which waitress and which 堂 (tong or family association) was rigging its annual scholarship contests and awarding the money to the board of directors’ grandchildren.
Kidding aside, what I’ve experienced as a result of my upbringing is the richness of Chinatown, the camaraderie and friendships developed, the deliciousness of authentic Chinese food, the good and the bad. Much of this is lost on visitors who stay for a few hours, walking through only shops that were designed for tourists and eating only at restaurants rated four-stars-and-up on Yelp by, of course, other Yelpers unfamiliar with the town. Part of the purpose of this project is to introduce this richness to readers so that when they visit, they can get a deeper understanding and hopefully appreciation of this slice of Chinese immigrant culture. Like the Chinese title of this website, which is a play on words [the Chinese word for deep (深) and heart (心) share the same Cantonese pronunciation (sum)], what I strive to share in each review is a deep yet heartfelt account of every Chinatown.
A second purpose of this project is to fulfill my own curiosity. How do other Chinatowns of the world compare to my home Chinatown? What similarities do they share? And how did it come about that Chinese people built not just ethnic enclaves but specifically, Chinatowns, throughout all of the world, including cities throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan, and even areas like Thailand, Tijuana, Singapore, Burma and the list goes on.
Certainly, to visit and learn about each Chinatown will be a lifetime commitment, and the number of reviews will grow as time allows. However, I’m excited about all the visits that lie ahead. If there’s a Chinatown that you feel I definitely need to add to my list, please drop me a line and let me know. And if you are a native 唐人埠er yourself and would like to host a visit, I’d love to hear from you.
Lastly, this blog is dedicated to many. This includes my parents, godparents and their friends, who religiously drug all of us kids to the Great Star theater to watch back-to-back Jet Li movies every weekend; my grandparents – paternal and maternal, who inadvertently taught me how to bargain at the grocery stores on Stockton Street, San Francisco; my Uncles Eric and David, who told me that the squab served in Chinatown restaurants were the same pigeons that I chased around in Portsmouth Square; and all of my other friends that I met (or will meet) in Chinatown experiences along the way. I hope this blog brings back memories of awesome experiences for all of you.
Thanks for reading!