The Lowdown On Chinatown "心"入唐人埠

Through the eyes of a 唐人埠 native


Empress of China, circa 1979.

My great-grandmother, maternal grandparents and me at Empress of China, San Francisco Chinatown, circa 1979. Judging by our attire, we were V.I.P. that night.

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!



11 comments on “About

  1. Pingback: On Friendship, War and San Francisco Chinatown: The Search for Mr. Kai Lee of the 4th Infantry Division | The Lowdown On Chinatown "心"入唐人埠

  2. Bill Louie
    August 21, 2015

    Dear Kasie,

    The Kaiser hospital you were born in: What’s the cross street (Geary and ..?) I only know of the Kaiser at 6th Ave, but that was called French hospital back then.

    Best Wishes,


    • Kas
      August 21, 2015

      Divisadero. There is also an entrance on O’Farrell. Thanks for reading!

  3. Weyman Wong
    August 23, 2015

    Hi Kasie. I learned about this blog after receiving a friend’s email about the search for Kay Lee. At first, I was elated, as Kay and I were on the same USTA senior tennis team in 2010, and I thought I’d be the one who would serve as the catalyst to allow John Noreen and Kay to renew bonds. However, after I’d calmed down and reread your article, it had an update at the very top to reveal the two had already only recently been matched. Darn! And I thought I’d be that person to bring these two together. The whole story resonated with me because I too was born in SF Chinatown pre-WWII and because I too had served in Nam as a member of the very first medical teams sent to Nam to win hearts and minds. In fact, it was only last year that I learned enough about internet research to discover the two officers I’d bunked with my year in Nam had just died in the past three years. Darn again! If I’d only pursued this search a bit earlier. But then, we’re all in the last years of being septuagenarians, so it’s not surprising we’re leaving one by one. ;-( Hope to follow this blog now that I know of its existence. If you want to learn more about growing up in SF before the Asian Exclusion Act was finally repealed in ’43, just ask, and I’ll help fill in the details, whether that’ll be in my hillbilly Cantonese (Toishanese) or English. 😉

    • Kas
      August 26, 2015

      That’s great. Thank you for sharing and I’m sorry you didn’t get a chance to reunite with your bunkmates. And thanks for teaching me a new word. Septuagenarians are the new 60s 😉

      • Weyman Wong
        August 26, 2015

        I’m such a foolhardy optimist, I’m even looking forward to being an octogenarian! 😀

  4. meetupeugeneconeglan
    August 31, 2015

    What a wonderful account of your upbringing, your commitment to educate and share your experiences. I can’t wait to read and learn more about your culture and way of life. I’ve been to a number of ‘Chinatown’s’ in my travels, and what I love about them all is the rich cultural diversity your people bring to different cultures, the love of food, and the happiness that abounds. Keep posting. Keep sending through your photo’s on Instagram.

    • Kas
      September 29, 2015

      Thanks for reading, and see you on Instagram!

  5. Jon
    February 10, 2016

    Hi I was wondering have you ever been to Marysville? At one time it had a very large Chinese community. Maybe you have heard about the temple that we have here? Perhaps you have heard of bomb day or the Bok Kai parade? Would be great if you would blog a bit. Maybe give what is left of the community a little exposure.

    • Kas
      February 10, 2016

      Hi Joh, I actually have. During my visit to Sacramento Chinatown, somebody had shown me some artifacts and photographs from the Chinese New Year parade in Marysville. I’ve been meaning to pay a visit — maybe during the Bok Kai Parade. Thanks for the tip.

  6. chinalocamama
    April 12, 2017

    Hi Kas, I’m headed up to Montréal next week, and plan to visit their Chinatown. I’ve traveled around the world to many foreign places, and always seem to gravitate to getting my Chinese fix. I also feel like it’s my way of constantly connecting with my culture. Are you encouraging or inviting people to post pictures of other Chinatowns, as I would love to contribute. Love to know! Yayun

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