los angeles, California
March 7, 2003
I first heard of this tour on Huell Howser's California Gold show - a long time ago - and for this trip planned way ahead and made reservations. The tour company's owner, chef Shirley Fong-Torres, only leads the weekend groups but I was not at all disappointed in our guide.
Whether or not you've been to Chinatown before (unless you grew up there), this tour will definitely show you something new. The architecture, the family associations, the good luck charms, superstitions, feng shui, food, customs, and traditions that are particular to SF Chinatown - all are explained. The tour goes way off the main streets to wind through alleys and back lanes - places that I've always been reluctant to venture not knowing what, if anything, I would find there. I mean, I've been to Chinatown like fifty times and never noticed a tenth of what was pointed out and explained to me on the tour, plus I never know where to eat and have been totally hit or miss on the restaurants - but not anymore!
I learned so much and saw so much I can barely remember what we did - but I can tell you I had a really great time.
I think I especially enjoyed the visit to the Buddhist temple as the guide was so careful to explain what was going on and what people were doing. I least enjoyed the visit to the art gallery as I felt people were sort of coerced into admiring art that I didn't like - my friends liked it though and bought a couple of watercolors done by an elderly gentleman who paints with his fingernails as if they were brushes or ink pens. Interesting but unlovely.
I also really enjoyed learning about the architecture and history. Our guide was a second generation Chinatown resident fluent in Mandarin, a former dancer who had lived all over the world. She was very knowledgeable and patient with all our questions.
I would definitely go again and have been telling everyone that they have to do this - but next time I want to take the "I can't believe I ate my way through Chinatown" tour.
From journal Alameda Island (a quiet spot on San Francisco Bay)