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, people, customs and culture. From the time I was a baby, I was brought weekend after weekend into Chinatown restaurants (like the famous Empress of China above), force-fed Chinese food and soups, compelled to participate in such traditions as tea ceremonies and red egg & ginger parties, and even occasionally held captive in the alleyway garment factories, where I eavesdropped 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 San Francisco Chinatown affairs, like which restaurant owner ran off with which waitress and which 堂 (tong or family association) rigged its annual scholarship to award money to the board of directors' grandchildren.
Kidding aside, my upbringing allowed me to experience firsthand the richness of Chinatown, the camaraderie and friendships developed, the deliciousness of authentic Chinese food, the good and the bad. So much of this is lost on visitors who stay for just a few hours and visit only shops and restaurants designed for tourists. Part of this project is to provide my readers with a deeper understanding 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 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 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 endeavor, 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 I need to add to my list, please drop me a line and let me know. If you are a native of 唐人埠 and would like to share a meal during a visit, I'd love to hear from you.
This blog is dedicated to many. This includes my parents, who were foodies before the term was invented. At every meal out, they would analyze the 菜單 (choi dan or menu), tweaking and customizing dishes -- all with the enthusiastic approval of waiters who were appreciative of patrons in the know. My parents, along with their friends, also routinely drug us to the Great Star Theater on Jackson Street to watch double features of Andy Lau, Jet Li and Stephen Chow movies. At least half of my childhood was spent taking in Hong Kong cinema and then sitting across the street at VIP Coffee and Cake (incidentally, still there) to snack on fried chicken wings and sip chilled lemon tea while quoting lines from the flicks well into the night.
This blog is also dedicated to my grandparents, who were often forced to take their squirmy and whiny granddaughter (me) around as they braved the Stockton Street's crowded markets. During our times together, my grandmothers told me many stories -- stories of the hardships they faced in China, the constant and paralyzing fear they felt during the Japanese occupation, living in a wooden home in the typhoon-ridden Hong Kong and, finally, their respective journeys to America -- and to San Francisco Chinatown, their new home away from home. These stories reminded me that my existence here is nothing less than the result of the difficult roads travelled by my my grandparents and their perseverance.
Finally, this blog is dedicated to the rest of my extended family. Perhaps my most cherished childhood memories are of dinners with them. In a small apartment located on Commercial Street just behind R&G Lounge, we would sit 10-15 at the table, chopsticks clanking against bowls and dishes as we ate freshly-caught fish by my grandfather, char siu from Jun Mei Goy down the street, and bok choy and other Chinese vegetables stir-fried by my grandmother. The waft of freshly-baked pastries from Eastern Bakery would inevitably make its way down the street and into the apartment each night. For me, this was home.