Two Americans in China in Chinatown

One of the main reasons we wanted to visit San Francisco was to visit Chinatown. I know, we live in China and we wanted to go to Chinatown? Why not? We love Chinese people and Chinese culture no matter where in the world it is, and we thought it would be interesting to learn more about the history of the Chinese in America. Zoe found it especially fascinating.

Even though Chinatowns can be found all over the world, San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest Chinese diaspora in the world and is the oldest Chinese community in America. We went on a tour of the area with Dave, a man born and raised in Chinatown, through All About Chinatown Walking Tours. There are many Chinatown tour companies in San Francisco, but I would recommend this one because the tour was small (only us three and another couple) and the tour guides are from Chinatown, so they really know the history and culture of the area. The Chinatown of today is very different than it was 150 years ago. It has actually moved several times and was completely destroyed by the earthquake and fire of 1906.

In some ways, Chinatown is really like China, so it felt like we weren’t back in America just yet. The street food, the vegetable market, the pharmacies, the group playing traditional Chinese instruments, and, of course, the languages, all tried to fool our senses into thinking we were back home.

There are gorgeous murals painted on almost every wall. We didn’t do any shopping because almost everything we found in the shops you can get much cheaper on Taobao or in any shop in China.

We went to the famous fortune cookie factory to see “the little old ladies making cookies,” but don’t worry, your fortune cookies aren’t really made by slave laborers in San Francisco. The fortune cookie factory there is just for tourists. The actual fortune cookie factory is several miles away and produces thousands of fortune cookies a day on big machines.

I was surprised to see how active Falun Gong members were in the area. They were handing out pamphlets on nearly every street corner and had tables set up and even loudspeakers. There were also anti-government groups trying to get attention.

The Chinese in San Francisco have made great progress. The city has its first Chinese mayor and Chinese culture is celebrated. However, I did notice that, even in other areas of the city, the Chinese make up a significant portion of the labor class. This isn’t something that I have had much opportunity to research since my focus is on the Chinese in China, but this observation did concern me and I would like to know more about the current status of the Chinese in San Francisco.

What about you? Have you been to San Fran’s Chinatown? What did you think? I would love to hear your experiences.