We live in a part of the country that’s culture-rich and surrounded by great natural beauty. And yet with the activity and commitments of daily life — work, school, soccer games, softball practice, errands, play dates, etc. — we rarely leave our own suburban community.
So when my niece came to visit, I seized the opportunity to show her some of northern California’s attractions, starting with Chinatown.
Did you know that San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest outside of Asia? The oldest in North America?
My younger girls had visited Chinatown this spring on the first grade field trip and loved it.
They came home impressed by the history, especially stories of young Chinese girls hidden under trap doors to avoid being sold into slavery.
They brought home souvenirs of lacquered chopsticks and parasols.
They ate dim sum and visited the fortune cookie factory.
So I was eager to visit Chinatown with them and let them be my tour guides!
That Saturday was the best kind of San Francisco day with clear blue skies and a fresh breeze floating in from the bay.
The streets were bustling with tourists, stopping for every photo opportunity, and locals, pulling their wire carts as they shopped for produce and other groceries.
I quickly learned, however, that I had over-estimated my crew’s interest in playing tourist, in seeing new sights and having a cultural experience in our own backyard.
The older girls seemed bored and expressed disgust with the odors and sights of the open markets that displayed every kind of fish laid out on ice and myriad varieties of dried mushrooms.
The little girls were single-mindedly focused on spending their accumulated allowance, hoping to buy souvenirs they’d been unable to purchase while on the field trip.
I bought custard tarts and almond cookies at a bakery that had a line out the door. But my cynical co-travelers shunned the tarts and were unimpressed with the cookies.
I walked them through my favorite Chinatown alley – Waverly Place. Just seeing the street sign for Waverly Place makes me happy, reminding me of a favorite novel and movie – The Joy Luck Club. But I tried to get the girls to look up at the colorful balconies in vain.
And then I remembered the Tin How Temple. The entrance so hidden under the sign for the Sue Hing Benevolent Association that if you weren’t looking hard for 125 Waverly Place you’d walk right past it. Admission is free, and after climbing three steep flights of stairs you enter a small room bathed in red — red carpet, red altars, dozens of red paper lanterns suspended from the ceiling. Remembering their teachers’ admonishments to show respect— talking in hushed voices and not touching anything — the girls and I walked through the temple with reverence, whispering about the oranges placed at the altars and the notes of well wishes hanging from the lanterns. It was a magical moment.
Back on the street it was finally time for souvenir shopping. A final pose at the Dragon Gate and our day as local tourists was done.