This is the last post about San Francisco for now. The gate you see in the picture above, built in 1970, is the only authentic Chinatown gate in North America. More importantly, San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest in North America and also happens to be the largest Chinese community outside Asia. I learnt all this from Wikipedia, obviously. Do you know which city has the largest Korean population outside Korea? Los Angeles. I learnt this from The Layover…ha ha! Anyhow, once you walk through that gate, you’ll be on Grant Avenue – the only nice things about which are old buildings with beautiful rooftop pagodas and The Wok Shop (a really cool Asian kitchen supplies store). Otherwise, it’s full of souvenir shops and tourists.
HOWEVER, if you walk just one block to Stockton Street, parallel to Grant Avenue, you are in for a nice treat. It’s like a whole different Chinatown with real shops selling fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood, dried herbs and other things real people shop for on a day-to-day basis. You’ll see hordes of people, but they won’t be the camera-wielding type. If Grant Avenue is for tourists, Stockton Street is definitely for travelers.
In fact, Stockton Street feels very similar to New York’s Chinatown, although it’s decidedly less stinky…ha ha!
All that walking around was quite tiring, so I sat down on the cool, concrete steps of an old, traditional looking building for half an hour or so before heading out for dinner at House of Nanking and then, to the airport.
I didn’t realize it at that time, but a little Google Maps search revealed that the old building where I sat down is actually the headquarters of the so-called Chinese Six Companies, officially known as the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association. These associations of Chinese-Americans were established in 1880s not just in San Francisco, but also in New York, Seattle and Honolulu. You can read more about them here. Here’s a cool picture of the early officers of San Francisco’s Six Companies*:
*Credit: The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. [call number, e.g. BANC PIC 1996.001–ALB] The Ethnic Studies Library, University of California, Berkeley. [call number, e.g. AAS ARC 2000/15: fol. 16: book 1] California Historical Society, San Francisco. [call number, e.g. CO-Placer: Auburn: FN-34385]