San Francisco Through The Eyes Of A Rockstar (Part 6 – Chinatown)

“Wow this place is bigger than London Chinatown!” Kings is visibly impressed. He immediately vows to return at night and wander about by himself after parking the wife and child back in the apartment.

“Are you sure it’s safe at night?” I will always remember Kings getting mugged on his 2nd day in London by two guys and a broken bottle.

“Who’s going to mug an Asian guy in Chinatown?” I consider returning “other Asians” but let it slide.

We can’t find parking.

We did however find:

Chinese Baptist Building Gold Mountain Sagely Monastery (separated from the above by the pink and blue building on the right) Penang Garden Chinese United Methodist Church Asian Women’s Resource Center Cumberland Presbyterian Church Bank of East Asia and HSBC (the first we've seen driving around San Francisco)

We park at the nearby Hilton and walk back. Then decide to brunch at the Empress of China. (It was their décor.)

“America’s only high-rise Chinese roof garden restaurant Distinctive Cuisine of all China amidst oriental splendor with enchanting vistas in the heart of San Francisco Chinatown,” their postcards proclaim, “International Gourmet Honors & Travel-Holiday Awards Since 1968”

They have the walls of awards and pictures of famous diners to prove it. What a unique experience for 2 Malaysians who live in Hong Kong. We have to dine at the Empress of China in Chinatown.

After all, he might be back.

I had a thing for Eric Estrada of Chips when I was like, 5.

Except two other small tables who are speaking in Putonghua and English respectively, all the other patrons coming and going are white.

King at The Empress Of China. (We’re a little early – from around 12.30 when we’re ready to leave, the restaurant fills up)

Rockstar knocks back iced water with a view

The woman behind me speaks slowly to the middle-aged restaurant hostess who seats us, “I came here on tour ma-ny years a-go… Now I’d like to show my pa-rents this beautiful street full with colorful flags and ma-ny things to see…?” The hostess laughs, “So many like that here…”

Here's one...

We overhear a waiter with all-grey hair at the next table remark in Cantonese after the woman and her parents leave, “They didn’t eat much… only about USD 30 per head… Ah well…”

Later as we place our order, the (younger) waiter stops us over-ordering, “That’s quite enough for you.” After passing the display of awards and celebrity visitors, we kinda expected the food to be more expensive (the prices are about your average fairly nice restaurant in Hong Kong). So then we thought the portions must be quite small.

Also, "The dim sum platter will be 25 minutes though, do you still want it?”

We struggle to finish a plate of steamed tofu, spicy fried noodles and the dim sum platter. Total for the 2.5 of us before tips comes up to about USD 53. We find the dim sum unremarkable (not to mention you can’t change the pre-selected items). Then again we came from Dim Sum Country.

But it’s an interesting feeling as we speak to the waiters in Cantonese and observe all the Caucasian tourists. Quite a few are quite taken by the restaurant. Quite a few are ordering alcohol. When the man at the next table queries his drink, the grey-haired waiter immediately changes it without even checking what the order was.

As we exit the restaurant there’s an asian homeless person with a tin bowl, instead of a cup. I pull out my wallet without discomfort. He thanks me – in an American accent.

Kings stops at the ATM for cash and then we’re approached by a woman who asks in Cantonese for assistance in switching the language on the English-defaulted ATM.

Out on the street it’s crowded, but way not as horrendously so as Causeway Bay or Mong Kok in Hong Kong. There are at least a few churches - and a Chinese school. The ratio of senior citizens to younger folk walking about seems notably higher than say, in Hong Kong, and they look, dress and sound quite like the folk back home.

A little old lady walks by slowly, with a bright pink deerstalker-style hat but with dangly pom-poms attached to the ear flaps. Ok, maybe n-ot quite.

Except for the old waiter at brunch, we don’t overhear a single other grumble from the older folk (in Hong Kong they complain really loudly about standing in line at banks and stuff), just Cantonese and a smattering of Putonghua conversations. And they’re not as loud.

At least a few all-white tour groups pass us by. They’re taking lots of pictures. I get a few looks – from the other Asians (mostly the older ones) – as I pull out my iPhone and start snapping.

An older man and a teenager who lookslike his son or nephew stroll by, deep in conversation in Putonghua – complete with distinctive Beijing accent. The teen looks like he could sideline in gangsta rap, he's dressed hip-hop style in a cream baggy hoodie (drawn over his head) and low waisted jeans.

Rockstar's public service message to all readers:

Gambling's bad for YOU <point finger> (No, not really)

The bunch behind us are playing Choa Dai Dee. Kings is thrilled and wants to join them. “They’ll probably win all your cash,” I warn.

Rockstar crashes. It ends the discussion.

So we camp out at the Hilton on the edge of Chinatown, also where we eventually found parking. I hurt my lower back, and check myself at Tru Spa in the hotel lobby for my first massage in more than a year. (Briefly, I also consider my first facial in 3 or 4 years, but quickly pass – just not in the habit of doing it regularly is all.)

My massage therapist used to be Indonesian. “Came here 11 years ago. I’m an American citizen now,” she tells me proudly. “I vote.” Still, her English is heavily accented and feeling hopeful, I try to get some Bahasa practice in. She sticks to English.

“Do you actually like it in Hong Kong?” she asks – a total of 3 times in the course of our conversation. “People are really rude, aren’t they?”

Umm... I was going to say people in San Francisco are really nice/ polite - when they see us travelling with a toddler people hold doors open for us, or if we get every-so-slightly bumped or even almost bumped, people say "sorry"

“I know only 1 Singaporean and 2 Malaysians,” she goes on. “Not as many Indonesians as there are Philippinos - many Philippinos and Vietnamese here… That’s America, when they see problems in their home countries, people move here.”

It took 2 Caucasian teenagers taking pictures in front of this before we read it carefully...

“San Francisco is a big city, people are used to Asians,” says my therapist..

(Can’t argue with that, Kings and I have been constantly surprised how easily people here assume we live here too, despite us not speaking in anything approaching an American accent. An older Caucasian man we met at lunch in Silicon Valley who's lived all his life in California told us,

“At work we did a survey for some Japanese clients, and got many Asian respondents. The Japanese clients asked us ‘But where are all the Americans?’ and we said ‘Right here!’ What our clients didn’t realize is all these people are American now.”)

“But I think it can be very different for Asians in some of the other states,” therapist qualifies.

More graffiti

When I get back to the hotel cafe where Rockstar is napping and Kings is surfing the net, my hub wanders off and decides on Chinese takeout for dinner so he can more easily drop us home and then come back. He chooses a nondescript restaurant near the Hilton where Rockstar is still asleep on the sofa. The middle-aged Hongkie lady at the counter chatters on in Cantonese, “There used to be a lot more Hongkies than Mainlanders, but nowadays the number of people coming here from China is going up.”

"Oh, and look carefully before committing at some of the all-you-can-eat places - some of em are "all you can eat for USD 17.99 or whatever, and then the selection of stuff you get is really bad."

Then she learns we’ve been to Empress of China. “And what did you think of their food?” We… didn’t think anything, we went in because they looked so interesting from the outside. The food was “alright”.

“In that case you’re going to love our food.”

She’s right.

I’m especially critical because of her comment. It doesn’t help – our takeout dinner is freaking fabulous. I rummage thru the bags – all nondescript plastic and paper. She didn’t even slip a restaurant calling card or takeout menu into our order. I text Kings who’s living it up in Chinatown right about now.

Kings insists the hanging laundry is intended as part of the art on this building. I beg to differ. The number of Caucasians taking pictures of this shows clearly no one else cares. (Also, a lot of their streetlamps look like the ones on either side of the picture)

Kings replies my text: ”I think it was Jade Garden.”

Then “Going traditional massage now.”

Stay tuned, will update with confirmed identity of Nondescript Chinese Restaurant...

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About Aileen

I blog about living and raising my son in Hong Kong - where toddlers have entrance interviews, parents keep test score spreadsheets, private school debentures can trade for more than half a million USD. Raising Rockstar's the most important thing I'll ever do. We show our true colors by the choices we make in bringing up our children. My blog is a message to my toddler son, about what the world and his parents are like today - for when he becomes a teenager and knows everything.
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  • 随鱼欢游5266

    I’ve never been to Chinatown, and to tell you the truth never really wanted to, cause I thought it is dangerous there. but after watching these wonderful images, I really got interested. my dream is to visit China, but I think at first I should start with Chinatown)).

  • Aileen

    Hi HWL, I’ve never been to London (just worked in two very British banks for a substantial part of my working life)… Kings is the one who studied there and roamed Chinatown…

    Quite transparent right, when Kings starts work where he is etc can c on Bloomberg, don’t even have to ask him 😀

  • HWL

    No need to pay someone to step on you – you’ve got a black-belt taekwondo wife who can deliver fly-kicks any time.

    By the way, are you taking up a MD job at some Big Fat Investment Bank next year?

  • Kingston

    Traditional HK massage, those that step on your back.

  • HWL

    Quite remarkable you pick up on all these interesting details other people would overlook. Have you ever been to London? I wonder what sort of story you will compose.

    “Traditional massage” = ?