Chinatown & Fisherman’s Wharf

Monday was our last day in San Francisco. I posted about getting into town Friday and Sunday’s lunch. Monday morning I set out on my own and took the cable car the couple of blocks down Nob Hill to Chinatown.

Perambulating through San Francisco can be a bit of a challenge for swamp-dwelling yahoos such as myself. Chinatown wasn’t too bad, relatively flat and only a few blocks long and wide.

First sight was a Chinese bakery.

I’m glad I noticed this doorway. I remembered the Trask family’s servant, Lee, in Steinbeck’s East of Eden, who gave a little speech about the Lee family in San Francisco, and how it was a branch of the largest family in the world, how they banded together and took care of each other. The Wiki says it’s a name more common in the world than Smith. I’m sure Harry Lee’s family is part of it. They even have their own credit union.

I turned the corner. There was a truck unloading at a little grocery store, with these boxes of tofu on the sidewalk waiting to be brought in.

By far the most visually interesting sights in Chinatown are the herb shops full of traditional Chinese medicinal items. Bulk containers of ginseng root, jars of dried deer antlers and dried sea cucumbers line the walls along with super-high end food items like swallows nests for bird’s nest soup and dried shark’s fins for, you guessed it, shark’s fin soup. The bird’s nests were a bargain. They varied in price, I guess according to quality, from about $1200 to $3800 per pound. The smells in these places are really indescribable and fantastic, with the same effect on one’s memory of the place as the smell walking into Nor Joe’s.

But where are the pictures, you ask? It ends up the medicine stores are off-limits to photo-taking swamp-dwelling yahoos. Most of the stores had signs posted–“No Pictures or Video.” The ones that did not, I asked, and they said, “No photo, no photo!” They must be worried about animal rights activists or customs; some of the items looked like I would not want to guess what parts of what creatures they came from. I could have stolen some shots from outside a couple of doorways but I wasn’t ready for my own version of Big Trouble in Little China.

I had a tip about lunch at the Oriental Pearl. After I told my co-workers about lunch at Yank Sing in the financial district, how awesome it was and its $70 price tag, Jane says, “Oh. We had dim sum in Chinatown at this Oriental Pearl place for $8.00 for the both of us.”

Nonetheless, I was on a quest for the Black Oriental Pearl for Monday’s lunch. I did find it, but wasn’t quite ready yet. Also there was a poster in the window–Rachel Ray recommended the place, so I kept walking, it can’t need me that bad. A few blocks later I ran across the Golden Flower, a Vietnamese bowl noodle joint whose menu posted in the window looked like a winner, lots of Pho. I settled on a No. 40 with rice noodles and pork. A winner at $6.49, including the tea. Real fish sauce with chile and ginger spiced it up just nicely.

Around the corner from the Golden Flower was a sign for a restaurant that appeared to be for the Chinese equivalent of the New Orleans pork-palace, Cochon.

After lunch I headed down to the Embarcadero. The road that follows the bay shore is home to some great sights. The plaza in front of the Embarcadero Center. It’s where there are a lot of public sculptures like this big concrete fountain and these two heads titled “Yin and Yang.”

On to Fisherman’s Wharf, where things got really touristy real fast. But there were sea lions and this really cool crab made of flowers and steel.

This last one is a Alcatraz, “The Rock,” taken from the end of Pier 39. We did a full tour of it on Sunday which I’ll cover in a separate post.

My last stop before heading back up to the hotel to meet up with the group for dinner and then the ride to the airport to catch the 12:30 a.m. flight home was the cable car museum. It also houses the machinery that winds the cable and distributes it through the city.

Walking back to the car stop I saw a “For Rent” sign on one of the countless Victorian town homes that are in the North Beach area. Did I mention things are pricey in San Francisco?

3 Responses to Chinatown & Fisherman’s Wharf

  1. Nola on April 22, 2008 at 9:10 pm

    Pho, yum! I wanna go back!!

  2. Stacey on April 23, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    As much as it is touristy I have fond memories of Pier 39. Glad to see a bit more sea lions out, there weren’t many the last time I was there! San Fran is a great city.

  3. Moondance on May 1, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    Thank You for the gratuitous POTC reference.

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