A Moment in My Life – Friday, October 29, 2021
Jeannie Yee Davis
I rarely go to San Francisco’s Chinatown. The last time was during my family’s previous visit from San Diego. Nothing beats a real Chinatown shopping spree when you’re not a local. Isn’t that how it always goes? I live just outside of San Francisco, and I never go there. My family lives in Southern Cal, and Chinatown is on their agenda every time they visit. When I hang out with my family, they take me places that I don’t typically go, and it’s mounds of fun for me to follow them around as they collect whatever is on their lists.
We parked at the Plymouth Square Garage. When we elevated to the surface to Plymouth Square, a stale smell of cigarettes greeted us on the sunny and unusually windless day. Numerous small groups of Chinese people gathered around cardboard boxes playing cards. While other people congregated to enjoy the busker singing with a lovely instrumental assemble behind her. It was tempting to linger and enjoy the music. Except, we were on a tight schedule—lots to do and little time to do it all in. After all, we were heading to City View for a dim sum lunch. Dim sum never gets old. It doesn’t matter what city you partake dim sum in. Dim sum is a “must-have.” Something about having dim sum in Chinatown sets the mood for the day.
My niece said that she loves it when other people order for her because she’s introduced to unique foods that she might never have experienced. I feel the same way about tagging along with others. I experience things that I might never have considered myself. Such as the Fortune Cookie Factory, which I wouldn’t think of checking out, but since my younger sister wanted to go there, I didn’t mind trekking along. It’s been ages since I was there. I did not expect anything more than the regular shaped fortune cookies, the small and large flat round ones, and possibly a bag of the multi-colored cookies that was the craze during my last visit there. It was fun tasting the pink strawberry-flavored cookie and the brown cookie that tasted like chocolate.
Times have changed, and we go with the flow. This time, there was a line to go in with a Covid vaccine check at the entrance as you whiff the delicious sweet famous scent of the fortune cookie in the making. We filed in assembly style and observed their shelves where now, to my surprise, there was a nice assortment of cookie choices to choose from. The first display caught my eye and stole my attention. They had chocolate-dipped cookies in a variety of colors. Who’d think they’d have cookies dipped in lavender? I wasn’t planning on buying anything, but for purple cookies, I would. It cost an arm, but I had to have that! Interestingly, they had porn cookies! Really? Well, it turned out their version of porn was harmless. The author with the handle “Fu Ling You says” delivered off-the-wall humor quotes like “Artificial insemination is copulation without representation.” Haha haha. Cute. I even got a purple shopping bag! I was on Purple Heaven. By the way, these cookies were worth every penny. They were the freshest, most delicate fortune cookies I’ve ever eaten.
After leaving Ross Alley, my family went in and out of shops along Jackson Street towards Stockton Street. I loitered on the street as I waited for them, and that was when I noticed the view of the Bay Bridge backdrop from Jackson Street for the first time. What a magnificent sight! I was awe-stricken. Sure, I’ve seen the bridge closeup and even outside my office window, but there was a new meaning of seeing it from Chinatown. I don’t know why. It felt personal to me.
Once we ventured onto Stockton Street, my family divided to conquer more shops, so I continued taking photos. I stood at the corner of Jackson and Stockton and snapped a photo of Grandma and Grandpa’s apartment building across the street diagonal to where I was standing for old time’s sake when I decided to go over and snap a picture of the front door. Well, that wasn’t enough. I placed my phone up to the door window, trying to take some shots of the lobby when someone came out. I stepped aside to let the man out. I’m a bit of a slow thinker at times. After the door latched shut, I thought how nice it would be to go inside and look around. Before I knew it, an older man approached. I stepped aside. He unlocked the door and went in. This time, I followed him inside. It was darker, muskier, with a smaller lobby and stairwell than when I was nine years old. After our family of five relocated from Canada, we lived in Grandma and Grandpa’s one-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor for a month or so. At the same time, my newly widowed Auntie, her infant, and two toddlers moved in just before we did. It was a full house before the TV series was born.
To this day, I wonder where everybody slept. I’ve asked each member of the family, but nobody had an answer for me, to my surprise. I guess I’ll never get my answer. All I know is that I slept in the Ernie Ford foldaway bed (from “I Love Lucy” fame) in the kitchen.
I didn’t stop there. I was curious if my elementary school was still there. I peeked around the corner, and it was right where I left it, but it had barricades due to construction. It was comforting that Commodore Stockton remained standing.
After my fun going down memory lane, I found my older sister in a dry good shop. Remember I said I’m a slow thinker sometimes? Well, after waiting on the street for a bit, it dawned on me that I should tail my Big Sis and learn how to shop for authentic Chinese food items. The short time I followed her, I learned the best-dried mushrooms and scallops to buy. At that moment, I wish she lived closer so that I could tail her more often. I laughed when I remembered I got bused to another high school, and I was relieved finally to be out of my older sister’s shadow. Now, I long to follow her? Too funny. But that shows how much things have changed—not only with people but with things and places.
Soon, it was time to head for home. The quick spree through Chinatown was delightful. We all had a great time doing our own thing. Every time I venture into Chinatown, it is like a new town for me. Everything keeps on changing, but it is reassuring to see some things never change, like Grandma’s and Grandpa’s apartment building, where we called home for a while at 1020 Stockton Street.