by: Philip Choy
San Francisco CA:
Lights Publishers 2012, $15.95, Paperback
Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Fall Volume: 2013 Issue: 20(3) page(s): 19
This guide with photographs by Brian W. Chong, offers history, architectural information, and background material about many buildings in this city’s Chinatown. Street by street, it details and clarifies things in this must-see Chinatown that was the port of entry for so many Chinese immigrants to the USA.
It not only explores block by block, but also reminds of the problems the Chinese had in this ethnic enclave adjusting to discrimination and race issues in the USA. Written by an architect who taught the first course in Chinese-American history in the USA at San Francisco State University, read the triumphs and tragedies of Chinese American experiences in their early years in America. Learn about buildings and their lives written by this architect who, a handful of times, was president of the Chinese Historical Society of America.
Not only does Choy introduce the reader building by building, block by block, but he is cogent and clear suggesting three tours of this Chinatown. We learn so much, one I probably visited ten times over the years, but after taking his two short tours and the longer in this book, learned so much from post-quake transformations after 1906 to recent times. All were wonderful revelations.
Saw this book at the ’City Lights Bookstore’ at the edge of the San Francisco North Beach area. After dragging ourselves out of this fantastic bookstore named after a Charlie Chaplin movie, did begin the tours and read more along the way. Even learned how Belfast Cider came into being, what it actually is; and that it is a flavoring looking like a liquor. It is sold in local Chinese restaurants and is put into seltzer then capped. Never knew that even though once wrote an article about it but when checking it out then, learned very little.
Also learned about origins of Chinese fortune cookies in this city. They were by two chaps whose grandfathers introduced them to the USA. Both of these findings and so many others we tried to unearth a few years before to no avail were discussed in this book.
Here we read about them, and now know what we could not learn then. These and so much more are included in this book; it is a goldmine of information. As the song goes, we will return soon to learn yet more because it will be: 'San Francisco, here we come.' It is a fascinating city, and with Philip Choy as our guide, we look forward to many more hours of education and enjoyment.