One of my favorite movie musicals as a child was Rogers & Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song, mainly because it was the first movie I ever saw that had Asian and Asian-American actors in leading roles. It didn't matter to me that the plot was ridiculous or that some of the actors weren't even Chinese (or even Asian in some cases). I just remember being proud of the fact that people who somewhat resembled people in my family had made it to the big screen.
One of the most memorable songs was the song called "Grant Avenue".
A western street with eastern manners,
Tall pagodas and golden banners
Throw their shadows through the lantern glow.
You can shop for precious jade
or teakwood tables or silk brocade
Or see a bold and brassy night club show,
On the most exciting thoroughfare I know.
We call it
Grant Avenue, San Francisco,
Looks down from Chinatown
Over a foggy bay.
I had this romantic notion of San Francisco's Chinatown as a child. I thought of it as an exotic, bustling thoroughfare of commerce and cable cars in the town where they invented Rice-a-Roni, quite possibly on Grant Avenue itself. I think I made up that last part, but it made sense to me, since that was all I knew of San Francisco as a kid in Ohio in the 1960's was what I saw on television. When I was about five, I used to stomp around the house singing "Grant Avenue! San Francisco! Cal-i-forn-i-a! U! S! A!" until my mother informed me that we were not Chinese and I needed to knock it off.
Anyway, San Francisco's Chinatown holds a special place in my heart. Last weekend, we did a little mini-vacation and spent the weekend in San Francisco. We stayed at the Orchard Garden Hotel, courtesy of the We Blog Travels Travel Writing Contest that I won last year with this post about San Francisco for kids. We decided to see what we could do in San Francisco on a tight budget, and we started off with a walk through Chinatown.
The Orchard Garden is located next to the the Chinatown Gate, on Bush and Grant Avenue. We were able to walk down the famed Grant Avenue, checking out a thousand and one souvenir shops, selling everything from silk purses to shoes to sculptures to tourist trinkets. I have to admit, I had the "Grant Avenue" song stuck in my head as we walked along, stopping at nearly every souvenir shop along the way.
Althought it's called "Chinatown", the wares sold on Grant Avenue are sort of Pan-Asian, so you can find imports from Korea, Japan, India, and Thailand as well as China. Some of the best buys are comfy shoes and slippers, porceline dishes, and souvenirs of San Francisco. Alex salivated over racks of reproduction Samurai swords in one shop, and we beat a hasty retreat out of another that featured posters of nude Chinese women from the 1940's. Every time my mom comes to town, we go jewelry shopping in Chinatown. The jewelers are usually open to bargaining on prices if you chat with them, and will usually throw in a jade bracelet or earrings if you press them.
Some of the shops feature upscale artwork, Buddha sculptures, pottery, and fake designer bags. I like the more Zen-inspired ones, with incense, stone garden Buddhas, and inspirational paper weights.