Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Sometimes one is not a particularly social man. Badger. Social badger. Not a social badger. Particularly.
Sometimes all a man (badger) wants to do is have a light lunch by himself, then wander around the alleys of C'town smoking a pipe and presenting a somewhat disturbing (i.e.: white person) visage to little old ladies and small children who are not particularly familiar with bewhiskered gentlemen (gentlebadgers) smoking a pipe (corncob, perhaps) and reeking deliciously of fine flue-cured, dark Kentucky, and Louisiana Perique.

Sometimes. Alleyways.
And particularly.

Usually between three and six P.M.
Late afternoon, near teatime.

Across Sacramento (唐人街) from Brooklyn Place ( 布閣倫巷) near Stockton (市德頓街), Hang Ah Alley (香雅巷) snakes rectalinearly past the volleyball and tennis courts, alongside of which homeless people have taken over the benches and constructed shelters with cardboard and tarps. From the three or four association offices on the western side comes the clackity racket of mahjong tiles, and through the open doors one can see folks engaged in competition.
On Clay (企李街) there are a row of hair salons, including the one I go to when in need of a trim. My barber still does not know that I speak Cantonese, as there has been no reason to let the cat out of the bag. He and his staff do not talk about me, and I do not need to communicate anything that cannot be said in English.
My English is better by far than my Cantonese.
Sleeping dogs, no cat out of the bag, and no disconcerting surprises.

[唐人街 'tong yan kaai': T'ang Person Street. 市德頓街 'si tak twun kaai': market virtue arrangement street. 布閣倫巷 'bou gok luen hong': announce pavilion human relations passageway. 香雅巷 'heung ya hong': fragrant refinement alley. 企李街 'kei lei kaai': tiptoe plum street.]

Spofford Alley (新呂宋巷 'new Spanish Alley') runs between Clay and Washington. The characters for Spanish (呂宋 'leui-song': Luzon) phonetically hearken bag to the Philippines and the galleon trade between Manila and Canton. It's a usage that is much faded now, as Spain has not been a presence in the Islands for generations, nor actually in San Francisco, and the galleons have all been decommissioned.
San Leui-Song Hong is rather dusty and dirty, there are one or two hair cutters and association offices, plus doorways to stairs leading to living quarters. Occasionally children play there under the watchful eyes of kinfolk.

[新呂宋巷 'san leui-song hong': new musical note Song dynasty passageway.]

Washington Street (華盛頓街) has a few herbalists and jewelry stores, plus many places to eat. Kam Lok (金樂飯店) serves family food in a basement, San Sun (三陽咖啡餐屋) offers noodly substances and good stir-fries plus chilled Vietnamese coffee, Man Kee (文記茶餐廳) is a very Hong Kong place with excellently strange offerings familiar to HK folks but not so well-known outside of fragrant harbor (HK style western food and quick meals, or snacks and mega calorie dumps, all delicious), and a banquet facility that saw better days many decades ago. Tourists wander by speaking in German, Italian, or Dutch, and looking baffled.
Deer crossing. Lost deer. Or ducklings.
Not ants; no sense of purpose.

[華盛頓街 'waa seng tun kaai': elegant surfeit arrangement street. 金樂飯店 'kam lok fan dim': gold happiness rice shop. 三陽咖啡餐屋 'saam yeung gaa fei ngok': three positivities coffee house (陽 also means 'sun', 'masculine', yang element). 文記茶餐廳 'man kei cha chan teng': literary record tea dining hall (owner is named 文, hence 文記, what Man has done).]

Immediately across the street Portola Alley, now called 'Old Chinatown Lane'(舊華埠巷 ) continues Spofford to a dead-end. There used to be stables here, and the previous Chinese name recalled that: horse stable alley (馬房巷).

[舊華埠巷 'gau waa fau hong': familiar elegant portcity (華 elegant also means 'Chinese'). 馬房巷 'maa fong hong': horse lodging passage.]

Further down the block Ross Alley is actually the extension of Spofford, as the name 'Old Spanish Alley' (舊呂宋巷 'gau leui-song hong') makes clear for locals. Yes, there is still the sound of mahjong tiles, but where the best and biggest gambling hall once stood, there is now a Christian mission whose Chinese sign informs the reader that 'Jesus loves you'. And bully for him.
Across the way a printing company is located, nearby is a florist catering to the funeral trade, whose sign optimistically announces that they also do happy occasions! Weddings! Mothers day! Anniversaries! Other!
A little further on is a fortune cookie factory that all the tourists have heard about and feel compelled to visit, and almost next-door Alan Gin's barbershop is still in business even though the Chinese Frank Sinatra himself passed away nearly two decades ago.
There is no trace of the Rickshaw Nightclub anymore. Probably just as well, there is no need to encourage late-night partying here. Too many people would wish to sleep at that time.
There are residences up from street level.

Down Jackson Street (昃臣街), across Dupont (Grant Avenue; 都板街) to Wentworth Place (德和街), which runs between Jackson and Washington, continuing Becket Street (白話轉街). At the Corner of Becket is the New Orchid Pavilion (新蘭亭 san lun ting), where one may get a meal for an exceptionally low low price. It is very popular with the elderly.
On Wentworth there's a shop selling Japanese plastic figures from anime and manga, a few run down storefronts, a place offering herbal substances (參茸行), and a Shanghainese woman selling music and movie CDs. You can see the Washington Bakery & Restaurant (華盛頓茶餐廳) all the way from the corner of Jackson and Wentworth.
It beckons.
Good milk tea. Interesting food.

[昃臣街 'jak san kaai': oblique officials street. 都板街 'dou baan kaai': metropolitan plank street, DuPont was what it was called before we named it after our eighteenth president. 德和街 'tak wo kaai': virtue harmony street. 白話轉街 'baak waa juen kaai': plain speech revolving street. 參茸行 'sam yung hang': ginseng and deer antler entreprise. 華盛頓茶餐廳 'waa seng tun cha chan teng': Washington tea-restaurant.]

Just below the Washington Bakery is the corner of Walter U. Lum Place (林華耀街 'lam waa fui kaai'), which used to be Flower Park Street (花園街) till the nineties. It runs along the top end of Portsmouth Square (花園角), where the elderly gather in droves to play chess and cards, and chat in Toishanese till nightfall. There are also loonies there, but they do not interfere with the old folks. Sometimes they sleep on the grass.
Walter Lum is a good place to finish the pipe of tobacco lit after lunch, unless it is too windy, in which case I head down to the bench on Hotaling Alley, where everything is quiet till the nearby restaurants re-awaken for cocktails and dinner. No, there are no Chinese characters for Hotaling; it's named after a whiskey merchant from the nineteenth century, and is not part of Chinatown.

[花園角 'faa yuen kok': flower park angle. 角 'kok': angle, corner, horn.]

Waverly (天后廟街) is also a nice place to wander around for a while. Fewer tourists, many grand association buildings, and good food at the Utopia (蔘滿意粥).

[天后廟街 'tin hau miu kaai': heaven empress temple street. 蔘滿意粥 'saam mun yi juk': intervention (ginseng) happy congee, take part in happiness rice porridge.]

Commercial (襟美慎街), between Grant and Kearny, has its own charm.
At the corner of Kearny, the R & J Lounge (嶺南小館) tempts many diners, further down towards Montgomery is the City View Restaurant (城景) which has some pretty darn good dimsum.
There are benches where on can get away with smoking.
Which is a fine thing.

[襟美慎街 'gam mei san kaai': lapel beauty caution street. Formerly 'calle de los commerciantes', meaning 'commercial street. 乾尼街 'kin nei kaai': fertilizing nun street. 嶺南小館 'ling naam siu kwun': passes south small establishment; South of the Passes (Canton) eatery. 城景 'sing king': metropolitan scenery.]

It's good to be alone. One can dream, read signs, and observe people.
And sometimes you meet folks you know, or interesting strangers.
Sometimes you just dream.

And smell smoky.

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