Chinatown Adventure on Saturday
From Union Square you walk uphill on Grant Street, and before you know it – about six blocks away – you’re at the gate of Chinatown. (There’s a Starbucks right outside the entrance. We stopped there to reload on bottles of water.)
There’s a bustling Chinatown in New York, and, there’s even a sort of strip mall version of Chinatown in Las Vegas where I live.
However, I always think of the “real Chinatown” as the one one in San Francisco. After all, the Chinese people started coming to the USA in the 1850′s to work on the railroads built to connect the east with the western frontier. Many worked for very low wages or even as slave laborers. So they’ve been a part of this country and particularly this city for over 150 years.
If you’ve never been to Chinatown and think it’s just another tourist trap part of town, think again. The Chinese population has always been an vibrant part of the culture. There are more than just Chinese restaurants and trinket shops. Although there are plenty of those. There are large Chinese-owned hotels and banks. Chinese and other Asian names pepper the election ballots.
A slight diversion: I loved this sculpture of a street bench with the three monkeys, “Say no evil. See no evil. Hear no evil.” Just one of the little surprises you see here and there in San Francisco. Cause for a smile in unexpected places.
Interesting thing I learned about my sister while in Chinatown, “Wow! Can she ever shop!!” It wasn’t all just for her, of course. Cherie was thoughtfully, happily purchasing gifts for birthdays and Christmas for her grown kids, her daughter-in-law and her new grandson, less than a year old.
Kidding I asked, “I know you want to keep the economy going here in America – do you have to do it single-handedly?” She laughed, full of fun.
Cherie has a special connection with Asia. Both her adopted children were born in Korea. Okay, it’s not China, but it’s Asia. One item she bought for her grandson (half-Korean) is a little tiny black satin jacket with gold emroidery and pants. “I want a picture of him in it,” she said.
You still find Mao jackets, jade jewelry and iron teapots. But I also saw clever items like purses in Chinese brocade fabric – shaped like a Chinese food carry out container for under 20 bucks. Very cute. Lovely tea cups with built in tea strainers (for people into loose leaf teas) for just $5.
Plenty of other surprises made me feel Chinatown is stepping up and looking at their customers and making their merchandise a better fit for who buys in their shops. Far better then what I recall in the past. I remember these shops offering cheap T-shirts and silly souveniers that collect dust in the back of a cabinet until they’re re-gifted.
As a marketing mentor, I thought one area where Chinatown is behind is how merchandise is displayed and shown off. They could take a few tips from successful retailers. You often see untidy piles of merchandise. Not arranged neatly – just piled up. Some shelves look like they haven’t been dusted in months. All the stores try to compete by having the best prices.
In my humble opinion, they must not understand marketing. When you only compete on price – it’s a race to the bottom and business owners’ suffer as a result. But as a customer if you’re willing to sift and sort through the stacks and piles – you can find wonderful deals.
In one store they had these really pretty bracelets in many colors all piled up for only six dollars each. I got one in a pale pink – looks like rose quartz. The other is a magenta color. Okay, I’ve told the world on my blog about my inexpensive bracelets – but who cares. I like they way they look. No one who sees me wearing ‘em will know they were in a massive pile of bracelets rather than on an upscale display fixture.
The shops all have signs in them that say, “No pictures” but I did something against the rules and shot a picture of this display of Buddhas and statues. I thought even if they were all piled up together, it still had a loveliness that I found pleasing and almost like a little shrine tucked into the back of this shop.
I subscribe to the rule I don’t buy new things unless I’m willing to get rid of something old. Or, if I really have a space for something without crowding other things – I’ll buy something new. So, I bought the two bracelets. I got a hot pink silk/wool blend scarf for four dollars. And a lovely cloisonne pen for just twelve dollars. Oh, I also bought a pretty brooch at a jewelry shop that offered some very unique and reasonably priced merchandise. I love brooches and wear them more than necklaces – just part of my style.
Simply don’t have room for a single Buddha statue or even an iron tea pot. I enjoy shopping as much as the next woman – but when it makes sense. At this stage of my life my home is full of stuff. I believe in buying beautiful things so I always enjoy using them. Even the mixing bowls in my small kitchen are lovely. That way I’m never pining for trinkets or dust collectors to pretty up a corner of my home. A little sumpthin’ sumpthin’ I learned many years ago.
Even though I didn’t buy a lot in Chinatown, I could still enjoy the adventure of strolling around in the shops and enjoying the buzz of people and riot of colorful items I COULD have if I wanted.
Next post: my review of Samovar Tea Lounge.