Up-close view of the Transamerica building - a popular landmark in San Francisco

Day five called for a departure from America, deep into the historically mysterious nooks and crannies of… CHINATOWN!

Lauren  & I arose for a mid-morning walking tour of this charming San Francisco neighborhood. We steadily waltzed by signs upon signs of foreign language and scrambled past hurried residents, as they made their way to their destinations.

Suddenly, WE were the foreigners, and thankfully, the world of Chinatown welcomed us.

The architecture is modeled after ancient Chinese traditions, as is the color scheme. Red, green, and yellow symbolize happiness, fortune, and power, respectively.

We met up with our tour guide, Linda Lee, along with the rest our our group. From there, we set forth on our journey through time and space. Well... not exactly, but it was certainly a journey!

After a bit of history on the architecture, Linda stopped to educate us about Chinese medicinal practices. 

Brace yourselves.

It seems, a live lizard can cure a cold. 


Just plop it in a pot of boiling water, let it stew, and drink a couple glasses of the juice. Yes, juice. All the lizard-y goodness will chase your pesky symptoms away.

As in American culture, various herbs serve various purposes, but a Chinese apothecary maintains their herbs are all one needs for almost any ailment.

The makings of a prescription

We did a brief walk-through of the pharmacy's interior. Medicines include: dinosaur bones, dried human placenta, human feces/urine, scorpions, centipedes, etc.

Needless to say, I'll be sticking to my General Practitioner. However, I've gained a greater respect for their alternatives. I can only imagine how much trail & error it took to concoct the proper prescriptions for every sickness.

Next, we continued around the block to the East West Bank building.

When the Chinese first started migrating to San Francisco, they came in droves, and not everyone spoke the same Chinese dialect. While Mandarin Chinese is now the country's official language, other vernaculars include Cantonese, Taiwanese, Taishanese, Hunanese, and the list goes on. So, even though these immigrants were fellow countrymen, they weren't necessarily able to communicate with each other.

As you know, wherever there's a need, there's someone willing to pay to have it fulfilled. That's where this building comes into play. During Chinatown's development stages, it acted as a call center, furnished with a massive switchboard. A room full of lovely young ladies were paid to answer the calls, interpret/translate each dialect, and forward messages if needed.

We also learned about the different associations within the community, usually determined by your last name.

And then we headed to one of the sacred temples.

Each ribbon lists the name of a deceased loved one.

The Altar

Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha
Inside the temple, Linda taught us the truth behind the Chinese Yin-Yang. Buddhists believe it provides the answer to any yes-or-no question, and it can even predict the future.

Lauren was the voluntary guinea pig. 

You hold the pieces together, flat sides facing each other, and drop them to the ground. If it lands with both flat or rounded sides facing up, the answer is no. If one side lands flat and the other rounded, the answer is yes.

Lauren's question: Will it rain today?

Yin-Yang: one side landed flat and the other rounded, so the answer was yes.

In case you're wondering, it didn't rain in San Francisco, but Lauren didn't specify where it would rain, so the Yin-Yang didn't have to either. I'm sure it rained somewhere in the world. *wink

The next stop on our Chinatown adventure was a fortune cookie factory. 

Ironically, they don't actually make fortune cookies in China, it's more of an American tradition, but they sure are tasty.

After our taste of good fortune, we made another stop by the town's Chinese school. Dreaded by little kids everywhere, this is where students go every weekday, after "American School" and learn the language and traditions of our heritage.

Linda, our tour guide, hated it so much as a child, that she purposely flunked out.

Another view of the Transamerica building

The last stop on our tour was the Chinese Fresh Market. 

The prices are affordable, and as a fan of open-air markets, this was undeniably my favorite part of the tour.

LIVE Turtles
LIVE Frogs
I hurried back outside to some green goodness, and for a split second, I considered becoming a vegetarian. 

... Until Lauren suggested we head back to the Wharf for another helping of In-N-Out Burger, and I happily obliged.

After lunch, we jumped aboard the ferry to Alcatraz Island.

Yet another shot of the Transamerica building

The Morgue: 1910-1963
Once ashore, we explored a bit then headed to start the audio tour with the rest of the crowd.

Prison Cell
Furnished Prison Cell

All the narration was a bit too morbid for my tastes, and my active/joyful spirit could only stand about an hour and a half of the sinister atmosphere.

So we decided to head back and prepare for the evening's dinner cruise.

Accompanied by mind-blowing views, outstanding service, and incredible entertainment, we rode off into the sunset.

I had just began to lose myself in the surrounding beauty when the first course arrived.

Then the second...

And the third...

And finally, dessert.

Each course was a scrumptious as the last, and before I knew it, the moon had overtaken the sun.

In a full and dreamy daze, I stepped out on the deck and admired the city from afar.

Couldn't've asked for a better ending to the evening.