The Oldest Chinatown in North America

There is Chinatown in pretty much every big North American city with little to no difference among them. However the one in San Francisco d...

There is Chinatown in pretty much every big North American city with little to no difference among them. However the one in San Francisco deserves a special attention.
Chinatown in San Francisco is the biggest Chinatown outside of Asia and the oldest one in North America.
The history of Chinese in San Francisco is a classical example of the racial discrimination which legally existed for over a century. In the United Stated, perhaps only native Indians and former black slaves living south of the Mason–Dixon line were discriminated more than Chinese in San Francisco.
An interesting fact: Chinatown in San Francisco sees more tourists than the famous Golden Gate Bridge which I was telling about in my previous post.
Chinatown is located in a close proximity to downtown San Francisco, so both can be visited together.
Chinatown was once a real ghetto. For a long time, Chinese were forced to live and sometimes were even detained there. 
Think about this: in 1970, the population density in Chinatown was seven times more than in the rest of San Francisco. And it's considering that there were no tall buildings to live in. It was almost like an anthill, wasn't it?
According to statistics, the average household income in Chinatown is $ 29,000 per year. Now, compare it with sky-rocket real estate prices in San Francisco. The Chinatown residents' median age is 50 years. These two numbers send a clear message that mostly poor elderly people live there. And you can actually tell it when visiting Chinatown. Everything there looks very basic and cheap.
But before digging deep into the history of Chinatown, let me tell you a little bit about one of the most iconic symbols of San Francisco - the famous cable car. It's hard to believe, but the San Franciscan cable car is almost 150 years old and has not really changed. It was the first such car in the world and is actually the last one that survived. Before 1873, when the cable car was introduced to the city, people mostly lived along the shoreline. It was not practical to live uphill since horses could not handle the steepness. But the cable car brought a huge change to the city and allowed people to move inland and inhabit the entire San Franciscan peninsula. 
For those who want to learn more about a famous cable car, I recommend visiting the Cable Car Museum (free admission). Unfortunately, the museum closes at 6 pm, so I didn't have a chance to get inside. However, I was able to take some pictures from the open window.
The way a cable car works is very simple. The idea was actually borrowed from coal mines in mid 1800s. The museum is also a powerhouse - a real cable car's 'back office'. It has a few reels that rotate the cable (used to be called a 'wire rope') which moves below tracks with a constant speed 9 miles per hour (15 km/h) on all three cable car's routes.
There is a small slot between the tracks that a cable car's grip uses to grab a cable moving below. When a car needs to stop, a driver releases the grip and a car slows down by itself under the weight. Cars stop at horizontal sections of the road in order to eliminate brake slides. Each car's wheel has brake pads, which can be used if a car's weight is not enough to stop. There are also track brakes - large wooden beams, which are pressed against the tracks if activated. They are rarely used though as they wear out quickly. In case of emergency, when all brakes failed to stop the car, there is a half meter thick metal wedge which stabs into a slot between tracks and immediately stops the car no matter the speed. It's an absolute last resort since a gas cutting machine is usually required to remove the wedge from the slot. But the passengers' safety is a priority. A cable car's stop sign in Chinatown (on the picture below): 'English? Never heard of it.'
Since the cable is moving with the constant speed, a car has no problem climbing up even the steepest hills. It happens though that with a large number of passengers a car starts to slip down the hill. In this case, a driver slowly moves a car down and tries to climb the hill again. Usually it helps. There is a common joke that car drivers use to scare passengers (who are usually tourists) when a car approaches a steep downhill: 'Folks, today is my first day at work, so hold on tight.' 
The first Chinese immigrants came to San Francisco in 1848, a few years after California became a part of the United States. They wanted to try their luck in the gold mines. The next big wave of Chinese immigrants was when the Central Pacific Railroad was being built. I think it's fair to say that it was finished mainly because of enormous effort put by Chinese workers. The section over the Sierra Nevada mountains was one of the most difficult sections of the Transcontinental Railroad which stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean.
For a long time, Americans did not consider the Chinese as full-fledged members of the American society. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act imposed a big tax for people of Asian race.
The earthquake of 1906 completely destroyed Chinatown. City officials even tried to move Chinese from Chinatown (which apparently had become a valuable piece of land due to its proximity to downtown), but they could not do that, because legally Chinese people were not allowed to live anywhere but in Chinatown.
In early 1900's, one of the residents of Chinatown was caught with plague. Because of that single incident, people of Asian race were banned from leaving and entering Chinatown. City officials used disinfection as an excuse to burn homes and other property in Chinatown.
Active discrimination existed until 1960's when the last special police squad in Chinatown was finally abolished.
Today, Chinatown in San Francisco is not much different from other Chinatowns in North America. The key word here is 'inexpensive'.
Chinatown offers you a huge variety of herbs, tea, spices, dried mushrooms, fish and sea food, fruits, vegetables, fish, etc.

There are many old buildings in Chinatown that were built back in early 1900's.
This one, for instance, was built in 1925.

I especially liked wall murals.
Personally, I'm a big fan of Chinese food. There are three reasons for that: reasonable price, decent quality and no problems with stomach whatsoever.
Chinese seem to have no clue how to prepare lobsters. They cut it in pieces and deep fried in a lousy sauce.

Traditional Chinese lanterns.

A map with local attractions in Chinatown.
100 years ago and now. Could you find 10 differences?
Chinese Zoltar.
It's rare to see a nice-looking store in Chinatown.
It turned dark and I had to go to the airport. This was the last post about San Francisco from 2015.

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