Going and Touring Local Part 2. 广东省and 唐人街 (Guangdong and Chinatown)

Hi guys!

So before we get started I just want to announce that today I will try my very best to post at least two or three more blog posts today. It’s already Thursday here and I want to finish up my Saturday story. There are new stories that I want to talk about because of personal experiences that I had to deal with as well as experience with how people perceived me materialistically.

Also I would like to say that not only does this blog pertain to my thoughts of Chinatown, I will give a “brief” history of how Chinatowns were formed in both San Francisco (being the most popular one) and Los Angeles’ Chinatown.

So as you guys may know, Howlin Ray’s is in Chinatown, Los Angeles! In my years of living, I have never visited Chinatown nor was I actually curious about the area. Chinatown in Los Angeles is very small. It’s not as big as San Francisco’s Chinatown nor is it that famous compared to most Chinatowns. Nevertheless, there is a history of Chinese communities living in different quarters of town.

The History of Chinatown

A cloudy day in front of a gate in Los Angeles’ Chinatown

So I’d like people to understand why there are Chinatowns in the West Coast primarily focusing on San Francisco, California and trickle down to Los Angeles, California. So let’s talk about the origins of the Chinese who came to San Francisco first.

Modern day geographic map of Guangdong

The Brief History of where the first- generation Chinese came from and why they came.

Late 1800s The Street of Gamblers” San Francisco’s Chinatown

Like most immigrant workers who came to the West Coast to San Francisco, there was only one reason why they came. The Chinese came to San Francisco to find work and to send the money back to their families in China. Now most people assume that first generation of Chinese who came were all over the place in China. That is not correct. Most of the first generation Chinese immigrant workers actually came from Guangdong Province (formerly known as Canton Province). The Chinese that came to San Francisco were dirt poor because of the economic situation between the Europeans and the Qing Chinese fighting over in the Opium Wars (which unfortunately struck Guangdong the most). If any tourists or any locals come to San Francisco’s Chinatown and meet 4th gen or older, most likely the people are not speaking Mandarin Chinese (the traditional government language around Beijing) but most likely they will be speaking Cantonese, a dialect popular in cities such as Guangzhou and Hong Kong.

Modern day Guangdong Province boasts rapid economic surges as well as powerful coastal cities such as Hong Kong, Taipa, and Zhuhai.

Due to poverty and the Opium Wars as well as the desire of having China’s ports, many of the poor left in hopes of reaching San Francisco’s
金山 (also known as “Gold Mountain) for hopes of golds and riches to send back to family. On the other hand, many Chinese found jobs working for the Central Pacific building the rails of the Transcontinental Railroad. The people working on the rails trickled down south to Los Angeles and created an “Old Chinatown” and the “New Chinatown”

The history of Los Angeles’ Chinatown. Old versus New.

Old Chinatown simply at best was flourishing and alive. Despite loads of discrimination, Chinatown went from one block to its expansion to 15 different streets and alleys that boasted a Chinese opera theater, temples, a temporary newspaper, as well as its own telephone exchange. Unfortunately, because of the current laws of the time, citizenship as well as property ownership was forbidden for the Chinese which resulted into the decline of Chinatown as well as decay of buildings, different battles between different tongs and so forth.

The heyday of Old Chinatown was from 1890-1910. The area boasted a telephone company, a Chinese theater, as well as many other markets. Unfortunately, Old Chinatown was known for the opium dens, gambling houses, and angry tong houses battling one another.

The Arrival of “New Chinatown” and the temporary arrival of “China City”

China City.
A Chinese cafe in China City
Central Plaza “New Chinatown”
New Chinatown

New Chinatown was going to be spectacularly grand. George Eastman, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce had support by the Chinese to build a new “Chinatown”. The project included restaurants, temples, theaters, etc. Finding out that the project would be too expensive, the project was left unused. Then comes in “China City”. Christine Sterling at that time was the socialite of Los Angeles who was responsible for her recent project “Olvera Street” into a Mexican themed block. China City at most… was rejected by the Chinese-Americans at the time. Too gaudy, inauthentic, filled with stereotypes, filled with Hollywood themed Chinese buildings it was mainly an exotic themed touristic area. China City was swept away by the 1950s.

Peter Soo Hoo

Peter Soo Hoo was the leader of the Chinese community. Not liking one bit of Mrs. Sterling’s “China City” he worked with the community and George Eastman to design a new “Chinatown” that showed the spirit of the Chinese community. Using a mixture of Hollywood like themes, the New Chinatown resulted into a mixture of Chinese and American architecture. It was seen as a tourist attraction at that time. It brought back the Chinese community back to the new Chinatown.

My Overall thoughts about Chinatown.

Chinatown in my thoughts made me really sad. It is possible that maybe the weather influenced on how I felt (because it was so cloudy) but in general, the area made me depressed. I’m pretty sure that the community itself is vibrant but I felt that Chinatown is losing some of its soul. When I walked into the area, it felt like as if I was transported back to the 1930s. You see Chinese and Hollywood-esque motifs and architectural styles. But at the same time, you see the once vibrant colors starting to fade. You see multitudes of once thriving businesses in the heyday of New Chinatown being shut down and closed forever. There was barely any people walking through the area. I’ve tried to search on what happened to the previous owners of these once opened businesses as well as why it closed down, and what happened to them later in life. I couldn’t find anything. I only found bits and pieces of information of the families that ran the business back in the days but that was about it. I found no closure with what happened. I’ll try to go back to Chinatown and ask owners of nearby shops who were here during the 1930s to see what happened.

I need closure. I need to know what happened to the previous generations as well as the former buildings or former businesses that used to be here. I need to know. I don’t know why I need to know but I have to know. You know, it’s one of those strange feelings that you get when you feel like you’ve been transported back in time. How were these people feeling back then? What happened to most of the businesses and the families that moved away? Are they still in Chinatown or in some parts of LA? Why did they leave? Do they know that Chinatown is in disrepair?

As a history buff, this really gives me a lot of stress for some reason. Abandoned businesses and new businesses that sprang up five years ago when there used to be a Chinese business in that same spot over 40 years ago does not give me any happiness. What happened? Give some closure on why you guys left. I feel that so much of Chinatown has disappeared.

Anyways, in conclusion, if you guys liked this blog please give it a thumbs up, share it with your friends, and comment! If anyone knows what happened to most of the buildings in Chinatown please comment below! If some of my information is wrong then please comment below and I will edit it!

Before I leave… I can’t be the only one that’s a little reminded of the spirit towns in Spirited Away.

Those little houses from Spirited Away

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