Tag Archives: Chinatown

Lanterns over Transamerica

Featured Photo: Lanterns over Transamerica

I caught this view of the Transamerica building from Chinatown in San Francisco in June 2009.  Chinatown always captivates me at so many sensory levels. I had spun around to simply take it all in and glimpsed the familiar spire.  It was then a matter of positioning and waiting for the lanterns to swing in the wind…

For more on San Francisco’s Chinatown:  Urban Hiking, Asian Island in America and The Music of Chinatown

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Asian “Island” in America

Lanterns and TransAmerica

Dating back to the 1850’s, Chinatown San Francisco is the oldest such district in North America and the largest outside of Asia. The first Chinese immigrants arrived in 1848, predating the California gold rush.

Where at first the Chinese faced exclusion in California and the rest of America -their children barred from public schools and their employment and housing opportunities diminished by targeted legislation, they persevered and created a thriving haven of inclusion and cultural celebration. The sights, sounds and aromas of present day Chinatown stir the soul, whether drawn in collectively as a sort of cultural potpourri or observed one lively detail at a time.

The Transamerica Pyramid rising a total of 260 meters in the distance is a familiar face of San Francisco and a startling contrast  to “old world” Chinatown when spotted beyond its dangling red lanterns.

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The Music of Chinatown San Francisco


West from Clay St; Chinatown SF

Alongside the tourists, wistful melodies meander the streets of San Francisco’s Chinatown. The fluid tones are familiar to me, heard before in movie soundtracks and traditional Chinese music, but the instrument is not.

Erhu musicianThe “erhu” or two-stringed fiddle has the shape of a crude golf club or croquet mallet, but in the hands of a practiced musician, produces sweet haunting notes that glide like a soft insistent breeze. Played vertically with the sound box resting on the left upper thigh, the instrument has a range of three octaves. The bow hair is permanently inserted between two strings, and tones are produced as the musician slides the bow against the strings at right angles to the upright neck.


The gentleman in the photograph played elegantly and kindly paused to show me how the erhu is played.

Listen: Traditional Chinese Erhu Music Samples

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