I take one of the side roads and start going down the hill, so typical of San Francisco, zig-zag through the veins and arteries of this dragon lady and enter a place that almost seems to be lost in time. Oh... you'll see no tourists here. It's all mainlanders. The undefinable smell of innards mixed with cheap silk, duck shampoo and plastic is enough to turn most of them away. Here is when I realize that I am finding something else. I enter a small building which might have been Victorian two centuries ago but is now a restaurant aimed for the locals. The place is not particularly decorated but I do see a swallow-bird flying over ink-stained mountains and a calendar pinup girl selling an energy drink, the type that you need a certain faith and upbringing to believe in. Yeah... This is it. The real Chinatown. The service is nonexistent, the food way simpler than the firebrand orange chicken sold at the fast food expresses, and filled with asparagus, cabbage, spinach and oil... Families of five or more gather in small square tables, but my attention veers towards two very old men. Fishermen hats, 1970's type jackets, Corduroy pants, crouched over a game of mah-jong... Oh, the code is there, always present, Southern Cantonese dialect separating them from the world. This game is not just wooden tablets with intricate characters. It is life. Death. War. Community.
And it is here where I constantly ask myself. Will I ever be able to fully understand this world, beyond its external sensuous nature? Will I ever be able to go past Grant Street, into the very heart of this ancient wisdom? Do I even want to? Should I strive to find something closer, more akin to the South American streets that were the nest of my childhood? Maybe my destiny lies someplace in the middle.