If you are seeking a genuine Chinese experience, ring the buzzer at 644 Broadway in San Francisco where a nun will welcome you. When the door closes behind you at the Gold Mountain Monastery, all outside interference suddenly dissolves as you enter another world. Incense laces the air as a strange sense of peace engulfs you.
You are escorted into a chamber where devotees sit on mats while embracing the teachings of Buddha. Foreign words like sila, samadhi and prajna escape your understanding. But after a brief wait, you recognize familiar disciplines from bygone days such as “all beings are equal”, “a moral life”, and “the importance of education”. Twists on these universal truths tickle your curiosity as ideas of reincarnation, meditation and enlightenment are presented. (more…)
The Tin How Temple at 125 Waverly Place was born in the 1850’s amidst the chaos and excitement of the Gold Rush. Its body, the Barbary Coast District, encompasses parts of modern-day Chinatown, Jackson Square and North Beach. Tin How is the oldest operating Chinese temple in the U.S., which honors T’ien Hou, revered as the guardian angel of fishermen and women in distress.
As you enter what feels like a secret passageway to some urban myth, authenticity abounds. You survey the walls of the stairwell lined with ancient sagas. These artworks and photos of history accompany you as you pass the second floor, labeled “Mahjong Parlors”. Another two flights brings you to a place of prayer. The quiet demands respect with only the sound of a devotee shaking a cup of kau cim sticks penetrating the stillness. The person exchanges the one stick that has fallen to the floor for a corresponding paper with an answer to his/her prayers. (more…)
Secret tunnels in Chinatown included the one emanating from the present-day Cameron House at 920 Sacramento Street (left photo). In the 19th and early 20th centuries, neither Chinese American leaders nor white officials in San Francisco made any real effort to curb the tide of a growing slave trade. With few legal resources, a Protestant missionary by the name of Donaldina Cameron (upper right photo) extricated upwards of three thousand girls from serfdom. They were known as mui tsai and sold into prostitution or domestic work by the tongs who ran the brothels. The rescue work was dangerous as Miss Cameron received ongoing death threats from the gangs. Bold beyond description, she would chase down leads to free the women. On one occasion, the missionary shared a slave girl’s cell in order to save her. (more…)