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Monday, July 2, 2012

Bored in Chinatown? Go on a Cat or Ghost Tour

Posted By on Mon, Jul 2, 2012 at 7:30 AM

The day of Beckoning (cat) is at hand!
  • The day of Beckoning (cat) is at hand!

We've all seen the (Japanese) "Beckoning Cat" Maneki-neko that has a popular presence in Chinese businesses, but have you also noticed the prevalence of real cats straight chillin' at every dim sum joint and non-touristy dive bar in Chinatown? The last time I met one of these elusive kitties, I asked the owner if she was his, only to find out that most of these eerily all-knowing felines are neighborhood pets and strays that restaurant owners don't mind keeping around. But everyone loves kitties, don't they? I'm certainly not the only one who's friends with C.A.A. (Cat Addicts Anony-mouse) on Facebook. And yet no other neighborhood consistently offers me the company of a cat. Why are the alleyways and bun bakeries in Chinatown so willing to let our furry friends hang around?

Ignoring any sinister thoughts about the existence of cat meat stew, I cautiously asked around about their persistent presence. Turns out, more than good luck, cats are thought to offer protection. Because of their good eyesight, they're said to be able to keep out evil ghosts and spirits we can't see. With the ghosts of the old, pre-fire Chinatown walking amongst its living residents, it's probably a good idea to keep something with supernatural eyesight and nine lives close by.

click to enlarge Cat in Chinatown restaurant
  • Cat in Chinatown restaurant

To walk amongst the ghosts and kitties yourself, check out these two awesome tours that take you off Grant and into its 41 alleyways, guided by residents who have grown up there.

Chinatown Alleyway Tours (CATs)
Highly recommended for both tourists and locals alike, youth volunteers in "Adopt an Alleyway" t-shirts take groups through the alleyways they know by their Chinese nicknames on an informative tour about a rich neighborhood history and development. The ghosts of political struggle, risque nightclubs and countless alleyway fires certainly show up so be extra nice to the cat that follows you around afterward.

SF Chinatown Ghost Tour
This night-time tour takes you directly to each spirit's haunting grounds, serving you Chinatown history with spooky stories and encounters with the residents who died there. Particularly eerie? For years, one alley has housed a family of cats that locals swear are the reincarnations of a group of women who were killed there in the early 1900s.

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Neha Talreja

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