All we had planned today were City Lights Bookstore and Chinatown, but we ended up doing quite a bit more.
City Lights was first, and I have no shame coming off as a nerd when I say that it's absolutely one of the most beautiful places I've ever stepped foot in. Books everywhere, two floors and a basement just full of beautiful, colorful, sweet-smelling, thought-provoking books! The place has a laid-back feel but is also impeccably organized, with lots of wood and natural light and clever signs/posters. City Lights is not only cool and quirky, but it's actually a historical landmark since it was the first to publish Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems in 1956. So this (and the Beat Museum across the street) is a must-see for Beat literature readers/Beat movement enthusiasts. I went in halfway thinking that I wouldn't buy anything, because otherwise I would've wanted to buy up the whole store. My resolution was further solidified when I realized that City Lights was NOT an "old book store" but rather just an "old bookstore", with no more used or cheap finds than you'd get anywhere else. But of course, I just couldn't resist and I changed my mind. Ma and I left with The Invisible Man (Ellison), Naomi (Tanizaki), Howl and Other Poems (Ginsberg), a blank City Lights journal, and a City Lights button.
Next was Chinatown. We only went down 3 streets, one being Grant Avenue which is strung with red lanterns and is tourist central. You can find anything you could want or need in Chinatown, and while restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops, clothing and accessory shops, convenience stores, electronic stores, banks, law offices, markets, etc. can be found throughout the area, Grant Avenue is one of the most crowded. I hadn't planned on buying anything here either. But we came across this one accessory shop that featured rows upon rows of leather animal-shaped coin purses, and an orange elephant one caught my eye. After we paid for it I turned it over in my hands and said to Ma, "It's useless, but it's cute right?" Pretty much sums up a lot of what you could buy here.
All of what Chinatown offers isn't useless though. It's interesting because on the one hand you have hordes of tourists seeking cheap goods or cultural experiences or whatever. And on the other hand you have Chinese people who live in, work in, or otherwise frequent the area who are just going about their day-to-day lives. I find that fascinating.
Overall, it didn't turn out to be as awe-inspiring as I'd hoped, but I'm certainly glad we went. However, I will say that it's probably better if you go there knowing where you're going, that is, if you have a place in mind. Otherwise all the streets might start looking the same pretty quickly. In Ma's blunt words, "It's all the same thing. I don't see anything different. Just a whole bunch of shops selling stuff." As you can see, Ma wasn't very impressed with Chinatown. Nor was she impressed with the pearl milk tea (bubble tea) that I had her try with me at Ten Ren's Tea, which is both café and tea shop. But hey, she stepped out of her comfort zone and tried something new, and that's all I could've asked for.
Click here for Part 2!