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'Ghost tours' offer history, secrets of Chinatown

November 26, 2010 6:46:23 PM PST
San Francisco's Chinatown is the oldest in the nation. Its rich history is the foundation for mystery, intrigue and superstition.

One woman is sharing all of its secrets, in the dark of the night.

The full moon casts a glow on the colorful streets of San Francisco's Chinatown. If the streets could talk, they would tell stories of wealth, love, greed and racism.

"Chinese believe in evil spirits and these pagoda-like roofs are actually there to trick them. So, if an evil spirit is coming down on the roof, it'll shoot itself right back up," Cynthia Yee explained to a tour group.

The maze of alleyways off Grant Avenue provides the perfect place to tell ghost stories.

"There's a family of cats that live in this alleyway. No one knows who takes care of them. No one knows why they are here. And, the elders of the community say that these cats represent the reincarnation of the ladies of the evening that were killed here in the early 1900's," Yee continued.

Every Friday and Saturday night, Cynthia Yee shares the many ghost stories she heard as a child growing up in Chinatown. Some are haunted stories, bordering on the supernatural. Other are haunting tales of lost love.

"Ladies of the evening used to be behind these gates," she told a group. "They used to solicit their business and behind the red doors were the actual brothels. There was one lady names Anna Wong. Anna Wong was a lovely lady and she was fortunate enough to meet a shoe maker. They got married, became Mr. and Mrs Ah Hing, and they actually occupied that apartment upstairs. But, in 1942, Ah Hing was called to war. It was in Normandy, France that he was in a tank that turned over. Ah Hing never came home and Anna Wong actually died of heartbreak waiting for her husband to come home. Often times, people, when they come through this alleyway, they say they actually smell the scent of lotus flowers. Lotus flowers was the exact perfume made for her. That street has a lot of garbage and some homeless, and there should be no reason for the perfume smell. Yet, people smell it, but not everyone smells it, only one or two."

It is not just spooky stories, but a lesson in history and culture.

"The ortune cookie was actually invented in 1894. Japanese tea garden in Golden Gate Park, Chinese thought it was a pretty nifty idea and started to put it into the restaurants," Yee explained.

"I just love Chinatown," she continued. "I think that I want to share my stories, and my heritage, and my family you know? We've been here since 1885."

Though no ghosts were spotted on the trip, Yee says visitors have claimed to see and smell them. With or without a supernatural encounter, most people who take the tour say it is well worth the trip.

"I thought it was really interesting just to see like different history you normally wouldn't see every day," said Alissa Abril of San Jose.

Mike Shu of San Francisco recalled, "The cat alley, I thought was a little bit creepy."

Written and produced by Ken Miguel


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