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30 April 2011 @ 08:33 am
San Francisco Chinatown Ghost Tour (written up for Yelp)  
Late last year, I got two Groupons for a SF Chinatown Ghost Tour. My grandfather grew up in Chinatown but I never really knew much about it, so I thought this would be a fun way to learn a li'l local history and - if I was really lucky - finally see a ghost with my own eyes. I dragged my boyfriend along because, well, if I actually got scared I needed *someone* to grab onto!

We finally got around to using the Groupons last weekend. When we got to the Four Seas Restaurant's bar, it was super-crowded. There must have been close to a hundred people there! (I bet they were all Groupon people, too.) We checked in and were handed a box of poppers. We edged toward the back of the room, trying to find some space to breath, and ended up standing next to our tour guide, Ruby. We talked for a few minutes until the leader (Cynthia, I presume) gave Ruby the OK to take her group outside.

Ruby was new to the job - she'd been doing the tours since March or so. That said, it was clear she knew her stuff. As she led us through the alleys of Chinatown, I learned a ton about the tongs (gangs) and family associations that controlled power back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They seemed involved in all the vices: prostitutes, opium and gambling. It was pretty cool.
Ruby hasn't completely mastered her storytelling rhythm yet, so sometimes she would jump around a bit in her narrative. She didn't quite have the dramatic punch to bring the spookiness to her ghost stories - but there weren't that many of those, anyway. The talk was much less about ghosts and spooks and more focused on the violent history of Chinatown.

I was a little disappointed that the Ghost Tour didn't go down into the underground tunnels and basements of Chinatown. Ruby kept mentioning them, and it made me really want to see them! But it was still pretty interesting and informative, so I can't complain.

Most random moment: Stopping by a fortune cookie factory. Near as I can tell, this was expressly for the purpose of giving tourists a chance to buy fortune cookies. Needless to say, it worked on me. We brought a bag home with us.

Spookiest moment: There wasn't one, really, but there was a time when Ruby told us about a vicious gang fight that took place where we were standing, and then she pointed out that the buildings across from the alley all had eight-sided ba gua mirrors to protect them from the ghosts of the men who died in that fight.

Overall: I wouldn't pay the full adult price of $29 for this tour of Chinatown, but for the $12 Groupon I was pleased with what I got. I can tell that when Ruby gets a little more experience, she's going to be one heckuva tour guide!