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S.F. Bay Area

Surprise yourself in one of San Francisco's Chinatown alleys

Jun Yu and erhu. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
Jun Yu and erhu. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Tourists expect certain things in San Francisco's Chinatown, like dim sum, fortune cookies and dangling colorful lanterns; perhaps a solemn, festooned room such as the Tin How Temple on Waverley Place. It's fine to sample those spots, most of which can be found within a few steps of Grant Avenue. But why not take a step beyond that?

What: Of the more than a dozen alleys in this Chinatown, Ross Alley is among the busiest, perhaps the oldest. Notorious for gambling in the 1880s, today it's lined with murals depicting daily life in the community. It's also home to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory (52 Ross Alley), where various tour groups often alight to watch cookies being made. (This tradition, by the way, seems to trace back to a Japanese American entrepreneur in San Francisco, not to China.)

 (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

And next door at No. 32, there's Jun Yu, who plays the traditional two-stringed erhu (Christmas carols a specialty).

But Jun Yu (born in China's Guangdong Province) isn't just a tourist-pleasing musician. He's also a barber. For $10 he'll give you a haircut, if you don't mind the strange brew of scents in his small, untidy parlor. His hands are so steady, you might not guess that he's 86. And from this day forward, you can tell the tale of that time in the dark alley, when a guy put a blade to your throat and you just smiled.

Where: Ross Alley is between Jackson and Washington streets in Chinatown, San Francisco, 387 miles northwest of downtown L.A.

How much: The fortune cookie factory requests a 50-cent donation if you take a photo. Jun Yu takes what he can get for his erhu playing. But the $10 haircut price is firm.

Info: SFGate's Chinatown page

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