chinatown.jpgAfter a three-year hiatus, San Francisco’s Chinatown will once again feature a bustling nightlife when the weekly “Night Market” returns to Portsmouth Square on July 31.

The upcoming Night Market will include more than just merchants selling traditional Chinese food and wares, said Leon Chow, a spokesman for one of the market’s sponsoring organizations, Service Employees International Union, United Healthcare Workers.

“It’s going to be more like reality TV,” Chow said.

Activities at the Night Market will range from talent shows to calligraphy lessons to interactive games, Chow said. SEIU-UHW will help run the market with funds from the Chinatown Neighborhood Association and the association’s co-chair, Pius Lee.

Although the neighborhood association has received funding from the city to run the market since its introduction to Chinatown in 1999, the market will be funded completely independently from the city this year, Lee said.

Lee, a former city port commissioner, said that the neighborhood association is running the Night Market independently from the city in part to avoid some of the political obstacles the group ran into in the past.

The association ran Night Markets from 1999 until March 2007, when the city’s controller’s office conducted an audit to trace a $35,000 grant the mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development made to the Chinatown Neighborhood Association for markets in 2005 and 2006.

Following the audit, the controller’s office accused the neighborhood association of holding fewer Night Markets than was originally agreed upon. The office later retracted the accusation after realizing that the grant had been amended, and that the neighborhood association was not overpaid to operate the markets in those years.

The neighborhood association shut down the Night Markets during the audit and only tried reopening the event in 2009 when the Chinese Freemasons offered to run the market. At the time, a former gang member and ex-con in Chinatown, Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, was heading the Freemasons.

Lee said that the Night Market fell under scrutiny again for asking Raymond Chow to help with management, even though he said he had turned his life around and was no longer involved in any criminal activity.

The city claimed the association was not supposed to switch around management of the Night Market, as per the terms of the grant agreement, and again threatened to pull their support. The association dropped Raymond Chow and the Chinese Freemasons from management of the markets, which were not held in 2009.

Lee said he then searched for a nonprofit “neutral operator” to run the market. Both he and Leon Chow, of SEIU, said they heard from many people that Chinatown had turned into a ghost town at night.

Leon Chow said his nonprofit got involved in part to support the local economy of Chinatown. In addition, he said the Night Market is an important part of nightlife in many parts of Asia, and that as host to one of the largest Chinatowns outside of Asia, San Francisco should feature such a key cultural phenomenon.

The grand opening of the Night Market will take place on July 31 at Portsmouth Square, located at the intersection of Washington and Kearny streets. The market will take place nearly every Saturday from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. until October 9, Chow said.

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