In most major North American cities, there’s a neighborhood colloquially or officially known as Chinatown. When immigrants from China and other parts of Asia were coming to the continent en masse around the turn of the century, they banded together to create ethnic enclaves – both out of a desire to surround themselves with familiar cultural elements and because they were often not allowed to live in more desirable parts of the city.
They made the best of the situation, founding business that catered both to other Chinese as well as to their new European-descended neighbors. Left out of more legitimate areas of the economy, black markets also thrived in areas like gambling and opium.
As new waves of Asians immigrate to North America and the children and grandchildren of previous immigrant generations come of age in a new country, Chinatowns have changed. As more wealthy immigrants moved in the 80’s and 90’s, they preferred palatial estates in the suburbs to the urban Chinatown setting. Suburbs like Monterrey Park in Los Angeles sprung up to cater to these new waves and the Chinatowns they left behind became more focused on tourism. Toronto has five suburban areas with large Asian populations.
In Toronto’s old Chinatown, the Fung family has owned Xam Yu Seafood for generations. The restaurant specializes in a style of seafood from the Canton region of China, a peninsula around Hong Kong on the southern coast of the country. More garlicky than peppery and with an abundance of shellfish and mollusks, the restaurant has a loyal clientele that has allowed them to stay true to the original cuisine without having to dumb it down for the masses. Stir fried lobster is both a sight to see and an amazing meal.
The pictures begin in black & white or sepia. They are slightly faded but the history remains. It opened up just as all of Hollywood does now, with great fanfare, with star power. A ribbon was cut and the masses were ushered into Crossroads of the World an outdoor shopping plaza.
It was the 1930′s and those who came, bought. Those who came, walked around the world. From country to country you could get your bonnets and handkerchiefs from an Italian pavilion, or a Moroccan shaped store.
After a few decades the place fell into disrepair. In the 70′s a developer bought it and refurbished the place, rather restored it. Yet didn’t open it to shopping stores. Now it’s filled with production offices, and design firms, not looking for a swanky suite but rather four walls and some room to work.
But you can still visit Crossroads of the world today. It’s like walking in a mini Epcot Center. From country to country. From famous office to famous office. Hitchcock had an office here. Good Charlotte has an office here now. There are 2nd floor windows open with the sounds of typewriters or keyboards. Writers and producers making real Hollywood magic.
A gruesome tale but oh so good rotisserie chicken. Seriously it’s a Southern California institution which doesn’t get as much celebration as In and Out. Beck talks about it in songs. Not sure there’s any rappers who effortlessly rhyme Zankou or spit rhymes with Chicken.
This morning’s earthquake felt a little strange to me. Maybe it was because it was my first official… “HOLY MOLY, Do we have to run out of this building right now?” feeling. Also it was because I was in the middle of sleeping and in that moment of rocking, shaking, I felt like I was back on a ship.
Spending five years on ships is one thing. Spending a year recovering is another. I had flashbacks this morning to the ship. Every morning when we came into port, my room, entire life, would violently shake. This was normal. This was life aboard a ship.
a ship on the water
For the first two years of my ship board career I had the most forward cabin possible. I lived just on the other side of the wall from the Carpenter shop, the Upholstery shop, and the Electric workshop. Drilling and working stopped early in the night, the partying next door might start, then the morning came and the ship’s bow thrusters jumped into action like nothing else could. The large turbines shooting water away so the ship could effortlessly glide into it’s dock. While all my top shelved dvds and stuff came tumbling down.
This morning I woke to my ship not docking.. but my building coming alive. The floor wobbling. My heart pounding because I thought in the darkness I was on a ship. How did I end up on a ship? I’m not on a ship. I’m in Los Angeles.
It’s not until just now, at this moment of writing that I feel like it was death defying. Because it was such a daily occurrence, my body got used to it. But I’m a Cali Boy now. Gotta get used to this new Earthquake awareness.
Did my life flash before my eyes? I was half asleep. I did think. Where is my fiancee? Oh she just signed on to a ship today. It’s her 6th contract and I’m so proud of her. A morning flirt with death and danger brings me back to her, now so far away. Still far away.
What will you do with your Post Earthquake day? It also happens to be St. Patrick’s Day so Party Harder everyone! We’ve lived!
If you’re staying at a hotel, chances are you can use their outbox to send a letter. Not many people do today because this email thing is so darn awesome. For essentially free I can send a note, attach a photograph, to a friend a large distance away. Tell them how I’m doing, how the wife is, how much I ate at that Spanish tapas bar, how much I drank and how many people I stepped on while trying to dance. But what fun is that? Okay I admit that is fun to write, and report. But sending a postcard is also fascinating. It makes me feel like an old man, corresponding with my old friend from many years ago, our friendship held onto like a taut string between two tin cups.
There is something interesting that happens when I decided to forgo the email, forgo the hotel’s outgoing mail and venture forth into the world of Italian post offices. The first thing I realize is that I have no idea where a post office might be. The tourist maps, the signs, none discuss of a post office. We ask locals, some know, some can’t tell us with out playing charades. When I produce a letter, it helps. Also “Post Office” is not the hardest of foreign words to figure out, it turns out to be Poste.
The best thing happens on the way to the Post Office. Only a couple of blocks away but a world away since it’s past the tourist signs, past the menus in English. It’s next to a typical cafe. I can get a cheap espresso before the walk back. The girls can check out real Italian clothing shops. We also pass by the offices of the local musicians union. And many other offices of normal workers. The Post Office’s building also happens to be a beautiful structure, seemingly centuries old itself. A grand edifice to gaze in front of.
We return a couple times since our ship docks here every two weeks and we happen to have some packages to send the next time we arrive to Cagliari. It’s a fun walk, and almost a walk into the present. The tourist parts of town will exclaim how old and how amazing their heritage is. The regular parts of town, are just that… regular. They breathe and live just like any other town in any other city, almost like your home town or home downtown. A few blocks away are residents who don’t participate in tourism, but rather live off a solid day’s work doing something.
Away we go across the sea to Capri. We swim. We boat. We wail like Sirens of Greek lore. And then we return back to Naples, away from Capri. Capri, a long time ago laid to rest among the words and stories, now lives in my memory. Lives as a day on the sea. It’s this final picture, this final moment of it’s pointy crop of land that I’ll remember. A group asleep on the ferry ride back. I walk and wonder and wander a bit. Finding a small porthole gazing back. I could have gone to the top of the mountain. I could have gone to the top of the ferry. I stayed down under, by the engines. The rumble coursing through me, not from chills of wetness but from chills of serendipity. I may never return but something of me will stay, this memory.
My back flat on the cold steel of the deck, my eyes skyward into the black. I stare and stare into the vastness, the least amount of light going up. Here I am in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, farther from anywhere I’ve ever been. Here I can finally see as many stars as there are in the sky. The black backdrop is not black, it’s filled with tiny little dots too far away even to imagine.
We’re somewhere along the seven days it takes to get from Florida to the Canary Islands. I’m not sure at which point I forgot what day it was or how long we’d been at sea. It’s a great feeling and an ominous feeling to not know which day of the week it is or if we’ll ever see land again. Of course I can look at the maps or watch the TV but that’s something I’ve banned myself from doing. I’m taking this time to get away from the work week, away from the drudgery of days. I wake when I want and go to sleep when I want. There’s no point in doing activities or going to a show. I’m here for the sea and the sky and night’s stars. This is pure vacation, to be drifting somewhere in the southern Atlantic Ocean. Somewhere between here and there. Somewhere out there. Somewhere.
When I think of seashells immediately I see the palm trees and sand and hot sun. But apparently there are seashells all around the world in all sorts of waters. It’s a trick to find the shells which don’t wash up on a sun drenched shore. And I’ve found where they go when researchers find them and donate them. It’s a Seashell Museum in the south of France. Well I’ve been to many beaches and I haven’t seen so many seashells until I went to the Seashell museum in France. It’s a direct translation from English to France: Le musée des Coquillages.
Here were seashells from around the Atlantic, the entire Atlantic. From north to south. And they were amazing. To begin we sat through a short video showing Seashells from all around the world and then got to tour the one room museum. It’s just a dozen or so glass cases but each one is special and each one is unique. I can tell you that ninety night percent of them have not washed up on a shore you’ve been. They are found in all sorts of places, from the continental shelf to deep deep seas. I enjoyed going through this museum and would recommend anyone interested in odd museums in the south of France to search it out in the tiny seaside village of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat, near Nice, France.