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The Charm of Chinatown

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In the middle of a Sunday morning there are not many places to hide from the sun in Chinatown; the low buildings are dwarfed by nearby downtown Los Angeles.  On Broadway, just down the street from a gateway topped by dragons that marks the entrance to Chinatown, tourists and visitors are already prowling the streets for oddities, knick-knacks, and foods on skewers.  

But a couple blocks away the morning is quiet in Central Plaza, which is shielded from the street by buildings and tourists who haven’t yet embraced the day.  Old Chinese men read newspapers and sleep on benches.  Behind a building, people crowd around mahjong tables.  A grandfather sits down at a table while his energetic toddler grandson runs around the courtyard chatting up strangers without using any form of comprehensible language.  The generation in-between is conspicuously absent.  As the day goes on tourists will fill this place too but for now it is a quiet refuge.  

Chinatown has suffered the same fate as many other ethnic enclaves:  the Chinese moved out, and the tourists moved in.  Many of the people and businesses which once populated Chinatown are now located in the San Gabriel Valley, known as the place to go for Dim Sum and authentic Chinese food in general.  Many of the shops now cater to tourists and the streets are lined with cheap clothes, mannequins, and baby turtles.  However, one could argue that it’s part of the charm of Chinatown.  While it caters to tourists and visitors on some level, there is still a large aspect of Chinese culture present.  You’d be hard pressed to find somebody working in a restaurant that speaks fluent English and most of them will act like they could not care less about you as they go about their business.  But again, that’s part of its charm.  The fact that it is past its prime probably saves it from a daily onslaught of tourists, as is the case in the Chinatowns of San Francisco and New York.  There is still quiet space in this Chinatown of Los Angeles, where one can find a nice bench to eat a sesame ball or barbecue pork bun while watching Chinese people lounging around and the odd visitors strolling through. 

Restaurant workers take breaks in the parking lot.

A boy runs back and forth in front of the Burgerlords restaurant.

Visitors riding a cart attachment on their father’s bike.

Two brothers ride a horse machine.

Two men sit on a bench. One reads the news, the other dreams.

A girl throws a tantrum after being scolded for pouring water on the counter of her grandparent’s store.

A man sits on a bench in front of the Burgerlords restaurant.

A restaurant worker smokes on the street.

A cook takes a break on a used can outside the Won Kok restaurant.

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