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10 Reasons Why I Love L.A.'s Koreatown

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Behind the concrete ball hides a world of all American quirk and surprise. | Photo: Kristina Wong

My friend Akie Kotabe deserves credit for this Los Angeles to Scooby Doo analogy: If Beverly Hills is Fred, and Venice Beach is Shaggy, then Koreatown is Daphne and Velma screaming, "Hey! Quit being so extremist, there's gems to be found here!"

Indeed, Koreatown is like an architect's yard sale -- mismatched buildings piled next to each other, tacky neon signs twisting out from every possible corner, "Se Renta" banners hung permanently (?) for the attention of your eyes. When I first moved here two years ago, I was spooked by the stories of K-town's crime rates, grit, and messy urban aesthetic. But now, I've come to love it -- abandoned couches, police helicopters, and all. Here's ten reasons why I think Koreatown is an awesome place to live:

1. It's my alternate Asian Universe.
Yes, I'm guilty of being an Asian person who once believed that all Asians were the same. Growing up in a predominantly Chinese American community in San Francisco, I naively assumed that the few Koreans I met were Chinese people speaking another language. (I was a kid, ok?!) So what a shock for me to see it customary for Korean restaurant patrons to scream "Yogygyo!" to get their waiter's attention, to have to cook my own food at the table, and... are all those little dishes of food that came out before we ordered really free?

2. It's the new "DTLA Adjacent."
With the boom of downtown L.A. in the last five years, Koreatown is to DTLA what Brooklyn was to Manhattan before Williamsburg became the Hipster Mecca. A short bus ride and I get to enjoy the downtown art scene without the pricetag for rent, the fight for parking, or the guy sleeping in my doorway.

3. Yet, those hipsters will never quite take over.
With the largest concentration of Koreans outside of Korea and what seems to be an equally heavy Latino presence, there is a solid longstanding presence of local businesses and people who patronize them. This means that the creative types in their skinny pants who come here for the cheap rent are still the minority and have yet to really penetrate and overrun this place with overpriced vintage stores, yarn shops, and cupcake shops.

4. JONS Grocery store
For all the jokes I've heard stand-up comedians sling about JONS being the ugly second cousin of VONS, I've got to say, JONS works. Where else can you buy tamales, socks, backyard avocados, and perfume off a baby stroller in the parking lot after you've done your grocery shopping AND get catcalled? Exactly. And now JONS sells soy chorizo!

5. It's impossible to go hungry.
Why would you want to eat a dinner-sized portion of beef Galbi at 6 a.m. on Wednesday morning? Because you can!

6. What laws?
I remember gasping in shock the first time I saw smoking inside a K-town bar, now I don't even flinch that indoor smoking, last call, and even liquor license laws don't seem to apply here.

7. Cultural Ineptitude without the guilt.
I used to feel out of place at family gatherings where my older relatives would ask me long questions in Chinese, and my "not-quite-bilingualized" self would respond stone-faced, my insides turning with guilt that I didn't focus hard enough in Chinese school. Now I have an excuse when my neighbors greet me in Korean and I can only chirp back in English. Only problem is that my Korean neighbors now insist on talking to me in Chinese.

8. ?The Red and Purple Line
If you can plan your life along the Red or Purple line, you might be able to be one of those rare Angelenos who can ditch their car for good. I did.

9. Half the People Who Live Here Have Probably Seen me Naked
Want to relax on the cheap? Two words. Korean Spa. Some of them are open 24 hours and some serve full meals inside. So in theory, you could live in them until you've sloughed off every last skin cell.

10. The Crazy Bar/Restaurant scene scene
Whether it's the giant boat docked 20 miles from the beach on Western Ave. (Cafe Jack's), the bar that requires a password (R Bar), the restaurant that gives you a box of 50 ripe bananas when you leave (Wando Fish BBQ), the juvenile yet brilliant arcade-meets-alcohol combo (Blipsy Barcade) -- all these Koreatown haunts have one thing in common... You wouldn't know they were there until you took a good second look and a peek inside.

Kristina Wong is a nationally presented solo performer, writer, actor, educator, culture jammer, and filmmaker. She'll be writing about Asian-American topics during the month of April here on SoCal Focus.

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