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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Little Seoul

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 19, 2014 07:53pm | Post a Comment
INTRODUCTION TO LITTLE SEOUL 


Welcome sign at Brookhurst

Drive down Garden Grove Boulevard with your windows up (paying proper attention to the road in front of you) and you might not notice that you're passing through Little Seoul. There are no banners, memorials, murals, monuments or that many fluttering South Korean flags. Pass through on a bus and maybe you'll notice the Hangul signs and blue tile roofs. The best way to experience Little Seoul, despite some drawbacks, is by walking in it – although your hair might pick up the smell like bulgogi by the end of your ramble. The other day I headed over there to explore it, accompanied by Una Zipagan and host of the excellent Notebook on Cities and Culture podcast, Colin Marshall


Another blue tile community

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Los Angeles currently has the largest population Korean-Americans. In fact, 17% of all Korean-Americans live somewhere in the Southland. Korean business districts have sprung up in Los Angeles's Koreatown and Garden Grove's Little Seoul as well as in Buena Park, Cerritos, Fullerton, Rowland Heights and elsewhere whilst Koreans have more often chosen to make their homes in places like Anaheim, Gardena, Glendale, Hacienda Heights, Huntington Beach, Irvine, La Palma, Santa Clarita, and Torrance (as well as Buena Park, Cerritos, Fullerton, and Rowland Heights).


Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's Map of North Orange County


Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Garden Grove


Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's Map of Little Seoul

Although Koreatown is incontestably the main Korean business district in the entire US, Little Seoul – located about 50 kilometers southeast – is no slouch. By some estimations it's the second largest Korean business district on the West Coast and the fourth largest Korean business district in the nation. Even in Little Seoul, Koreatown's dominance is reflected by the telltale Wilshire addresses of most of the newspapers's offices and business names like Wilshire Bank but the cultural exchange is not completely one-sided; when Colin spotted Ondal Restaurant, he alerted Una and I that Koreatown is home to Ondal 2.

Little Seoul – or officially and less charmingly “The Korean Business District” -- is located along a 3.5 kilometer stretch of Garden Grove Boulevard in the city of Garden Grove, abutting against the much larger enclave of Little Saigon. The population of Garden Grove is currently about 38% Asian-American, although 73% of that percentage are Vietnamese. Koreans, after Vietnamese, are the second largest Asian ethnicity in Orange County and Korean is the fourth most spoken language in Orange County homes.



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A BRIEF HISTORY OF KOREAN IMMIGRATION TO THE USA

The first Korean to become a naturalized citizen was Philip Jaisohn (Seo Jae-Pil ), who arrived in the US in 1885 as a political exile. In 1902, King Gojong, the first emperor of Korea, granted Koreans the right to work abroad and following that, hundreds and soon thousands of Koreans were lured to American-occupied Hawaii, where the Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association courted Asians of various ethnicities (so that solidarity and strikes would be difficult to achieve and undertake) to work on their plantations. 


Racist and completely ineffective sidewalk appeal in Little Seoul (possibly written by John McCain)

Koreans faced considerable ignorance and hostility both there and in the mainland. In 1913, California passed a law prohibiting all Asians from buying property. That same year Korean farmers were attacked in Hemet by an anti-Japanese mob of idiots. In 1924, the US Congress passed the Oriental Exclusion Act which barred all Asians from immigrating. Some Koreans, however, were admitted into the US on student visas and by the 1930s, there was a community of a few hundred Koreans living primarily in Chesterfield Square and Vermont Square, two neighborhoods on South Los Angeles's Westside located near the campus of USC.

After the surrender of Japan to the Allies in 1945, Korea (which had been officially “annexed” by Japan in 1910) was divided by the victors of World War II at the 38th parallel. Tensions between North and South Korea escalated into all out war in 1950 and a stalemate was achieved in 1953, after perhaps one million had perished. The McCarran-Walter Act was passed in 1952 which allowed for increased immigration from South Korea. In the years that followed, war brides and mixed-race orphans joined students and professionals in the ranks of Koreans heading to America. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 allowed for even larger numbers of immigrants and, after Filipinos, Koreans became the second fastest-growing Asian ethnicity in the US.

The seeds of Koreatown were planted in in Los Angeles in 1969, when Lee Hi Duk opened Olympic Market on Olympic Boulevard in Wilshire Center. Lee opened several more businesses and by the mid-1970s, Koreatown was established and growing, although it wasn't officially recognized until 1980. Koreatown spread outward in all directions from Olympic, including into South Los Angeles, where there were well-publicized incidents of racial tension. Most infamously, in 1991, a black 15-year-old named Latasha Harlins was shot and killed by a Korean shop keep, Soon Ja Du, at Empire Liquor in Vermont Vista. When the Los Angeles Riots erupted on 29 April, 1992, Koreatown was hit especially hard and 40% of all looted businesses in the city were Korean owned. The incident came to be widely known amongst Korean-Americans as “Sa-I-Gu” (4-2-9).

It has sometimes been hypothesized that the riots were one of the primary catalysts for Koreans' exodus to the suburbs but in fact that movement had been occurring for a while. Koreatown was and is often an entry point for Korean immigrants who in many cases choose to then make their homes in communities with highly ranked school districts rather than convenient access to Korean shopping districts. By 1980 there were more than 11,000 Koreans living in Orange County (nowadays there are Korean populations that exceed that figure in several Orange County cities) and the Korean businesses district of Garden Grove was already firmly established.



GARDEN GROVE BACKGROUND

Garden Grove was founded by Alonzo Cook in 1874 and the agricultural town's economy depended in its early years on the production of apricots, chickens, chilies, grapes, oranges, peaches, strawberries, and walnuts. When Garden Grove incorporated in 1956, the population had grown to about 44,000 -- mostly white, working class folks would followed the post-war suburban sprawl emanating from the nearby Harbor area and its aerospace industry and transformed the city into an almost entirely residential one.

Garden Grove Boulevard (originally Ocean Boulevard) was designated Highway 22 in 1934. It was the primary thoroughfare until 1965, when construction of the Garden Grove Freeway began, slashing and burning its way through the city and having an especially deleterious effect on the area immediately surrounding it. In the 1970s, a redevelopment program was launched to reverse Garden Grove's declining fortunes. In neighboring Westminster, similarly caught in a downward spiral, anti-Communist (and therefore presumably uber-Capitalist) Vietnamese were wooed to bring business to Bolsa Avenue. Around the same time the first Korean businesses began to appear three kilometers north in Garden Grove.


Possible throwback to the good ol' days -- Romantix and Hip Pocket Adult Bookstore



The Ranch Motel

The stretch of Garden Grove Boulevard that's now home to Little Seoul was then largely undeveloped although there were a couple of strip clubs, adult video stores, seedy motels. One such lodge, the Ranch Motel, was the site of the grisly torture and murder of a Huntington Beach prostitute in 1985. By then the Korean redevelopment of the area was already underway.


Xenophobe-baiting Hangul-heavy sign (with faux gas lamp)

As with Koreatown, the first Korean business established in Little Seoul was a supermarket [was it the now-closed Han Nam Supermarket?]. By 1980 there were 80 Korean-owned businesses in the neighborhood and in 1981, the first Korean Festival was held in nearby Garden Grove Park. The name “Little Seoul” was applied at least as early as 1986 and predictably complaints were made by some about signs written in Hangul. In 2001, signs designating the area the “Korean Business District” were placed at the eastern and western ends of Little Seoul. 

(Click here to read my account of exploring Garden Grove)

GETTING THERE AND AROUND <

OCTA stop in Little Seoul

Right now Little Seoul is served by Orange County Transit Authority's bus lines 29, 33, 35, and 56. The neighborhood is located just west of the old West Santa Ana Branch Line of the Pacific Electric Railway, which connected Santa Ana to Watts until 1950. For the time being the closest train station is 13 kilometers east in the city of Orange. Metro is working on ultimately restoring rail to the neighborhood with its West Santa Ana Transit Corridor project but when that will be completed (or even begun) remains to be seen. 


Vodie's Alignment & Brakes

Luckily, Little Seoul is quite flat and therefore quite easily bikeable and walkable -- provided one is physically able and psychologically predisposed. Garden Grove Boulevard still often gives the impression of being a freeway and the lack of buffering road verges, measurable amounts of shade, benches, or even other pedestrians as well as the inward orientation of businesses and the close proximity of the sidewalks to speeding cars give off a sort of pedestrian-hostile vibe. Walkscore doesn't have a figure for Little Seoul but assigns a score of just 55 out of 100 to the city of Garden Grove. If you need a bicycle, Little Seoul is home to Garden Grove Bike Shop.


A rare, non-linear view of Little Seoul 



STAYING IN LITTLE SEOUL


If you'd like to stay in Little Seoul overnight, there are several lodging options. There's the aforementioned Ranch Motel, built in 1956 and the Tropic Motel, built in 1955. Perhaps the best motel sign award goes to the Grove Motel.


Other nearby lodges include Best Western Palm Garden Inn, Hospitality Inn-Garden Grove, Little Saigon Inn, Morada Inn & Suites, and Ramada Plaza Garden Grove/Anaheim South.



BUSINESSES

In contrast to nearby Little Saigon, where on Sundays parking lots are packed both with men hanging out in folding chairs and bad drivers, Little Seoul proved to be decidedly quiet. Many of the parking lots were almost completely empty. Some even had improbably long gates extending across their entrances. When a car alarm sounded in the distance, it only underscored just how quiet it all was.

From the sidewalk it was sometimes difficult to tell which businesses were open, which were closed, and which were completely vacant but we soon learned that within the air-conditioned environment of the great indoors, there were buzzing pockets of activity (if nothing that even approaches the level of pedestrian-dense-and-friendly Koreatown or I suspect, big Seoul) 

Today the number of Korean businesses in Little Seoul reportedly exceeds 1,000. Although most of people that I spotted entering and leaving the neighborhood residences seemed in most cases to be Latino, Anglo, or Vietnamese, under the roofs of the sprawling markets the clientele were almost (with the exception of ourselves) exclusively either Vietnamese or Korean.



MARKETS AND THE GREAT INDOORS

Despite its lack of accommodations for pedestrians, there are few errands that one couldn't conceivably accomplish on foot or by bicycle in Little Seoul. The neighborhood is full of dentists offices, spas, optometrists, hair salons, &c.


Police and psychics in the streets


Lost Treasures (Found! on the roof)


Since I most tourists (Korean-American non-Korean alike) are drawn to Korean businesses districts for the food, I'll start there. And because they made Little Seoul possible and still prove to be the centers of human activity, I'll begin with the supermarkets.


Shop smart, shop H-Mart


Inside Arirang Supermarket 

Until a couple of years ago there were three markets to which to pledge one's allegiance. Han Nam Supermarket closed and now, Arirang Supermarket (A.R. Supermarket) and H-Mart compete for commerce and Yelp reviews. Meanwhile a new Wal-mart Neighborhood Market sits poised and ready to possibly destroy both although it's hard to imagine a Wal-mart supporting the food courts and various other shops that make Arirang and H Mart take on the appearance of something akin to a swap meet crossed with a town square.


Shops and food court at H-Mart


Curly-haired cubist men must push their carts behind the X to their McMansions




KOREAN EATS

Korean cuisine is one of those foods that has been cautiously and only partially embraced by most Americans, who seem perfectly happy to draw the line at BBQ, Hite beer, and maybe Korean tacos whilst casting a needlessly suspicious eye at the many any varieties of soups, stews, noodles, rice dishes, banchan, anju, sea vegetables, and sweets.

Thanks in large part to Buddhism (and Buddha's vegetarianism) Korean cuisine is not as vegetarian-unfriendly as many wary vegetarians might suppose. Most restaurants can make a vegetarian bibimbap and even when the menu lists no vegetarian items, I've still never been to a Korean restaurant in Southern California where the cook wasn't capable of making a tasty and filling vegetarian dish... especially if you add alcohol to the mix. 


Han Guk Kwan (right?) where we ate lunch

We started our day at "pariba" (Paris Baguette) albeit the location in St. Andrew's Square. Later we ate in a food court at a place whose sign simply stated something like "Korean Place." In addition to the “purely” Korean restaurants, there are Korean takes on Chinese cuisines, donuts, french pastries, pizza, and sushi and Seoul Do Soon Yi Kimchi Company, a locale kimchi manufacturer. 


Looking through the door of Past Memories (recommended by Colin)


Here's the (incomplete) list of local Korean eats: An Ocean's Story, Anna's Mondu, BCD Tofu House, Boba Loca, Bonjuk, Cafe-T, Cham Sut Gol Korean BBQChu Ga Jip, Chung Dam Keul, Flower Pig, Donut Time, Ga Bo Ja Restaurant, Gae Sung Restaurant, Go Goo Ryeo, Ham-Hung Restaurant, Han WooriHangari Hwang Hae Doh, Hangari Kalgooksu, Hodori Snack, Incheonwan BBQ House, Jang Choong Dong, Jang Mo Gip, Jang TohJong Ro Shul Lung Tang, Kaju Tofu, Korean Folk Village Restaurant, Lee Sook Won Kimchi, Light Town House Korean BBQLove Letter Pizza & Chicken, Mi Ho Restaurant, Mo Ran Gak, Muse Coffee Shop, Myung In Dumplings, New Seoul BBQ Buffet Restaurant, Obok Bakery, Ondal Restaurant, Paris Baguette, Past Memories, Peking Gourmet, Poong Nap Dong, Seoul Soondae Restaurant, Shik Do Rak, Siroo, Smile RestaurantStar BBQ, The Pine, Tous Les JoursYeh Won Korean Restaurant, and Young Pung

Non-Korean eats (but often either Korean owned-and-oriented or Vietnamese) in the neighborhood include Aloha Teriyaki, Alerto's Mexican Food, Artist Crawfish Express, Casa de Soto, David's Vietnamese Restaurant, Diamond Seafood Plaza, Diem Hen, Dzui Lounge, Genki Living, Hong Kong Express, Kim’s RestaurantM & Tôi Vietnamese Restaurant, May Bon Phuong Restaurant, Misoya Rockin' Sushi, Pho and Rolls Vietnamese Cuisine, Pho 2000, Phu Sandwich, and Phuoc Thanh.



SHOPPING IN LITTLE SEOUL and THE GARDEN GROVE GALLERIA


The no-use mixed-use Garden Grove Galleria

Construction of the Garden Grove Galleria began in 2005. The original design called for two levels of shops, six levels of condos, and given its size it was set to become an icon of the neighborhood. Construction halted in 2008 and in 2010, the Garden Grove Galleria sued Cathay Bank for a breach of contract. Two months later Cathay counter-sued for essentially the same. More suits followed and the design plans were changed -- the condos were to become apartments -- but nine years later it still stands, only partially complete and rusting.


Quiet Koreatown Mall


Good times just around the corner at New Seoul Plaza


Hanmi Plaza


Quiet Arirang Galleria (built in 2009 and mostly empty)


Complete and functioning (if sometimes barely) shopping centers in Little Seoul including Arirang Galleria, Brookhurst North Shopping Center, Garden Grove Shopping Center, Gilbert Plaza, Golden Plaza, Hanmi Plaza, Ka-Ju Plaza, Korea Plaza, Koreatown Mall, New Seoul Plaza, Newland Plaza, Newton Plaza, Town-Center Plaza, and Western Shopping Center.



NIGHTLIFE


The lushly-landscaped Frat House


Rendezvous Nightclub


Idol Karaoke



Cafeoke Ding Dong Dang



B & G Karaoke -- "Grand Reborn"

Business hours in Little Seoul vary greatly but the nightlife seems to make its home in Club Rendevous, Frat House (not a dudebro sports bar) and Soju Belly as well as karaoke clubs (noraebong), which include B & G KaroakeCafeoke Ding Dong Dang, Karaoke Nice, and Idol Karaoke.


Sunday morning at 2000 Points Billiards



Hyundai Billiard or GG Billiards and Ping Pong

There are also several billiard and ping-pong halls too, including GG Billiards and Ping Pong (also listed as Hyundai Billiard), 2000 Points Billiards (which also has ping-pong), and King Billiard (which may or may not have ping pong).


Liquor and Bikes -- A liquor store and Garden Grove Bicycle Shop 

There are more liquor stores than bars in the neighborhood although we ventured into none. Several have nice signage.


A liquor store with a nice, fake gas lamp (a common decoration) atop the sign



KOREAN CHURCHES

In South Korea, only 53% of Koreans identify themselves as religious. Of those, about 29% are Christian and 23% of South Koreans self-identify as Buddhists. In the US it's a different story. In 1902, Changho Ahn and his wife established the first Korean American Church and today, roughly 71% of Korean-Americans self-identify as Christian.


St. Anselm of Canterbury

I'm sure that some of the Korean churches in the area were built by different denominations but ones occupied by Korean denominations now include Gospel First Korean Baptist Church, Korean Garden Grove United Methodist ChurchSaint Anselm of Canterbury Episcopal Church of Garden, and Suh Moon Presbyterian Church. Despite it being a Sunday morning and a Korean neighborhood, the churches all seemed to be oddly quiet. Only 6% of Korean-Americans identify as Buddhists and in Little Seoul there are just two temples from which to choose, Bupwahng sa Korean Buddhist Temple and Orange County Won Buddhist Temple.



LITTLE SEOUL ARTS SCENE


Martial Arts and Golf


Little Seoul is perhaps to small to support an actual arts scene. I'm only aware of one arts-oriented space in Little Seoul, Seoul Oriental Art Gallery. There are seemingly more organizations devoted to the martial arts than the creative, performing, or visual. Those institutions include Five Star Tae Kwon Do & Martial Arts, Kenpo United Karate Kung-Fu Studios, King’s Martial Arts, Musashi Martial Arts, Nam Phan Mixed Martial Arts Academy, Orange County Judo Training Center, Shaolin Warrior Academy, Shotokan Karate of Garden Grove, and Yoon Tae Kwon Do School.


Video Town or ghost town? Either way, they still have some copies of Six Days, Seven Nights in the back


A video store in Koreatown Mall


Inside the above video store -- which mostly deal in VHS and sells VCRs

I don't know of any movies shot in Little Seoul or any actors or filmmakers from there. I don't know of any live music venues or bands from there either. There are some mom-and-pop shops, many of which sell or rent video, music, and video games. There's Han Nam Video, Music Town, Sam's Video, Saranbang Video, 20th Century Video, (Spanish language-centric) Video 9, Video Village, and Western Video



Come for the Korean dramas and pick up some seed packets... and a steering wheel cover (or two)

The only music store that I saw was Immanuel Music, which carries a large selection of guitars, violins, and metronomes. There's also at least one music school, Spotlight School of Music.



PARKS (not 박) AND THE GREAT OUTDOORS

Being such a small area, there aren't a lot of parks within the neighborhood and as I mentioned, most of the activity seems to take place indoors (or in cars). However, should you wish to go outside, there's Acacia Park, Garden Grove Park (including Garden Grove Dog Park and the Atlantis Play Center), Kiwanisland, and Liberty Park



KOREAN SERVICES

Though probably un-named -- Donut Time seems to be the popular hangout for male, Korean, retirees and (like as with many donut shops) seems to serve as a sort of de facto community center. More official outlets for community engagement can be pursued through the Little Seoul or the Orange County Korean Community, the Korean American Coalition, the Korean American Federation of Orange County Garden Grove, Korean Community Services, the Korean-American Seniors Assn Garden Grove, the Korean American Youth & Community Center, the OC Korean Community Center, the Orange County Korean American Bar Association, the Orange County Korean Festival Foundation, the Orange County Korean Community Service Center, and Orange County Korean Social Service Information Center.



FURTHER READING AND OTHER MEDIA

There is no "Little Seoul" edition from the Images of America series (although there is Katherine Yungmee Kim's Los Angeles' Koreatown). There's also Angie Y. Chung's Legacies of Struggle: Conflict and Cooperation in Korean American Politics, which goes a bit into Little Seoul but near as I can tell, there are as yet no books the primary focus of which is on Little Seoul.


 

Dorcas Orange Christian


Korean Bookstore

There are a couple of bookstores in the neighborhood: Dorcas Orange Christian, Korean Bookstore, and World of Life Books. Also nearby is the Westminster Branch Library and Garden Grove Regional Library. There are also popular newspapers like Korea Times and Korea Daily (both available in English language versions as well as Korean) and more locally focused paper, The Town News. The first two are headquartered in Koreatown but perhaps maintain bureaus in Little Seoul whereas The Town News is actually headquartered in Little Seoul.


The Korea Daily

Radio Korea in Koreatown Mall

You can tune into the sounds of Korean-America by setting your dial to several Korean radio stations. There's Radio Korea (1540 KMPCPasadena’s 1230 KYPA – Radio JBC (Joongang Broadcast Company), and Hancock Park’s 1650 KFOX – Radio SeoulIf you're feeling spiritual, 1190 KGBN is the home of the Korean Gospel Broadcasting Network.



Pulp's "Little Seoul," my generations' "Catz in teh Cradle"

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As always, please contribute your additions and corrections. Enjoy exploring Southern California, just start at Hollywood & Highland and go in any direction away from there and I guarantee it will get more interesting. To vote vote for other Orange County communities, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles County communities, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles neighborhoods, vote here. Please leave any additions, corrections, or shared memories in the comment section. 행쇼 

California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Little Saigon

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 13, 2014 04:51pm | Post a Comment

INTRO TO LITTLE SAIGON

Southern California is home to several ethnic enclaves and since the region's largest and fastest growing racial minority are Asian, perhaps it's not surprising that most of the recognized neighborhoods are specific to various Asian populations. In Los Angeles County there's Cambodia Town, Chinatown, Historic Filipinotown, Koreatown, Little Bangladesh, Little India, Little Osaka, Little Tokyo, and Thai Town. Orange County is home to Little Arabia (Arabs being geographically Asian if not -- by most people's reckoning -- racially so), Little Seoul, and Little Saigon -- the latter of which is little in name only.

Continue reading...

The Filipino New School Freestyle Revival

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 5, 2014 06:06pm | Post a Comment

Freestyle is a type of dance-pop music that evolved from Hi-NRG, Electro, and Hip-Hop in the early 1980s — primarily in New York City and specifically the South Bronx. Due to the ethnic and musicological background of some of its producers, performers and many of its fans, Freestyle was originally often referred to as Latin Hip-Hop. After enjoying a period of crossover popularity in the second half of the 1980s, Freestyle stopped being a major musical force in mainstream but was kept alive by a cult largely comprised surprisingly perhaps, largely of Filipinos.


Freestyle CD covers from the Geocities Era

In the early 1980s listeners could still discern the unique cultural contributions that made pre-corporate Hip-Hop a complex Afro-Caribbean-Hellenic-Italo-Teutonic gumbo. The syncopated rhythms of Electro-Funk owed their popularity to Nuyoricans’ central importance in the emerging subculture. Electro-Funk branched into something distinct (what came to be known as Freestyle) in 1982 and ’83, with the release of songs like Planet Patrol’s “Pay At Your Own Risk,” C-Bank’s “Get Wet,” and Shannon’s “Let the Music Play” and the production efforts of figures like John Robie & Arthur Baker, The Latin Rascals, and Mark Liggett & Chris Barbosa.
 

Continue reading...

Sriracha 101: Dispelling myths and misinformation about Sriracha

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 5, 2013 08:40pm | Post a Comment

Huy Fong sriracha (source: NPR)


As much as I try to resist the urge to be a know-it-all (and recognize the fact that I don’t, in fact, even know that much – especially about the very things most worth knowing), occasionally I have to get all Bobby Fletcher (the famous checkersmaster) and drop some science of the sort that's right under your nose. It's 2013 and everyone loves sriracha now, dear but few have their facts straight.



THE RISE IN VIETNAMESE FOOD'S PROFILE


The Hanoi Cooking Center (image source: Global Travel Mate)

In the last decade or so, masses of semi-adventurous, non-Vietnamese Angelenos discovered Vietnamese cuisine. While many non-Vietnamese Asian-Americans had long known about Vietnamese food (and the rooster sauce that is ubiquitous at Southern California Vietnamese restaurants), Vietnamese food's profile skyrocketed when they it when white folks declared it the new Thai.

Overnight these pasty palatal pioneers proclaimed their undying passion for phở (although they oddly defied Vietnamese convention by eating it primarily at lunch and supper times). In American Vietnamese restaurants they first encountered Huy Fong’s sriracha sauce and they eagerly squirted copious amounts of it directly into their soup, obliterating its flavor in the process, showing off their hipness and cluelessness in equal measure. Eventually some of these foodie types discovered bánh mì too, which they probably paid about eight dollars for because they waited for Vietnamese food to come to Silver Lake and Echo Park rather than venture to its natural environs in San Gabriel Valley or North Orange County. Seemingly after every last Angeleno formed an opinion on cock sauce its legend traveled to Houston and New York.



SRIRACHA'S LOUDENING BUZZ

Sriracha’s popularity has skyrocketed in the past few years. Bon Appétit named sriracha “Ingredient of the Year” in 2010. In 2011, Randy Clemens published The Sriracha Cookbook. Illustrator Matthew Inman celebrated the sauce with a comic that included a predictably cod-Asian caption “Sriracha, you are a delicious blessing flavored with the incandescent glow of a thousand dying suns.” In 2012 sriracha was added to the Oxford English Dictionary – making rendering my use of italics unnecessary (although tellingly, spell-check is still unhappy). Griffin Hammond is currently making a documentary about it, Subway offers a "creamy" version of it, it’s been mentioned on The Simpsons, and Lay’s introduced it as a flavor of potato chip. There are sriracha smartphone cases, greeting cards, lip balms, air fresheners, and women’s shoes graced with its image. The bandwagon includes sriracha-inspired memes, Halloween costumes, web comics, and regrettable tattoos.



Like the latest, insurance-shilling, “whoa whoa” singing band of guys in V-necks, Huy Fong has managed to retain hipster cred despite at this point being utterly and completely mainstream -- an American version of a Asian condiment -- analogous to La Choy in the world of soy sauce. I have heard pretentious sorts who, dismayed by the sauce's ubiquity, actually proclaim (tongue-not-apparently-in-cheek) that they "liked sriracha before it was cool." When Hammond's documentary hits YouTube, someone will try to impress older views by commenting that even though they’re only 11 or 12, they like sriracha too (and invariably add that, presumably unlike their peers, they have no use for Justin Bieber/Lil Wayne/Nicki Minaj). Food writers will scamper to discover "the next sriracha."


THE TRADER JOE’S CONTROVERSY


Trader Joe's "sriracha" (source: Cooking with Trader Joe's)

Everything was fine and dandy for most sriracha supports until Trader Joe’s unveiled a hot sauce they dared to call “sriracha.” LA Weekly commenters were particularly aghast. “At least come up with a different name, this is just a shameless imitation,” shrieked one reader. “The original little-guy Sriracha maker is gonna get screwed,” wailed another. Others cried “Accept no substitutes, there is only one original!,” and “Huy Fong forever!!” Generally there was a lot of"wailing and gnashing of teeth that one ypically associates with First World Problems


HUY FONG -- ORIGINAL LITTLE-GUY SRIRACHA MAKER

By now the story of Huy Fong is well known and oft-repeated. It was founded by David Tran, a Hoa immigrant who came to Boston aboard a ship called the Huy Fong. Back in Long Binh, Saigon, Tran began making sauces in 1975 whose bottles he decorated with the image of a rooster – his astrological sign. After relocating to Los Angeles in 1980, he began making his now familiar rooster sauce in Chinatown. He perfected the recipe in 1983 and soon it appeared on nearly every Vietnamese table in the (South)land. To meet the growing demand he expanded and relocated operations to Rosemead in 1987. After non-Vietnamese began to getting addicted to it, Huy Fong moved to an even larger facility in Mordor-like municipality of Irwindale.

Huy Fong has been celebrated by many food writers since. Absolutely Fobulous’s Suzie Leung wrote “we AbFob girls love the Vietnamese hot sauce.” OC Weekly’s Vickie Chang incorrectly wrote that "Siracha was created by 66-year-old David Tran.” A writer at Disgrasian wrote “Huy Fong’s is the O.G. of Sriracha sauces.” OC Weekly’s Michelle Woo even referred to Huf Fong’s factory as “Sriracha ground zero,” and has called Trader Joe’s and other companies' srirachas “imposters.” 




EXPANDING THE WITCH HUNT



Soon vigilant inquisitors discovered even more brands of sauce masquerading as “sriracha.” Food writers James Ho, Jennifer Lai, and Emily Rothschild called Vietnamese company Vi Hao’s version (with a unicorn on the label, blue instead of green cap, and the words “Vi Hao” clearly printed on the container "counterfeit” and warned readers to be vigilant of others.*




THE SRIRACHA TRUTH REVEALED 

I mention these writers' names to show that none are apparently Thai. So what, right? As another teeth-gnasher screamed "Sriachi [sic] is VOTENAMESE [sic] not Thai. Sheesh." The problem is that, in addition to none of the above being Thai, none are correct. Apparently none bothered to do much research on the subject of their passions either. Wikipedia’s earliest entry for “sriracha” appeared in 2006 and began, “Sriracha is the generic name for a Southeast Asian hot sauce from Thailand, although one of the most famous brands is American. It is named after the seaside town Si Racha, where it was first produced as a local product.” Not that you should trust everything that you read on Wikipedia or anywhere else but in this case, that information is correct.



Years ago my neighbors the Banphaburuts told me that sriracha was a Thai sauce and not Vietnamese (or Vietnamese-American). I had my doubts. I'd never seen sriracha at any Thai restaurant and the bottle says right there in Vietnamese, “Tương Ớt Sriracha.” I reviewed my limited knowledge of the Vietnamese and Thai languages. “Sriracha” sounds nothing like any Vietnamese word in my limited vocabulary (which is about the equivalent of that of a slightly slow Vietnamese two-year-old) and does sound rather a lot like Thai (though my Thai vocabulary consists of little more than numbers, pronouns and a few key words like "spicy" and "ladyboy"). Knowing that not everything appropriated by Vietnamese culture is Vietnamese in origin (e.g. cognac and Italo-disco), I was without much difficulty able to overcome my cognitive dissonance. 




SRIRACHA'S REAL GROUND ZERO


source: Thai Smile

It seems somewhat likely that no one person can truthfully claim to have single-handedly invented sriracha any more than anyone could, say, do the same with ketchup (which, interestingly, also emerged from Southeast Asia). Si Racha (ศรีราชา), is a town in Thailand’s Chonburi Province. If any one person can claim legitimately claim to have invented it, it’s probably Thanom Chakkapak, who began selling her Sriraja Panich over 80 years ago. It was mostly used as a dipping sauce for seafood (in other words, she probably didn’t squirt it into phở). Sriraja Panich is still manufactured today, although it was acquired by a larger company (Thai Theparos -- makers of also great Golden Mountain sauce) in 1984.


                                                                          ^^


Since there are few things in this word better than Thai food, I began seeking out more varieties of Thai srirachas. In general I find that Thai srirachas tend to be sweeter, tangier, often hotter, and generally have a more complex flavor profile than Huy Fong’s Americanized version (which Tran, it should be noted, has never claimed to be the original sriracha -- unlike most of those who write about him). There are numerous other brands made in China, GermanyIndonesia, Japan, The Philippines, Vietnam and of course, Thailand. Other popular Thai brands include Crying Tiger, Double Rooster, Flying Goose, Grand Mountain, Green Mountain, Por Kwan, and Uni Eagle. In Los Angeles, Thai markets like Silom in Thai Town or LAX-C in Dogtown (or pan-Asian Ranch 99 Supermarket which has locations in Anaheim, Arcadia, Artesia, Buena Park, Gardena, Hacienda Heights, Monterey Park, San Gabriel, and Van Nuys) carry other varieties – in addition to Huy Fong.


THERE CAN’T BE ONLY ONE


Huy Fong will likely remain synonymous with sriracha in the way Band-Aids, Coke, Jello, Kleenex, and Xerox are with their associated products. It's actually a fine sauce, I reckon, and I probably wouldn't have bothered to write this post if I didn't think that hot sauce fans could benefit from more varieties in their lives (and if so many of the writers and commenters weren't -- in addition to being wrong -- so damned shrill and sanctimonious!)

Branch out, make your own, and get your facts straight before leaving comments -- especially misspelled, mis-informed, and in all-caps. Better yet, don't comment. And for heaven’s sake don’t limit your hot sauce stock to just sriracha. As the saying goes, “no man can live on sriracha alone!” Try some Tapatio, freak out on some Frank's, jump on Jufran and for God's sake don't get tattoos of fleetingly faddish condiments.


*Huy Fong has been the victim of counterfeit although unless something other than Huy Fong is pretending to be Huy Fong (which Vi Hao isn’t) then it’s no more counterfeit than Hunt’s ketchup is a counterfeit of Heinz or Puffs is a counterfeit of Kleenex.

*****

Happy Birthday Wah Ming Chang -- Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 21, 2013 03:13pm | Post a Comment

Wah Chang
was a Chinese-American artist and prop designer. Today he’s most recognized for his iconic designs on the television series Star Trek. He was born on this day in 1917 and with that in mind, it being Asian-Pacific Heritage Month, me planning on going to see the Star Trek Into Darkness tonight, and The Wrath of Khan on in the background, now seems like a good time to reflect on his genius.


EARLY LIFE

Wah Ming Chang (鄭華明) was born 2 August, 1917 in Honolulu, when Hawai’i was still a territory. His father, Dai Song Chang, owned an art store and framing gallery. The Chang family moved to San Francisco in 1919 and the parents opened Ho Ho Tea Room on 315 Sutter Street, which quickly became a popular hangout for artists and bohemians. Wah’s mother, Fai Sue, was an artist and graduate of the California School of Arts and Crafts. As a young child, Wah also displayed a talent for art and at seven, he began a tutelage under artist Blanding Sloan. Wah had his first solo gallery show when he was just nine years old. His mother passed away when he was eleven and his father moved to Europe, leaving the child with Sloan and his wife, Mildred Taylor. Taylor, was a feminist writer, organizer and lecturer who in the 1920s displayed a strikingly non-stereotypical interest in East Asian cultures. Taylor introduced Wah to puppet-making, a skill which he would employ when he eventually began working in film.

After attending the Peninsula School of Creative Education in Menlo Park on a scholarship, the family (including Chang) moved to Los Angeles. At sixteen, Chang worked as a set designer for shows at the Hollywood Bowl. In 1936 the family moved back to Sloan’s home state of Texas. Chang worked with Sloan before starting his own business. After the business closed, Chang returned to Hollywood. Upon news of his father’s remarrying, Chang joined him for a year in Honolulu before moving once again to San Francisco.


AT WALT DISNEY

At just 21 years old, Chang began working for Walt Disney in 1940, when he worked on character designs for Pinocchio and Fantasia (both 1940). After their release, Chang was contracted polio and was sidelined by extended hospitalization and the temporary loss of the use of both legs. In 1941, after regaining the ability to walk, Chang married Glen Taylor in Texas (at the time marriage between Chinese and whites was against California law). In 1942 he worked on Bambi with another great Chinese-American artist, Tyrus Wong.


AFTER DISNEY

He left Disney afterward and began a working relationship with director George Pal, beginning with the film Tulips Shall Grow (1942). In 1945, with Gene Warren, he created his own production company. In 1947 he worked as the cinematographer and producer on the animated The Way of Peace (a collaboration with Sloan) and contributed the Puppetoon section of The Variety Girl (also 1947).


CENTAUR PRODUCTIONS




Again working with Warren, Chang next formed Centaur Productions, which made commercials, costumes, props, and toys. They also worked on Hardrock, Coco and Joe: The Three Little Dwarfs (1951) and Suzy Snowflake (1953).


MONSTER MOVIES



Besides making children’s cartoons and animating Christian parables, Chang worked un-credited on several B-movies. He created the spider puppets for Cat-Women of the Moon (1953) and Tarantula (1955). Keeping with the arachnida theme, he also designed titular Black Scorpion (1958). He also designed the mutated wasps from Monster from Green Hell (1957).


PROJECT UNLIMITED & GEORGE PAL

Though its name sounds like an early ‘90s Eurodance group, Project Unlimited, Inc was another company formed by Chang, Warren and Tim Baar in 1956. Together they designed costumes, make-up, puppets, sets, and special effects, notably for George Pal’s Tom Thumb (1958), The Time Machine (1960), Atlantis, the Lost Continent (1961), and The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962). The company won Academy Awards for its work on The Time Machine.



OTHER EARLY WORK

Other key work done by Chang included on films such as The Lady Says No (1951), The King and I (1956), Spartacus (1960), Can-Can (1960), La vendetta di Ercole (1960 – released in the US as Goliath and the Dragon), Master of the World (1961), Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), Voyage to the Seventh Planet (1962), Cleopatra (1963), and 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964).


WORK IN TELEVISION & STAR TREK


Chang’s first work on television was for the sci-fi anthology series, The Outer Limits (1963-1965), where he worked for future Star Trek associate producer Robert H. Justman.



Chang was first hired to work on Star Trek in 1964, handling make-up and props on the (first) pilot episode, “The Cage.” He designed the look of the Talosians and the pre-phaser laser pistols used by the crew of the Enterprise. Star Trek wasn't picked up until after a second pilot was filmed in 1965. Star Trek finally debuted in 1966. Chang was once again hired and put to work. He redesigned the phaser. He designed the Starfleet tricorder and communicator. His flip-top design was remarkably similar to my Motorola flip phones of the 1990s (my current phone, thanks to an app, looks even more like Chang’s communicator. He also designed Balok and his ship, the Gorn, the giant from “The Galileo Seven,” the neural parasites from “Operation: Annihilate!,” the Romulan Bird of Prey (and the Romulan helmets), the M-113 Creature, the Vulcan lute, and Tribbles. After “The Trouble With Tribbles,” Chang was let go.


AFTER STAR TREK




After his stint on Star Trek ended, Chang returned to film work, working on Planet of the Apes (1968), The Power (1968), Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968), and Big Daddy (1969).

In 1970, the Chang family left Altadena and moved to Caramel-by-the-Sea, where Chang designed and built their new home. Chang returned to production – and began directing – with Dinosaurs, the Terrible Lizards but primarily focused on sculpting. The following year he worked on The Mephisto Waltz. In 1974 he directed and produced Alphabet Roll Call. He returned to TV designing models for Land of the Lost (1974-1975). In 1985 he directed Magic Pony. In 1987, he worked as a creative artist on The Puppetoon Movie.


LATER YEARS

Life and Sculpture of Wah Ming Chang

Although most of Chang’s work had been done in anonymity, fans and film historians began to reappraise his contributions and he appeared a couple of documentaries, appearing in The Fantasy Film Worlds of George Pal (1985) and Time Machine: The Journey Back (1993). In 1987 he sculpted, on commission, four life-size bronze sculptures of Dennis the Menace. In 1989, Chang published a book, Life and Sculpture of Wah Ming Chang, co-authored with David Barrow. In 1994, Chang was awarded the George Pal Memorial Award by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror. In 1995 he was the subject of Wah Ming Chang: Artist and Master of Special Effects.

After Glen passed away, Chang began a relationship with Virginia Park. In 2003, the Chinese Historical Society of America exhibited Chang’s and Tyrus Wong’s work. Six days before the end of the exhibit, Chang passed away on 22 December,2003 (age 86) at his home.

For a far more in-depth account of Chang's life and work, click here!

*****


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