Monday, November 23, 2015

Flushing Update

As I wrote a couple of years ago in my Menuism article on Flushing Chinatown, Flushing's Chinatown is the most vibrant Chinatown in the United States, making it one of my most favorite Chinese communities.  Unlike touristy Chinatowns that roll up the carpet earlier in the evening, the streets of Flushing remains full of activity well until late at night, and without the gift and souvenir shops and other tourist trappings that mar other Chinatowns.

Since it had been two years since my last visit to Flushing, I was pleased to be able to take a long lunch break while working in Manhattan and take the 7 train to Flushing.  So much had changed in Flushing in just two years.  One Fulton Square, the retail and hotel complex which was under construction during my last visit (and which I remember from my first Flushing visit 20 years ago as being the semi-paved and somewhat sketchy parking lot to Golden River Restaurant) was complete and in full swing.  Meanwhile, across the street, Flushing Mall, which was constructed after my first visit to Flushing, but which had the ambiance of something built in the mid-20th century, was in the process of being torn down.

Perhaps the main attraction for me was to see the recently opened New York Food Court on Roosevelt St.  With roughly 20 spaces, I was surprised to find a new eatery operating at each space. This was truly amazing given that the New World Mall with its 30 or so eateries had opened up just three years previously.  True, the closing of Flushing Mall did eliminate the occupants of that mall's food court.  But when you take into account the fact that New World Mall, New York Food Court, and the Golden Mall combined play host to over sixty eateries, that is truly mind boggling as that number of restaurants is by itself half as many as all of the Chinese restaurants in San Francisco Chinatown.

I was quite intrigued by the recently opened Happy Food Court on Main St., taking over the location formerly occupied by Corner 28 and it's mini-Peking duck bites.  Food court might be a misnomer since this is a single restaurant operation.  But then again maybe it isn't because there are nearly as many food choices here as you find in a legitimate multi-tenant food court.  

One thing that made me especially happy was finally being able to find my single most favorite Chinese dish, fish dumplings, in New York.  Fish dumplings came to Los Angeles more than a dozen years ago, and since being introduced have spread widely throughout the Los Angeles and San Francisco Chinese communities.  But as if to validate my comment from a few years ago that New York Chinese food is still stuck in the 20th century, fish dumplings were unavailable and unheard of in New York, with the closest thing I previously found being the fish won ton at New Bo Ky in Manhattan Chinatown.  However earlier this year a tipster sent me a note that a new restaurant called Dumpling Galaxy was serving fish dumplings on Main St.   Unfortunately my lunch break time did not stretch long enough for me to visit Dumpling Galaxy.  But as I was making the rounds at New World Mall to see what may have changed in the past two years, there I saw the sign touting fish dumplings at Szechuan Dish in stall #25.  Light and fluffy as just as good as back home in Los Angeles!

A couple of other things worth noting at New World Mall.  There was a lot of turnover in the lineup at the mall from my last visit there.  In addition, I noticed that a lot of the eateries there now had Chinese language only signage.  (I found this distressing since how could I catalog a restaurant for my Chinese restaurant spreadsheet if it didn't have any English language signage?).  Chinese only signage isn't normally an issue since Chinese businesses throughout the United States generally are required to have an English language name for public safety purposes (i.e., so non-Chinese police and fire responders know where they're going).  But that's not an issue when you're in an enclosed food court.  And aside from Flushing, Chinese food courts are not particularly common in the United States.

I don't get to Flushing as often as I like.  The food doesn't match up to that in the San Gabriel Valley, but it's the most exciting Chinatown in the US because it's a true community that doesn't go to sleep with the chickens.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thank You, NIMBYs

Los Angeles is a wonderful place to live.  With the climate, geography, glamour and amenities it's no wonder that people from all over the world, from rich Chinese and other investors, to pro athletes who don't play for LA teams, have been flocking here.  But there are downsides to living in paradise.  Housing costs are incredibly high, traffic congestion is ridiculous (it takes my co-worker about 2 hours each way to commute a little over 20 miles), and people are forced to live long distances from where they work.  Interestingly,  the three problems I just mentioned have all been greatly acerbated by the "activist" community.  Typically we think of activists as being progressive and standing up for the little guy.  And in the case of NIMBY (not in my back yard) activists, they think they are taking that path.  But in the way the world really works, they have created a world 180 degrees apart from what they intend.

The latest act of NIMBYism was just chronicled in the newspaper, where activists are pushing a ballot measure that would have the effect of stopping high rise residential construction in Hollywood.  The idea behind the construction boom is to build high rise apartment buildings near transit stops is to move people off the freeways and onto public transit, to ease the housing shortage which makes rents and home prices so high, and to generally revitalize the center part of the city.  But the activists want nothing of this, saying high rise residential construction will destroy the character of their neighborhoods.  Now if there were just one group in NIMBYs in town there wouldn’t be a societal problem.  But there are NIMBYs all over Los Angeles, creating what is referred to as high barriers to entry for the development of new residential housing in Los Angeles.   This NIMBY created restriction on the supply of housing means a shortage of housing, high prices, and long commutes for people who are relegated to moving into the boondocks in search of affordable housing.

Indeed, the contrast between housing supply and prices in places like Los Angeles and San Francisco, as opposed to parts of the country, like Texas, where there are no restrictions or opposition to the development of new housing stock, and developers are free to build new projects, is stark.  I remember being on vacation a few years ago and having breakfast at Denny’s.  I was talking to my waiter and learned that he was originally from Los Angeles, but left because of the high cost of housing.  His next revelation floored me.  He had just bought a three bedroom house with a pool.  On his salary from Denny’s.  Of course there is a flip side to living in a city where there is a plentiful housing supply.  The value of your house will only keep up with inflation, and generally not appreciate above that rate.  In contrast my house in Los Angeles is worth at least four times what I paid for it.  Oh wait.  Thank you, NIMBYs.  I love you.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The David R. Chan Collection at Stanford University

You could imagine my surprise last night when I stumbled upon a reference on the internet to the David R. Chan Collection at Stanford University.  The two most likely reactions are (1) it's a joke or (2) it's another David R. Chan.  But, as it turns out, the reference really is to yours truly.  Now I have no real connection to Stanford aside from the fact that I dropped a big bundle there sending my son to law school on The Farm.  So obviously there's a twisted path here.

As I have previously written, I was finishing my undergraduate studies at UCLA right at the time that the formal study of the history of the Chinese in the United States was just beginning.  I hadn't even dreamed of logging in Chinese restaurant visits back then, but I was always a collector of things.  And back then, materials on the Chinese experience in America were so precious that I tried collect everything I could on the topic.  I spent probably hundreds of hours photocopying articles, and even books, from the UCLA library, and I subscribed to any English language Chinese American publication I could get my hands on, including the weekly East West newspaper out of San Francisco.

Of course after the years things really piled up, particularly the newspapers.  In a way it was fortunate that East West ceased publication in the 1980s, stopping further additions to that collection.  The historian in me prevented me from tossing the newspapers out, but I didn't want to be stuck with storing them forever.  I approached the UCLA Asian American Studies Library about taking the newspapers, and they were receptive, saying they would get back to me.  However they never did.  Meanwhile, my daughter enrolled at UCLA so I sent her to the Asian American Studies Library to follow up.  She actually found the person I had spoken with a few years previously (who had gone on medical leave in the interim), who was again receptive.  But once again there was no follow up.

A few years later my son moved to the Bay Area to go to law school.  At the same time, the Chinese Historical Society of America in San Francisco hired their first professional curator, Anna Naruta, and I told her about my newspaper collection.  Anna said there was no known collection of East West newspapers (only a curator would know that) and that CHSA would gladly take them.  Of course there's the question of how you transfer 20 years of newspapers from my house in Los Angeles to the CHSA building on Clay St. in Chinatown.  Now I always did look for excuses to visit the Bay Area, and with my son in school there, I had the perfect excuse to regularly drive north.  Indeed in three years of law school, I made the trek 18 times.  And during 2006 and 2007, a number of those trips were made with boxes of newspapers in my trunk.  Actually, the hard part was the parking in S.F. Chinatown.  Basically there isn't any.  On some occasions Anna gave me access to a parking spot on their premises.  But when Anna wasn't around, I was reduced to carrying the newspapers from my car parked at the Royal Pacific Motor Inn on Broadway to the CHSA building five blocks away.

After delivering the newspapers (and receiving my charitable contribution tax receipt) I didn't give any further thought to the newspapers except to be glad to have found a good home for them.  Consequently it was a bolt out of the blue when I saw the "David R. Chan Collection" referred to in the latest CHSA Bulletin, announcing that Stanford University Library was making available four listed CHSA  "archival collections to researchers, in its Department of Special Collections in Green Library", which had apparently been transferred by CHSA to Stanford some time before.  (It would have been nice if somebody had told me what was going on.)    But I'm happy to make this contribution to academic research.  And happy as I am at this turn of events, I have one regret.  I probably should have taken a larger charitable contribution deduction in 2006 and 2007.