Most people who live in LA know about Chinatown, which is downtown near Dodger Stadium. But that’s the old Chinatown.
The new area that has a very dense population of Chinese people is in the Alhambra area. As soon as you get there the businesses have signs in Chinese, there are numerous Chinese supermarkets, and of course countless restaurants. One place we like to go is Mama Lu’s Dumpling House.
It is always crowded and there is always a wait, but the food is cheap, tremendously good, and the portions are monstrous. There is always a smattering of non-Chinese customers, but the giant TVs on the wall all play Chinese movies or TV shows and the sound of Chinese predominates. Families are often there celebrating birthdays, the table spread with so much food it almost hurts to look at it.
The family wanted to have dinner there, so we went and stuffed ourselves. I figured that with my upcoming trip it made sense to eat as much Chinese food as I could. So I did.
One of the great things about leaving the #socmed grid is that I have become less and less tethered to the other parts of the digital grid as well. Although it’s hardly an adventure into uncharted territory, going off to Kunming for a week without a phone or laptop seems daring. That’s how much things have changed. I still remember arriving in Tokyo on January 15, 1987 and it didn’t seem daring at all to travel without a cell phone because they didn’t exist.
When you took a trip, part of the deal was that you were going to be incommunicado except for postcards and emergency phone calls if you had to make them–phone calls made from a phone booth. Remember those?
As the trip has gotten closer it has seemed more and more like an untethering, although in reality it is a pretty ordinary trip. Millions of people fly to Kunming every year. There is no unexplored part of China, and there hasn’t been for about 5,000 years or so, maybe a lot more.
Since I knew I’d be without a phone I spent some time memorizing the subway lines, which are very simple, and it reinforced how helpful it is to be able to read Chinese. For the last couple of years I’ve been slogging away at the language, the area I’ve thought was the least important but that I nonetheless kept hacking away at, reading, turns out to be, I think, the most important.
Unlike other recent trips, I’m also traveling without a bike. It’s amazing how little you need when you are traveling alone and without a sports toy. A few pairs of socks, underwear, t-shirts, tooth equipment and razors, pen and notepads, passport, cash, a couple of credit cards, and you’re good to go.
When I get there I’ll try to rent a bike. Rental bikes are ubiquitous but you have to use a phone and an account with Ali-Pay or WeChat, so it’s possible I’ll just be walking, riding the bus, and riding the train.
Have you ever wanted to do something all your life, and then when the time actually comes to do it, you get nervous, and are even a little bit unsure about whether you really want to do it? That’s kind of how I feel. I took Chinese in college and even had a job offer from the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, but other things intervened. After traveling to Japan, China always seemed like the next logical and exciting and interesting step.
But I never took it.
Now I’m on the cusp of getting on the plane and am nervous, not so much about the trip but about whether it will live up to my expectations, which is weird because I don’t have any. My only travel plans so far are:
- Go shopping for razor blades for my razor.
- Get a haircut.
- Visit a few bookstores.
- Visit a few bike shops.
- Take a day trip to Puer and buy some tea.
The haircut might be the best part. We’ll see.
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