My family and I immigrated to America when I was 7 years old. I remembered being confused as I thought we were on a vacation—a temporary stay in an unfamiliar place but at the end of the week, we'll be back at home in Hong Kong.
According to old photos, it certainly wasn't the first time as there were numerous photos of me in Disneyland with Mickey and his pals from years past and faint memories of oranges and time spent with my grandparents. Except, this time around, there were tears, cardboard boxes and packing tape.
The move finally dawned on me as we moved in with my grandparents in a tiny apartment (which I thought was enormous—coming from HK) above my grandpa's book store on Chung King Road. As my parents looked for a house in the suburbs, I attended Castelar Elementary during the day and spent the rest of my time reading Old Master Q comics in my grandpa's bookstore.
When my parents found a house in sleepy Temple City four months after, we moved once again. In the years that followed, I struggled to learn English and fitting in. For the first time, I wasn't the smartest in class but rather one of the slowest. I took comfort in art as that was the only subject that didn't require an understanding in English.
I also distanced myself from my culture in order to be more "American." In a way, my life was a mirror of Chung King Road. There used to be bustling Chinese shops all opened along the road, then one day, a lone art gallery sprung up to replace a martial arts school. Then another, and another. The most significant change being my grandpa's bookstore—when he passed away, my grandma sold the space and in the span of a few months, almost all traces were wiped clean with a fresh coat of white paint and a few avant garde paintings.
Life went on and I went on to study fine arts at the University of Southern California. Then explored the world of fashion, food and design after graduating—still trying to find my place in this world!
For years, I didn't think much of Chinatown, until a chance call this past May from Amanda, my client for design from when I was an undergrad. We swapped stories and she asked if I was interested in branding Chinatown Summer Nights—a month long event in August produced by Community Arts Resources (CARS) and the Community Redevelopment Agency of LA (CRA/LA) in efforts to bring life back to the lethargic Chinatown.
It was a project I couldn't pass up. Not only is it a designer's dream to brand an entire event, but this was the perfect opportunity to reconnect with my roots.
The day after the contracts were signed, I dragged my then date, now boyfriend Lucky to Chinatown and spent the better part of the day exploring the town and snapping photos.
There was a certain beauty that I haven't paid attention to before—the faded candy colors, the kitschy neons and the paper lanterns. When I finally made my initial sketches, I wanted to convey the essence of that beauty to others. The color palette were drawn from the paint on the actual buildings, the typefaces inspired by the neon store signs and the logo a mix of neon and Chinese writing seals.
It was one of the most challenging projects I've finished thus far. The first being the sheer scale and the lack of time available to accomplish it. It was also the first project where I learned to manage programmers—designing for the web is a completely different beast than print! But mostly, it was an extremely personal project because of the history I've had with Chinatown.
Got to visit the event on 2 separate occasions and was surprised each time to see how well received the event was. It's definitely heartening to see Chinatown lively and buzzing—kudos to CARS, CRA/LA, as well as all the community organizations that came together to put Chinatown Summer Nights together.
Also, got to admit, it's a big boost to the old ego to see my maps, directory and logo everywhere—even when it's above a bathroom sign!
And of course, the food…
Not only were there food trucks galore at CSN—to which I tried the poutine at Frysmith, Papa's Tapas, Lomo Arigato and Patty Wagon—they were also entertaining cooking demos with numerous Chinatown restaurants and amusing emcees. One such was the vivacious Next Food Network star Doreen Fang as she, with the help of the Miss Chinatown Queen and Princess as they touted the beauty benefits of eating fish maw (aka stomach).
Here are more food from CSN:
Poutine with bacon gravy at Frysmith. Unfortunately a letdown with room temperature, bland gravy and too high expectations. Quite enjoyed the squeaky cheese curds though!
La Vie en Rose Burger at Patty Wagon. Hearty buns, robust Gruyère, juicy patty and sweet caramelized onions. Doesn't get better than this.
Free salt & pepper crab claw at the cooking demo. Hard to eat without the proper tools but solidly prepared.
Tallarin Saltado at Lomo Arigato. Generously sized with a good sodium kick. Don't forget the Aji Verde sauce!
Paella at Papa's Tapas. Healthiest of the bunch with the side salad but the rice was too gummy—tasted as if it was cooking for the entire day (most likely).
Can't wait to check out CSN again next year!