Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Little Saigon, U.S.A.

There are many Little Saigons in the U.S., but the one I'm talking about is in Orange County, California. Located about 45 minutes south of LA, Little Saigon O.C. is centered around Bolsa Avenue in Westminster, a city where, according to the 2000 census, Vietnamese Americans constituted 30.7% of the population.

Little Saigon, or Bolsa (as it is more commonly called), is probably a lot like a suburban Chinatown that you've been to. There are big Asian supermarkets and lots of jewelry, fabric, music and electronics stores and travel agencies. There are Vietnamese cafes and restaurants everywhere you look, as well as a healthy dose of pharmacies, dentists, lawyers and doctors.

Bolsa is about an hour north of Camp Pendleton (near San Diego), which is a marine base that served as a point of entry for many Vietnamese refugees in 1975. Camp Pendleton was one of three bases that housed refugees as part of the U.S. resettlement program (the others were in Arkansas and Florida). The refugee camps were intentionally far apart to prevent newly arrived Vietnamese from clustering together in "ghettos."

By the mid-eighties, Bolsa Avenue was already bumping as a Little Saigon, although a much smaller version of what it is today. As the community continues to grow and thrive, Vietnamese Americans are becoming more politically active. A few hold elected office in Westminster and neighboring Garden Grove and John McCain and the Arnold have paid visits to the area (the latter most recently this Fall during his special election campaign).

Of course, Little Saigon is not without its intrigue. Recently, a mysterious counterfeit sriracha sauce (the red chili sauce in the rooster bottle that is found in all Vietnamese refrigerators) has appeared on the shelves of the Asian markets. The packaging has been copied to a tee, although aficionados know a fake when they taste one (my dad once told my mom that she bought the "wrong" bottle). Apparently, the perpetrators may have been caught because my dad has not tasted a fake in a while.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Someone Put a Bra on My Car

I'm not talking about the kind that guys stretch over the headlights of their sports car (ewe). Or the kind in this picture (thank God). But a real woman's bra, wrapped around the driver's side door handle. What the hell's going on here? Has anyone heard of this sort of thing? Some sicko put it there overnight and I found it when I got in my car to go to work. Is it the 21st century equivalent of tp'ing a house? Sick and gross.

Monday, November 28, 2005


"In response to the growing violence and anti-American sentiments in Iraq, the conscription of American young men is needed, says a rhododendron on the West side of UC Berkeley Campus.

The bush shouted his right wing sentiments as loud as he could, but was only heard by what he calls, "tree hugging pussies."

The listeners in question called the bush a racist and went on to continue their veganism with an added zeal."

~ From UC Berkeley's humor magazine, Heuristic Squelch.

Yay, Blondie!

Cheers to Blondie, one of the 2006 inductees into the Rock Hall. Debbie Harry turned 60 this year, and she still rocks.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Battle Royale: Train vs. Elephant

Train Wins.

In Assam, India, a train rammed into a wild Asian elephant, dragging it over a mile and causing it to bleed to death. The male, tuskless elephant was one of a herd crossing railroad tracks in a well-known "elephant corridor." Locals fear that the herd, which has been trumpeting frequently, will return to look for the elephant. I'll spare you the graphic picture, but if you want to see, click here. Sadly, elephant death by train is not uncommon. Over 50 elephants have been killed by trains in the last three years.

Elephants are one of the most beloved animals on earth. Kids and adults alike love them. Some cultures worship them. And why not? They're unlike any other animal. Mothers carry their babies for 22 months, calves weigh about 225 pounds at birth, they live to be about 70 years, they don't eat meat, females lead the herd, they have exceptional memories and they mourn their dead.

That said, elephants kill 300-400 people a year. In a National Geographic Channel Explorer special called "Elephant Rage," scientists theorized that this is due to the fact that elephants are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We know that humans mistreat elephants in many ways and are continuing to encroach on elephant habitat and destroy their food sources. Where are these big animals to go?

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Interstate 10

Interstate 10 is one of three U.S. highways that go all the way from one coast to the other (the others being Interstate 80 and 90). The 10 begins in LA, and passes through Phoenix, San Antonio, New Orleans, Mobile and Jacksonville. It's 2,490 miles long and has many names. Near its western terminus in Santa Monica there is a sign declaring it the Christopher Columbus Transcontinental Highway. In LA, it's more commonly called the Santa Monica Freeway. In Palm Springs, it's the Sonny Bono Memorial Highway. It's also known as the Pearl Harbor Memorial Highway (Arizona and Jacksonville), the Papago Freeway (Phoenix), the Katy Freeway (Katy, outside Houston) and the Stephen Ambrose Memorial Highway (parts of Louisiana and Mississippi).
Planning for an interstate system began in the 1930s and was officially authorized and funded by Congress in the 1950s. The U.S. automobile industry lobbied for it and President Eisenhower supported it. Chances are, you live by an interstate, and may use one every day. Construction on the interstate system continues, but it was officially completed in 1991. As of 2004, the system covered over 42,700 miles.

Friday, November 25, 2005


After watching I Love the 80s on VH1, I've decided that 1984 is hands down the best pop culture year of the 80s. From music (Prince, Huey Lewis, Van Halen to Madonna, Wham! and Cyndi Lauper) to movies (Ghostbusters, Gremlins and Footloose) to clothes (Madonna's ripped lace Desperately Seeking Susan look to jelly shoes, Guess? and stonewash jeans) to toys (Atari, Transformers and Glo Worm), it was a huge year. Some other facts about 1984, from Wikipedia:

January 23: Hulk Hogan defeats The Iron Sheik.
January 24: The first Apple Macintosh goes on sale.
January 28: Michael Jackson's hair catches fire while shooting a Pepsi commercial.
June 22: Inaugural flight of Virgin Atlantic.
July 23: Vanessa Williams surrenders her Miss America crown.
July 28: Opening day of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Soviets boycott.
November 2: U.S. executes first woman since 1962.
December 3: Union Carbide leak in Bhopal, India kills thousands.
December 22: On the subway in The Bronx, four black youths attempt to rob Bernhard Goetz. Goetz shoots them. The event sparks a national debate about urban crime.
Unknown Date: Ethiopian famine begins.

Other Big Movies: Beverly Hills Cop, The Karate Kid, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Nightmare on Elm Street.
Big Albums: Purple Rain, Born in the U.S.A., 1984, Like a Virgin. Run DMC becomes the first rap group to have a gold record.
On TV: The Cosby Show (debuts), Punky Brewster, Miami Vice, Webster.
Deaths: Johnny Weismuller, Jackie Coogan, Francois Truffaut, Michel Foucault, Count Basie, Ansel Adams.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Turkeygate Avoided

This year's pardoned turkey, Marshmallow, is special. For the last 15 years, the lucky pardoned turkey gets sent to a petting zoo called Frying Pan Park in suburban Virginia. Not Marshmallow. Thanks to a PETA letter campaign saying that Frying Pan Park was a substandard place for turkeys, our President decided to avoid yet another publicity disaster by sending Marshmallow and his stand-in, Yam, to Disneyland!

To say that life is good for Marshmallow and Yam is an understatement. They flew first class on United to California and will be grand marshals in Disneyland's Thanksgiving Parade. They will live the rest of their lives in Santa's reindeer ranch in Frontierland.

We know that Marshmallow and Yam will have a great Thanksgiving, here's hoping you will, too.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Porn in the Corn

A porno controversy has sprouted in the cornstalks of Not a Cornfield. How can this be? "Not a Cornfield" is an urban project that has transformed a 32-acre brownfield site (just north of Chinatown in downtown LA) into a large cornfield. The cornstalks, leaves and husks will be made into recyclable materials and most of the ears will be used to make ethanol. The cornfield doubles as a family-friendly, public art space where music is performed and movies are shown on weekends. To top it off, the nighttime view of downtown LA rising from behind the cornfield is one of the most bizarre and wonderful things I've seen in LA yet.

So under these noble and public-minded intentions, you can imagine my surprise and befuddlement to hear that an experimental filmmaker, one Aaron Landy, has been accused of filming pornos amid our fair cornstalks. Landy denies any malfeasance. He asserts that he was filming a dancer in a "colorful, flowing gown," but Not a Cornfield's manager says that there was definitely nudity involved.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Chavez Ravine

I first heard about Chavez Ravine when the NY Times ran a positive review of the Ry Cooder album of the same name. Little did I know that Chavez Ravine is the site of Dodger Stadium or, more accurately, the name of the Mexican village that lies beneath the stadium.

I drive by Dodger Stadium on my way to work every day. It's a few miles from downtown, off Sunset Boulevard. For decades, Chavez Ravine was a self-sufficient Mexican community, until the 1950's when the city marked the area for redevelopment and used the power of eminent domain to push the residents out of their homes. The city tried to entice residents by offering them new digs once the massive housing project, to be called Elysian Park Heights, was completed. The project would include high rise apartment buildings, schools and playgrounds. Some residents resisted, but eventually gave in, some receiving little or no money for their property.

What followed was a protracted battle between city supporters of the project and its opponents, which included corporate interests and anti-commies who saw the project as a socialist scheme. Ultimately, city officials decided that a fast-growing LA needed its own sports team and struck a deal to bring the Brooklyn Dodgers to LA. As Frank Wilkinson, an official in the LA City Housing Authority and a supporter of Elysian Park Heights, said, “We’d spent millions of dollars getting ready for it, and the Dodgers picked it up for just a fraction of that. It was just a tragedy for the people, and from the city it was the most hypocritical thing that could possibly happen.” The construction of Dodger Stadium continued to be a major controversy, with accusations of public bribes and betrayal, but it finally opened in 1962.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

That's Like Totally Rad, Dude

When did we stop saying "rad"? When I first moved to Southern Cali in the 1980s, everyone was saying that everything was rad. Now nobody does. Was that a surfer term that made its way into casual convo and quietly disappeared when kids stopped wearing Gotcha and OP? We need to bring rad back into circulation, what with surfwear coming back into style (I think). Are you with me???

Friday, November 18, 2005

What's Doin' in Huntington Beach?

We all know about the surfers and the beach volleyball players, but apparently Surf City, U.S.A. also has hot rods. As profiled in the NY Times Travel Section this week, there's a casual gathering called the Donut Derelicts Car Show every Saturday morning at the intersection of Adams and Magnolia.

Chanchow Eats: Z is for Zankou

In an unassuming strip mall in Hollywood, at the corner of Sunset and Normandie, sits Zankou Chicken. The family-owned restaurant opened in LA in 1984, after the original Zankou location closed in Beirut after twenty some years of operation. Since 1984, Zankou Chicken has fed those newly initiated to LA like myself, as well as native and long time Angelenos.

I can't say if everything on the menu is great because I've only had one thing: the 1/4 roasted chicken, white meat, which comes with a small but potent cup of garlic sauce on the side. The chicken is just right, skin crispy and meat juicy. But the star attraction is the garlic sauce. As food critic Jonathan Gold writes, "Nothing on heaven or on Earth may be as severe as the Armenian garlic sauce served at Zankou Chicken, a fierce, blinding-white paste the texture of pureed horseradish that scents your car, sears the back of your throat, and whose powerful aroma can stay in your head- and you car-- for days... Go ahead, Ultra Brite; go ahead, Lavoris; go ahead, CarFreshener: My money's on the sauce. It's also good with chicken."

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

I found out

Lost is on tonight, so I had to make an executive decision whether to find out who died last week and watch tonight's episode, or be very monastic and wait for the second season to come out on DVD in ten months. After making a list of the pros and cons, I decided to stay current (i.e., give in to my curiosity) and check on Television Without Pity who died. I won't spoil it for those of you who are holding out. Now I can go home, light my pipe and watch the show.

You know it... You tell the story...

We proud California Bears are getting ready to smear Stanford at the 108th Big Game this weekend. We have been on a roll since 2002, and that's a long time for us.

As you may know, our mascot, Oski the bear, was named after a popular turn-of-the-(20th) century cheer. Let's say it together:

Oski! Wow-Wow! Whisky! Wee-Wee! Olee Muckie-Eye! Olee Berkeley-Eye! California! Wow!

Post-Game Update: Cal did smear Stanford: 27-3. Nicely done!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Los Angeles 2016

No, it's not a movie. It's LA's bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. I had no idea until I saw a man wearing an "LA 2016" pin on his suit. I have fond memories of the last time LA hosted the summer games, in 1984. Who can forget Mary Lou Retton and Tim Daggett and, of course, Carl Lewis?

LA also hosted the Olympics in 1932, making it the only U.S. city to host the summer games twice. The chance it will host a third time is somewhat slim (at least right now), but it's possible. Come 2016, 32 years (can you believe it?!) will have passed since that last time the games were in LA. A lot of the sports infrastructure already exists (much of it built after 1984) and the games might be an opportunity for LA to improve and expand its sad public transportation system, much like how the 1984 games modernized LAX. It will be a couple years before we know if this idea has any traction, but I, for one, think it's pretty exciting.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Ten Favorite Movies

These are ten of my favorite movies. Casablanca is my hands down #1 movie and The Sound of Music barely edges out The Philadephia Story for the #10 spot. For those scratching your heads at Citizen Kane's absence, it's because I've never managed to watch the entire thing through (boring!). If you're puzzled by my choices, what are some of your must sees?

Back from NYC

It was no longer summertime weather by the time I arrived in NYC. Warm had given way to rain and autumn chill. Some shots I took from my few days in New York.

Looking uptown at Second Avenue, at dusk and at night.

The UN. Does anyone know all these flags?

The patiently hungry line up outside Lombardi's Pizza downtown, indifferent to collectible car parked next to them.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Don't Call Me Butterstick

Aw shucks. Hello to Tai Shan, the giant panda cub at the National Zoo. The size of a butterstick at birth, little butterman is now over four months old and weighs in at over 17 pounds. He can walk now, too.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

How to Catch Up?

I skipped last night's episode of Lost, the one where someone dies (tear? hooray?). I haven't checked the web to see who the sorry person was who was eaten, drowned, hung from a tree, mauled, or suffered some Other form of grisly death. Not sure I want to know. The conundrum: Do I try to find out by poking around the web or do I stop watching completely and wait for the second season to come out on DVD?

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

The Norma Talmadge House

Living in LA has revived my interest in old movies. I used to spend my weekends in middle school watching whatever old movies I could off of network TV, often programming the VCR to record something like "My Man Godfrey" for 3:30 a.m. Tuesday morning. I recently finished a very readable book by Amy Dawes called "Sunset Boulevard: Cruising the Heart of Los Angeles." It was news to me that the silent movie studios set up shop, not in Hollywood, but further east in Silverlake, Echo Park and Los Feliz. Mack Sennett's Keystone Film Company was located on Glendale Boulevard in Silverlake, and some of his Keystone cop chases were filmed along that street. Today the studio building is home to Public Storage. Also in the area were the original Disney studios at Griffith Park and Hyperion (today the site of a Gelson's grocery store), as well as D.W. Griffith's studio and the huge Babylonian set built for his film "Intolerance" at Sunset and Hillhurst (today, a Vons grocery store).

Not surprisingly, silent movie stars lived large in the area, among them Norma Talmadge, the most famous of the celebrated Talmadge sisters and for which Talmadge Street in Los Feliz is named. I've never seen any of her movies, but I have driven past her house (here and above). Built in 1932, it has also been home to Jimi Hendrix and Howard Hughes. The daughter of a stage mom, she started acting in 1910 in Brooklyn and eventually became a huge silent movie star, in no small part because of her marriage to Joe Schenck (the movie exhibitor for Loew, turned first President of United Artists, turned co-founder of 20th Century with Darryl Zanuck). Apparently, she didn't fair too well with the advent of talkies-- her sister Constance reportedly saying, "Quit pressing your luck, baby. The critics can't knock those trust funds Mama set up for us." No worries though since Norma retired fabulously wealthy in 1930.

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

The Trip West: From Badlands to Zion

After eight years of being city mice in NYC, we drove cross country in September, taking the northern route through Pittsburgh, Madison, WI, South Dakota, Wyoming and cutting down through Utah and Vegas. We took the interstate highways most of the way, visiting as many national parks as we could, given the fourteen days we had allotted for the entire trip. Here are some gems I snapped from the road.

Badlands National Park. Big Badlands Overlook.

Yellowstone National Park. Our park ranger, Guida, in front of a gurgling mud pot called The Gumper.

Grand Teton National Park. Sunset from Oxbow Bend Turnout.

Bryce Canyon National Park. Visitors walking through "Wall Street."

Zion National Park. Weeping Rock.

4 8 15 16 23 42

A few days after we (i.e., Mr. Octopus of Octopus Grigori, aka my husband) arrived in LA six weeks ago, we found ourselves in the Burbank Circuit City buying the first season of Lost on DVD. Our friends had given it a unanimous thumbs up and we needed something to distract us from the mounds of moving boxes that were waiting for us back at the new apartment. Little did we know that we would soon be sucked into these DVDs-- watching one episode after another, like kids who can't stop eating their Halloween candy, up to six episodes in a day.

Each episode was riveting, creepy, engrossing. For those who haven't seen the show, Lost begins when a transpacific flight from Sydney to Los Angeles runs a thousand miles off course and crashes on a (seemingly) deserted island in the South Pacific. About forty passengers survive. Each episode includes back story of one of the fifteen or so main characters (i.e., the doctor, the fugitive, the heroin addict, the Iraqi soldier, the beautiful siblings, the confidence man, the paralyzed guy, the Korean couple, the pregnant Aussie, the father and his son, and my current favorite, the fat guy who won the lottery with six very special numbers-- 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42). Just as these are no ordinary passengers (or are they?), this is no ordinary island-- full of wild boars, a polar bear, a French scientist who has been stranded there for over sixteen years, strange sounds and even stranger "people" known as The Others. Many questions about the characters and the island remain unanswered, which is part of the thrill of watching.

Now that we have plowed through the first season, we have begun watching the second season with gusto on network TV. The second season has been disappointing, in part because of the sting of commercial interruptions, but also because the story has lost its suspense and focus on survival and rescue and getting along (oftentimes painfully) with the other surivivors. The urgent need of getting off the island and protecting themselves from The Others, two dominant themes from the first season, have given way to exploring the mysterious interior of the land. The core group of survivors has been broken apart into several groups doing different things; the loss of interaction has made the show disjointed. Lost's new direction may prove deliciously engrossing in the end, but for me it has fallen flat. And I don't think I'm alone, because the producers began hyping tomorrow's episode three weeks ago as one where one of the main characters won't survive. Gasp.

The weekly entertainment magazines that you read while waiting to check out at the grocery store have been speculating on who will go. The favorite, it seems, is Shannon, the sister half of the beautiful siblings. I put my money on her, too. She hasn't spoken in several episodes, and because her brother died last season and she put the brakes on hooking up with Sayid, the Iraqi, there's isn't much of a story line for her (I think). Sorry Shannon, I think you're getting the boot.

Monday, November 7, 2005

Flying back to NYC

Tomorrow night I'm heading back to NYC for a wedding. Taking the redeye from LAX into JFK. They say the weather was beautiful in New York today, just like summertime. Let's hope it stays that way through the weekend.