It is often said that some of the greatest adventures are in our own backyard, and this past week, Burt and I once again found this to be true.
We rediscovered another local treasure that reminded us of the joy of studying a culture new to us, but ancient in its origins.
It brought to mind my childhood belief that while growing up in the small town of Middle Village, New York—where the only green to be found belonged to the weeds growing up between the cracks in the sidewalk, and I could often be found watering and caring for them—I could always, at some juncture of alleyways, find a shortcut to another country in an instant! I know, I was a strange child.
I also have to admit that along with my dear friend, Doreen, (with whom I am still close friends after almost 66 years), to digging in a vacant Middle Village lot with our small shovels with the goal of reaching China. I have to say that my mother was particularly happy because the endeavor kept me occupied for over a week—but let me not digress—back to Burt and our recent rediscovery.
It was while teaching commercial art at a local college that I learned much about the Vietnamese culture. Many of my students had migrated from Vietnam, especially post the Vietnam War, and a good deal of them settled in Orange County; an area of Southern California very close to where I now live in Huntington Beach. There are so many residents that the special designation of ‘Little Saigon’ was soon used.
Many of my students were settlers in this new (to them) country and while their English was certainly better then my Vietnamese, they were often embarrassed to ask questions in class. So I offered to come in to school early and help them with whatever they seemed to be having a problem with.
It was during those pre-class meetings that I would hear stories of not only their homeland but also of their struggles and concerns. We truly connected and many became treasured friends. My understanding of their hardships and triumphs also expanded.
These generous people were so appreciative of my efforts to help them that they shared bits of their culture that came as a revelation. It sparked a sense in me of wanting to explore further.
This past week, Burt and I drove to Little Saigon hoping to visit some shops and have dinner in one of our favorite restaurants.
Immediately after stepping out of our car, we were transported to Vietnam; because the residents fashion their homes and shopping areas in a style that is reminiscent of their country of origin.
I am glad they settled here because as well as being thoughtful and conscientious students, they are diligent workers.
The outside of the Asian Garden Mall in Little Saigon features elaborate statues.
Inside, the stores are colorful and offer a multitude of products.
Ginseng and other herbals are offered in this unique shop.
Many jewelry shops with a vast selection of treasures for sale.
I have taken many friends to the onsite jewelry repair shops in the mall. They will fix your broken jewelry, usually while you wait and watch. Hint: Go up to the second level and you will find many repair shops at the back of the various centers.
The prices are well below what I used to pay locally.
All kinds of lovely tchotchkes!—(sparkly things)
Since I’m just a big kid, they really appeal to me and I am drawn like a moth to a flame!
Colorful and intriguing!
The clothing and fabric stores are a veritable rainbow of color and style.
….And then there’s the food!
So many interesting offerings. Remember, life is an adventure or it is nothing at all—so be brave and try something different.
Luckily my students gave me many hints about ordering and now we have our favorites.
This is one of Burt and my favorites: Vermicelli noodles with BBQ’d pork, grilled shrimp, and egg rolls. It is served with a delicious sweet and tangy fish sauce—I am addicted!
And so ends another day trip for the Meandering Seenagers—so glad you could join us!
Please do set out to find an adventure in your own neighborhood.