Guest Blogger!

I am feeling lazy and unproductive when it comes to this blog. Also, I'm still kind of swamped at the office, so the time I usually take to brainstorm is now being dedicated to the filing arts. That's hardly fair to my dozens of readers, so I have recruited a friend (and former editor) of mine to rant about DC for 500 words. She gave me 462. A newspaper editor should know better than that.

Her name is Jen Turner (scroll down to the bottom) and she is a far better writer than me. She also has more downtown experience, so I invited her to write about Chinatown. Here she goes:

R[usty] asked this to be funny but it's actually just sort of bitter.

D.C.'s Chinatown is probably one of the more obvious reasons why this city is such a shit sandwich. Anyone who has been to San Francisco's, New York's, or hell, even London's would stand on the corner of 7th and H and curse whatever government charter decided to plop a Chinatown down right there.*

Chinatowns are notoriously grimy but nonetheless charming. Those familiar with the ubiquitous bus systems that affordably connects major East Coast cities know that all too well. Emerging from some bus shared with an old man spitting into a plastic Safeway bag and a woman with a chicken in a cage onto East Broadway at 7:30 in the morning is an experience all should have. Even the Chinatown in Portland, Oregon features a restaurant called Hung Far Low and a dozen seedy drag bars. There are oddities to be discovered and it sort of feels like a foreign country, which I guess can be refreshing when one stops to think about this one for too long.

Yet in D.C., what can our Chinatown boast? Ann Taylor Loft. Legal Seafood. Ruby Tuesdays. Urban Outfitters. Fado. Chipotle. Aveda. The MCI/Verizon/whatever Center and a motherfucking Fuddruckers. All with classy, brushed metal Chinese characters fixed above the signs and centered conveniently around that garish gate. I worked at NPR Headquarters for a while, located mere blocks from this hub of misplaced commercialism, and every day I noticed that the one thing people would take a picture of before sneaking back into the Metro with a couple of Urban Outfitters bags in tow was that technicolor, oh-so-ethnic gate. One gate does not a Chinatown make.

The final straw occurred while I walked to work one sunny afternoon a couple months ago. I actually could not believe this happened. This couple approached me and told me they were doing a tour of the nation's Chinatowns and had just arrived in D.C. -- seeing as how this is our nation's capital, surely we'd have some real treasures hidden in this 5-block radius, right? I pointed down 6th street at the row of about 10 moderate-to-expensive Chinese restaurants, none truly bearing that hole-in-the-wall charm. They asked if there were any Chinese shops to check out. I mentioned the Ruby Tuesday and Quizno's.** Oh man, they were so disappointed!

Love always,

*I don't actually know if a government charter created Chinatown so chill out, nerd. It would sort of be fitting though, don't you think?

** I also realize this was unnecessarily brutal, as there are actually one or two places to buy those Mary Jane shoes and weird candy along H street but I can't resist squashing the hopes of others, y'know?

Thanks, Jen!


  1. AnonymousMay 22, 2006

    Bravo! This is some serious DC-hating.

    I'm in love!

  2. AnonymousMay 22, 2006

    Nicely done, Jen!

  3. I agree with most of this, but I disagree with "moderate-to-expensive Chinese restaurants, none truly bearing that hole-in-the-wall charm." I give you Li Ho Food at 5th & H. Get the Singapore style rice noodles, they're the friggin' bomb.

  4. AnonymousMay 22, 2006

    So DC has a small Chinatown... gosh maybe that means there weren't a lot of Chinese people coming to DC in the 'good old days' when Chinese imigrants were corwded into ghettos for the amusemnt of the white folks. Maybe that means that there are large comfortable Asian-American neighborhoods in the suburbs where people live their lives the way they choose, and not on a fake-ass movie set. Maybe you should learn to take things for what they are, and not as you want them to be. For instance, Washington has always lacked large immigrant populations, since it was never a large seaport (where immigrants landed) and has always lacked the industrial jobs which provided immigrants their initial US livelihoods in other cities. In a place where government has been the major 'industry' (with the attendant clerk, steno, filing, & typing jobs), non-English speakers would have a hard go of it. Maybe that's why the immigrants stayed in Chicago, or New York, or Baltimore, and waited a generation or three before sending their tiresome grandchildren to DC to complain about it.

  5. AnonymousMay 22, 2006

    I hear you on this... but we better enjoy the Chinatown we have or else DC city govt will just build yet another baseball stadium over it.

  6. AnonymousMay 22, 2006

    Anonymous #1: 1 Point
    Jen: 0 Points

  7. AnonymousMay 22, 2006

    Full Kee is a hole in the wall dump with great food that would hold up in any Chinatown. They've got ducks hanging in the windows and only accept cash. Get a life. You would have been scared to walk around Chinatown pre Verizon Center.

    There are millions of reasons to hate DC, this is not one of them. Pluse HOOTERS ROCKS

  8. AnonymousMay 22, 2006

    I agree with anonymous. I feel sorry for those folks who were checking out every Chinatown in the nation, but maybe they should have done their research, just as the writer of this piece should have. Yea, our Chinatown is pathetic when compared to NYC and San Fran (duh). Our Chinatown isn't even in it's original location because our government told the Chinese immigrants to pack their bags and move so the Federal Triangle area could be built up with government office complexes. Ethnic Chinese residents decided to flee to the 'burbs instead of just a few blocks away due to rising crime and taxes, and deteriorating businesses. Can you blame them? Yes, our Chinatown is ridicously commercial and gentirfied. However our dinky Chinatown boasts of over 20 Chinese and Asian restaurants owned by Asian-American families and an independent transportation hub linking to other Chinatowns. Thank god for the MCI/Verizon/whatever center and the ripple effect, otherwise downtown would still be a dump.

  9. AnonymousMay 22, 2006

    Good idea, Rusty and Jennifer! Nice.

    OUr Chinatown does really suck, doesn't it. But I will say this town does have it's fair share of "Oriental" massage parlors and the hookers, yes they do, take credit cards.

    I want to do my own MasterCard commercial.

  10. AnonymousMay 22, 2006

    I beg to differ. You obviously have not tried the gay Chinese restaurant on 10th and H. Just yesterday I was there and had the soup of the day -- Cream of some young guy -- it was fantastic.

  11. AnonymousMay 22, 2006

    Ahhhhh, so!

  12. AnonymousMay 22, 2006

    Jen obviously had never seen Chinatown before the MCI Center arrived. It was rinky-dink even then, only with about 5,000 times more unsavory characters there. People have been calling it "Chinablock" at least since I arrived here in 1993. Do some research!

  13. To the "do your research" crowd:

    Just because there is a good reason that Chinatown sucks doesn't make it suckage any less tolerable.

  14. AnonymousMay 22, 2006

    Seriously, speaking of sucking... they DO take credit cards.

  15. AnonymousMay 22, 2006

    *I don't actually know if a government charter created Chinatown so chill out, nerd. It would sort of be fitting though, don't you think?

    If you don't know it, don't assert it. Opinion based on fact is interesting; opinion based on wild conjecture is a cop out -- even by the lame standards of blogging.

  16. AnonymousMay 22, 2006

    well i think Jen sucks.

  17. AnonymousMay 22, 2006

    OK, so one gate does not a Chinatown make. Well guess what was there first? Certainly not Ann Taylor Loft. It's not like all of these stores and restaurants existed before Chinatown did. It's called Chinatown because it refers to a historic neighborhood consisting of ethnic Chinese and other Asian restaurants and businesses. Have you ever been to the Chinese New Year festival and parade? Have you ever read the history of the Arch? Did you even know that it stands for the link between DC and our sister city, Beijing? I guess what I don't understand is why our Chinatown "sucks". What could make it better? The size of Chinatown is relatively proportional to the entity of the Chinese who call it home. Yes it may seem cheesy to you that metallic Chinese characters are emblazened over every commercial real estate, but at least lawmakers are trying to preserve some local character. I agree with anonymous that there are many reasons to hate DC, but this should not be one of them. Don't hate what you don't understand. It is really myopic of you.

  18. AnonymousMay 23, 2006

    This was a hell of a lot better than some stupid, myopic, overly stereotypical shit about Virginia.

  19. AnonymousMay 23, 2006

    dude, rusty, could you sink any lower than getting an intern from Oregon to write your posts for you?


  20. AnonymousMay 23, 2006

    Reason I forgive the presence of Hooters: deep fried pickles. OH, BOY!

    Anyway, I needn't go into the pussy-factor of anonymous blog-haunting. If there's one thing I definitely am, it's myopic. But that doesn't change the fact that Chinatown as of May 22, 2006 is a suckfest to the max. Party on!

  21. AnonymousMay 23, 2006

    I see your point, I really do. And you point is that Chinatown should be a real-life Epcot center for your culinary and spending needs.

    I would be more apt to buy this argument and lament D.C's half-assed Chinatown if chinatowns throughout this country were not rife with sweatshops, exploitation, organized crime and modern indentured servitude. I would buy it more if such practices were not roundly ignored by authorities in cities with "real" Chinatowns. A friend of mine has a mother who works in such a sweatshop. Nearly unbelievable, but true.

    For the record, I think our Chinatown and all of it's glitz sucks, and I miss grabbing a bite to eat a GoLos and hitting the Portrait Gallery back when it was an affordable, scrappy little neighborhood. But let's face it, your desire for a "real" Chinatown is all about you.


  22. AnonymousMay 23, 2006

    Formerly anonymous, your link's broken.
    Where's WIHWIHDC?

  23. AnonymousMay 23, 2006

    I don't know what Chinatown was like before 9/11/01, but it does suck! When I used the Starbucks bathroom there, someone walked in on me. Now that's terrorism!

  24. AnonymousMay 23, 2006

    All the real Chinese know the real DC Chinatown is in Rockville, MD. Get a clue!

  25. AnonymousMay 23, 2006

    I'm going to begin promoting whyihatewhyihatedc.blogspot.com

    get ready to blow up

    know that

  26. AnonymousMay 23, 2006

    OMG!!! Anonymous is going to promote whyihatewhyihate dc!!!111one! You're going to blow up, dAwG!!

  27. AnonymousMay 24, 2006

    The only thing I am pissed abou tis the closing of the only Chinese market I knew of in DC. It is now an office for Vincent ORange for Mayor. Boo!

  28. The SF Chinatown was nearly moved as well. After the 1906 Earthquake there was a plan to move the "slum" to another part of town. There were days of boycotts of the white businesses and the plans were shelved. The main street of Chinatown was Euclid Avenue. Since that had associations with Chinatown the city changed the name to Grant Avenue. In Chinatown, though, the street signs still have the Chinese characters for Euclid.

    The lack of a vibrant Chinatown in DC highlights a couple of other problems, though. One is the generally bleaching out of the city. No Chinatown should have a Hooters. That everything should be planned to within an inch of its life. Chinatown a few years ago (before the MCI Center) was a lot more interesting -- although much of it was demolished to make way for the planned inner beltway of which 395 is the only part built.

    The District government has not done a good job attracting immigrants, or doesn't even seem to want to. Baltimore realizes that the efforts of immigrants to turn around neighborhoods is worth attracting. Look at what Koreans and Chinese Americans have done for those places in Fairfax that aren't fashionable. Or are otherwise industrial. Like Merrifield.

    I think, though, some of it is fear of immigrants. Oakland, California, recently has been totally transformed by Korean, Hispanic and VietNamese immigrants. Oakland's Chinatown (unlike the theme park and overpriced restaurants of SF's) is vibrant. And bigger. There is a developing Koreatown north of downtown. And the Vietnamese have developed an area in the East. But what has it meant for everyone else? Well, particularly for African Americans in Oakland, it means they've lost a whole lot of power. The same thing has happened in LA.

    There is a reason that Vincent Orange and even Mayor Williams are from West Coast cities -- the African American power structure in LA and Oakland is a shadow of its 70s and 80s self. If you want to get ahead in business and politics and your black, you move East.

    Metro-DC has a large immigrant population. And its growing, but unlike New York, Oakland, San Jose, SF, Boston -- it's largely suburbanized.

    And frankly, I think DC suffers from this lack of diversity. It's a black and white city, son. And that's the way they want it.

  29. Uh, DC does too have a real China town.

    Its called the Virginia suburbs.