Scenes From Chinatown

This coming Saturday, July 28th, KCRW will once again partner with Chinatown’s Improvement District to host a Summer Night event at Chinatown Central Plaza with KCRW’s DJ Mathieu Schreyer & Anthony Valadez. To get in the spirit of the night’s festivities, here is a portrait of June’s Chinatown event:

Article written by KCRW Summer Marketing Intern Pam Gwen

Photos by Pam Gwen and Katy Carolyn Ramage

In 1870, Chinatown’s population consisted of 200 immigrants. Once a 50-foot wide broken down alley, the growing community of Los Angeles Chinese residents funded and organized what currently stands as Los Angeles’ Chinatown. Today, Chinatown houses 28,000 residents and celebrates Chinese culture and history.

Upon entry, Chinatown Central Plaza is bustling with an overflow of Angelenos and tourists. The intoxicating aromas of Chinese restaurants and food trucks fill my nostrils. The longest lines are for the food trucks: India Jones Chow, serving authentic Indian Street food; Jogasaki Sushi Burrito, presenting unique sushi combinations from spicy tuna nachos to salmon ceviche tacos; and Vchos, selling scrumptious pupusas and modern Salvadoran food.

As I move away from the food trucks, I’m enraptured by the vibrant neon lights outlining the upturned rooflines of the low-rise buildings. No matter where I turn, there is an assemblage of yellow and red Chinese ornamentations: lanterns, door couplets, fortunes, and paper cuttings.

Onlookers leave a booth munching on crisp decorated fruits. At one of the activity booths, I gawk at the floral carvings etched into watermelons, apples, oranges, and papayas.

A couple sits patiently as a man creates dough caricatures of their faces (they’ll be happy to know they’re pretty accurate). A mother snaps photos of her children, staring wide-eyed at their names being inksticked in Chinese calligraphy.

I walk away from the activity booths and browse through Afro-Caribbean vinyls at Salt Box Records. To its left, there are elderly folk playing Mahjong, a tile-based game created during the Qing dynasty.

A man is smoking a cigarette and I ask him if he is participating; he nods. He proudly discloses that they congregate here every night and are local residents of Chinatown.

The crowd flocks towards the Dragon dance erupting in the walkway. The dragons glide in wave-like motions to the roaring pulsations of the drums. The dance congregates toward the KCRW DJ stage and I chuckle at a woman recording the celebration from her apartment window.

As the stars align above, Chinatown turns into an island of confetti. Throngs of smiling people swing blasters full of colors that flutter to the floor. A boy near me pulls his parents towards Siu, a confetti merchant. A purchase is made and the child wields the confetti cannon like a badge of honor.

Next to Siu is Wing, a young woman standing under the rusted, cerulean roof hanging over the long-standing store, watching the exchange.

I ask her if she owns the store and she proudly tells me that her mother and father have owned China Affections for 20 years. Wing is happy that KCRW events like these support the local merchants in Chinatown.

I meander down the alley that has become a temporary island of paper and stop in my tracks at the sight of K.H.

K.H is a longtime fan of DJ Harvey and is here tonight with his girlfriend to enjoy KCRW DJs Garth Trinidad and Liza Richardson’s sets. He hands me his three confetti cannons as he confidently poses for a photo in his extraordinary hot dog ensemble.

As the sun sets, the night only becomes brighter. DJ Liza’s set of retro throwbacks, indie rock, and deep cuts charm the packed crowd into dance circles and carefree gyrating. The liveliness of the crowd and radiant storefront lights are dream-inducing.

Then, Kanchi and Novi’s brilliant smiles wake me from my dreamy state.

The two of them are a beacon of love, Kanchi beams when I ask to photograph them while Novi puts her arm around her. Novi pulls me close to declare her love for Morning Becomes Eclectic. Kanchi says she always tunes in for the news.

Gia and Tash’s demeanor and style evoke the boldness of the Dragon Dance earlier tonight.

They’re in their own world, and I want to dive in for a moment, so I ask if I can take their picture. Gia gazes adoringly at Tash, who is fixated confidently ahead, except for a moment when he gazes back.

The dance floor is packed all night long. I catch a glimpse of Deathburka’s golden tooth as he jumps to DJ Garth Trinidad’s set with his girlfriend, Angelica.

Deathburka and Angelica are from Downtown LA and were invited by their friends who heard about the event through KCRW radio. DJ Garth Trinidad is mesmerizing as he fires up the crowd with his soul, deep dance, funk jazz, and indie rock set. He remixes Anderson.Paak tunes and legendary dance battles emerge spontaneously on the dancefloor.

Before I was a KCRW intern, I relished the free opportunity to experience the music, community, and spirit of Los Angeles through KCRW and its Summer Nights. As a KCRW intern tonight, connecting with fellow KCRW lovers in the flesh transcends my initial experiences. KCRW members and fans consistently greeted me with overflowing enthusiasm and appreciation for the station. Extending my gratitude to the dynamic personalities that support KCRW and free events like this, is an honor.

The night has come to a close, so my partner and I make our way towards the car. I turn up 89.9FM on the stereo and grin; my mind, soul, and heart is filled with the bubble of humanity and ecstacy of this enchanting KCRW Summer Night.