Impressions from a Trip to Los Angeles Chinatown

When I found out that as a class we would be taking trip to Chinatown I had expectations of what the trip would be like. I am from the east coast, and I have been to Chinatown in New York City and Chinatown in downtown Boston. Both of those Chinatowns are fairly similar, although I know more about Boston's than I do about New York's Chinatown. They are both relatively small and are areas where a lot of tourists and Asians frequent. Going in to the trip I expected that Chinatown in L.A. would be similar to Chinatown in Boston and New York. There was one thing that stuck in my mind as I went into the trip: Chinatown is still a part of America and most of the people there are Americans. I needed to remind myself of that fact so I would make just judgments of what I saw in Chinatown. I expected there to be aspects of both Chinese and American culture when we went to Chinatown.

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As we arrived in L.A. and were walking into Chinatown I thought that it was easy to tell when we actually entered Chinatown. I could tell when we entered for more reasons than just the big bridge over the road with the dragon on it, and signs that said we were in Chinatown. One reason was that most of the signs on shops and other buildings were written in a language I am unable to read or speak, I assume that it was Chinese.

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Secondly, the smell of Chinatown was distinctly different from other places that I had been in the city. The smell was due to the fact that there were marketplaces where fish, poultry, and other animals were being butchered and sold to people. Something else that made me realize we were in Chinatown was the setup of the shops. The shops were organized in a different manner than most stores I have seen in malls and shopping centers other places in the city.

Regarding my impression of Chinatown, I thought that it was fairly Americanized. I agreed with the statement that Chinatown is indeed only part of America, and when we went we experienced something American. An example of how Americanized Chinatown is, are the bakeries I went into with my group members. We went in looking for eastern baked goods such as: egg cupcakes and bean curds. It is possible that we went to the wrong bakeries, but I saw neither egg cupcakes nor bean curds. I was surprised to find I knew what most of the baked goods were and had seen them before in other bakeries outside of Chinatown. There was a little plaza I went into and I found it to be quite American. One thing I saw was a booth that was selling "Authentic Samurai Swords" and on the cover of the box was a picture of Tom Cruise in the movie The Last Samurai. Samurai swords are not Chinese, if I am correct, samurai swords are part of Japanese culture. The inhabitants of Chinatown were who I expected them to be, in all honesty. I expected there would be a large Asian population and a large amount of tourists due to the fact that it was the Chinese New Year. The feel of Chinatown was interesting to me. The atmosphere was quite festive and cheerful. I observed an interesting occurrence during the day. When we arrived in Chinatown it felt empty and relaxed. As the day progressed, however, Chinatown was more crowded and busy. When walking through some of the markets on the side of the road I was pushed through, and I did not have the opportunity to walk slowly. This was a different feel for me because I am used to taking my time. My impressions led me to believe that Chinatown is a different cultural experience than what I am normally exposed to. I thought there were some ethnographic similarities that stuck out and I was surprised they occurred in Chinatown.


Chinatown was filled with various people groups that I took note of and I was able to categorize them. The groups that I observed could be classified as the youth, the middle aged, and the elderly. The older folks were out in the morning when I arrived in Chinatown and were the main people on the streets and in shops. The elderly people and the middle aged were dressed in plain clothes and their style was not too fancy. It was easy to see, they were to be respected by the younger generations. In stores and in the plazas we went into I saw older people interacting with one another. There was one plaza where older people were in a group and they were performing what was described as "Elderly Kung-Fu." This was an example of the interaction between elderly people who are a large part of Chinatown.

In looking at the younger generation it is easy to see the difference between it and the older generation of people in Chinatown. The younger generation tends to dress in ways that differ from the elderly in their society. Styles are more noticeable, have more flair, and are unique compared to the older generation and its style in most respects. When I observed how younger groups acted I could tell that they were influenced by American culture. From my perspective they went around in groups together similar to the way in which most other teens do. Chinese ancestry is a part of their life, but they are American and their actions are influenced greatly by American culture.

Interaction varied in the different places and with the different groups I saw while in Chinatown. Overall, I think, the elderly population interacted more with one another. This has to do with a cultural difference existing between the Chinese and American culture. I am not positive, but I believe I can why there is more interaction between the elderly than the youth. Much of the elderly population are probably first generation immigrants from China. Because much of the elderly population may be in the situation of having moved to America in the middle of their life they still hold on to their Chinese culture. These people are still tied to the language, culture, food, and customs of their homeland. They go to Chinatown because they are able to experience elements of their culture they are unable to find in other parts of Los Angeles or the surrounding areas. In Chinatown they can speak their language and interact with others who speak it. The young may not be as prevalent in Chinatown for one simple reason as I see it. As Americans the younger generation wants to be involved in the prevailing culture and society around it. It is possible that the younger generation may not be enthusiastic about being involved in Chinese culture and its various customs.

There were different activities people were involved in that I observed while in Chinatown. Older people were involved in shopping. In the grocery store I visited there were older people doing some of their food shopping and buying items that are specific to their culture. The young were engaged in different activities than the elderly and older generations. When I was walking down the street I had a young Asian looking guy give me a card that was advertising a club in the area. This was definitely something different from what the elderly people were doing. Mainly, people were celebrating because it was the Chinese New Year. There were many activities people were involved in that revolved around the celebration.

Business/Economic Sphere

Probably the most important aspect to Chinatown is the business aspect. This is so because business is not solely about economics, whether people acknowledge it or not business helps out new immigrants on many levels.

The nature of economics in Chinatown is based on tourism, eating, and providing the Asian community with reminders of home. Many stores are filled with little items that will bring in money from the tourists who come to Chinatown. These items are not always authentically Chinese, but will sell and bring in money to help out the economy. The restaurant | visited in Chinatown was similar to Chinese restaurants I have eaten at in suburban Massachusetts. It was good food, but I have my doubts that if I took a Chinese person to the restaurant they would tell me it was authentic. Restaurants are essential to the economy in Chinatown and essential to the immigrants working in them. The function of these types of businesses is to benefit the immigrants and their families.

Businesses in Chinatown primarily service new immigrants and members of the Asian community around the area. When new immigrants arrive in the country they obtain jobs in Chinatown because jobs are available where they can speak Chinese. While working in Chinatown immigrants are able to get established and learn about American culture without immediately being thrust into American society. The private and living spheres also engage the business sphere in this situation. There are Benevolent Associations in Chinatown that help immigrants to find jobs. Benevolent associations are involved in life outside of the business realm as well. When I was in Chinatown there were associations going through the streets to businesses and collecting Lucky Money for the new year. The different aspects of business and economy in Chinatown apply to the lives of its inhabitants in many ways.

Eating Experiences

The place food has in Chinatown is an important one. A majority of stores found in Chinatown are grocery stores, fish markets, restaurants, and bakeries. Judging by this fact alone I would say that food plays an important role in the lives of Chinatown's inhabitants. My interaction with ethnic foods while in Chinatown was an interesting one. I am always interested in trying new foods and things that other people are afraid to try. I ate a few things that I have never tried before such as dried olives, orange prunes, dried shrimp, and green mangoes. The way that I determined edibleness in the situation, an anthropological trip, was whether or not I could fit the food in my mouth.

In the situation I wanted to experience what Chinatown had to offer me. If something smelled bad or looked a little funny I made the decision that I would eat it anyway. Of the foods that I observed, and drinks that I tried as well, I would find a few hard to consume all the time as part of my diet. I think I would have hard time drinking the water with little jelly bits in it. It was not appealing to me, the taste I could stomach but I dislike the little bits of jelly that float around on the bottom of the drink. My experience with food was, overall, an enjoyable one that I found to be a good part of Chinatown.


In particular, what interested me in Chinatown were the people that inhabit it and work there. I would like to know what their status was in China, where do they live in proximity to Chinatown, are their businesses family run, and how did they decide on what type of business they would involve themselves in? To gather this information I would try and conduct interviews among different shop owners and employees to hear their stories.

Chinatown holds special meaning for the people that I observed who live, interact, and work there daily. It is a place in America, which is a new place of residence for many, where people from China can easily communicate in their first language, experience a little bit of home, and a place where they can find their footing in a new country. It enables them to get a job and begin to establish roots in America. Chinatown also helps people bring family over to the States. It is very beneficial to immigrants that ethnic enclaves such as Chinatown exist.


Updated: Dec 12, 2023
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Impressions from a Trip to Los Angeles Chinatown essay
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