San Francisco’s Japantwon & Cherry Blossom Festival


Posted by ankwok1 | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on April 24, 2013

桜祭り, Sakura matsuri

The Cherry Blossom Festival is held in Japantown every year. Although I’ve attended the festival several times before (and even volunteered one year!) I actually never learned the purpose or the Japanese name of the Cherry Blossom Festival. This weekend, I had the opportunity to drop by the festival once again. Japantoiwn looked different; it had been decorated for the festival. The trees in the malls had cranes on them and the displays were out. and My favorite thing about the festival are the tents set up outside the mall in the plaza. More specifically, the food booths. Every year, I make sure to stop by the Traveling  Takoyaki tent and grab takoyakis. As I waited for them to make the takoyakis, I mentioned to the lady managing the tent that this was the most popular food tent. She agreed and brought up that it has gotten increasingly popular over the years and that is why they always returned.

Source: Traveling Takoyaki’s Twitter Page (They also have a Facebook page too!)

How the Cherry Blossom Festival has gotten more large scale connects back to how Japantown has changed over the years. Going back to the purpose of this blog, my situation is a bit different from other students in the class. I am originally from San Francisco, and thus have been to Japantown and the Cherry Blossom festival many times before. This time, I tried to make my experience more different by looking into the background of Japantown keeping the following questions in mind:

  • How can you see historical, cultural, social, economic, political and other kinds of changes in a particular place via the linguistic landscape? What stories exist both in and behind the LL?
  • What aspects of Japanese and Japanese American histories and cultures can be seen in Japantown today? And how are these interwoven with the histories and cultures of people who come from and/or identify with other places?
  • What histories have been overwritten, erased, or have otherwise disappeared from Japantown as it exists and is known today?
  • How does the history of Japantown in SF compare to the Japantown in San Jose? Little Tokyo in Los Angeles? Chinatown in Oakland, San Francisco, or other “ethnic districts” that you might be familiar with?
I decided to focus on the second question during my visit. While there are a lot more Japanese at Japantown during the festival, there were also a lot more of other races as well. One thing I noticed was that the Cherry Blossom festival brought two things: 1) It was a great way to make money. Stores inside the malls had tents set up outside, other small businesses had come to sell their products, and food booths attracted a lot of customers. 2) It maintained a focus on culture. There were cultural performances on the plaza, a big emphasis on the Cherry blossom trees, displays of oragami, most of the food being sold were Japanese related (takoyakis, soy milk, tofu), and some o the booths were selling Japanese culture related items (kimonos, samurai swords, paintings).
As I made these observations, I noticed that it wasn’t always true. Some did not seem to have any connection with Japanese culture or the Cherry Blossom festival. From these, I was able to see the one of the main driving factors that has been changing Japantown: economic and business purposes. As I walked around, some of the stores appeared to be more old and sold traditional Japanese culture items such as tea and oragami. Many of these places had Japanese names only, and if they had English names it was their Japanese name spelled out in English. These were mostly located outside the mall. Many of the newer stores had modern Japanese related things, products that were produced in Japan but not traditional such as beauty products and stationary. These places had both Japanese and English names. Other places such as Anderson Bakery and jewelry stores did not show any hint of of Japanese. The people working there didn’t speak Japanese and nor was Japanese displayed on their signs. The jewelry stores were actually owned by Chinese and this reminded me of how Steve’s Korean BBQ in Asian Ghetto are run by Latinos.
While I have some photos, many of the stores actually do not allow photos to be taken.

Around Japantown, there are plaques that serve as a self guided walking tour. They are located in the plaza, and on the blocks around the mall. For anyone visiting Japantown and would like to see more than the businesses there, I highly recommend checking this out! The Japantown website also provides information on the history of Japantown as well.



Adventure to Temescal/KONO


Posted by ankwok1 | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on April 4, 2013


Last month, our class took a trip to Temescal, Oakland. Although I grew up in the Bay Area, I’ve never heard of this district, which is also referred to as “Korea Town”. Coming from San Francisco, districts such as Japantown and Chinatown are very popular places. Not only for residents of the Bay Area who go there to get a feel of what it is like being immersed in a cultural community, but also a very popular tourist spot for those who are visiting.

One difference between Temescal and Japantown and Chinatown in San Francisco the sense of community itself  Walking through Japantown or Chinatown, streets full of small shops and businesses with Japanese/Chinese names and workers inside who speak the language creates a smaller community. However, one thing I was surprised about at Temescal was that there were not that many Korean places; there were a few restaurants but they were scattered. One thing that was brought up in class yesterday was that other cultural districts had their own fire departments, laundry mats, and libraries. Although we didn’t have a chance to thoroughly explore the area, we didn’t see any of those in the area.

We ate a Korean restaurant, Sura, where we were able to meet the owner Theresa. Just seeing the restaurant from the outside does not give away much. But when we went inside to eat, the setting had a “Korean feel” with their decorations and furniture. However, what really set this place aside was when Theresa introduced to us the food. With no understanding of Korean, I looked at the English translation of the menu as I usually would when eating at Korean restaurants. But when Theresa proceeded to explain the origins of the restaurant, how their name came about, and gave a thorough introduction of the food, it was an extremely difference experience from eating at any other Korean restaurant. Learning not only the names of the food in Korean, but also the origin, I was able to interact with the Korean language more than I usually would have at other Koran restaurants.


Solano Avenue Visit


Posted by ankwok1 | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on February 27, 2013

This was my first time going to Solano Avenue I didn’t know there was this area around Berkeley! I usually take the bus in the opposite direction, and it was definitely interesting seeing how the environment and community changed as we approached Solano Avenue.

Each business was unique with its own style and many of them had different languages present.

Me and Vivian went to IScream to learn more about their name (and try their ice cream of course!) and learned that the owner was trying to make something similar to Apple brand names (iPhone, iPod, etc). I found it interesting that such a small, local store would want to make references to such a well-known brand.

Going into King Tsin Restaurant and learning more about its history was a big highlight of the trip. While I eat at many Asian restaurants with my parents, we actually don’t know anything about the history or background of the restaurant. Learning so much about the restaurant’s past created a more personal connection, as we heard about how Albert’s father first started the business and his siblings worked everyday. While the exterior looked rather Americanized with the dominant English language (despite the Asian looking architecture), going inside and hearing about Albert’s story really gave the place a more “authentic” feel.

4th Blog Topic: Mixing Culture and Language


Posted by ankwok1 | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on February 19, 2013

“新年快乐妈妈, I hope that you and 爸爸 can have 身体健康 this year!”

I have grown up hearing the term “chinglish” used often to refer to the combination of Chinese and English when speaking.  Last week was Chinese New Years and when I made a phone call home wishing my parents a happy new year, I realized how much “chinglish” I was using.  Even on a daily basis when I converse with my parents, I find myself pulling in English phrases when I don’t know how to phrase what I’m trying to say in Chinese.  As I tell them about my day or what I’ve been busy with, words like “study lounge”, “application”, “office hours”, “dinning halls” become jumbled in my Chinese.

As an Asian American and I grew up balancing both Chinese at home and English at school. My parents didn’t speak English and brought me to Chinese school on the weekends to learn how to read and write in Chinese. At school, my peers and teachers all spoke English. When I first began attending school, my parents told me that I tried to speak to the teachers in Chinese and they could not understand me. However, this was not an issue and I quickly learned to use English at school and Chinese at home. Thus, I developed a habit of speaking “chinglish”.

Thinking about it now, “chinglish” goes beyond the use of language. It’s the mixing of both Chinese and American culture. As I spoke to my parents the other days about Chinese New Year celebrations and traditions, I found myself using cultural terms interchangeably between Chinese and English. American and Chinese traditions have become mixed in my family and I think this mixing of culture applies to many others. While my parents still strive to keep the Chinese traditions that my grandparents passed on to them, they have also grown to understand how to adapt and assimilate into American culture throughout the years after they first moved to America.

Today, terms like “chinglish” and “white washed” are used often in relation to Asian Americans. However, these are merely another way to refer to culture assimilation and mixing, which can be seen as a way to form new practices.

3rd Blog Topic: Authentic Chinese?


Posted by ankwok1 | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on February 13, 2013

I found the article on the stereotypes and expectations of cultural restaurants very interesting. I think people unfamiliar with the culture will expect that a restaurant that displays very “cultural” decorations to be more authentic, while people who are part of that culture itself do not need to extravagant display to know how authentic the restaurant is. They can rely on how the workers at the restaurant interact, the food they eat, and other everyday cultural practices to judge the authenticity of the restaurant.

Coming from San Francisco, I am familiar with  Chinatown, a popular place for both Chinese people living in San Francisco and tourists visiting the city. One of the most interesting thing I’ve observed is the difference between places tourists prefer to eat at to try what they believe is “authentic” Chinese food and the places that Chinese people from the city usually eat at.

Grant Street is the most popular street in for tourists in Chinatown. Along the street are stores displaying swords, fans, vases, and objects that people would associate with ancient China. The restaurants on this street fit the stereotype of Chinese culture, trying to lure tourists into their restaurants. For example, outside a dimsum place (which has English translations on its menu posted on its big windows), a Chinese lady dressed in a qi pao greets tourists passing by and invites them to come in to try to Chinese food there. Although I’ve grown up in the city, I’ve never tried this restaurant  neither has anyone I know. The interior is nice and clean, similar looking to the Chinese restaurants portrayed in movies. However, this restaurant stands out compared to other restaurants in Chinatown.

Walking through the more busy and bustling streets of Chinatown where people are buying groceries, bringing their children to Chinese school, or meeting up with their friends there are restaurants that look completely different. Chinese people might call these the real “authentic” Chinese restaurants. While their interior and exterior decoration does not boast the fanciness like the other restaurant  being inside gives others the feel that they are really in a Chinese community. The menus are translated in poor English  it is not as clean as the other Antares  and instead of a quiet setting with guzheng music playing, the place is loud with people chattering away in Chinese.

Two very different restaurants, and yet different people have different ways of deciding which one is more authentic.

In-Class Blogging Activity: My Vision of Telegraph Avenue


Posted by ankwok1 | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on February 6, 2013

Surprisingly, I have not heard about the recent criticism of the state of Telegraph Avenue. Well, while the streets can be crowded and not as clean past Channing Way, I have  thought that Telegraph has always been in this state and it’s part of the Berkeley culture.

I live in Martinez Commons, which is right next to the vacant lot on Telegraph. Many other students have probably wondered the same thing as me: What are they going to do about this vacant lock? While on Thursday evenings, Off The Grid is set up around that area, other times the it is quiet and empty.

Empty lot on Haste and telegraph

In an recent article by Randy Shaw, “The Decline of Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue“, he writes about how deserted the street has become.  I found this news surprising, since I never really noticed before. However, I think his claims are correct. In a city like Berkeley where students are contributing to the business of the streets, Telegraph should not be as empty past Haste. Streets such as Durant, Channing,  Bancroft, and Shattuck always seem to be bustling. But, other than the streets between Bancroft and Haste, everything after that seems surprisingly empty for such a busy area in around UC Berkeley campus.

2nd blog topic: On the visibility of languages in Berkeley


Posted by ankwok1 | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on February 6, 2013

Berkeley’s Asian Ghetto, located conveniently between campus and the dorms and apartments on South Side of UC Berkeley on Durant, is made up of a few restaurants and is a popular go-to place for students. It’s known to be cheap and convenient, and the tables located in the middle make it a good place for a group of friends to eat. Students can satisfy their own food cravings by grabbing individual meals at different restaurants and eat together in the middle.

The more formal name of the Asian Ghetto is the Durant Food Court. It was renamed the Asian Ghetto by students because of the numerous Asian restaurants located there.  A lot of students I talk to like to eat here because it is close and cheap, but at the same time many of them agree that the quality of the food is not the best.

Personally, I’ve tried less than half of these restaurants, and I don’t come here often for food except for the boba at Sweethearts and Quickly’s.

Restaurants part of the Asian Ghetto:

  • Gypsies – Italian food.
  • Steve’s Korean BBQ – Korean food.
  • Thai Basil – Thai food.
  • Kingpin Donuts – Donuts
  • Gyro’s – Middle Eastern food.
  • Sushi House – Japanese
  • Sweethearts – Boba and burgers.
  • Vietnam Village – Vietnamese food
  • Mandarin House – Chinese food and boba.
  • Quickly – boba and snacks.

1st Blog Topic: What languages can you see in Berkeley?


Posted by ankwok1 | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on January 30, 2013

“What languages are visible in the landscapes that you’re familiar with on and near the Berkeley campus? In which kinds of places do you see these languages? Are there any languages that seem to you to be invisible or missing?”

The most visible languages seem to come from the wide range of diverse restaurants located around the Berkeley campus. While I live on the southside of campus and don’t explore areas farther away much, I was still able to see the presence of several different languages just by walking through the usual streets. Some of the restaurants I noticed were: Kimchi Garden, Sun Hong Kong, Pho K&K, Manpuku, Thai Basil. While it was easy for me to see the different languages at the restaurants I’ve been to before, it was harder for me to see different languages at restaurants and different stores that I usually don’t pay much attention to and had to spend more time to realize their existence.

Another location I noticed the display different languages is on Sproul Plaza. Walking through Sproul on my way to and from class this past week, I passed by many cultural student organizations tabling and handing out flyers in order to recruit students to join their organization. Although I did not have the time to stop and learn more about their club and it’s events, some of the ones with different languages on their banners that caught my eye were: Chinese Student Association, Hong Kong Student Association, Korean American Student Association, Vietnamese Student Association and Thai Students Association. Their different languages were not only printed on their banners, but also on their flyers and club jackets. I also noticed that many of the students at these tables communicated in their respective languages among their peers comfortably.

Photos to come soon!

Hello world!


Posted by ankwok1 | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on January 30, 2013

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