Saturday, June 21, 2008

mother lode

I have to scold all you readers who've been following my route for not warning me that the area where Tacoma abuts Lakewood IS A KOREATOWN! I just walked through it. Bought an energy drink at one place (am not convinced these potions do anything) and spoke with the two ladies at the cash register.

I should have realized, back at the pho restaurant, that I was seeing more and more Hangeul on the storefronts, but the appearance of Tacoma's Koreatown was actually pretty sudden. As with the Koreatown in Annandale, Virginia, Tacoma's Koreatown has a little bit of everything: restos, barbershops and beauty salons, and "fusion" stores that sell mostly Korean products along with a smattering of more generic "Asian" products. The restos themselves offer a mix of Korean, Chinese (or more properly, "Chinese"), Japanese, and Vietnamese fare; I'm reminded of the mating of Indian and Pakistani food in many restaurants in the DC area-- a union that strikes me as less likely to happen on the subcontinent.

Do Koreans like Tacoma more than Seattle? When I was passing through Seattle's long axis, I don't recall seeing a Koreatown, per se, although Paul did take me to a downtown area not far from his home that catered to a variety of Asian tastes.

I've been relieved to see that the Koreans I've met have not been shocked when a "foreigner" speaks Korean with them. I appreciate the wider, more worldly perspective, one that takes strangeness in stride and doesn't see it as strangeness. In Korea, there sometimes passes a moment or two while the Korean gets over the initial shock of hearing a non-Korean (or in my case, a half-Korean, which is often the same thing) speak his or her language. Sometimes the listener is so shocked that s/he hasn't completely registered the fact that s/he's just been addressed in Korean.

To be fair, this isn't true everywhere in Korea; for example, at Korean universities, academic departments with foreign profs who speak Korean are places where a foreigner's Korean ability can often be taken for granted (as well it should!*). Minorities who work the "3-D" jobs in Korea (dirty, dangerous, and difficult) are often expected to learn some level of Korean, and these folks-- more often than not Africans, South Asians, Southeast Asians, and so on-- frequently end up speaking better Korean than those of us who come to Korea on teaching visas.

*Some people think Americans are arrogant to expect people who spend long periods of time in the States to speak English competently ("What's the matter? Can't you speak English!?"). I strongly disagree: such an expectation isn't arrogant at all. And fairness dictates that I not resent any other non-anglophone country that holds a similar expectation, as is arguably true in a place like France. After all, why shouldn't France expect its citizens and long-term residents to speak decent French? Koreans in Korea are still too polite on that score: far from resenting the long-term expat who has made little effort to learn Korean, Koreans will often see an expat approaching and feel stressed about the level of their own English! I hope this changes. Soon. (And I apologize to readers who have heard this rant before in other contexts.)



Paul said...

Oops. Yeah, my bad. All that yammering about Seattle's "International District" (Chinatown) and I failed to mention WHERE the Koreans (who aren't really in the ID) are hiding out.

Seattle's interesting. I have read that one of the reasons that it's so infamously "chilly" when it comes to social relations is because of a combination of Scandanavian and Asian (particularly Japanese and Chinese) influences.

(This city has a semi-earned rep for people who will be surface-polite but not get to be in depth with close friends.)

Anyway, the ID in Seattle was slightly majority Japanese with Chinese and a smattering of others (Fillipino, Polynesian-figure that one out, and others) up until WWII.

Of course, the war's hysteria here on the west coast led to the Japanese all being rounded up and packed off to internment camps in central and eastern Washington and Idaho, and the Chinese got a huge foothold in the downtown ID that they haven't given up since.

In the mid 70s through now, the Vietnamese came here, but since there was't a ton of room for them in the original ID they settled into the same area but up the hill on the other side of I-5. There are a ton of Viet/Chinese markets up there with both languages used prominently.

For whatever reason, though, the Koreans didn't wind up in the city. They all went either north, to the area roughly from Shoreline (on the northern border of the city of Seattle) up through Lynnwood...

...or they went south.

Your route missed Federal Way, which is up west (on top of that hill) of Kent and Auburn. Federal Way has a TON of Korean-American residents. It's the 8th largest city in the state with ~90,000 residents and even had a Korean mayor (the council selects a mayor for a two-year term from among its own members) for some time.

There's all the usual shops, including at least two decent-sized grocery stores that are Korean-owned and run. (Ginger wants to move there if/when we have school-age kids so they can go to a Korean school and learn to speak/write Korean.)

Then, for whatever reason, there's also a Korean community down where you're talking about, on the south side of Tacoma.

I think the reason they're in those spots is the usual for recent arrivals- it was cheap and once a few were there, others (family/friends) came, and then a few stores started marketing to them, and before you know it things hit critical mass and pow, you're in a little Koreatown.

(Or a little Eritrea, which is near Sea-Tac airport, or a little LatinoLand in Burien, or so forth...)

Anyway, it was nice seeing you today. Small world and we're glad you're still moving!

Bob said...

I would guess Koreatown is in Tacoma because it's located close to McChord AFB and the Korean wives of the GIs are there. I was born and raised in Seattle then joined the military. It's the same way here at Warner Robins, GA which is located about 20 miles south of larger Macon, GA. There are plenty of Koreans living in Macon, but no Korean stores or restaurants. They are all located in Warner Robins close to Robins AFB. Warner Robins doesn't have alot of Korean buisnesses though compared to Tacoma. It only has one store, one restaurant, and one store/restaurant. I asked my Korean boss why this was. He said it was because the wives of miltary stationed at Robins AFB didn't have alot of money so they shopped close to the base. While the Koreans in Macon had larger incomes and frequently went to Atlanta's larger and fancier stores, shops, and restaurants. The area in Seattle that caters to asians was always called "Chinatown". I'm of Japanese decent and went their often with my family to shop at Uwajimaya grocery. I'm not sure who told you how to pronounce Rainier, but all my family has lived in Seattle before and after being in the detainment camps of WWII. We always pronounced it like you combined "rain" & "ear" like you originally thought it was. I've never heard anybody say it like it was "runear".

Anonymous said...

Kevin, you may not know, but McChord Air Force Base and Ft Lewis (Army), are a huge presence in Tacoma. I'm sure the locale has plenty of Korean wives of GIs.

Cheers and good luck on the walk.

Songtan Dave

Anonymous said...

Re: pakistani and indian cuisine, it depends on what part of India. North Indian food is more or less continuous with Pakistani cuisine, although South Indian food is far different (and as different to a North Indian as it is a Pakistani).

Much "indian food" is specifically North Indian dishes, much of which is equivalent to Pakistani dishes. Punjab, for instance, spans both "India" and "Pakistan". It's a little different since the borders here are more recent and more artificial than, say, the borders between China and Korea.