Friday, February 01, 2008

Livin' L.A. Vida

Today, February 1, marks my 1st year as an Angeleno, and I am proud to say I have persisted despite the unflattering reputation of my neck of the woods - Boyle Heights in East L.A.

My colleagues & classmates aptly forewarned me that my neighborhood can be unfriendly. True enough, while I was about to hit the sack on my first night home alone, a police car chasing a civvy car rushed past the street in full siren and strobe lights. There were about three more similar chase sequences that tore the silence of the night that seemed straight out of TV crime drama. Welcome to L.A.!

About a week or so later there was a hostage situation right across my block. Police cordoned of the area with the unmistakable yellow tape that says, "Police line. Do not cross". SWAT team members in full encounter mode bolted out of a couple of armored trucks strategically parked on both street ends. On top of it all, and literally, too, a chopper hovered the area with its bright searchlight streaming across the night sky. I thought I'd see stuff like that only in the movies. Well, not exactly far off for, after all, L.A. is home to Hollywood.

I live in a predominantly Hispanic community, with Asians & African-Americans immensely outnumbered. Whenever I explore the vicinity I feel like I'm sauntering down avenidas of a small town somewhere in Central or South America, what with Spanish signage on most establishments, burrito & taco stands on every imaginable corner, and the rustic charm of mariachi sounds in, where else, El Mariachi Plaza.

But the one thing that really makes you feel like you're in a different country is that most people here do not have or have little English comprehension. Filipinos probably have it easiest when it comes to the challenge of communication since many words in our language are derived from Spanish.

Speaking of communication, the public library, about 8 blocks away, had served me well as my only connection to the wired world. Since I did not have my own computer for a long time, I had to queue up along with other patrons to get a chance to check email and surf the web.

Another thing I didn't have and still don't have is, believe it or not, a car! So how did I manage this past year in one of the most car-populated metropolis in the nation? Well...I go Metro! It's an economical and earth-friendly albeit time-consuming way of exploring the City of Angels.

Stations & stops are strategically located. This actually allows overlapping of economic extremes. It's not surprising to find yourself in an impoverished area in one stop and then alight in an affluent district in the next.

The road often leads to Food4Less nearby for grocery, and I am part of the shopping force that makes the most of the supermarket's shuttle service that brings customers home. The closest shopping complex is Monterey Park where different shops cater to every whim and need. For a change of shopping environ and experience, I have managed to reach downtown L.A. and Glendale Galleria.

I have also explored the outskirts of my little Hispanic residential town and beyond. Chinatown's cultural richness reminds me of my link to the yellow race; Japantown's trinket stores are treasure troves of delightful surprises; Filipino stores in Eagle Rock & Glendale help ease my homesickness; and Universal City & Studios quench my thirst for All-American amusement. That's just to name a few.

There is still much of L.A. for me to explore, not to mention its interesting sibling cities that are all part of L.A. county. The Angeleno in me is yearning to further explore and experience my foster city and county that is as diverse as the United Nations. Did you know that L.A. county has the largest population of any county in the country, and that nearly a third of Californians live here? Now that is big.

Being a crucible of cultures is an indelible charm of L.A., with residents coming from more than 100 countries and speaking more than 200 languages. Restaurants offering various world cuisines abound. Cultural events are actively held each year. In their own peculiar ways, people from different ethnic backgrounds contribute to this cultural melting pot, making it richer in character which adds to its worldly allure.

Having lived in L.A. for a year also gave me the opportunity to experience its turning seasons and how its topography adapts to the changing climate. It's an attraction in and of itself. There are the snow-covered mountains in winter; the city showers in spring; the sun-bathed deserts and beaches in summer; and the welcome chill of autumn.

There must be a thousand and one reasons why L.A. is "the place" for about 10 million people. I've already stumbled upon a few and can't wait to discover a whole lot more.

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