Whenever the travel bug gets the best of me, I head to Chinatown. Wandering in and out of shops, the streets are dense with the scent of grilled meats and garlic. From an open window overhead, you can hear swirling majong tiles pierce the air with a cacophony....tap-tap-tap....tap-tap-tap. They pause for just a moment, and then the carved tiles are set in motion again, scraping against well-worn tabletops.

I duck my head into a labyrinth of alleys. In the underbelly of dumpsters and loading docks, I discover children...mindlessly munching on mooncakes. Backdoors, propped open with boxes or buckets, the smell emanates from woks that sizzle and hiss. Dumpsters are filled with rancid cooking oil, earmarked for biofuel. And a nearby wall, caked with the ages of oils past, now dons a flurry of snow-white chicken feathers, suspended in motion.

Street side, a glimpse through the screen door reveals cooks, waiting out the lull, squatting on overturned milk crates. A shadow conceals the faces, but I wave anyway. They recognize me, and within a minute, I am being escorted into the kitchen. The quiet afternoon finds the kitchen at rest, with the exception of one elderly man, methodically preparing eggrolls. Beside him rests a stack of egg wrappers, soon to be stuffed with minced chicken and vegetables.

The men are amused by the novelty--a white chick in the kitchen....AND I am not the health inspector! I am the oddity here.

Gesturing towards my camera, a pantomime ensues.

Eventually, we come to an understanding. They want to take pictures with me.

I hand the camera to an older man with a shock of wiry black hair. Befuddled, he holds the camera upside down and studies the image on the back panel. His mouth draws up tight, and a quizzical look rests in his eyes. I upright the camera for him and a swell of laughter fills the kitchen. He readies for the shot, using the only English I've heard him speak, "One, two, Freeeee!"

One by one, I pose with each of the cooks as they take turns snapping badly blurred images.

After a round of solid handshakes and stiff hugs good bye...I move on. But before I can turn to walk out the door, a to go bag is awkwardly shoved into my hand. While I've been busy watching the eggroll man and having my picture taken, they've been preparing a special treat! As the meaning dawns on me, my eyes well up with tears and I sheepishly smile my thanks. I make a hasty exit before the tears have a chance to brim over....

As luck would have it, after the pupusa incident, both my camera and I were badly banged up, but lived to capture another adventure. Here's a few snaps from my aimless wandering on Sunday. (P.S. I'm playing with some photo editing software. If the color looks stripped out, that's intentional.)

This way...

Idle time at The Club.

Looking up. Birds in neon (over the door).

Side street.

Woks at the ready.

Eggroll prep.

See those discs on the right? Those are thin sheets of egg batter, fried in a wok.

The kitchen crew.


He spoke gently into the phone and said,
"Tell your father I will give you a good life...."

Kong Sun Imports

The emporer's men.

(L) Inside, taped to the glass: "We will be back! Hope to see you soon!" G.V. Rest

(R) Outside, response written on the glass: "You are remembered and very much missed; please come back soon!"