Sunday, April 1, 2007

A Trip to Chinatown...Again

Today, I visited Chinatown in downtown LA (we have several “Chinatowns”). The primary objective was to custom-frame 4 Chinese paintings that I bought in Guangzhou last year for quite a song. Before knowing of this Chinatown art-and-frame shop, I, like most Americans probably would, went to Aaron Brothers to get a quote. The Brothers wanted $400+ to custom mat and frame each painting. Forget it! None of the painting cost me more than $50 each, and I probably paid a wai guo ren's higher price.

The almost hole-in-the-wall shop is run by a small built old Chinese lady who carries herself rather seriously. She is the no-nonsense type who gives an aura that warns you not to cross her, lest she leaps from behind the counter and claws your face. Yet she is courteous enough and not at all challenging to speak with. The whole process of measuring and choosing the frames were done relatively quickly and without flip-flopping around irrelevant choices, which is how I prefer (I hate shopping). When the dimensions and materials were finally decided, she took out her scummy looking battery operated calculator and started punching. I said to her "A-yi (auntie), give me a good price, ok." To which she responded flatly "ok."

"Everything $224...with 10 percent discount already," she said matter-of-factly after 15 seconds of calculating.

I almost laughed and told her to stop kidding around. After all, I thought, isn't she too old and stoic to sling an April Fool's joke at a stranger? She demanded $224, whereas Aaron and his brother(s) wanted $1,500++.

I was not in the mood to waste my breath for twenty bucks less here or there…I just wanted the paintings done. So I gave her my credit card before she changes her mind and exclaims April Fool! I said I'll pay half now and half later. She refused my credit card and said "Just pay all next week. You pay 2 times, I get charge fee 2 times." No complain on my side, though I assume that she might be operating with a slim margin. Her shop is located in a high-rent building. I said my thank you, and as I was about to cower out of her store, she called me back in commandingly.

"Parking ticket! Validate for you!"

By the way, seen this stand up session by Russel Peters, an Indian Canadian comedian? :)

Whenever I visit the Chinatown, I can't resist not peeking into Wing Hop Fung, even though there is nothing I need (well, ok, I hate shopping, but not too much). I noticed that they redecorated their tea department with wood panels and shelves to make it look boutique-y. Their tea selections are more or less the same, though.

I like to browse at their teaware selections, which are decently priced, comparatively speaking. This time, I came across a small bamboo tea tray (24 x 15 x 6cm) that I thought would be perfect for traveling. It's small and light enough to be carried in a carry-on bag. It is also relatively well made. The best part is…it’s only eight bucks. I took one home. Not a bad find, me think.


Hobbes said...

That's a very pleasant tea-tray, I like it. It caught my eye, as I recently bought like it from M. Erler.

It looks as if your taste runs quite similar to mine: it was rather an excerise to find a tea-tray which was unadorned with daft Chinese characters; I like the plainness of yours, and the one from Stephane.

They're great for a crafty gongfu session in the corner of your office... :)



P.s. WTB an edit feature for Blogspot comments!

Unknown said...

Seeing the tea-tray you got at WHF, I'm kicking myself for not going when I was in LA in January.

Believe it or not I think I was in the audience of this taping of Russell Peters. Funny as heck, My ribs hurt coming out of the studio.

Anonymous said...

At least she didn't tell you to "be a man!" a la Russel Peters.

Will said...

Russell Peters is hilarious. Louise swears his Chinese accent is dead on in that bit (if it's the bit I'm thinking of).

I got a cool travel tray at the mpk WHF - it has a lid that slides over the top when you're travelling, and has a very deep well, so I think it will be good for transporting teaware. It has a Ten Ren logo on the side, which I thought was odd. It was a little more than yours - about $20.

~ Phyll said...

Hobbes: True. As is the case in Chinese department stores, there is a lot of cheese. Thanks. Is there a Chinatown in or around Oxford?

Sjschen: you must be Woo!

Nikhil: deep inside she probably have said that before growling internally. I think calling her "auntie" somewhat disarmed her.

Will: $12 difference! You can get a lot at the 1-dolla shop :)

Danica said...

Great piece by Russell Walters. Hilarious. I like your tea tray, Will gifted me one that is really great too. I use it every day at the office--it's so much better than the mousepad that used to soak up the mess... ;)

Anonymous said...

what a small world, I was at the WHF Sunday also--in the San Gabriel Valley "Chinatown", though. And, bought a suspiciously similar-looking cha hai. Mine was not $8, though--it appears I paid the 老外 price for that one!

Picked up some tea there, too. A high mountain oolong that has a nice subtle camellia undertone but fades much too quickly. It was my first attempt at buying tea in the states, and I'm a bit disappointed at the quality/price we have here...

Imen said...

I don't remember seeing anything under $20 for bamboo Cha Chuang (tea bed) at the Monterey Park WHF. China Town location has cheaper prices?!

~ Phyll said...

Danica -- lucky you. I don't even have a spongy mousepad at work. :)

Nick -- I have never had any top notch tea from WHF, although the prices are quite high. The ones I've tried from WHF are just decent: dahongpao, dancong, tieguanyin, taiping houkui, longjing, emeishan zhuyeqing and jasmine pearls are the ones I've had. I think the zhuyeqing is quite good, actually, if they carry a fresh batch.

Imen -- I assume all WHF branches have identical prices.

Unknown said...

Hello Phyll,

Can you be so kind and "reveal" to me a source of your beatiful frog-on-the-stone ornament, plese?

~ Phyll said...

hi quetzalqoatl, i can't quite remember from which store exactly, but i got it in guangzhou. this info doesn't help, so i'm sorry.

Unknown said...

Thanx anyway :-(

Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

haha yes, i meant tea bed (cha chen?), imen. this is why i shouldn't post so late at night ;).

phyll, i tried a few of the dancongs at the SGV WHF. One was overly bitter, the other overly weak. I'll have to find an excuse to go back and try the zhuyeqing sometime.

So, are there *any* in-LA tea vendors that you'd recommend? (until Imen opens her tea house, of course!)

~ Phyll said...

Nick -- I am hoping Imen will change the rather dreary LA tea scenery to the better. I have sent a personal email to you re: LA tea stores, of which there aren't many choices. Perhaps other kind readers can chime in on this.

Will said...

Nick - you should come along when I take Danica around the SGV.

There are a few spots, but nothing too exciting as far as I know, especially in terms of stuff from mainland China. Valley Coffee and Tea on Valley just west of Atlantic has some good Taiwanese stuff, I think. I've only tried the dong ding I got from there once, so no personal opinion, but I've heard good things. Might be worth trying stuff from the place in the back of Shun Fat - their English labels are not very descriptive and I didn't want to subject Louise to having to translate. Plus I think it's mostly Taiwanese stuff too.

TS Emporium, across from the Ten Ren on Garvey and Garfield has some teas - it's where my girlfriend's grandfather gets his tea. I got some sort of rolled oolong from Fujian there that was decent for the price.

shen said...

quetzalqoatl -
Here's a little cutie of a tea frog:
I kind of like "the foot of contentment", myself.
ITC has the frog for $35.00.