Thursday, March 26, 2009
The Wild Wild West.
That's what comes to mind when I think of Koreatown, colloquially known as Ktown. Typically, when one thinks of Koreatown, they think of the hyper-urban infrastructure, mass transit and the 2.5 square mile neighborhood being the nexus of Korean culture and life in the United States. While all of the aforementioned are true, Koreatown also has a much darker and saucier, grit-laden underbelly. Sure, gentrification and a sterile Korean pop culture flourishes and exists in some areas, but the dominating milieu is one of dereliction, decay, grit and squalor. Chilling statistics such as 70% of its population, 250,000-strong being poor, 1/2 of its population being illegal immigrants and 3/4 of its population earning less than $35,000  speak volumes about the perils at hand. The widespread proliferation of gangs, hookers, trannies, drug dealers and the general extremely seedy veneer cast upon the neighborhood are equally chilling.
So full of edge. Maybe not in the best of ways, either. While the neighborhood has made huge strides in the field of safety, there is a certain unease I get here. The apprehension isn't as visible as say, South Central, but its definitely visible. I must admit, its not a particularly good feeling when you're alone in such neighborhoods and a jalopy violently slows down at a moment's notice , or you're alone and see a crowd of unfamiliar people on the other end of the block you're on, or when you smile at someone, only to receive a blank, vacuous stare. Neither is being viewed with unwanted suspicion from by trannies or vagrants, or having drug dealers make it clear that you "saw absolutely nothing", or seeing 10 MS-13 gang members to pour out of a ratty apartment, all 10 high out of their minds and looking for trouble. Luckily, most of it is just smiles.
While its hard to romanticize or see hope in such daunting statistics, I can however, romanticize its cachet. The preponderance of pre-WW2 masterpieces; buildings that illustrated unfettered ambition and starkly contrast to their current states of various disarray , the generally unpretentious nature; the little Spanish-tinged hello's, and for those who can't speak English, generous smiles, a true "city" feel, and an eclectic culinary scene (even if mainly ethnic street fare), all demand merit.