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THIS IS AMERICA - A Visit to an Asian "Night Market" in Los Angeles

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LA 626 Night Market
LA 626 Night Market

From VOA Learning English, welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in Special English. I'm Faith Lapidus.

And I'm Christopher Cruise.

This week on our program we take you to a night market in Los Angeles. We also talk about LA's Chinatown with a best-selling author who writes about the lives of Chinese immigrants.

Then, we take you to a beach near Los Angeles where, once a year, surfing mixes with religion. And later we find out why many television and film productions are leaving Hollywood.

Night Markets in California

Night markets in Asia are places where people enjoy street food and social gatherings.

"This is something we need."

In Southern California, the 626 Night Market in Los Angeles reminds George Ge of a night market in Taiwan.

"Everything is cheap and food, not very clean but taste awesome."

Six-two-six is the telephone area code for a mostly Asian neighborhood of Los Angeles. Jonny Hwang is one of the organizers of the 626 Night Market.

"Thailand, China, Korea, Japan have different variations of it. It's a staple of Asian societies there. Night markets have been around every day, every weekend. Thousands of people, people of all ages, families come out to have a good, safe time."

The 626 Night Market is like a market in Asia but it has a Los Angeles style. Aileen Xu enjoys it.

"What we have here is literally a huge melting pot, it's a fusion of all different Asians, and I mean, I think it's really representative of the Asian American population in L.A. because we're not all Chinese. We're, you know, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese. We're everything and we're mixed, and we have, we even have foods that are like Asian Latino."

And there is another difference with the night markets in Asia. This one in Los Angeles does not happen regularly. Jonny Hwang has only been able to organize a few night markets so far.

"Having this type of event of this scale in America, in LA, is very difficult. It's not like Asia where the rules are lax and you can almost do anything. Here, it's a lot more structured."

He wants this night market to be held more often. He says it is a social event, but also good for the local economy.

"A lot of our vendors are local small business. A lot of them are entrepreneurs, first timers, and I think without this event, this platform, they would be hard-pressed to find places that they can participate."

The people who sell food and other products at the night market also have stores and restaurants, many of them in the local neighborhood. The night market lets them show their products to thousands of people in one night.

John Zhuang sells Taiwanese beef jerky, preserved plums and candied fruits.

He says having a food stand at the night market will help his business.

People from as far east as New York and as far north as the Canadian city of Vancouver have visited and asked for the night market to continue. Organizers say they are working to have the 626 Night Market become a monthly and possibly even a weekly event.

Lisa See

Lisa See has written about the Chinese-American experience in best-selling novels like "Shanghai Girls" and "Dreams of Joy." Her recent books have been partly set in the Chinatown area of Los Angeles.

Author Lisa See at a movie screening in New York City last year
Author Lisa See at a movie screening in New York City last year

​​

With her red hair and freckles, Lisa See looks Caucasian. But she is one-eighth Chinese and part of a large Chinese-American family. Her ancestors came to Los Angeles many years ago. Her great-grandfather, Fong See, helped establish Chinatown. She told his story in her book "On Gold Mountain."

"My first book was about my family, and I think that that kind of set me on a course."

Her later books have explored Chinese culture in China and in America.

"And now today, in Los Angeles, we do have the largest Chinese-American community in the United States."

Many immigrants have moved out of the city to the San Gabriel Valley, east of Los Angeles. But Lisa See says Chinatown still attracts immigrants from throughout Asia. She says they come for the same reasons that earlier generations came.

"You know, we all have someone in our families who was scared enough, brave enough, crazy enough to leave their home country to come here."

Lisa See says she'll tell more stories about immigrants in her future novels.

Sacred Surfing

An interfaith worship service recently took place at a beach south of Los Angeles. The religious service celebrated the Pacific Ocean and the California surfing culture. The Christians, Muslims, Jews and others who were there believe the ocean teaches lessons about life and faith.

The coastal city of Huntington Beach, in Orange County, calls itself Surf City USA. Every morning at the beach, the surfers are out early to catch the waves.

Tom Morey is a longtime surfer who invented a kind of short surfboard called the boogie board. He says surfing is a passion and a lifestyle.

"Surfing to me is creation's most succinct metaphor, best metaphor, for how to live your life. Surf your life."

Once a year, an interfaith service called the "Blessing of the Waves" brings in surfers and others to celebrate their love of the ocean.

One person leads a Muslim prayer. Another blows a ram's horn, a Jewish tradition.

Maneck Bhujwala, a Zoroastrian, reads a prayer in the ancient Avestan language.

Rev. Christian Mondor, left, talks with Fawad Yacoob of the Islamic Society of Orange County at the Blessing of the Waves ceremony in Huntington Beach, California, a few years ago
Rev. Christian Mondor, left, talks with Fawad Yacoob of the Islamic Society of Orange County at the Blessing of the Waves ceremony in Huntington Beach, California, a few years ago

​​

"So we have actually prayers for all the major elements of nature, including the water."

A choir with immigrants from the South Pacific island nation of Tonga provides music.

Two Roman Catholic priests were also at the service. They are both surfers who have spent time at Huntington Beach. After the service, they went into the ocean.

Father Christian Mondor is 87 years old. He was helped onto a surfboard and caught a small wave. He was happy to get in the water.

"It takes a lot of skill, but it's a wonderful feeling when you're moving with the ocean, especially when you can stand up and ride it wherever you want. But just to be in the water is such an invigorating experience. And it's great to be back, all wet again."

One of the people at the service was Dean Torrence. He was half of Jan and Dean, the 1960s group that helped make surf music popular with songs like "Surf City."

"The sand, the ocean, the blue sky, the weather. I mean, what could be better? I'm very, very, very blessed to be here in a place that we call Surf City."

Hollywood

Hollywood is a neighborhood in the city of Los Angeles, but to many people, it represents the entertainment capital of the world. Yet some television and film productions have been leaving for other cities and other countries.

We are on location in downtown Los Angeles on the set of a TV show called "Vegas" -- one of only a few new shows being filmed in the city. Steve Michelson is part-owner of one of the catering companies that serve food to people working on TV and movie sets. He says his business has suffered in the past few years.

"I have individuals doing jobs that two or three people used to do. A company yesterday called me; they have five catering trucks -- they want to sell them. They want to go out of business."

Some caterers are leaving Los Angeles and following productions to other cities.

Film LA is a nonprofit group that processes permits for on-location productions of movies, TV shows and commercials. Paul Audley, the president of Film LA, says there has been a big change especially in the television industry.

"This year, for example, we know of the 23 new television dramas, 21 of them are going out of state and they used to virtually all be filmed here. We had more than 80 percent of television, and now we're down to about 40."

Bela Bajaria at Universal Television says studio executives consider two main factors when deciding where to shoot a film or TV show.

"A big part of it is obviously creatively, that we can really realize what's on the page. The other equally as important part is actually, you know, a tax incentive."

Bela Bajaria says other cities have become more attractive to studios.

"It was about ten years ago, you know, New Orleans really came out with some first tax credits and a couple of the other states really followed."

In 2004, there were 16 film or TV projects in New Orleans. Katie Williams is the director of Film New Orleans. Speaking on Skype, she said that number increased to more than 50 this year.

"I don't think we would have any of that without the tax credit."

The famed Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, California
The famed Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, California

​​

New Orleans is in Louisiana, and Katie Williams says state tax credits for studios have helped the city's film industry grow.

"Ultimately at this point, anything a movie needs to make the project can be found here in this state, and specifically in New Orleans, so with that comes jobs."

The state of New York also provides financial incentives to the film and television industry. Douglas Steiner is chairman of Steiner Studios in Brooklyn. He says his studio is growing with help for the industry from Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"It makes money, it makes money for the city. Bloomberg makes it easy to shoot in New York, and Governor Cuomo has made it affordable to shoot in New York. It employs tens of thousands of people that would otherwise not be working."

California also offers financial incentives to television and film companies. But Paul Audley of Film LA says these are not as large as those given by other states.

"Unfortunately, we don't have enough of that money available to truly compete."

And the competition is global. Eastern European countries as well as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Britain are all competing for some of Hollywood's business.

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