Tuesday, September 8, 2009


It's hot, it's dry, it's September. You know what that means in Southern California. Fires - yes - but something even more aggravating.


Time to go to Chinatown.

This weekend we went down to Chinatown to replenish our supply of Chinese insecticidal chalk, which had run out over the past year.

The thing about Chinese Chalk is that it's.....not legal. So if you're looking to buy it, you have to be a little savvy. They sell it in Chinatown, but it's not out in the open, you have to ask.

We parked at a lot off Spring Street at Alpine Street, just north of Superior Poultry - where you can get, if you like, live chickens for your dinner. We pulled our car into the space indicated by the attendant wearing a sun-flapped cap, and inched forward incrementally as he squeezed us in. Behind and around us, cars were stack-parked as tightly as you could imagine. It was a hot day and he had to stay here, beyond the high steel fence separating the parking lot from the poultry dealer. You could hear a few sad clucks, and it didn't smell good. We gladly handed him the $4 fee.

The crosswalks are newly paved with a dragon design.

Up on Broadway, the sidewalks outside the stores were cluttered with stuff, cheap clothes, shoes, parasols, and toys.

I envied the smart Asian ladies, who held parasols over their heads, shielding themselves from the hot sun. Of course, every time I come to Chinatown, I usually buy a parasol for that very purpose. I probably have a half-dozen parasols at home, but never think to put one in the car. I have at least three parasols at home, right by my front door.

In the stores, we asked shopkeepers if they had insecticidal chalk, but we were rebuffed. "Down the block," said one cashier. "Coming in next month," said another.

Down on Spring Street, some people were clustered around a red pick-up truck. A multicolored umbrella shaded the bed of the truck, which was filled with bunches of plump, dark black grapes, all tumbled in loose. The liftgate was down, and an older man had a scale propped up on it. As customers clustered round, he grabbed bunches of grapes, stuffed them into plastic bags and weighed them, while people thrust dollar bills at him.

Saturday in L.A.'s Chinatown, for smart shoppers.

We continued down the sidewalk, past the store that sold mechanical talking birds, glittery Buddha and Lucky Cat figurines, and LED store signs.

Beyond, another entrepreneur - a Vietnamese "taco truck."

Boba drinks and banh mi - there were plenty of customers. Sandwiches looked good, but we were on a mission, so we passed on the truck.

Another pick-up truck entrepreneur. Buy 'em whole or he'll juice them for you!

Finally, we ducked into Saigon alley - a crowded, crammed passage between two buildings, where vendors rent small stall for their businesses. The walkway is claustrophobic, narrow, and on a hot day like this, stifling.

There were people everywhere, and the vendors were shouting. You can buy luggage, socks, underwear, children's dresses, toys and jewelry. One woman hawked baseball hats, and I just took a chance. "No hats," I said, "but do you have the chalk that kills insects?"

She drew me back into the booth. "Yes, two for one dollar," she said. "How many you want?"

"Five dollars," I said. She went to the cheap, fiberboard cabinet that held up the cash register, and opened a drawer. She showed me two boxes of the familiar orange and yellow boxes, bundled with rubber bands; then she shoved five bundles into a black plastic bag. I handed her a five.


Now let's go find a noodle shop and get some lunch!


Anonymous said...

I'm going to have to go back and read about ant season. Fires, I know about, but ant season is new to me.
You are very adventurous. Thanks for bringing us along and braving the heat so we can have a computer-chair adventure with you. :)

mo.stoneskin said...

I imagine a newly-chalked bug's thought process goes something like this.

"Nice colour this, I must wear chalk makeup more often, rather fetching I think, but bloody hell I'm not feeling well, better call in sick today."

cactus petunia said...

I might have to try that stuff. It beats mowing 'em down with Windex every ten minutes.

Tristan Robin said...

never heard of the stuff!

But I love Chinatown here in NYC. Maybe next time I'll see if I can make a antchalk score.

Unknown said...

Look at you and your secret undercover mission to get illegal ant killing aids : ). Fabulous!

Gilly said...

Why is it illegal? Can you get a high or something by sniffing! Or is it highly toxic to humans (as well as ants!)

But Chinatown looked so interesting. We have one in Manchester but its not nearly so big. Very interesting, though.