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Diario de Los Angeles

[Might as well stick to the format for a while. Seems to work.]

I have friends here who insist that, despite the surface noise, not much in the way of culture really goes on in Los Angeles. While I suppose I should defer, to some extent, to their seniority in the city, I did fly back from Mexico City and go to an Antonioni double-bill that very night. Then came Terry Gilliam live with Brazil the next night. Then came Wim Wenders live with Wings of Desire and Faraway, So Close! Film culture is indisputably here; I’d say food culture is, too.

Does Wim Wenders live in L.A., at least part-time? I’ve heard people claim that he does, though I can’t find any evidence either way. Whether he does or not, he seemed oddly comfortable in Santa Monica. We ran into him and his entourage on a street corner before his show, and I felt the odd pleasure you feel when you see someone who, in real life, looks exactly like he does in media. He wore a black jacket with bright stripes and splotches of what looked like red and blue paint (or maybe paintlike thread patterns) on the sleeves. Rei Kawakubo? Yohji Yamamoto?

Los Angeles has brought regular double- and triple-bills into my life. Somehow, I’ve sat through the schlocky triple-bills — John Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Trilogy”; Willard, Wild Beasts, Shakma — in greater comfort than the more “respectable” double-bills. At Wenders’ films, as often happens at these events, I simultaneously experienced great cinematic excitement and terribly distracting cold. Did the management shut off the heating for the lesser-known, lesser-regarded picture, or did nearly six hours of near-immobility just stop my blood from circulating?

Scouting out apartments before moving here, I found myself strangely captivated by the slightly older, slightly more run-down area of Koreatown around 7th and Normandie. This had in large part to do with a little shack standing all alone in the parking lot of one of those L-shaped shopping centers (Madelaine’s dad, who’s worked in mall architecture calls them “LaManchas,” after the company that threw them up so feverishly in the seventies) you see everywhere in town. Despite having the shape of a burger or taco joint from days gone by, it advertised “authentic Korean dumpling” in English. My command of Korean didn’t quite rise to the occasion of reading anything else on its sign, except that the place seemed to be called “Yu Ga Ne”.

After actually moving to Koreatown — 7th and Mariposa, to be precise — I so deeply understood the inevitability of eating at Yu Ga Ne that I somehow put it off for a couple of months. Part of this owed to the kind of frugality you only develop by having no income whatsoever, but that eventually broke down. I mean, if I won’t eat at a place with a black-and-white Xerox of its accolades from Los Angeles magazines “100 Cheap Eats” issue, where will I eat? Crossing the threshold, I discovered not the take-your-shite-and-get-out counter I expected, but a full-fledged “sit-down experience.” From a converted burger and/or taco stand? Fascinating.

Yelp reviews and word of mouth pointed to the combination of “king dumplings” and black bean noodles as a gateway. Intellectually, I knew that this would make enough of a meal for two, but, unable to stand the idea of only one king dumpling each, I asked for a full order of black bean noodles, a full order of dumplings, and a full order of “hot tofu.” Naturally, more food than we could put away promptly arrived, but the flavor situation turned out to be such that I very much wanted to cram it all into my unwilling stomach. In the comfort of Yu Ga Ne, after all, I could ease the pain by drinking all the cold corn tea I pleased.

Leaving, nevertheless, with a hearty box of leftovers in hand, I reflected upon the fact of our being the only non-Koreans in the (admittedly tiny) restaurant. This bodes well for language practice; given its proximity to my home and the rich flavors of its food, I’ll prioritize becoming a regular here. (As soon as I get money, that is; we effectively ate a lunch and a dinner for a double sawbuck, total, but still.) I find that two demographic profiles in an eatery signal well about its eating experience: when everyone’s the same nationality as the food, or when everyone’s a completely different nationality. The worst sign? When everyone’s the same nationality, but not the nationality of the food. That bring big trouble. Bad medicine.

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