The Floating World

Middle class Asians are rediscovering the joys of residing in the old neighborhood.

By G.W. Miller III
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 1 | Posted Jul. 23, 2008

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"Which song you like?" Anita asks me with a force that tells me there's no way I'm not singing this evening.

She has a closet full of milk crates containing two-decade-old laser discs. I browse through and find Burt Bacharach, Carole King and Neil Sedaka's greatest hits.

"Come on, George, this is a good song," Anita snaps at me while placing the microphone in my hand.

The next thing I know, I'm singing a duet.

"Memory, all alone in the moonlight," we harmonize. "I can smile at the old days, I was beautiful then. I remember the time I knew what happiness was."

The Fungs' friends--mostly empty nesters like Anita and Raymond--applaud politely, but I sense sarcasm in their Cantonese banter. The slow song and my droning have killed the mood.

Then Anita drops some peppy Chinese music into the machine. As Moonlight Tong, Anita's friend, sings to a jaunty beat, Raymond and a few others start to cha-cha in the center of the living room.


Because Chinatown is boxed in on three sides by the historic district, the Gallery and the Convention Center, there have long been fears that the condo boom would price Asians out of the neighborhood.

The effect would be akin to an ethnic amusement park: non-Asians residing in an area occupied by Asian businesses operated by people who live elsewhere.

But at the GrandView, at least, the Chinese community is strong and active.

"My wife has so many friends here," says Raymond, who sold his two restaurants in 2005 (but kept the karaoke machine).

Asians occupy about a third of the 16-story 194-unit building. Many residents are restaurant, bakery and supermarket owners in Chinatown who lived in the suburbs before the building went condo in 2004. Residents walk to work, play ping-pong on the second floor, compete in mah-jong in their apartments and sing karaoke in the Fungs' home.

"Anita's our captain!" jokes Yi Ling "Julie" Miao, a GrandView resident and owner of the Empress Garden restaurant on 10th Street.


We eat pork dumplings, oxtail stew and a soup of dry conch, octopus, barley, pork and whole chicken feet. Wine flows freely.

Even before the meal is over, guests commandeer the karaoke machine. Electronic music and high-pitched singing fills the room. As Anita clears the table and cleans dishes, she sways to the music.

The karaoke goes on for hours with performers rotating through moldy oldies and Chinese pop. People dance, some break into tai chi routines and many sing along.

A few people leave, taking the elevator to their homes on other floors. But the joyful singing continues.

Finally, Raymond hunches over and throws his left arm behind his aching back.

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1. Andrew said... on Jul 25, 2008 at 12:30PM

“You mentioned two people moving to Chinatown. That hardly merits your headline.”

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