A Disappointing Day of Discovery: Personal Challenge, Day 12 (9.28.12)

Still a bit sore after my horseback riding adventure yesterday, I decided I would take it easy and explore something closer to home.  Originally I thought tonight was the full moon so I was planning on visiting the Linda Vista Hospital (despite my students and mother warning me to stop going places at night, alone, especially on a full moon).  But the full moon is tomorrow so that means I could pick something a little more low-key and indoors (a great way to beat the heat).

Once again, I found myself searching the Discover LA website for ideas when I found their “Best of LA in One Day” page.  Most of the places I had visited before or they cost too much money but the section, “Fun, In Any Language” sounded interesting.  It mentions an area known as ground zero for LA’s Chinese population; a place often referred to as “The Great Mall of China.”  This place is the San Gabriel Square.  They said it has a supermarket, lots of Chinese restaurants, gift shops and “a vibe that says Vegas and Southern California as much as Beijing.”  I love Chinese food and anything Buddha so this sounded like the perfect place to go.  I used Google Maps, printed out my directions and headed to my destination.

First off, the drive over there sucked.  The Google directions were confusing and there were traffic jams galore with all the construction in the different areas of Pasadena (and it wasn’t even Carmageddon time yet).  But once I was on Valley Blvd and started to see all of the Chinese symbols on the signs, I knew I was headed in the right direction.

In my mind, I was imagining a Chinatown version of the Mall of America or at the very least the Forum shops at Caesar’s Palace in Vegas.  I figured it would be flashy and easy to spot, yet the sign was not easily visible while driving so I drove right past it, being forced to turn on the next street and find a back entrance into the parking lot.

The building was not at all what I expected but I was trying to stay positive.  I did feel like I was stepping into another country.  But the minute I emerged from the parking lot stairwell and stepped into the courtyard in front of the Focus department store, I thought I was going to throw up.  There was an overwhelming stench of rotting seafood.  I noticed there was markets to the left of Focus so I decided to walk off into the opposite direction.  Once again, a wave of disappointed flooded my senses when the San Gabriel Square failed to live up to my fantasy version of a Great Mall of China.  At the very least, I thought it would have the feel of the shops in Chinatown (downtown LA).  But this simply felt like a regular mall but the signs and music were all in Chinese.  There was even a T-Mobile store.

So in an effort to try something new, I thought I would try eating at one of the restaurants.  But as I walked around, I realized that all of the restaurants that were open had a B rating and didn’t look all that appealing.  The restaurants that I wanted to try, like the steamed dumplings place, were closed until 5:30pm.  It was only 4pm.  I didn’t think I would be able to entertain myself for an hour and a half.  But I still had the Focus department store to check out.  Maybe that would be a time killer so I could enjoy some dumplings.

The Focus store has four levels.  I decided I would go up to the top and work my way down.  The top-level was a restaurant so that didn’t take that long.

The third level was jewelry.  It was set up like a flea market where each booth was owned by someone else.  If only I had known about this place back when I was looking for a Jade Buddha necklace.  This is definitely the place to go for Jade jewelry.  The only thing I didn’t like was I couldn’t understand the price tags (they didn’t use decimal points).  So I didn’t know if the necklace was $12.50 (which would be a total bargain) or $1,250.  And the jewelers were all with customers and talking Chinese.  I was the tall, white American girl who stood out like a sore thumb.

The second level was clothing, clothing made for skinny little women, not curvy Italian-Polish-German-French Canadian-Americans.  But if I ever want a fancy Chinese style dress, I now know where to buy one.

The first floor was the marketplace.  There were beauty items, household items (who knew they make Hello Kitty Pots & Pans), a whole section of Chinese Alcohol (Plum Wine & Sake), and then my favorite part, the tea section.  There is no need to go to a wallet-killer store like Teavana when there is Focus in San Gabriel.  The teas were reasonably priced.  I finally got my tea infuser pot for only $5.98 (they are $19.98 at Teavana).  I also got some Bamboo serving spoons for $1.90 each.  They also had some beautiful tea sets, Sake sets, and Sushi plates.  Yep, the tea and kitchen area made the whole trip worth it.

It was now 4:30pm and there was nothing else for me to explore.  I had arrived at 4pm.  It only took me a half hour to explore this entire place.  So I would disagree with Discover Los Angeles’ description of the San Gabriel Square.  It isn’t the “Great Mall of China” nor does it have a Vegas vibe.  But if you want good deals on tea, tea pots and anything else to meet your Oriental Cooking needs, this is the place to go.  As for the restaurants, I will have to comment on that if I should ever get down there again to eat at the dumplings place.

On my way home, I looked over at my new tea-infuser pot but I wasn’t satisfied.  This didn’t really seem worthy of my challenge.  Yes, I did go somewhere I had never been before but I was disappointed by what I found.  I needed something else.  I needed another adventure but as I was driving home, I didn’t see anything “inspiring.”  There was a sign that said “Live Oak Park” and I thought that could be something cool was it was simply a park with baseball and soccer fields.  There was a little league baseball game happening as I drove past.

So I figured I could just stop and get dinner at a restaurant I had never been to before.  I drove past “The Habit Burger Grill” at the Hastings Ranch shopping center in Pasadena.  I had never been there and had heard it was like the old chain Topz (the one with the healthy burgers and aero-fries, that the original Tops in Pasadena).  So I order what appeared to be their “famous” burger, the Charburger.  I do have to say it was a good burger.  Not as healthy as Topz used to be (the fries were definitely not baked) but it was still really good.  The Habit Burger Grill is a chain that started in 1969 in Santa Barbara and now you can find them all over SoCal.  I can safely say that I would definitely go back.

With a full belly, I returned to the car and watched as the moon rose into the sky and the sun started to set behind me.  It looked like a full moon.  I started to think that maybe I had my dates wrong.  If it was the full moon, I needed to head home to get my camera.  I could add more adventures to my day, like capturing the full moon over the Colorado Street Bridge and Devil’s Gate Dam.  But I checked my calendar and I was right, the full moon is tomorrow night.  I guess I am just going to have to settle with what I have already done–technically I tried two new things–and hope that tomorrow turns out for the better.  At the very least, I know I can enjoy the full moon, the Harvest Moon, tomorrow night.

As for tonight, I am just going to head home and watch “The Avengers” on On Demand–a movie I haven’t seen yet.

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