Thursday, March 17, 2005

postal scrotum: Annandale edition

Jason W. writes:


Wow, Joong-hwa Won is a 2 minute walk from my house.

As I commented on the Marmot's site, the biggest thing that rubbed me wrong about the WaPo article was that there are all these older moneyed caucasians complaining about the connotation of the word "Koreatown", that the term implies a seedy sort of ethnic enclave where crackers aren't welcome. These people own the houses that border the downtown Annandale area, houses whose values have exploded with all the new middle-class commerce that has come to the area. I think this is a good example of classic white middle class angst, but I think it also points to a more interesting cultural barrier. (BTW, let me be on record as saying I have never heard Annandale described as "Koreatown" by anyone white or Asian.)

My wife (from Pusan) pointed out to me last night that while Korean businesspeople in Annandale (hell--everywhere!) tend to pay more attention to what's going on inside their particular stores than what's going on outside. A successful Annandale Korean business at first glance doesn't appear to be all that successful because the owners don't really care about the outside appearance of their store. As a result, A-Dale has become a strip-mall village, and I think this upsets the A-Dale Chamber of Commerce because they have the picture of a gentrified All-American village in their minds (replete with shrubbery, neat sidewalks, and a "theme" tying the district together). The Korean businessman's suggestion to put in an underground mall (KEEE-RIST!) is a prime example of this difference in thinking.

Also, business district planning in Korea--as far as I can tell-- has always been more of a local government issue made in tandem with large corporations with very little input from mom-and-pop businesses. Perhaps its this lack of civic cooperation that has led Korean business owners in the US (at least in Annandale) to go it alone without help from the Chamber of Commerce. It makes me wonder if there are economic incentives the CoC can dangle (sorry--couldn't resist typing that) in front of Korean business owners to get them to take part in planning.

Having lived in Seattle, where that city's International District has become a magnet for business while retaining its "Asian" flavor, I know there's a middle ground that can be found. A lot of Americans complain that Koreans are clannish and shun the outside community, and while that may be true to some degree, I think that in the end, business is business, and that if the Annandale Chamber of Commerce can work to find a plan that Korean business owners find attractive, the Koreans will play ball. The assimilation of the Koreans into the NoVA community won't happen overnight; its going to take flexible thinking on both sides to make it happen.

Balls to you,


About the appellation "Koreatown"... I've heard it while in Alexandria and McLean, but not while in Annandale.


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