|Richmond's Pacific East Mall in
March 24, 2003
An article in today's New York Times (see below) featured Richmond's Pacific East Mall as representative of the new American Asian Mall where " ... different streams of Asians become Asian-American." The Pacific East Mall in Richmond was developed by entrepreneur Terry Kwan, a Hong Kong native who has been active in Richmond community affairs and was kind enough to meet our 2002 Sister City delegation in Hong Kong, on our way to Zhousan, and give us an insiders tour. Another friend I have known from Vietnam in 1969-70 is Phuc (Nancy) Bui, is with the Pho Saigon restaurant in the Pacific East Mall. I recommend you try it. Finally, Pacific East Mall is also the location of a major restoration project for El Cerrito Creek - for more information, contact F5creeks@aol.com.
The New Chinatown? Try the Asian Mall
"In Chinatown you see mostly older people, walking slowly with pink plastic bags full of vegetables, walking and stopping, stopping and walking," said Ms. Huang, a consummate shopper who occasionally pauses mid-aisle to call her aunt for recipes on a cell phone. "Here, the aisles are bright and you can target what you want. You bump into your aunts, uncles and friends from school. It's a very important social space."
To Ms. Huang and her friends, 99 Ranch is an umbrella term not only for the 99 Ranch chain, the giant of Asian supermarkets, with 21 stores in California alone, but also the suburban-style, pan-Asian shopping malls they anchor. With Fudgsicles next to the taro root ice bars in the frozen food section, with shelves of Skippy peanut butter and Gatorade across from the frozen rice balls, these malls represent a classically California blending of old and new, exotic and ordinary - the Far East turned American under the glow of fluorescent bulbs and the gentle strains of Muzak.
Even the supermarket's name reflects the blend. The 99 implies eternity in Chinese numerology and "ranch" was added for an American image.
Shoppers come from as far as Sacramento, 72 miles away, to the five-year-old Pacific East mall here, just north of Oakland and on the border of El Cerrito, long nicknamed "little Taipei," with a population that is 24 percent Asian. They can sip tapioca pearl tea, sing karaoke, have an eye examination, buy a sand-filled Taiwanese Hula Hoop or Chinese Harry Potter figures, sample Chinese gummi octopi candy, eat Filipino sweet bread filled with ham, cheese and sugar, or hang out at Cybergame, a cybercafe that attracts young men who stay glued to the video game Counter-Strike until the wee hours.
At the J & S Tea Shop, a popular tapioca pearl tea spot, Sho Kang, a 35-year-old electrical engineer, was perusing Taiwanese entertainment magazines with his friend Eddie Pang, 22, a University of California graduate. Mr. Kang was a "parachute kid," a nickname for Asian teenagers who are "dropped off" in the United States by their parents to go to school.
"The American mall is rigid because you can find the Gap anywhere," Mr. Kang said. "Chinatown is for the old immigrant; 99 Ranch is for the new. You can pretty much tell if a girl is single by what she buys at 99 Ranch."
The growth of Asian malls and supermarkets mirrors the growing prosperity of Asian-Americans who have left urban enclaves for mainstream suburbs. Although there are no precise statistics on Asian malls, California is home to an estimated 50 to 60 of them, mostly in southern California. The state also has 9 of the country's 10 cities with the highest proportions of Asians. Honolulu is the other.
Wan Loo, owner of Asiamall .com, an online directory and importing company, said there were roughly 140 such complexes around the country. For new Asian immigrants, many of them young professionals, the 15 or so Asian malls around San Francisco - 8 with 99 Ranches - encircle the Bay area like a necklace of familiarity.
"It's amazing how much like Singapore or Hong Kong these malls are," said Aihwa Ong, a professor of anthropology and Southeast Asian studies at the University of California at Berkeley. "There is a sense of the mall integrating different waves of ethnic Chinese immigrants from all over Asia. They may come from different classes, but the mall represents common ground."
Professor Ong added, "It's the place where different streams of Asians become Asian-American."