Uncontained Rants...

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Holiday Thoughts

According to my nifty planner, today is the first day of winter. Before I get started, wipe those illusions of fireplaces and snow angels out of your mind for this is no 'snow globe' winter. It’s a crisp and sunny 68 degrees in Orange County and of course, we wouldn’t have it any other way in Southern California. I spent the better part of the early morning squinting against the sun as my car dawdled along the 405 and down the streets of Little Saigon in search of Christmas gifts. But why was I attempting to shop rather then heading to work, as I should have been? For as with my study habits in college, I’m a procrastinator. Thus, this “quality” also applies when it comes to buying gifts (big surprise). Not that I don’t care, mind you, it's just that the idea of buying presents worthy of the recipient is somewhat of a challenge, so it takes me some time to actually get around to it. So, after having bought every copy of Catfish and Mandala at Barnes & Nobles (ok, there was only one copy), I headed towards Bolsa in search of the perfect gift.

Driving through Little Saigon is something I avoid like the plague on most days, but I actually can appreciate it more in the early mornings, when most store fronts are still silent and the most common exchange is that of the baguette and café sua between cashier and customer. People are generally still wiping the sleep out of their eyes and so are a bit calmer and easy-going, having not yet gathered the energy to plow their cars through camera-rigged streetlights. So, driving towards a usually chaotic intersection on this early morning, I slowed down, took a deep breath and smiled at the usual suspects engaging in their morning routines. I watched as an elderly Vietnamese gentleman in a tracksuit and overcoat tenderly aided his equally bundled up wife across the street. The couple took small cautious steps in spite of the gargantuan SUVs inching impatiently past the crosswalk. Turning into a plaza, I spotted two old-timers walking into a nearby café, smartly dressed with newspapers tucked neatly under their arms. I always wondered what these men talked about every morning for hours on end and concluded that they probably mused on the mysteries of life as well as everything under the sun.

My first stop would be the flower shop, where I was hoping to pick up a few miniature potted plants, orchids and my favorite flowers, Ladies Dancing. But, as I pull into the still deserted parking lot, I realize that everything is still closed and the only inhabitants of the strip mall other then myself at this time are the old-timers and the Latino workers hauling and carting goods out of their trucks. After mulling around for a few minutes and practicing my broken Spanish, I come to the conclusion that unlike in Vietnam, where the hustle and bustle of life starts at the crack of dawn, these Vietnamese-American businesses won’t be opening up shop till close to noon.

Resigned to push my last minute shopping to yet another day, I climb back into my car and drive out of Little Saigon and into the heart of Santa Ana. The signs and banners slowly transform from Vietnamese into Spanish, the plethora of pho restaurants into a surplus of taquerias. Driving down the same street, Vietnamese old-timers engaging in their morning calisthenics turn into Latino mothers walking their children to bus stops and day workers loitering at the corners of hardware stores.

Despite my failed shopping excursion, I find comfort in the quiet essence that permeates the air on this cool, winter morning. In the span of 5 minutes along one avenue, the life of one ethnic enclave merges into another. I wonder if my fellow commuters ever stop to take notice of the life that has already begun to stir around these storefronts and along these streets as they whiz past on their way to work.

In the midst of the holiday restlessness, when thoughts of gift receipts and Christmas dinner swirl in your head, here’s a suggestion: Turn off the never-ending counter of to-dos and what-ifs in your head, take a deep breathe, and steal a glimpse of the endearing human qualities of Little Saigon and its surrounding community—you might be left with a gift never intended for your wish list.