I did it! I got all 15 of the recent Un-OLWG prompts in one post…and, I wrote it on the fly! Me so proud. The prompts are in bold. Easier to spot that way when there are so many. A few are tweaked to better fit the story. And, the story? It is inspired by a true event! Not something I typically do.
“This is the oldest district of Chinatown,” Brent announced to the group of twenty or so people who signed up for the walking tour of downtown. He smiled a grin so wide, it exposed almost all of his teeth. The people gathered looked at him in anticipation, as if he was about to deliver a punch line.
Brent was an unlikely Chinatown tour guide. A thirty-two year-old Irishman (regardless his grandmother’s protestation that the family was English) and community college basketball coach (a job that supported his fanciful dream of one day being a celebrated poet) who would be taken for an authority on nothing other than what was important to the average millennial. He walked the group a few blocks, making casual conversation along the way, before beginning his presentation. He stopped on the corner of Jackson and 4th.
“Now, most who write about Chinatown dismiss these four blocks north of Juniper Park as your classic red-light district, with girls loitering on street corners lit by neon restaurant signs, opium dens, and drug lords infamous for shooting their victims between the eyes, stripping them naked and burying them in vats of grease. That sold a lot of Hollywood movies and mystery novels over the years, but it’s a little too retro and cliche characterization, in my opinion. Not surprisingly, too, it’s inaccurate.
“What you actually have here are no less than ten different association houses, just in this area. An association house is an integral part of most Chinatowns around the world. It was a place of refuge, business, and, in a way, governance. When you lived in a world that shuts you out, or exploits you, the association house was your lifeline, and definitely a fairer arbiter than City Hall.”
A hand came up from the group. “But, there was crime, wasn’t there? It isn’t all B.S.” The question was inevitable on almost every tour Brent led.
“Yes, yes. Of course. No society or culture is without their share of crime. They did traffic in illegal goods and services, and fights would erupt, typically out in the street between two rival gin joints, but mostly, they did everything else right by their community. They provided housing, employment, temples for worship, schools, legal representation, traditional medicine as well as western health clinics and hospitals, excetera, excetera.
“Any questions? No? OK, let’s walk to the next spot.”
Brent led them through a narrow, perfectly kept alley, complete with a public art installation that looked like hundreds of large, colorful kites sailing above them. One of the cables anchoring the installation in place had come loose and was dangling enticingly close overhead. A couple of teenagers in the group jumped to try and grab it.
“Leave it alone,” a woman, presumably their mother, hissed. “Show some respect!”
Brent ignored the comotion. He thought the tour guides who scolded people in their group, or barked orders, took all the fun out of it for the others. He simply pressed on, which tended to keep everyone on task to reach their next destination. He stopped in front of an old brick building and waited for everyone to catch up.
“We are standing in front of one of the last fully operational association houses. Up there,” Brent pointed to a brightly painted and decorated balcony three floors up, “written in character, of course, is the phrase, ‘The wind carries both good and bad to your door.’ It’s a sort of motto of this family association. I think it was, well, actually, still is meant as a warning that bad behavior is not tolerated here, and that only those pure of heart may enter.
“Travelers, visitors, new immigrants, upon reading that slogan, would know exactly which family association house this was. If you were of the same family, or had ties to the family name, then this was an appropriate house for you to find a bed for the night, something to eat, assistance, guidance, whatever your need.”
“What does that say?” asked a man holding a camera with a long telephoto lens and pointing to the terracotta archway over the main doors. Brent wasn’t sure what the man was indicating, until he stepped closer to the entrance and took a close look. He had not noticed the characters before. They were very small. So, unless, like the man with a telephoto lens, you had some sort of magnification, you would miss them entirely. The little bit of study Brent had made of Mandarin in college and in the years since helped him decipher the translation. But as he worked out the words, the thought came to him that it might be Japanese.
He stepped back to take in the building. The storefronts and businesses had signs in Mandarin, but he noted the building was just a block off of the predominantly Japanese neighborhood that stretched westward up the hill toward Little Saigon, something he had not taken into consideration before.
“Well, my friend,” Brent said to the man, “you managed to show me something I’ve never noticed!” The group chuckled. A woman said in a low voice to her companion, ‘thinks he’s such an expert…’ As with the comotion with the teenagers, Brent ignored the comment.
“What I can tell you is it says something to the effect, ‘Don’t pray for me, pray for them’, but what is fascinating is that I believe it’s in Japanese.”
The group stared at their tour guide, awaiting explanation. Brent flashed his big smile. “Not surprising. I mean, I will have to check out the ownership records to be sure, but we are on the border of the neighborhood that’s historically Japanese, so it’s possible a Japanese family or company owned the building at some point. Anyway…if you are interested, give me your email or number and I’ll let you know when I find out!”
At just that moment, Brent’s phone text beeped. He looked at it, but he didn’t need to. He knew it was the visitor’s center with a reminder that it was time to escort a tour back to Juniper Park.
“Sorry, folks, that text means we’re out of time! Before we head back, I want to thank you for coming along. I hope you enjoyed the tour and maybe learned something you didn’t know before. In conclusion, I wish all of you safe and happy travels, and encourage you to patronize any of the shops we pass by on our way back. My favorite is the little novelty shop across the street.”
“Magic Products? What a weird name for a store,” the same snarky woman from before said. “Sounds like a snake oil sales pitch, if you ask me.”
“A literal translation of ‘Magic Shop’. Come on!,” Brent encouraged, “I’ll show you. It’s a great place!”