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Goeun Park: A day in the city of angels...traffic, pollution and culture

If cities like Minneapolis and NYC go up, Los Angeles sprawls out.

The city is not defined by a set of concrete buildings across a few blocks; it is pavement poured over miles and miles of arid hills. It’s massive, almost too big to be contained in one of fold-up city maps found in rundown rest areas.

I’m sure there are official boundaries to where L.A. ends and the rest of California begins, but I’ve generalized the neighborhoods in the vicinity as a part of L.A.

I technically live in what Southern Californians call the Inland Empire, an area east of the LA metropolitan area, but my new library card says County of Los Angeles so I don’t feel bad about telling people, “I go to school around L.A.”

Truth to be told, after the initial shock of being in the second biggest metropolitan area in the country, the city felt a little…underwhelming.

The palm trees were nice enough. The huge highways were exciting when they weren’t aggravating/terrifying. But the real LA didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I hadn’t met (and been kissed by) Zac Efron, for one.

Contrary to popular belief, Los Angeles is not that glamorous. The skyline is mediocre, the traffic is atrocious, the public transportation system is nonexistent, and the air pollution could probably choke a cute furry animal to death.

And I absolutely love it. I’ve grown to love L.A., the city flowers and sunshine, approximately three days ago. It might be a premature attachment but for now, I’m willing to defend this city with everything I’ve got.

The day after Thanksgiving, a couple friends and I rented a car and headed into the big city. L.A. is a driving city, which is inconvenient when it comes to stopping global warming but very convenient when it comes to three girls singing (or screaming) along to the radio. Cruising down a seven-lane highway at 70 mph for half an hour was an adventure itself.

Our first stop was Olvera Street, otherwise known as “the birthplace of Los Angeles.” Olvera Street is how I imagine a bustling marketplace in Oaxaca or Mexico City.

The street smelled like fried food heaven and showcased shops selling piñatas, saints, and candy skulls. My friend Alejandra spoke Spanish with the vendors with the graceful ease of a native speaker and put all of my high school Spanish to shame.

After passing through Olvera Street, we walked a couple blocks to Little Tokyo. On our way, I kept thinking that L.A. was an old town trying to catch up to the new; on one side of the street was a historical landmark and on the other side was a construction zone. The distinction was nearly comical.

Now, Little Tokyo was something else. If I ever won the lottery, I would spurge all my money there. The stationary! The stuffed animals! The food! Little Tokyo is the place for window-shopping because it has the cutest stores with the cutest trinkets and I will one day be able to stop raving about how cool it was but today’s not that day.

After we lamented over our shallow wallets, my friends and I hopped back onto the car and headed to our original destination: Koreatown. Alejandra knew a spectacular massage place right in the middle of K-town so in blind faith, we went up a sketchy set of stairs to get the best massage $20 could buy.

An aligned spine later, we stopped by a few stores so I could buy Korean snacks to cry into for finals week.

It’s kind of strange and mostly silly but I always thought that speaking Korean was a secret only my family understood. Speaking Korean in Detroit Lakes can warrant weird looks but in L.A.’s Koreatown, not speaking Korean was what was out of place. It was pretty surreal.

Los Angeles can be a hard city to find appealing. I’ve seen zero celebrities and too many homeless men and women next to rusting grocery carts. Like all cities, it can be dangerous and dehumanizing.

But nowhere else have I felt the diversity of human cultures and characters as strongly as I have in L.A. It’s the people that make the city so wonderful and warm, not the weather.

The city has so much to show, you only have to look.

Goeun Park graduated from Detroit Lakes High School and attends college in California.