DC Exploration Tour Reports

Tour #1: Chinatown (DC)
Date: 10/15/15 (Thursday)
Time: 4-6pm

This past Thursday, I took the DC circulator to Chinatown DC. I have always had a passion for observing Chinatowns of different cities, so this trip was very personal and attractive to me.

Upon arriving on 7th Street / I Street, where Chinatown roughly starts, I immediately noticed the relative sparsity of the area relative to other Chinatowns I’ve been to in the country (NYC, SF, LA and Boston). The beginning of the area was marked by a prominent red oriental archway and a dynastic stylized AT&T building. As I entered the neighborhood, I noted that there were the commonplace Chinatown attractions: small giftshops, herbal remedy/drug stores, dim sum and underground restaurants serving home style and Cantonese cuisine (duck noodle soup, rice bowl, watercress spinach, spiced lobster). However, the overall image of this Chinatown lacked authenticity and depth. Most of the stores were American franchises (Walgreens, Vapianos or PNC Bank branches) that simply had Chinese lettering on the signs. The neighborhood was also underwhelming in size, given that it only stretched 3-4 blocks at the very most. Within 15 minutes, I was able to walk from one end of the neighborhood to the other.

I think that this Chinatown has been diminished in part due to the ethnic community moving to other parts of DC, leaving behind this relatively less affluent neighborhood for greener pastures. I would not be surprised if this current sized Chinatown is reduced to half in another decade or so.

Tour #2: Shaw
Date: 10/16/15 (Friday)
Time: 1-3pm

Shaw is particularly unique in that it sits in the dead center of the capital. It’s very easy to access different parts of the city (Columbia Heights sits to the north, Logan Circle around the corner and Chinatown as well as the rest of the city to the south). With that being said, the area of Shaw is very attractive and enjoyable in and of itself. The city is particularly easy to access from various parts of D.C. through the Metro system.

Shaw is noticeably much more culturally and ethnically diverse than Northwest D.C. and the proximate areas around Georgetown that I’ve spent the majority of my time. I spoke with a few of the pedestrians, who noted that Shaw used to be a predominantly African-American neighborhood, but has seen demographic shifts as a result of land developer and commercial interests. This has led to many interesting infrastructural images as well. Architecturally, Shaw presents a very dynamic setting given its combination of older buildings/homes with massive commercial developments. I had the chance to visit the Washington Convention center on L Street, an enormous piece of infrastructure that reportedly cost a $1.4 billion investment.

Cafes are particularly notable and plentiful in Shaw. I ended my day at Compass Coffee, an artisan and spacious shop on upper 7th Street. To expand upon the bohemian nature of Shaw, I was greeted with some of the best barista service I ever encountered. The customers had also developed a strong rapport with the employees and amongst each other. The café summarized my experience in Shaw, it offered a very refreshing and relaxing shift from the stereotypical bustled environment characterizing the rest of my DC experience.

Tour #3: Adams Morgan
Date: 10/16/15 (Friday)
Time: 10pm-12am

Today was the first time of this academic year that I went to Adams Morgan. Upon arriving on 18th street, I was greeted with a highly diversified demographic and storefronts. Obviously, the heavy concentration of nightlife was most apparent by the juxtaposed clubs and bars. I was unsurprised to find that nearly half the pedestrians were in my age group.

We bounced from bar to bar, all of which had similar vibes and experiences (dance floors and crowded bar fronts). While all the places were themed uniquely, each offered a similar offering of people, menus and layout. Town Tavern DC was notable for its large dance hall and lively first floor seating area. All in all, however, I had the same impression of these places as I did with my home’s (New York’s) counterpart.

The night ended with us surveying different stores. The shops here were significantly different than M Street’s. Notably, there were many pop and alternative culture item stores. The commercialization here was minimal compared to what I had experienced in most of my experience shopping in DC.