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It’s cold here in Chicago. The feels-like temperature during the day hovers around 20F and sometimes dips down to 10F, -6C and -11C respectively. It’s not the weather for chilling outside, but if you have been to the beach in the winter, when the sky is endlessly gray and the wind keeps cutting into your face no matter how low you keep your head, you know that it is miserable, depressing, but the solitude at the same time is strangely irresistible.

We walked to the shore of lake Michigan, and visited a couple of parks. It didn’t feel like being in the third largest city in the U.S.

Lake Michigan:

view from above

on the way

Lincoln Park:

Grant Park (?)

I got to Chicago on Christmas day and got picked up at the airport by Trent and Jordan, whom I’m staying with for these few days. On the train home, we were brainstorming on the must-do, must-see of Chicago and only two things popped up in my mind:
the wind – which I wouldn’t have to go out of my way to see, and
Al Capone and the gangs way back in the 20s – something I could learn about by sitting at home watching movies like The Untouchables or Road to Perdition.
I could not think of a monument, a landmark, or a neighborhood that would epitomize the experience of a tourist in Chicago, despite its name being one of the most instantly recognizable. I shouldn’t have been surprised. I knew there must be tons of fun things around Chicago; it’s just that I rarely ever do much research before hitting a place, relying mostly on local “informants”. It also increases my chance of running into pleasant surprises, which is exactly how it has been here in Chicago.

That day, for dinner, we decided to walk on Broadway, the neighborhood’s “Main Street” to see what was open. Something caught my eyes, and I pointed it out to Trent and Trent exclaimed: “Oh, they have a Vietnamese Association here.” I was actually pointing to a red neon lights blinking bubble tea shop – one of Trent’s fascinations – but Trent thought that I was pointing to the old building next to it, the Vietnamese Association, which I completely overlooked until that moment. Scanning my eyes further down the block, I realized that the businesses were all Vietnamese, from income tax, to travel agency. And it was at least three blocks – that’s how far my eyes could see.

It was exciting; I’d never seen a Vietnamese enclave like this before – which might change real soon since I’m heading to the West Coast. In Connecticut, it’s one plaza in West Hartford, consisting of a big Vietnamese (more like pan-Asian) market, a restaurant, and a DVD shop. In Manhattan, it’s one lonely side of Baxter street in Chinatown with 5 or 6 Vietnamese restaurants next to each other.

We walked into a Vietnamese restaurant – Pho Tank (Phở Xe Tăng) and were each given a thick menu. I had never seen such an extensive list of phở, bún khô, bún nước, mì, bánh canh, etc. What was phenomenal though, was that it was the first time that a server replied to me in Vietnamese. My typical interaction in a Vietnamese restaurant in New York or Connecticut would go more like this:
Me (in Vietnamese): 1 tô phở đặc biệt ạ (one bowl of special pho please),
The server (in English): You want number 14?
I don’t know why. But I know that those older folks have no problem understanding me, even though I have a strong Northern accent, and especially since it’s such a simple phrase. Anyways it always weirds me out.

Broadway, Chicago. In this block, you can see: two Vietnamese restaurants, a DVD shop, and a dentist’s.