How to Tour your Cambodian Grandparents in LA

I don't have Cambodian grandparents, but I did play driver for some, a few weeks ago.

I will affectionately call them my grandparents sinced they called me "chao." (Cambodian for grandson)

I spent so much time with them and heard lots of use of the phrases "t'lai na" (expensive) and "mien louy dtay?" (do you have money?)

So yes, they were very cautious about spending money and I was trying to keep costs down myself.

My goal was just to have them have a great time. "Have a great time" I defined as:

  • bumping into other seniors and people who might have come from their province in Cambodia (Battambang)
  • not so much complaining

Where did I end up taking them?

The obvious first option was the section called Cambodia Town in Long Beach.

Long Beach has one of the highest populations of Cambodians outside of Cambodian. It was known as a reunion town for many Cambodians.

I've had the fortune to know some subtleties of Cambodia Town thanks to my classes and work at the Historical Society of Long Beach with professor Dr. Karen Q and Dr. Sue Needham.

I took them to the old United Cambodian Community building on 2338 Anaheim St. But before we entered, they went out to some bush and started eating some edible flowers. After they did that, a whole bunch of other Cambodians came to the bush and started eating the flowers as well.

Inside the old United Cambodian Community building itself is plenty of pictures of the Cambodian-American community, and fishes from the Mekong River that runs through the Cambodian capital city of Phnom Penh. This greatly intrigued "granddad" who was a worldly, educated man with an intense interest in animals.

The main thing to see inside the building is the Mietophoum (translated as "Inheriting One's Nation") National Library with a man named Socheat Kuch. Socheat has an extensive collection of books be they from Cambodia or heck English language books relevant to my own research.

Some of the more appealing media for my grandparents came in the form of Cambodian CDs with hits from pre-70s stars such as Sinn Sisamouth and movies starring Prince Norodom Sihanouk. What he sells is difficult to find.

If you show enough interest, there is a classic video that Socheat prides himself on and he shows everyone each time. This is a video he is re-mastering and hopes to get out soon.

As for "my grandparents", they had an intense-looking exchange with him. By the end of it, they said that they wanted to donate to Socheat for his work in preserving pre-Khmer Rouge culture.

For food, my grandparents gravitated towards Grand Paradise Restaurant in front of Long Beach's MacArthur Park for breakfasts and lunch. Everything was $6.75. We consumed a steady diet of crispy noodles, soups, rice, meats, and CNN news.

The Heng Seng Supermarket on Anaheim and Rose St. was popular with my friend for the mangoes and spices.

On the suggestion of one of their relatives, we ended up in Los Angeles' Chinatown. We went there specifically for the New Battambang restaurant. Another inexpensive place with great soups. This instantly became a favorite for grandmom and we promptly drove to the restaurant the next morning.

Outside of Cambodia Town, I tried to take them to places of interest in Long Beach. We went to Belmont Shores. We went to the Long Beach boardwalk and hit up the 1 dollar bookstore.

In LA, they liked seeing the places with picturesque views. They couldn't stop taking pictures while at the Griffith observatory. They enjoyed the views at the Getty but all of us were pretty disappointed at the Gods of Angkor display from the National Museum of Cambodia. The Gods of Angkor exhibit currently has all kinds of banners scattered and splashed around random parts of LA, but there was only one room in which the collection was housed; it just seemed like there was going to be more to the exhibit than just one room.

The trip for them ended on a high note when I took them to Chinatown, and they were free to shop. There they lightened up and bargained for their real grandkids gifts, foods, bags, clothes, and novelty items.

Things they did not like:

They left some decisionmaking up to me. After they got in, I took them to a place I liked for their beef jerky: Sophy's restaurant. For them, it was alright, but said that it was overpriced.

I took them to another place, a place that functioned as sort of a place for comfort food. Thai BBQ at Mr. Noodle. It was a place where I'd found love, produced it, but for them it was expensive and upset their stomachs. It seemed all fine when we were there.

I had this hankering to take them to Koreatown. In there we found the new Galleria Market: Another Cambodian friend of mine and I had discovered this the day before I had taken them there and the grandparents liked some of the food my friend and I brought back.

Lessons Learned:

  • If they had a longer stay, I would've taken them to the actual United Cambodian Community just so they could bump into a few seniors. However, I hadn't planned in advance when and what they would be doing there.
  • Grandmom walked really slow even with the Lexus of walking aids --- a walker. It was very dauntingly slow walking with her --- 100-200 meters seemed like such a long distance away at her pace, so we often just walked across streets when they appeared to be clear of cars. However, the moment a street would seem to be clear, some folks zipped in thru the narrow streets, and yelled at her to use a crosswalk. For an enclave where you find a lot of old Asian folks walking on canes, traffic is way too fast and there are just not enough crosswalks with handicap access.

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