19 May 2015

[pdx] The Past Tense of Hung Far Low

This can be found at the corner of NW 4th Avenue and Couch Street, one block north of the Chinatown Gate:

It's notable for a couple of reasons.

About half a decade back, this sign matched the reality. Moreover, it was in a sad state. That supporting structure there was of a frailty, and the whole thing had pretty much become the Damoclesian sword of NW 4th and Couch, ready to transfix and/or obliterate any random pedestrian. The sign was perforce removed and refurbished, and successfully crowdfunded back into its rightful place above that corner of Chinatown.

It no longer has neon, but it's never looked better. Close examination of the sign gives delightful continuing gifts to the viewer, from the lovingly-restored type to the delightfully-detailed pagoda architecture of the sign's capital. Like some parts of Portland, though, it represents not the Portland that is, but the Portland that was.

Hung Far Low, the restaurant, still exists. Like a great deal that used to characterize what I remember as Portland, it's removed to the more affordable part of town, the Heavy Eastside. Some say it starts at 82nd Avenue, but my dividing line is a north-south line going more or less through the summit of Mount Tabor. West of that line, you're in Portlandia; east, more the real world. And HFL is out here, now, in a low-slung building on the northeast corner of SE 82nd and Division that has vague art-deco touches and was once home to a place called 88 Hongs.

They're calling that area of 82nd the Jade District now, which causes me torn feelings, because I don't like it when things move on in this way. I decidedly like having a center of culture like this much closer to me, though in return for that I sense that Chinatown is slowly evolving from an actual name with true resonance into a insincere brand for a certain area of Portland that used to be Chinatown but really is only that in name … kind of like, at Disneyland, Futureworld isn't really in the future, it just pretends to be. Trading on palimpsest charm to attract partiers on weekend nights.

At least we still have the Republic Café and the House of Louie and a few social clubs and a place or two that still evokes the down and gritty nature that that area had as recently as a decade ago.

But how long will those be there?

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