NOTE: The writer,a guest blogger for St. Paul SPOT is Harry Kent , currently a senior at Macalester College, and a student employee at Macalester’s Civic Engagement Center. Prior to that time, he was a community outreach coordinator and eventually, serving a brief stint as Office Manager of the University Avenue Business Association.
This week’s Macalester Lunch on the Avenue installment offered more than just an opportunity to sample some of the finest Chinese cuisine in the Twin Cities. Much like owner Patrick Chen’s intricate presentation, this lunch was about the passion expressed in the voices of the Avenue our group heard.
Macalester’s Civic Engagement Center invited top staff members from the Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA), director of community engagement Nancy Pomplun and executive-director Va-Megn Thoj, to offer some insight on the problems from LRT construction affecting the businesses along the avenue. While their descriptions centered on the experiences of Asian businesses, the difficulties could certainly be attributed to the rest of the University Avenue businesses that have endured the brunt of the construction in front of their buildings.
Va-Megn and Nancy discussed many issues, whether the vibrations affecting electrical equipment, including medical screening machines costing thousands of dollars in lost appointments to confusion with business signage for those who do not read English well.
However, while AEDA is a small organization, they have worked hard to meet the needs of these businesses during tough times using all the ingenuity and resources they can muster. Part of this includes their holistic approach to account for the difficulties businesses have faced. AEDA has collected not just quantitative data in terms of the financial setbacks the construction has caused businesses, but qualitative as well.
Interns have visited businesses and recorded owners’ testimonies of the personal toll from the stress related to LRT construction. One business owner has been afflicted with heart complications caused by the strain of trying to keep their business going. Other businesses have had to sell off personal goods to ensure their business survives construction in hopes of thriving once the Green Line begins running.
AEDA is collecting all of this information to petition the Federal Transit Authority to include these personal stories as evidence to include spiritual aspects of human impact in their environmental impact assessments. Our group was captivated by the level of detail and effort AEDA is willing to make to capture the full picture of this transitional phase, and how the impact on businesses is much deeper than just lost customers and dollars. I never would’ve claimed that lives are on the line during the construction of the light rail, but, livelihoods certainly are.
That is why the words of manager Patrick Chen’s interpretation of Szechuan cuisine rang with even more clarity and understanding. Chen described his philosophy on the specific use of spice and spiciness for his dishes to our group. For example, the chilies he includes in the Chung King Chili Shrimp don’t overwhelm the palette as much as delicately cover the tongue with a comfortable heat, the flavor standing over the intensity. Chen elaborated on the difference between eastern and western views of spiciness, with the west more likely to overpower, and, Szechuan flavors specifically tasting with more subtlety.
Chen’s vision echoed the ideal image of the east end of University Avenue, recently branded Little Mekong by AEDA. The area pays tribute to the merchants who would come to the river to create a vibrant community through the selling of their goods. The work and passion of Patrick Chen honors that same spirit and it shows in the food he expertly crafts, and, the people who work hard to protect the dreams of these craftsmen.
For more information on AEDA and the Little Mekong initiative, visit littlemekong.com or aeda-mn.org
On the bright side, potholes are a sign of spring.
Here’s a sound track to remind you that spring is really here.
I’ve been trying to sell my house for the last year….or two. You’ve heard of the “slow food” movement. I’ve been working on the “slow move” movement. This is how it works. While your house is languishing on the market during the current epic buyer’s market, you savor the impending move. You know those manic trips to Salvation Army to dump truck loads of your stuff that you look longingly at while the guy in the apron pitches them into canvas carts? No more! The dumpster that sits in your driveway while the entire contents of your basement disappear over the metal, graffiti etched sides? Banished.
With the “Slow Move” movement, you take the opportunity to ponder (best done between 2 am and 4:15 am) how much of that stuff do you really need, anyway? During this year ….or two, of slow-moving, I’ve found some great resources to disinherit myself of the contents of my house in preparation for maybe someday moving day. Here are some resources I’d like share.
Craigslist. I’ve had great luck giving away things on Craig’s list. There’s a good feeling about playing fairy godmother to the dozen people who respond to your offer to give them a 30-year-old desk with sticky drawers. It’s not at all unusual to get thank you notes after such a transaction!
Kids’ textbooks, 12 years of Spanish (Dime!), Accounting, Dystopia, etc. – Books for Africa has a location on the East side of St. Paul It’s a fun adventure getting there. Some really friendly people thank you, and help you carry your heavy textbooks, and provide you with a receipt for the IRS. There is something very satisfying about transferring all that physical and intellectual weight to a place where it will be well used. Don’t forget to swing by Swede Hollow Cafe on your way out of the neighborhood, to treat yourself for the effort.
They are pretty picky about the type of books they are willing to ship thousands of miles. Another place to drop off your books, if you would rather exchange them for a little $ is Half Price Books. The St. Paul location is in Highland Park. It usually takes them 40 minutes to go through your books and you can wait there, or wait there. They are pretty sticky about letting you leave. See, it’s the “Slow Move” movement.
The next great find was a place to recycle trophies. It just seems wrong to throw all that metal, and perfectly beautiful chunks of walnut, into the garbage. There’s actually a place in St. Paul that will take them, and recycle them for you. The A.J. Shaake Company, at 919 St. Clair. Thank you, hockey gods.
Except all of the ribbons, that the medals used to hang on. There’s another great place, at 1459 St. Clair Avenue, that uses all kinds of your spare craft detritus. They are called Artstart Artscraps. It appears that since I last visited their website they have expanded into travel programs for arts enrichment. Definitely a place worth checking into.
The next quandary in the pre-moving saga, involved a monumental pile of CD‘s and jewel cases generated before flash drives, mp-3, i-Pod’s, or iPhones. Many of these were Napster generated compilation CD’s, cringe worthy, and not worth the time it would take to download into iTunes. Recycle bin? Were CD’s considered recyclable? Well, short answer, no.
Trip to google . Unaware that a 3 day saga was unfolding. CD’s are pretty toxic stuff that linger in landfills for centuries. They are not accepted in the recycling program from Eureka Recycling, St. Paul’s uber hip and green, green, blue-green, waste management company. I wrote to ask their advice, and they engaged in a several exchange problem solving session about CD disposal. While that dialogue was going on, I contacted 2 local major purveyors of CD’s (who will go un-named) asking advice about how they dispose of unwanted CD’s. Bottom line answer – it’s not our problem, we throw them in the trash. O—Kay. On line search led to advice such as – use them as coasters, or tie them on strings and hang in trees to deter birds. I found one company, CD Recycling Center that accepts CD’s for recycling provided you pay the postage to send your CD’s to them. Then, eureka, of a different kind, stumbled on the fact that Best Buy company accepts CD’s for recycling. My estimation of Best Buy soared considerably after learning of this news. The next day I traveled to the West St. Paul Best Buy store, and stuffed the offending CD’s though their rubber recycling hole. All the while worrying that they were going to take them out back and pitch them in the trash.
Yes, moving very slowly. But it feels pretty good.