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June 21

After a 20-hour flight, I arrived in the unfamiliar city of Portland. On the cab trip from the airport to the Portland State University Broadway Residence Hall, I got the first glimpse of this city, with its juxtaposition of high-rise and modern buildings, shabby shelters and worn tent camps that housed the expanding homeless population of Portland. Although I had heard a lot of stories about Portland’s lively culture and economics as well as its huge homelessness problem prior to coming here, in the next few days, Portland still impressed me with the exciting opportunities and lifestyles it offered and the immense challenges it faced.

June 22

We took part in a cultural and historical tour organized by a non-profit organization, which started at Skidmore Fountain and mainly traversed through the old Chinatown and Japantown region.

DukeEngage Portland whole crew in front of Skidmore Fountain

Along the way the tour guides explained to us how different immigrant communities such as the Chinese, Jewish, Japanese, Korean and African Americans secured their place in this city since the 1900s despite the social and political obstacles they faced. These communities formed their own cultural hubs in this region, overcoming hardships and almost national hostility towards them through building camaraderie and solidarity. An interesting observation was that the minority communities found a common identity and helped each other out in this shared living space.

The iconic Chinatown gate, probably one of the most significant symbols for Chinese American culture in the whole of the United States

Even though this region today does not lack visible cultural icons like the one in the picture above, the tour gave me a whole new perspective, to see through the cultural “diversity” and understand that in fact cultural diversity is fading or at least be forced out of the geographical region. Even in a city like Portland that was prided on its weirdness and openness, minority communities, which often comprised of lower-income households had to deal with a more subtle form of injustice than their ancestors did in the 1900s. They could not afford the skyrocketing rents. The cultural icons ironically brought trouble to the people of the cultures they represented because they attracted public attention that could potentially increase the rents.

The Hung Far Low sign existed, while the restaurant was long gone
Hung Far Low closed after 87 years of business

Even Hung Far Low, the once critical cultural centers for Chinese immigrants, could not continue their business after 87 years to afford the rising rents even after relocation to a cheaper area of Portland. The sign was deliberately reworked and maintained and put up at its old place, as a well-meaning gesture of Portland citizens to honor the legacy of Hung Far Low. Even though this sign could help convince the suspecting tourists the region was once indeed Chinatown, the dilapidated building next to the sign spoke to the cold truth the cultural center was long gone. Together with the camps and shelters of the homeless people that hid in the shadows of modernity, the tour taught me a first lesson on Portland’s reality.

June 23

Portland’s Saturday was lighthearted, loud and passionate. We started our day at the farmer’s market in Portland State University and another market near Skidmore Fountain.

Market in PSU

Cherries, vegetables, jam, home-brewed spirits, chocolate, bread, coffee, flowers and many other farm products filled the market. To be honest, one hour was not enough for me to stay long enough to glance through all the goods at each booth or try out the generous portion of free food offered by some vendors. Most of the produce was slightly pricier than their counterparts sold in supermarkets, but the smiles on the vendors’ faces were well worth that surcharge.

Delicious sausages!

The next market was more focused on trinkets, woodwork and other art pieces handmade by Portland people.

The busy market at Skidmore Fountain and Pioneer Square

Portlanders freely danced, held mini concerts and behavioral art displays at the market. This really brightened my mood that was kind of let down by the previous day, and the jet lag.

June 24

Sunday was a day for me myself. I set out to have a cooking rehearsal because for the next 8 weeks I will most probably cook for myself.


It was a rewarding experience, but a really time-consuming one. Being away from home and school, living in the city by myself is another important aspect of this program. For the next two months, discovering Portland’s good and bad is for sure one of my primary tasks. However, fitting myself into this city life is equally important and exciting.