Expat tales: Los Angeles life rich with the spice of variety

Alex Ford, originally from Wellington, now lives in Koreatown, Los Angeles.

What inspired your move, and how long have you been there? 

I've always had a strong interest in Los Angeles and in one day living here. I'd visited many times, with each visit inspiring me more to make the move. The opportunity arose for me to get a visa to live and work here in America. I jumped at the chance and here I am. I've been here a little over six months, and I'm loving it.

What do you do there? 

I'm working as a marketing co-ordinator for Asian Box, a new restaurant concept specialising in Vietnamese food with a chef-driven focus on quality ingredients at an affordable price point. We are getting ready to open more stores here in LA.

What are the greatest advantages to living there? 

LA is just a great city, I feel very fortunate to be living in such a diverse place. The diversity really makes it. In one day, I can window shop in Beverly Hills, get a proper coffee to rival Wellington on Abbot Kinney in Venice, hike up above the Hollywood sign and finish the day with authentic Korean barbecue  here in Koreatown. Where else can you do that? To be part of the resurgence LA is going through is truly inspiring.


LA proper has more than 10 million people. Everywhere is always busy. A city this big, you often have to travel a long time to get anywhere.

How expensive is it compared to New Zealand? How much is a beer? 

It really depends on what you are comparing. LA is one of the most expensive cities in America. I'd say the cost of living is slightly more than New Zealand overall. But for things like clothes and shoes, it is much cheaper than New Zealand and there are always sales. Staples like meat are a lot cheaper, a bone-in leg of lamb is US$5.99 (NZ$8.70) a pound and a case of bottle water can be as cheap as US$3.99 (NZ$5.80). A classic American Budweiser is going to set you back US$5 (NZ$7.30) in a bar or 30 cans of Bud Light will set you back US$18 (NZ$26.20) at the grocery store. If you want something a little more "craft" you pay about double that in a bar.

What do you do in your spare time?

I've only been here just over six months, so most of my spare time is spent exploring Los Angeles. You could spend a lifetime here and still not see everything. Most of my exploring is usually centred around food and a new neighbourhood I haven't been to yet. As with any Angeleno, I like to keep fit.
That mostly involves the gym and hiking - Runyon Canyon and Griffith Park are my go-to trails. Runyon is known for its celebrity sightings, although I've only seen Emma Roberts so far.

What's the local delicacy and would you recommend eating it? 

People seem to think of fried food when they think of American delicacies. Here in LA we are pretty lucky though. I live in Koreatown and there's no shortage of Korean barbecue. Bulgogi, pork belly and intestines if you're brave enough. Los Angeles has a strong Latino influence so there's a lot of great Mexican food here too. You can't go wrong with an LA Street Dog, a hot dog wrapped in bacon from a shady looking cart on the street corner. Of course, if you want something fried or "American" there are some great spots for that too.

Easiest way to get around? 

Car! LA is very car-centric. This place is huge. Most places take about 30 minutes to get to, but you could be in traffic for an hour and go on four different freeways just to get somewhere. If, like me, you don't have a car, there are lots of other options. We have a great metro system (light rail and bus) - super cheap, reliable and a few interesting characters. And, of course,  there's Uber and Lyft too, if you're into ride sharing.

What's the shopping like? 

Shopping is great. People in LA know how to shop. There's Melrose and Rodeo if budget doesn't matter. But if you want to shop with the locals or get a great find, head to La Brea or Fairfax. The Grove and Americana at Brand are among the most popular shopping malls and both are outside so you get to enjoy the great LA weather while you shop. If you are looking for a bargain and an interesting shopping experience, Santee Alley in the Fashion District is worth a visit.

Best after-dark activity? 

Heading up to Griffith Observatory and seeing the city all lit up. It puts the size of LA in perspective. The observatory also has telescopes so you can see the stars. There are also some great speakeasies and lounges around, especially in Downtown, that are worth checking out if you want a good drink. There are no end of clubs, especially in West Hollywood, with every flavour of music catered to. And watch out for free pop-up concerts, like a recent one by Lady Gaga and Sir Elton John.

Best time of year to visit? 

Anytime of the year. We are heading into spring/summer now. We didn't get much of a winter. It's sunny in LA 350 days a year.

What are the top three things you recommend for visitors?

There's so much to see and do here in LA besides the standard touristy things like Hollywood. 1. Museums – there are so many to choose from. The new Broad in Downtown, LACMA, La Brea Tar Pits, The Getty and Getty Villa are among my favourites. 2. Eat! We are spoilt for choice when it comes to restaurants. Check out Jonathan Gold's list of 101 restaurants. The LA Times publishes it each year. Use websites like Eater LA to see what's hot. Yelp is also a great reliable resource. 3. Really explore. Get lost in LA and write your own LA story.

Besides family and friends, what do you miss most about home?

The food. We have great food here in LA, we are very lucky. But the little things, like sometimes you want L&P, or you feel like a pavlova. My Dad has visited and he's brought most of the supermarket with him!

How easy is it for you to get back to New Zealand?

Air New Zealand has flights daily between Los Angeles and New Zealand. Having only been here six months, I haven't had a chance to get back yet. I'll be back in October and I'm really looking forward to it.

For Kiwis looking to move there, which industries are seeking fresh talent? 

The tech industry and start-ups are really big over here. Although there are high rates of unemployment and a preference to hire locals over foreigners, there are plenty of opportunities. Many companies don't want to go through the hassle of sponsoring visas for non-residents but that really just adds to the challenge.

Published: http://www.stuff.co.nz/travel/kiwi-traveller/78379279/expat-tales-a-taste-of-korea-in-los-angeles



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