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EAST MEETS WEST IN CHINATOWN BARGAINS.

Byline: Barbara De Witt Fashion Editor

An East wind is blowing into the decorating world.

Suddenly a well-appointed coffee table requires at least one Buddha - whether it's hand-carved rosewood or imitation jade - and instead of paintings of English cottages on the walls, Los Angeles designers such as Pascaline Doucin-Dahlke are hanging poster-size Chinese advertisements from the '40s, as well as delicate paper parasols, huge hand-painted fans and ba gua mirrors with decorative icons to keep evil spirits away.

Doucin-Dahlke, who has worked on a variety of Asian design projects, including the Wasabe restaurant at Universal CityWalk, says the Asian trend was last seen in the early '60s (referred to as Chinese Modern and heavy on the black lacquer) but returned on the heels of feng shui, the ancient Chinese practice of creating a harmonious flow of life through furniture placement and natural elements such as moving water and potted plants. And the shopping source of that energy is L.A.'s original Chinatown.

The 24-block neighborhood, built in 1938 with a few tourist shops and restaurants, now boasts more than 500 businesses and a Chinese New Year's parade with more than 1,000 entries.

``Chinatown is a cultural, architectural, dining and shopping experience,'' says Doucin-Dahlke of the only Southern California community that has street signs in both English and Chinese. A frequent shopper who also likes to stop for dim sum lunch at the popular Empress Pavilion to feast on everything from barbecued pork to sweet sesame balls, Doucin-Dahlke has discovered all the hot decorating trends - and the best bargains.

On a recent trip, the Daily News tagged along, exploring the art galleries and antiques stores on Chungking Road in West Plaza at the heart of Chinatown. Here Doucin-Dahlke stops in dimly lighted antiques shops like the one run by Li Hing, where she is enamored with an ancient black armoire. There, several tourists from the San Fernando Valley bargain for vintage wood-carved cookie molds that would look swell hanging on the wall. And over at F. See On's is a Tang Dynasty replica of a ceramic horse she's crazy about, but it's the intricately cut green ceramic tiles she finds in a basket that the designer says are the hot ticket at under $20 each.

``They were once used for the outside of buildings and balconies, but just one would be lovely in a wall grouping,'' she says, as she praises its pale green color that's at the top of the season's color charts.

Outside the plaza on North Broadway is Chinatown's largest store, Wing Hop Fung, where the medicinal aroma of ginseng and other Chinese herbs wafts through the lower floor, while upstairs there's a colorful bazaar of paper dragons and lanterns and all types of bargains. Among them are floral print and traditional Chinese black-and-red cocktail trays priced at $5, compared to $25 and up at Valley chain stores. Complete tea services with tiny ceramic pots, cups and a tray are $20 and up, and those ceramic fish pots often used for ficus trees are priced as low as $30 - compared to $125 at fashionable pottery stores outside Chinatown.

Down the street at the corner of Ord Street and North Broadway is a group of colorful stalls offering everything from peacock feathers for $1 each to those nifty '70s beads that hang in doorways for $9. Tiny faux jade Buddhas in a box (one each for health, wealth, fertility and other good fortunes) for $12, and giant vases with Chinese floral designs to create an Eastern ambience on the patio, for just $13.

Across the street, Doucin-Dahlke spies a wedding supply store that specializes in holiday paper goods, called W.D. Trading Co. She zips through the crowded aisles and zeroes in on a huge stack of elegant gold-leaf-accented paper goods for $2.50. ``They'll be beautiful as cocktail napkins, although they're actually meant to be burned as an offering at Chinese New Year,'' she explains. Looking around the store, she finds more of those ever-popular cache pots with the goldfish painted at the bottom, and the prices are even lower than those at the last store.

And that's part of the fun, finding an item you like and chasing down the best price - or staying to bargain with the shopkeeper.

``In Chinatown, don't be timid about bargaining,'' advises George Yu, executive director of the Los Angeles Chinatown Business Improvement District. ``It's part of the Chinese culture, especially if you are buying several items and willing to pay cash.''

Yu directs us to the original Chinatown area called Central Plaza on Gingling Way, past the elaborate rock garden-inspired wishing well and into the Imperial Dragon Gift shop, where Doucin-Dahlke discovers what she considers the best find of the day - a bunch of vintage advertising posters featuring glamorous watercolors of Chinese models holding products such as cigarettes and soap. Slightly faded, with a few tears on the corners, the posters are only $9 and eclectic enough for almost any decorating theme, she says, as she purchases several.

This two-story shop also carries the largest supply of Buddhas, in wood, jade or jadelike resin and one of the biggest - about 2 feet tall - is only $50. The coral-colored fertility Buddha surrounded by tiny babies is one of the most popular with women shoppers, says the salesman.

So many bargains, too many options. Doucin-Dahlke puts down the Buddha and leaves it, and the paper parasols, for another day.

Shopping tips

--Most stores open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

--Best parking is at Broadway and Hill, $2 flat rate.

--Bargaining is part of the culture, but only with cash.

--Items can be returned for store credit only.

--Most merchants speak English and accept credit cards.

--Lunch, referred to as the dim sum hour, is served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

--Wear casual clothes and walking shoes.

< Hot tickets

--Buddha statues

--Lucky bamboo plants

--Ceramic fish pots

--Paper parasols and fans

--1940s posters

--Chinese herbs and teas by the pound

--Feng shui ``ba gua'' mirrors

--1970s-inspired beaded door dividers

Celebrating Chinese New Year

To help usher in the lunar calendar's Year of the Snake, practice saying, ``Gung hay fat choy,'' and check out these local Chinese New Year activities:

TODAY:

Miss L.A. Chinatown Fashion Show and Luncheon, 11 a.m. at the Regal Biltmore Hotel, Los Angeles. Tickets are $50. For more information call the Chinese Chamber of Commerce at (213) 617-0396.

Little King and Queen contest, 3:30 p.m. at Castelar Elementary School, 840 Yule St., Chinatown. Free to the public.

JAN. 24:

Official Chinese New Year's Day. Most Chinatown shops will be open.

JAN. 27:

Miss L.A. Chinatown Pageant, 6 p.m at Westin Bonaventure Hotel, Los Angeles. Tickets are $125 and up per person. For reservations, call (213) 617-0396.

JAN. 31:

Frank Chin's epic drama ``The Year of the Dragon'' opens at the East West Players stage at the David Henry Hwang Theater at the Union Center for the Arts, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Los Angeles. Tickets are $25 and up; call (800) 233-3123.

FEB. 10:

Annual Golden Dragon Parade, 2 to 5 p.m., beginning at 600 N. Broadway, Chinatown.

Festival of Heaven and Earth, 1 to 4 p.m. at Pacific Asia Museum, 46 N. Los Robles Ave., Pasadena. The event is sponsored by the museum's Chinese Arts Council and will include a Chinese folk-dance performances, a kung-fu presentation, cooking demonstration and fortune tellers. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children and senior citizens. For more information, call (626) 449-2742, Ext. 31.

FEB. 10-11:

Chinatown street fair, begins at 10 a.m., held along North Broadway. Admission is free.

FEB. 23:

Chinese New Year Banquet, 6 p.m. at Empress Pavilion Restaurant, 988 N. Hill St., Chinatown. Tickets are $50 each. For reservations call (213) 617-0396.

- Compiled by Barbara De Witt

CAPTION(S):

7 photos, 3 boxes

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) Asian allure

From Buddhas to beads, L.A.'s Chinatown offers a wealth of home decorating treasures

(2 -- 3 -- color) Vintage advertising posters at Imperial Dragon gift shop in Chinatown's Central Plaza, above, are a decorator's dream from $9. This huge handpainted fan with its own stand, right, is priced at $50 at a shop on Chungking Road in West Plaza.

(4 -- color) Open air stalls featuring everything from beaded room dividers to lucky bamboo plants and decorative fish pots are located at Ord Street and North Broadway.

(5 -- color) Adding to the ambience of the Chinatown scene are these huge masks hanging in the storefront of Sincere Gifts.

(6 -- color) Interior designer Pascaline Douch-Dahlke inspects a Tang Dynasty horse at F See On's one of Chinatown's many stores that specializes in antiques and other rare finds.

(7) Working to make Chinatown the shopping and dining experience it was in the 1940s are Los Angeles Chinatown Business Improvement District committee members George Yu and Holly Barnhill.

Box: (1) Hot tickets (see text)

(2) Shopping tips (see text)

(3) Celebrating Chinese New Year (see text)
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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 20, 2001
Words:1509
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