Taking back the streets


POSTED: Sunday, September 13, 2009

Chu Lan Shubert-Kwock ran her mortgage services business in Chinatown for about a decade, but she relocated to Salt Lake earlier this year after getting burglarized for the second time in eight months.

“;It was just devastating,”; Shubert-Kwock said.

Although Chinatown has struggled with urban crime and blight for years, the rash of January and February burglaries literally hit home for Shubert-Kwock. So she founded the Chinatown Business and Community Association (CBCA), a network of businesses and residents who want to improve their community.

Shubert-Kwock was further incensed when another Chinatown owner, Diana Sum, who owns Sum's Beauty Center, was beaten up in the Maunakea parking lot after refusing to surrender her purse. It was the last straw for Shubert-Kwock when a 35-year-old man was gunned down on the street in late March and just a week later a 32-year-old man was stabbed, allegedly due to a drug war.

“;It was very spooky. It was an automatic gun, so bullets were ricocheting down the street,”; she said.

In the aftermath of the violent crime spree, bullet holes remained on Chinatown doors and walls, while shoppers, dinners and patrons were absent, Shubert-Kwock said.





June police statistics for Chinatown show a darker side to the emerging arts district. Chinatown, which is part of a police district that stretches from Liliha to Punahou streets, contributed many of the crimes.



Car break-ins22143
Vehicle thefts341
Property damage754



        Source: Chinatown Business and Community Association



“;Even the homeless people stayed away from Chinatown because they were fearful,”; she said. “;It was a very desperate situation.”;

Mayor Mufi Hannemann and the Honolulu Police Department united with the CBCA and others to improve the neighborhood's safety and cleanliness. Police tripled their force in Chinatown, the city allocated more cleanup resources and a hot line was established.

“;We have officers covering about 20 hours of every day in Chinatown,”; said Honolulu Police Maj. Clayton Saito.

Business owners and residents in Chinatown have historically been more vulnerable to crime because of language barriers and their distrust of authority figures, said Henry H.W. Lee, executive director of the United Chinese Society of Hawaii.

“;It's frightening when you don't know who you can ask for help,”; Lee said.

Police have cracked down on major drug and prostitution-related crimes, and their constant presence helps deter stealing, Saito said. And they've worked to make Chinatown safer by enforcing traffic law, he said.

“;Today Chinatown is calm and getting better in many ways,”; Shubert-Kwock said. “;We took it back from the bad guys.”;

As a result, business is improving, said Duc Nguyen, owner of Duc's Bistro, considered by many the first fine-dining establishment in Chinatown.

“;Business was really slow for about two months after those high-profile crimes took place, but it has started to come back,”; said Nguyen, who opened his bistro in 1989. “;For me Chinatown is the best that it can get right now.”;

The renewed emphasis on Chinatown arts and culture also has helped, Nguyen said.

“;I get about 35 percent more business when there are special events like the First Friday Art Walk in Chinatown,”; he said.

Cultural events like First Friday are good for Chinatown, Saito said.

“;You won't force out the bad element, but the more good elements that you bring, the more you encourage the bad elements to go somewhere else,”; Saito said.

Despite Chinatown's recent struggles, First Friday continues to grow and enjoyed its largest crowd in August, said Ed Korybski, executive director for the Honolulu Culture and Arts District Association.

“;During the first walk, eight or 10 galleries participated,”; Korybski said. “;Now there are 30 on the map.”;

Better street lighting, public restrooms and access to reasonably priced longer-term parking also are needed to get art lovers to venture beyond the streets like Nuuanu, Bethel and Smith where most of Chinatown's galleries and theaters are congregated, said Gordon S.K. Au, an agent with Pyramid Insurance, who insures many Chinatown businesses.

“;We used to open late on First Friday, but nobody comes this far,”; said John Oliveira, a buyer for A'ala Park Board Shop on North King Street.

Likewise, immigrant artist Ding Quan “;D.Q.”; Liu's gallery, just a few doors down from the Honolulu Police Department substation in the grittiest part of Chinatown, has been largely undiscovered by the latest arts crowds. However, Liu was recently chosen to participate in a traditional Chinese watercolor painting exhibit that runs Wednesday through Sept. 24 at Honolulu Hale. Since the exhibit commemorates more than 200 years of Chinese immigration to Hawaii, it is fitting that Liu, who opened Classic Art Gallery on Hotel Street some 20 years ago after his immigration from Communist China, should participate.

Like Chinatown, Liu's art is an interesting mix of cultures. His watercolor paintings incorporate the Western art techniques of using shadows and colors with the brush techniques of his native China, said Kenneth Siu, Liu's friend and art collector. Inside Liu's gallery, stark black-and-white images of horses and calligraphy lie next to tiger paintings so real that they roar off the canvas. Hawaii landmarks hang near paintings of old China.

“;Through his business, Mr. Liu is fighting that stereotypical idea of what Hotel Street is and trying to build it up one shop at a time,”; said Wayne Kotomori, who collects Liu's work.

But just a few doors down, street graffiti is the dominant art form. And Barbara Hoe, a Chinatown resident and CBCA member, is agonizing over the piles of garbage that front the Kekaulike Street mall.

“;It looks like junk, and the people don't want to come here anymore,”; Hoe said.

More cleanup is needed in Chinatown, Liu said.

“;The police come and chase the criminals, and then they come back like the cat and mouse,”; he said.

Chinatown's homeless population also needs to be managed, Sum said.

“;They make Chinatown look cheap and they discourage people from coming,”; she said.

Still, many in Chinatown are determined to do their part to clean up and beautify the district, said Danny S.M. Young, vice chairman of the United Chinese Society of Hawaii, which represents more than 100 Chinese organizations.

“;We want officials to know that we are with them,”; Young said.



Oct. 2, Chinatown, 5-9 p.m.

Galleries and other arts venues host monthly opening receptions in Chinatown's Arts District. Festivities include live music, street entertainment and specialty foods. For more information about First Friday, call 521-2903. Download a gallery map at gallerymap_weekly3.pdf.


Wednesday through Sept. 24, Honolulu Hale, 530 S. King St., 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday

The Chinese Chamber of Commerce presents an exhibit of traditional Chinese watercolor paintings by D.Q. Liu, a Chinatown artist who immigrated to Hawaii from China more than 20 years ago. This is the third major exhibit of Liu's career, which began in Communist China. Opening reception will be held at 11:30 a.m. Thursday.


Running through Oct. 10, the ARTS at Marks Garage , 1159 Nuuanu Ave.

Tuesdays through Saturdays

Students from Kukui Tower, an affordable-housing building in Chinatown, exhibit photographs from an eight-week photography course. The students, age 11 to 17, were taught by an instructor from the Art-to-Go program at the Honolulu Academy of Arts.


Oct. 31, Chinatown, 3 to 10:30 p.m.

The Arts District will be the site of a Halloween celebration with world-class entertainment, gallery trick-or-treating, and a jack-o'-lantern and costume contest. A Nuuanu Avenue street festival will run from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m.

Source: Arts District Honolulu