Mandarin is the lingua franca if you walk through pretty much any mini-mall in Rowland Heights, California, where if you wore a blindfold to arrive, the conversations and smells of food might do enough to have you thinking you were in another country. And if it were suddenly removed, the signage and look of the population might not do anything to make you change your mind.

There’s a lot to discover here. But I would say that much is pretty inaccessible to those who don’t understand Chinese. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be interested. I would love to know more about the restaurants and services available in my neighborhood. But something makes them seem exclusive, and people who are uninitiated or not knowledgeable about Chinese language (like me) might be hesitant to try something new.

When it comes to restaurants, major crowd-sourced review sites are both a blessing and a letdown. A blessing because you can get ideas about where to go based on popular opinion. You can also read individual posts about recommendations. If the same menu item appears in a lot of posts, try that! Their downside is that posts from one-time visitors can flood the forum and have a big impact on the score. A frequent visitor will have a much more useful opinion about local restaurants, but you don’t see them writing multiple posts about the same place. Some sites are now allowing guides from locals to have badges or high visibility. These can be useful. In any case, you can use review sites to plan a visit to a new restaurant. Maybe it will become your new favorite spot for x food (if you can figure out what their best item is!).

I wish I could end with just food, but there’s something to be said for how it’s more difficult for services to be recognized by people outside of the dominant culture of the area. Back to review sites, people seem much less likely to write reviews for business services. The numbers of rankings and posts drop a lot for most businesses. Only by reading effective signage, being referred, or by directly walking in and communicating with a clerk (who may not speak English, but might) would you be able to know what is being provided or sold. As for me, everyday I drive by these storefronts completely oblivious to their services or how I might benefit from them. There must be something interesting in that herbal medicine/pharmacy. Perhaps they’d have something soothe my summer cold. I’ve heard that acupuncture can do wonders for [insert ailment]. What’s a good place for me to try? How will I communicate with my doctor? You do AC unit maintenance for how much? It seems like language is a key factor.

People choose their neighborhood for a variety of reasons. Cost of housing is a major factor, but passed that, many people are looking for a place they can keep their language and culture. This is true for natural Americans, immigrant Americans, and immigrants. Living in Hacienda/Rowland Heights has some practical advantages. But people who really want to adopt the area and call themselves local should be the ones who support local businesses. I’ve lived here for most of my life, but still many parts of the town are so foreign to me. There are useful websites to help discover new things. I’ve found some great restaurants and services in the area that I may write about another time. But understanding Chinese language and culture might be becoming the new norm if you really want to embrace and be part of Rowland Heights nowadays.