A trip to the supermarket can be exotic

Catfish packed like sardines, Chinatown Center - Austin, Texas

Catfish packed like sardines, Chinatown Center – Austin, Texas

Do you know that Austin, Texas has a Chinatown? Well not exactly. It is a strip mall called Chinatown Center which does contain my Asian stores and restaurants. I headed up there yesterday to see the Chinese New Year celebrations and take some photographs of dancing dragons and such. Except I messed up. It turned out they were going to have the festivities next Sunday. At least I didn’t miss it. The Asian American Cultural Center in Austin was having a New Year’s event on Saturday so I just assumed that the shopping mall was having theirs the next day. Anyway, I decided that since I’m already here, maybe I can find something interesting to photograph.

I brought my big gun out to the event, my Canon 7D with my 70-200mm f4 and even my external flash, just in case it got sunny (a flash is really useful on sunny days, to even out the shadows). Luckily, I also brought my less conspicuous Olympus E-PL1 with my favorite 20mm f1.7 lens. If I’m walking into a supermarket, I was certainly not going to open fire with my Canon 7D. The Canon may be a bit less noticeable that a real gun but it was sure to attract attention just the same. WIth the small Olympus over my shoulder, I decided to go hunting for some dragons. This year is the Year of the Dragon on the Chinese zodiac, a particularly auspicious year I’m told. I wanted a nice dragon photo to put on mostlyfotos, my one photo a day, photo blog.

Stone Dragon, Chinatown Center - Austin, Texas

Stone Dragon, Chinatown Center – Austin, Texas

In the prominent middle building of the Chinatown Center, there is a large Asian supermarket. A sure sign that the Asian population in Austin is growing. There were also a healthy number of non-Asian customers, a cross cultural mix that is one of my favorite things about this country. I didn’t have to go far to find my dragon. Flanking the entrance were two large stone dragons. These imposing carvings would look good at a temple but with the shopping carts in the background, I found it changeling to get a nice composition. I decided a closeup was best to eliminate the background as much as possible. Once inside, I was greeted by a large, red, multi-language banner in English, Vietnamese and Chinese. I wished I had a wide-angle lens with me, the 40mm view didn’t allow for the best composition. I stepped back as far as I could but the image below is about the best that I can do. The rare times when a simple kit zoom would have worked a lot better.

Chinese New Year Banner, Chinatown Center - Austin, Texas

Chinese New Year Banner, Chinatown Center – Austin, Texas

I found more dragons inside. Trinkets found in the gift area. There were comical hanging dragons, colorful dragon statues and even intensely golden dragons. Nothing too exciting photographically but it will give me something to post on mostlyfotos. The image at the top of this page is my favorite. Something a bit different from the norm. These catfish were alive, swimming in a packed tank, ready to be purchased and become someone’s meal. Turns out the most interesting photos I took during this outing were of dragons and fish. I didn’t feel comfortable taking candid people photos inside a private business, unlike an open air public market. The camera I had didn’t attract too much attention but I didn’t want to blatantly go around snapping tons of photographs, most stores tend to frown up this kind of thing. The point I wanted to make is that potentially interesting photos can be captured in all kinds of places, even in a supermarket. Photograph the world from your neighborhood. In the United States, there are enough ethnic festivals and stores to capture a slice of American life that a bit unexpected. Whether it be a Dia de Los Muertos Parade in downtown or a Asian supermarket, there are opportunities abound to see different things.

On the way home, I stopped at a Vietnamese sandwich shop. Did you know the Vietnamese make great French baguettes? Yup, Vietnam was once a French colony and there was certainly a culinary influence. They also make a ham and pork sandwich on a baguette with fresh vegetables that the Vietnamese usually put on their noodle soups. A tasty end to a mix-up that turned into a short Asian tour. Maybe next Sunday, I’ll get to the New Year celebration, which is a bit late since, today January 23rd is the official Lunar New Year.

Happy Chinese New Year!
May the year of the Dragon bring you success in photography and in life.


Lots of dragons and fishes all shot with the Olympus E-PL1 and 20mm f1.7 lens. Please make sure to click on a photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure details.

Hanging Dragon

Hanging Dragon

Dragon Statue

Dragon Statue

Golden Dragon

Golden Dragon

Stone Fishes

Stone Fishes

7 thoughts on “A trip to the supermarket can be exotic

  1. Ah, I should have gone inside the MT Supermarket since I was there as well on Sunday around noon but knew that their celebration was next weekend…just wanted to get some food for the occasion! Hope to see you next Sunday back at the center for the festival…might want to bring ear plugs when the firecrackers go off…maybe something to wipe the smoke and dust off too…

    PS…was good to meet you and your friends last Saturday night on South Congress near Wahoo’s…will post the photo of you guys on my flickr stream shortly.

  2. hello,

    i have been living in austin for 6 years now and i didn’t even know that there was a chinatown center in the city. thanks for this revelation. also, thanks for the review of the e-pl1 and the wonderful photos made by that camera. i think that i am finally persuaded now.

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