Even the people in the Zoomak parking lot in Buena Park can hear the distant thump of music – K-pop to be exact – and the babel of cheerful conversations. Customers peering through the entrance can see an unassuming projector playing flashy Korean music videos, contrasting the dark interior barely lit by dim ceiling lamps. A tipsy euphoria swallows anyone entering the doors. An instant camaraderie exists between new faces and old friends.
“It feels kind of like a reunion,” said Andrew Park, an O.C. resident and recent graduate from Cal Poly Pomona. “I see everyone; from elementary school, church friends, high school friends, college friends.”
This is a suljip: the Korean word for a bar.
Ethnic enclaves are sometimes difficult to describe – like a slice of the motherland transplanted to an entirely different country. For Koreans in California – aside from the original Koreatown in Los Angeles – the more spacious and quiet suburbias found in Orange County are the perfect places for families. In fact, after Los Angeles County, Orange County is home to the second largest Korean population in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the nonprofit Korean American Center, based in Buena Park
Although the suburban areas in O.C. appear serene from an aerial point of view, looking a little deeper, a vibrant community and culture are just beyond the surface.
And the Korean community in North Orange County is one of those glanced-over gems.
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