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Compared to San Francisco or New York,...


Compared to San Francisco or New York, Baltimore's Chinatown isn't much. Just the 300 block of Park Avenue -- and even that stretch has been declining in recent years.

While several Chinese restaurants still operate in that block, some of the neighboring storefronts are boarded up. The erstwhile premises of Sony's, for example, are vacant. (That used to be the Philippine restaurant, whose owner later got into a heap of trouble over the name with the Japanese electronics giant).

In fact, a stranger happening in the area is well advised to look at the second- or third-floor levels of the modest rowhouses. Some signs there still refer to a more glorious age: On Leong Chinese Merchants Association and Kuomin Tang of China Baltimore Branch.

The happy news out of Baltimore's Chinatown is that a new and valuable store has opened there. It is a Chinese video store, which also stocks music cassettes, some grocery and beauty items and one of the area's better selections of Chinese magazines.

Here is our tip for the next rainy night. Go and rent a Chinese video and try to figure out what goes on for the next hour and a half.

We have done that with Indian videos -- obtainable from Bombay Bazaar in the 1500 block West Pratt Street -- and found that to be a unique experience in multi-cultural education.

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