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Shoppe Talk : LITTLE SAIGON, WESTMINSTER

November 26, 1998|ZAN DUBIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A trip to Westminster's Little Saigon district can transport far overseas any shopper who has a bit of imagination.

Hear the melodious Vietnamese language buzzing, smell musty incense wafting from ubiquitous Buddhist shrines, sample unfamiliar savories and sweets--it's all part of a transcendent excursion that can whittle down that holiday gift list, no matter which family member or friend is on it.

Before you tackle one of two main malls on the mile-long stretch of Bolsa Avenue between Brookhurst and Magnolia, start with a gentler venture into one of many stand-alone gift boutiques dotting both sides of Bolsa.

Most such shops announce themselves with Vietnamese and English signs, have friendly proprietors who speak English and encourage browsing. Goods for sale are imported mostly from Hong Kong.

Treasures include little teapots with even tinier cups (for medicinal brews, according to a clerk), and charming figurines--buddhas, pagodas and cranes among them. They're made for bonsais but would also perk up any potted plant, kitchen-window display or dollhouse.

For more kiddie gifts--and hot stuff for teens--try the New Saigon Mall, an enclosed, single-story collection of side-by-side stalls at the rear of the Asian Village Mall, one of those two shopping nerve centers.

Sailor Moon: Your best little girl in orthodontia will know her, even if you don't. She's the Japanese comic-book super-heroine with the saucer eyes, victorious stance and go-go boots to die for. She and all her special friends abound in sticker form.

Look, too, for clocks, backpacks and toys by the wildly popular Hello Kitty company. Find T-shirts galore (4 for $10 at one stand) and glittery barrettes and other hair adornments.

If thirst or hunger strikes, try the Brodard French Bakery and Oriental Food restaurant, with tables inside and outside the New Saigon Mall. Cappuccino is served, but a more adventurous choice would be tangerine juice or an avocado shake. Roast pork wrapped with cucumber and greens in translucent rice paper--available vegetarian-style--makes a tasty lunch for $6.50.

Thus fortified, head for the bustling Asian Garden Mall, the strip's other major nexus, and prepare to power-shop to the mingled strains of Vietnamese pop and old-fashioned Christmas carols.

The array here includes expensive watches--Gucci, Fendi, Rado, Movado--pricey designer accessories, clothes and shoes, Nintendo games and hard-to-find-elsewhere bamboo shoots. The latter run from 5 inches to 5 feet tall, grow soil-free in water and sell for $2 to $20.

Save your holiday bauble buying for the second floor, home to dozens of jewelry merchants with counters-full of jade in every shape and form, plus other precious gems and trinkets.

You have only $35? That will buy a simple 18-karat gold cross. Got $4,000? Take home a one-carat diamond ring.

A final tip: Shop Little Saigon during the week when traffic is lighter.

Most stores are open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., although some stay open later during the holidays. Some also close Tuesdays or Wednesdays.

* Asian Village, 9191-9211 Bolsa Ave.; Asian Garden Mall, 9200 Bolsa Ave. For information, call the Little Saigon Chamber of Commerce, (714) 839-2257.

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