Friday, January 27, 2012

Observations on Chinatown

From handbags to human traficking to how many people can really live in a one bedroom apartment, Chinatown plays by it's own set of rules. As a non-Chinese in Chinatown, you must accept that you don't know shit about dick. (excuse me).

No english necessary
Zach and I went out for noodles awhile ago at "the place on east broadway, two stores in from Chatham Square," otherwise known as "the place next to the place with the purple awning." It came highly recommended by a friend who raved about the rich broth and hand pulled noodles, though couldn't provide the eatery's name. Upon entering, a waitress pointed to a table. We sat. She stood poised, with her pen hovering above the paper, ready to take our order. We asked for a few minutes and some water, which was delivered quickly. While we processed the menu,  she sat two tables away, playing with a small child. When we were ready, we waved to let her know that we were ready. I ordered "vegetable han-pulled noodle" (sic) and pointed to English written on the menu, while her finger went to the Chinese characters written to the left as she wrote down something that looked like the equation for the area of a circle. Three minutes later, two bowls full of piping hot noodles landed on the table. The first and only English words she said to us were "bye" and "thanks." But, it worked for her. It worked for me. No questions asked. Literally none. Three minutes later an amazing bowl of noodles and rich, smoky hot sauce appears on the table.  

Awesome noodles, even better broth.
So good that I called Dad on the way home
to tell him about the purple awning noodle place.
Pedestrian Traffic 
Walking down Grand or Canal streets on a Saturday can be an intensely frustrating experience, navigating the fish stalls, old men smoking butts, rolling suitcases, strollers, delivery men wheeling towering crates of bok choy around on dollies. The best way to get from point A to point B without being slowed by these obstacles is by finding an older Chinese person who walks quickly and following them closely. They navigate well and other people on the street tend to move for them (a little bit anyway). It is like following the ambulance with it's siren on. 

But watch out if you are a car! People cross streets whenever they want in Chinatown. There are so many people that don't care about what color the light is that the cars slow down to figure out what is going on. But the light is green? They say to themselves while craning their heads to double check the green light through the windshield. Cars navigate the people in Chinatown. Because people make the rules and most of them don't have cars. While very dangerous, I sometimes find it pleasantly confusing.

Columbus Park is located at Mulberry and Bayard, just south of mega touristy Canal Street, but is a totally different world. During the day on a weekday, it serves as a social area for older Chinese people. They play board games, listen to music, talk about books and obviously catch up on the latest gossip (not that I can understand what they are saying, but because they way people look when they are gossiping is totally universal... leaned toward eachother, whispering followed by excited gesturing. oh yeah. This um, band? musical trio? group of sorts, was performing in the square on a sunny Saturday. There was also another group performing the exact same kind of music at the exact same time about five feet away. It was rather interesting. 

And then, after walking and exploring you hit another world, because you have inevitably reached the border of Chinatown. You might find yourself on a narrow, empty street, darkened by looming city buildings from another era. Three steps past Columbus Park and you're deep in Batman's Gotham City. Or maybe you've stepped into Little Italy, where the fried dumpling smell has been replaced by that of smoked mozzarella. Or you're in the 'hood. Any way you cut it, getting lost in Chinatown is a lot like taking a trip to another world, an adventure that I highly recommend.

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