Funny how a week at work drags by, yet a week in New York City can pass in a blur. Maybe it’s because you look forward to it so much, like birthdays when you’re younger. I’d arrived with a `to do list` and done it.\(Well most of it anyway). The hotdogs and pretzels I’d seen all those years ago on the TV, the big steaks I’d heard all about, going over to 53rd and 3rd, `Georgie Boys` last stand. Damn those New Jersey gangs! The skyscrapers. The sights, smells and sounds. Especially the sounds. I’ve never been in a noisier city!
There always seems to be car horns blasting and sirens going. Then there’s the steam rising from vents in the road. A bit of a unique NYC thing?, maybe not but it is to me. I will always remember the feeling I got when I got my first sighting of the Manhattan skyline coming in from the airport. Even thinking of it now brings a thrill of excitement. And just the simple act of waking up in New York every day for a week, stepping out of the hotel and being right in the middle of things, that was such a good feeling at the time and a feeling that I will never forget.
The city has so many different ethnic areas (Chinatown, Little Italy, Little Russia etc), that virtually every country on earth seems to be represented in their own district. Chinatown was fascinating to me. We first came across it when walking up Broadway one day.
Although the street was already quite busy there was a clear throng of people a little further up. When we reached the start of Chinatown itself it hit you full on. There are around 150,000 Chinese-Americans in New York (many living and working in their minisociety without using a word of English), and looking at the scene in front of us, it seemed as if they were all doing their shopping at the same time. Add a huge mix of other New Yorkers and tourists and you can imagine the amount of people milling around.
In the early days of Chinatown the community remained isolated from the rest of the city, financed and controlled by its own secret organizations, the Tongs. Some of the Tongs were simply family associations who provided loans. Others were criminal fraternities and were at war with each other. The old windy road in the area (once a dead end) called Doyers Street was at one time known as `Bloody Alley`, a place where warring Tongs lured and ambushed each other. A truce between the Tongs in 1933 brought peace to Chinatown, which to this day remains a very self-sufficient area.
Food here is everywhere. The markets on Canal Street are wildly known to sell some of the best fish, fruits and vegetables in the city. There are countless restaurants ; Mott Street – from Worth Street right up to Kenmare Street – is lined with Cantonese and Szechuan places, as well as East Broadway. And don’t forget the vendors selling all sorts of delicious snacks (and some not so delicious looking snacks as well mind). But there’s more to do here than just eat. There are also galleries, antiques and curio shops, Oriental festivals and the Eastern States Buddhist Temple. What a fantastic area of the city.
We spent a fair bit of time wandering around between the vast array of stalls and open fronted food shops, some of which seemed to resemble a mini slaughter house that sold the meat on to customers as fresh as you could possibly imagine. I swear I saw a skinned, bloodless rabbit wink at me as I walked past one shopfront. And I honestly lost count of the ammount of restaurants we walked past, all displaying huge menus in their windows without containing a single word in English. And why should they? After all, the vast majority of people living their daily lives in and around the Chinatown area have no use for the English language what-so-ever. Like I said earlier, Chinatown remains a very self-sufficient area and they certainly have no need to pander to the whims of English speaking tourists.
Ironically, the Chinese restaurant we did visit wasn’t even in Chinatown! It was up near our hotel and we came out of it like a couple of stuffed pigs. It was interesting while in there to witness so many people dining solo.
It’s a well known fact that in the average NYC apartment there’s hardly room to swing a cat in the kitchen. With the city boasting over 25,000 restaurants you can bet the vast majority of them are going all out to get your custom (the real swanky ones will have elite clientele I suppose!). It’s so cheap to eat out (and eat out well) in New York that for most locals it’s very much an everyday thing. So although it was interesting to see so many solo diners, it wasn’t really surprising.
Its not as if they were all just sitting staring into space, every one of them had a book or newspaper or paperwork of some kind in front of them. As for me and Malc, we ordered what we normally would in the UK. We just didn’t figure on the New York portions. They brought us a huge bowl of chicken fried rice which we shared out onto our plates, just about filling them. We’d also ordered a sweet and sour chicken dish to share along with chips.
These followed a couple of minutes later along with another huge bowl of chicken fried rice. We explained that we already had ours but were told that this was ours also! There was nothing to do but take a deep breath and get stuck in. Every time we had a drink of beer there was someone at our side before the glass was back on the table to top it up. Very attentive, I’ll give them that.
Well we did our best but when we couldn’t manage anymore there was still a mountain of food left. And we hardly even touched the portion of dumplings we ordered! I thought I was going to burst. They offered us a `doggy bag` to take with us what we couldn’t eat, but I thought if I looked at anymore of it I’d be sick so we politely declined. But talk about getting your moneys worth. Wow!