Week Four: Chinatown, Manhattan
(The largest Chinatown in North America)
Where is that exactly?
Though the traditional borders are smaller, today the neighborhood spans from Delancey Street in the North, to Chambers Street in the South, and from Broadway in the West to East Broadway in the East. The bordering neighborhoods of Chinatown include Little Italy, SoHo, the Lower East Side, and the Financial District. A few subway lines run through and around the neighborhood, including the 6, the J/M/Z, the B/D/and sometimes F, depending on how far you feel like walking. I took the 6 down the Bleeker Street, then walked along East Houston (pronounced “How-stun”) to meet up with Chris at the edge of Little Italy.
Just like many cultural neighborhoods of Manhattan, Chinatown came to be after a large population of one culture moved to the island in an attempt to start anew. When gold became less plentiful in the West, the first people affected were Chinese and other foreigners. The ever-declining post Civil War economy eventually gave way to blaming the Chinese for the depressed wage levels, and California labor groups led the efforts in punishing the immigrant workers in a most unconstitutional way, The Chinese Exclusion Act. I mentioned this to Chris while we ate our lunch outside a Vietnamese deli, and we both reveled in the notion of how ridiculously insane our ancestral Americans were. To give you more information on the Chinese Exclusion Act, check out this article from Wikipedia.
Faced with the discrimination of the West Coast, Chinese immigrants moved East to find jobs. In 1870, Manhattan’s Chinatown district had a population of 200. By 1900, there were 7,000. In the early days, Chinatown was armed with street gangs, largely due to the extreme discrimination from White Americans. The only park in Chinatown, Columbus Park, was built on what was once the hub of gang activity, known as the “Five Points” neighborhood of Manhattan. During the 1800’s, Five Points was the bloodiest and violent slum of immigrant New York. During the 1960’s, The U.S. finally got their “act” together to pass the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, allowing more immigrants from Asia into the country. At this time, the community of Chinatown expanded drastically, and today has grown to encompass parts of Little Italy and the Lower East Side. The neighborhood is truly a cultural experience, but the disturbing history behind the streets still lingers on, immortalized in winding streets and old tenement buildings.
Day of 樂趣 (fun):
So like I mentioned, Chris and I met up on Houston and Bowery, then walked down Bowery to look at all the restaurant supply stores. He had told me about an amazing Vietnamese sandwich place around the corner, so we headed over to Broome Street for lunch. Upon first walking into the place, I was blown away by two things: 1) the beautiful assortment of goods for sale (at left) and 2) the incredibly cheap food they were selling. It seemed like robbery. The store was filled with so many products I had never even seen before. The service was friendly, the music was great, what could possible go wrong? $3.95 spent.We got our sandwiches, mine with pork and his with chicken, and proceeded to enjoy their deliciousness. After eating, we headed back down Mott Street, and winded our way through a Chinese supermarket, a cheese shop, and a bakery (we were still near Little Italy). I have to say, it felt so humorous to be walking through the market, as Chris and I are both very tall white people – we stood out…. just a little bit, I think. Remember when I asked what could possibly go wrong? Well, it turned out that there was some sort of peanut product in the sandwich Chris ate, and did I mention he’s allergic to peanuts? He made it seem like he was going to be fine and he just was going to head home – he peaced out and I kept exploring. After making my way back up Bowery and stopping into the Dragon Bakery for a sweet bun ($0.80 spent), Chris informed me he was indeed in the E.R. I felt like a terrible person for letting him leave alone when he was really having a deathly allergy attack, so I cut the rest of my exploration a little short. Even though it was only a half day, I had a lot of fun and look forward to going back down to maybe actually (gasp) BUY somethings from a Chinese market. After spending only $4.75 for the day, I can certainly afford it!