"Know York" – Week Four: 華埠 (曼哈頓)

Yes, I am referring to the Chinatown neighborhood of Manhattan. And yes, the Chinese characters above really do mean “Chinatown.”

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!

"Know York" – Week Three: Chelsea

Yeah, yeah, yeah… this is delayed but it’s HERE!

Week Three: Chelsea, Manhattan
Where is that exactly?
On the West Side of Manhattan, Chelsea is just below Hell’s Kitchen and the Garment District, and just above Greenwich Village and the Meatpacking District. The neighborhood stretches from the Hudson River across to Sixth Avenue. Both the A-C-E and 1-2-3 subway lines run through Chelsea, but I decided to stretch out my walk and get off the 7 train at 5th Avenue/Bryant Park (nearest cross-street 42nd).

Chelsea was named for the the Moore family’s Federal-style house of the same name, which took its name from the manor of Chelsea, near London. “Chelsea” occupied a full block between Ninth and Tenth Avenues south of 23rd Street, but was later replaced by high quality row houses in the mid-19th century. By 1900, the neighborhood was primarily Irish, and was home to the many workers of the Piers. The borders of Chelsea had also expanded from Eighth Avenue all the way to Sixth Avenue. Before World War I, Chelsea was an early center for the motion picture industry. Today, the neighborhood is mostly residential, with a good mix of tenements, apartments, and rehabilitated warehousing. A large gay population thrives here, as well as an increasing number of art galleries, excellent nightlife, and diverse restaurants.

And what did you do?

Well, as I mentioned, I started my walk from Bryant Park near Times Square, and headed down Sixth Avenue (the Eastern-most border of Chelsea). Along this stretch, one can find multitudes of craft stores and whole-sale priced bags and shoes. I happened to come across a row of Bead shops, where I spotted this amazing seating area outside “for husbands.” (You might have to click on the picture to get a better view.) I then cut in West on 37th to walk by the infamous fabric store “Mood” – if you watch Project Runway, you know exactly what I’m talking about. This area of NYC was particularly inspiring for me, as I have lately been thinking that I’d like to start some sewing projects. It has been sew long. [Insert obligatory laugh to Ashley’s pun here.] I was a little intimidated to actually step inside Mood, so I resolved to instead stand from across the street and stare. Maybe I can work up the courage for next time… Next, I headed down 7th Avenue, or the aptly-named “Fashion Avenue” and continued to gawk at the beautiful fabrics in shop windows – though it should not be withheld that there were MANY horrendous-looking displays down Fashion Avenue. Satisfied with my findings in this part of the neighborhood, I headed further West and then down 10th Avenue to end up in the Gallery District of Chelsea. Walking West on 24th Street, I popped into a number of exquisite galleries – my favorite of which was the Yigal Ozeri collection at the Mike Weiss Gallery. Filling full of culture, I realized that my belly was devoid of food, so I continued down 10th and over to the teens. I was surrounded by some beautiful architecture here, and even came across a church which offers its services in German! I must add here that… I want to live in Chelsea sooooooo bad. Sew bad. It’s the neighborhood that houses the UCB Theater, it’s just below the Theater District of Times Square, walking distance to great art/culture/dining/nightlife. What more could you ask for? Anyhow… around the corner, I found myself at Room Service at 18th Street and 8th Avenue. This Thai restaurant is a self-proclaimed “Bangkok Contemporary Kitchen” and boasts an extensive menu plus a lavish and creative dining-room concept. The idea is that you should feel like you are in a fancy hotel dining by, you guessed it- Room Service. I ordered the $6 lunch special, which included Pad Thai and a green salad with peanut dressing – a great deal for some fantastic service! $6.00 + $1.50 = $7.50 spent. Chelsea Market, on 9th Avenue between 15th and 16th Streets. This “industrial-chic hotspot” resides in the historic Nabisco factory, which now houses gourmet restaurants and stores, bakeries, coffee shops, and live music. I immediately walked into Eleni’s a bakery studded with multi-colored cup cakes. I decided upon a chocolate cupcake with butter-cream frosting and shredded coconut. The perfect dessert! $2.00 spent. >As I strolled around enjoying my cupcake, I notice the Chelsea Wine Vault and decided to check it out. I sampled some gin and some Argentinean wines and decided on a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc as a birthday gift for Natalie. (Not a part of my $10 budget!) Well, my day seemed to be winding down, and I knew that I needed to get home to get ready for Natalie’s birthday evening. With 50 cents left to spare, I headed into Chelsea Market Baskets, and blew the rest of my budget on some candies! $0.50 spent. A day well “spent!”

"Know York" – Week Two: Washington Heights

Did you really think I would flake out on the second edition?  After rave reviews from my Dad, well, I decided I should continue.  (I’m just kidding around – my Mom loved it too.)  After much consideration, and I mean about… two seconds, I decided to move these adventures to Saturdays.  I now continue my journey into the exploration of this beautiful city and its five (oh, and sometimes, New Jersey factors as a sixth) boroughs.  A limit of only ten dollars per weekend, and another successful expedition has been accomplished… so here we go… this time with my good friend and fellow UCSB/Kappa Alpha Theta alum, Maureen!

Week Two: Washington Heights, Manhattan

Where is that exactly?
Washington Heights is the northernmost section of the borough of Manhattan.  West is the Hudson River, and East is the Harlem River and Bronx Valley… quite a view!  The area was named for Fort Washington, constructed during the Revolutionary War.  During the battle of Fort Washington in 1776, the fort was captured by the British troops, which resulted in the deaths of over 100 American soldiers.  Technically, “WaHi” runs from the border of Harlem at 155th Street to Inwood, topping out at Dyckman Street.  (I know, cool abbreviation right?)  One of Washington Height’s bragging rights is the highest natural elevation in Manhattan – 265 feet above sea level, in J. Hood Wright Park, the location of Fort Washington.  To get there, Maureen and I walked across Central Park around 100th Street and the Harlem Meer; hopped on the B/C line at 110th Street/Cathedral Parkway; transferred to the A train at 125 Street; then rode the A train up to Dyckman Street, putting us just South of Inwood.  Washington Heights!

As I previously mentioned, Washington Heights served as a fortification for the Continental Army troops during the Revolutionary War.  In fact, the Morris-Jumel Mansion (the oldest house in Manhattan) is the base from which George Washington commanded the engagement now known as the Battle of Washington Heights.  Though the Mansion was built in 1765, development of the Heights did not occur until the early 19th century, when wealthy New Yorkers began to dot the country with their large homes.  Now, as a Harrell, I have a strong obligation to fill you in on some baseball history… and I should let you know that New York City professional baseball really had its roots in Washington Heights.  Not only does WaHi currently boast home-towners such as Alexander Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez… but NYC’s first American League team, the New York “Highlanders,” made their home at Hilltop Stadium from 1903-1913, the current site of the Colombia Medical Center.  You may now know this team better as the “Yankees.”  After World War II, multitudes of Latin immigrants flocked to Washington Heights, including Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Dominicans, and Mexicans.  (In fact, the numbers are so large, that candidates for office in the Dominican Republic now push to make large campaign efforts up Broadway in the 150’s and 160’s.)  But things took a turn for the worst in the 1980’s, when a cocaine epidemic and gang activity ruled the streets.  Homelessness, drugs, and despair presided.  After a tragic police shooting in 1988, New York City Police cracked down to turn the neighborhood back around.  Today, the crime rate is significantly lower, and the large community of diverse inhabitants flavor this hilly landscape with a Latin touch.
So what did you do way the #$%& up there?

Well to start off, as I mentioned, Maureen and I arrived at the subway just below Dyckman Street.  This is the northernmost edge of Fort Tyron Park, so we braved the- get this -TERRAIN and headed through a forest-like landscape toward the Cloisters Museum.  The Cloisters is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art dedicated to Medieval art and culture, located in a building which actually contains pieces of original European Medieval architecture.  It also offers spectacular views of the Hudson River and New Jersey Palisades.  When the two of us skeptically stepped through a gothic doorway this morning, we were slightly deterred by a sign artistically lettered with “$20 suggested donation adults, $10 students.”  I gave my best Upper East Side “I didn’t see that sign” smile, and asked for 2 student tickets, each of us offering a dollar bill as our “donation.”  Now- I would like to add here that I AM ON A BUDGET, OKAY – DON’T JUDGE.  $1.00 spent.  The museum was gorgeous.  I’m not exactly a medieval art buff, but I really enjoyed the original pieces of architecture – it reminded me of my choir tour in the Loire Valley of France four years ago (we spent two weeks rehearsing and performing in a countryside abbey.)  After our adventure through the 11th and 12th centuries, we headed back outside towards the George Washington Bridge.  We walked down through Bennett Park, and viewed the highest point of Manhattan (check out my picture further up).  We headed back down Broadway and found ourselves at a lunch venue on the corner of 175th Street, a Dominican restaurant called “El Malecon.”  Weenie and I settled into the cozy booth with an adorable waitress who served us up the BEST chicken/chorizo/pepper/onion combo (see picture at right), with rice, beans, and sweet yellow plantains.  Um…. yum.  The restaurant was packed with locals of all different ethnicities – everyone was enjoying the food, the company, and the atmosphere.  What more could you ask for?  Now- I must add that this was my first time eating plantains (pictured at left), and…. WOW.  If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to indulge in this delectable delicacy, I suggest you find yourself an authentic joint to fulfill your destiny of fried bananas.  Yummmmm.  After we had packed as much South American flavor into our bellies as possible, we settled the bill and headed out.  $8.00 spent. ($16 total, split between us.)  
As per Maureen’s request, we then moseyed over to the Columbia Medical School/Hospital facilities (formerly the site of the New York Highlander’s Hilltop Stadium).  We thought we might be able to spot a McDreamy or a McSteamy… and though we weren’t so lucky, we did find a coffee joint, “Jou Jou,” which offered small coffees for a buck each.  $1.00 spent.  ($10 budget spent.)  Maureen and I cut back East to view the Morris-Jumel Mansion, which was a beautiful setting, and also offered beautiful views of the Harlem River, Bronx Valley, and- of course- Yankee Stadium (below).  
We pranced around the grounds for awhile, then decided that our budget wasn’t the only thing that was completely spent for the day.  Our story concludes with two very tired UES ladies hopping back onto the train and returned to the homeland.  I highly recommend checking out this under-appreciated neighborhood.  I will certainly be giving their Craigslist apartment listings a little more consideration in the future!  Thanks for checking in with this week’s edition of “Know York” – any suggestions for next week’s adventure?

"Know York" – Week One: Williamsburg

The day before my Mom and I packed ourselves and all my belongings into a rented Suburban to drive across the country, my Dad handed me a hundred-dollar bill and explained that I could use it as $10 per week to try new things.  Until today, the bill had been nestled in my sock drawer, waiting to be broken.  This morning, I woke up early and decided that today was the day to begin $10/week for ten weeks.  

I created a little challenge for myself and dubbed it: “Know York.”  The plan is to visit a different neighborhood in New York City every week for ten weeks, limiting myself to $10 per trip.  I plan to log my explorations here in this blog, and explain to you a little history of each place I visit.  So here I go…
Week One:  Williamsburg, Brooklyn 

Where is that exactly?
The easiest way for me to get there from the UES was to take the 4/5 subway line from 86th Street down to Union Square (3 stops on the express line), then transfer to the L train and get off at Bedford Avenue.    Williamsburg is a direct shot from The East Village across the East River, which probably explains a lot of the artist migration… but I’ll get to that in a second…
Basically, Williamsburg is a fine melting pot of established immigrant families, artists, young people new to New York, and Indie-rock hipsters.  The community was first established as “Williamsburgh,” a suburb of New York City (Manhattan) in the early 1800’s.  Higher-class citizens resided in this prime pocket of real estate, until the Williamsburg Bridge was built in 1903 and thousands of immigrants crossed over from the Lower East Side to start a better life.  By 1917, Williamsburg had the most densely populated blocks in NYC.  In the 1930’s, a massive number of European Jews escaped Nazism by fleeing to Williamsburg, thereby establishing the Hasidic culture which still thrives today.  Throughout the century, many more ethnic groups came to occupy and enrich Williamsburg culture, including Italians, Puerto Ricans, and Dominicans.  And during the last 20 years, a new breed of “immigrants” have moved East to the lovely river-side community: artists.  With the rising rents of Manhattan, artists and musicians came to Williamsburg to enjoy lower rents, larger lofts, and convenient transportation to Manhattan.  In fact, a number of fantastic bands have emerged from Williamsburg, including Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, TV on the Radio, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Matt & Kim, and Ratatat (and many others)!  And may I just add here – the bands I just listed are some of my FAVORITE – so I guess I have a type: Williamsburg.  Today, Williamsburg is a beautiful collaboration of juxtaposed cultures, which creates a vibrant and colorful community.
So tell us Ashley, what did you do today?

Well thanks for asking.  First thing was the subway – which only took me about 35 minutes from leaving my apartment to arriving on Bedford Avenue.  The first thing I discovered was that I need to do these trips on Saturday afternoons rather than Sunday mornings, because unfortunately, only about half the shops were open on Sundays, and most didn’t open until noon.  I had no room to be upset however, for the weather boasted a fine 48 degrees (warm for me right now) and a beautiful blue sky.  To kill my first half hour, I headed down to the water to catch a glimpse of Manhattan and see what all the fuss was about – living in Brooklyn.  From the picture at left, one can confirm two things: 1) Williamsburg certainly has a nice view and 2) Hasidic culture still thrives!  I actually snuck this snapshot as soon as I saw four flowing white locks approaching in my peripheral, then I politely said “good morning” and pretended to take more pictures… heehee I’m so sneaky.  After wandering residential streets of the neighborhood, I found my way back to the main drag (Bedford Avenue) and decided I was quite overdue for some caffeine.  I came across a coffee shop, “Verb,” where one of the members of TV on the Radio actually used to work (read about this in my Fodor’s guide).  The first thing I noticed was the attractive young “hipster”-looking couple in front of me, toting along their almost accessory-like adorable son.  The café was dimly lit, and blasted some amazing band I had never heard before.  In hindsight, I regret not asking what they were playing.  But really, the sound system in this coffee shop was incredible.  Obviously, Williamsburgians have their priorities straight.  The place was packed with a plethora of young artists, all intently gazing upon the gentle glow of their laptops.  I was incredibly amused by the overly tattooed and pierced barista staff, who ignored me and the growing line of customers for a few minutes while they joked and gossiped about their Saturday night.  After about two minutes, the fully-bearded cashier turned to smile and ask what I would like.  I asked for his opinion on the loose-leaf teas and we agreed that a cup of Irish Breakfast would be my best bet.  $1.75 plus $0.25 in tip jar = $2.00 spent.  

After getting my beverage, I wandered back out to the streets and allowed myself to get lost in the mix of pedestrians out for their Sunday errands.  I came across several clothing boutiques, a discount pet-supply store, a public pool (Mom, I took a picture just for you), and eventually made it to the Williamsburg bridge.  Arriving here, I turned around and continued my walkabout through some different streets.  I found it really refreshing to be in a neighborhood with smaller buildings, less traffic, and far less noise in general.  (I write this as someone’s car alarm goes off outside my window for the umpteenth time today.)  I was also astounded by the friendliness of drivers – an approaching Volvo actually saw me waiting to cross a street, stopped their car and waved and smiled for me to go.  I know, right?  But the highlight of my day was certainly when I arrived at “Brooklyn Industries,” a clothing store on Bedford that was flourishing a sign claiming up to 80% off.  I was not disappointed.  Let’s just say I didn’t factor in buying a winter parka to my $10 budget.  It’s okay though, this was something I had been planning to purchase – and I ended up getting a perfect jacket at a great price!  

After my adventure with the jacket, I headed back down Bedford to find some lunch.  I had noticed a Thai restaurant earlier, so I popped in after spotting their $5.55 lunch special.  “Tai Thai” served up a yummy spring roll with a huge bowl of delicious Pad Thai that did not disappoint my stomach.  $6.00 + $2.00 tip = $8.00 spent.  Lunch was perfect.  After reaching my $10 budget for the day, and feeling the need for a naptime, I packed up and headed back to the subway.  

All in all, my exploration was fantastic!  Looking forward to a new adventure next week – any ideas what neighborhood I should check out?  Please feel free to give me your advice!