No trip to NYC is complete without our last minute shopping spree. My birthday celebration in the city was no different. We ventured out from our Mott Street apartment into the daytime bustle of Chinatown.
I worry about the endurance of this neighborhood. Just today I read in the Times “that New York needs to be lofted back into global competitiveness. That the city isn’t modern enough.” And that the Department of City Planning is “envisioning a taller, denser, shinier future for the neighborhood around Grand Central.” How soon before the entire city is one tall, dense, shiny complex dotted with gentrified neighborhoods for the super-wealthy and not so-super wealthy?
At least not yet.
We scurry from one stall to another buying baby bok choy, Chinese broccoli, mangoes, cherries, pomelo and whatever else we see that looks good. The cost is always considerably less than what one would find locally. But the biggest incentive to shop is that it is so much fun to be part of the activity on the streets. Lee is a pro and his interactions with the vendors are swift and smooth. He can’t speak the language but he’s got the brusqueness down pat.
We bring home more produce than we think we could ever eat but always seem to consume it all in one stir-fry and soup after another.
Then we pop into the markets for all kinds of noodles, sesame oil, sauces, and black beans. Lee has his favorites.
We go to Kam Man on Canal Street when we need more tea blossoms, a teapot, or other kitchenware. I’m more at home there. The store has American structure with check out lines and cash registers, and now New Kam Man has a web presence, but we still pay in cash, which is the norm in Chinatown. Hank C, the “Perpetually Hungry,” on Yelp says he see more tourists in Kam Man than locals, and that could be. The store is doing something right, at least for me and the other tourists. Hank recommends the Hong Kong Supermarket and other shops on Elizabeth Street and perhaps we’ll give them a look-see when we are down again next week.
Our last stop was Yee Li for lunch and to stock up on meals to bring back home. We were delighted to see that our favorite restaurant is freshly painted and has earned its “A.” The ambiance is still the same however. We were tickled to see two men carry a large glass canister to one of the tables. They dumped out a big pile of cash and started to count the bills. No pretense here. No fear either. The waiter smiled when we took our photo.
We learned from Lee’s Chinese family that this was the tip jar. And of course since they grew up working hard in their family’s restaurant they added, for their enjoyment and ours, a few stories of their childhood in the business.
The future is what it is all about, but when life seems meaningless and we feel lost, these small vibrant connections to our past can help us remember the way home.
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Did you know that it takes three well-behaved kids sitting on a stack of three 50# bags of rice to squeeze the water out of the celery to make the best eggrolls in Chinatown? For real!