Just about every major city in the world has a Chinatown, every single one just as vibrant and colorful as the others, full of wonders from China and its people. I’ve been to ones in Manila, Philippines; San Francisco; Philadelphia; Chicago; Boston; and Shanghai, China (yes, there is a Chinatown in China, but that story is for another blog). New York City’s Chinatown is no exception. Over Labor Day weekend, my wife, Kelly, my son, Grant, and I took a daytrip to experience a slice of China. As we always do when we head into Manhattan, we drove to the Staten Island Ferry and took the 20-minute ride over. From there, it was a short cab ride to Canal Street, the entry point to Chinatown for most visitors.
Once you step onto Mott Street and walk into the heart of Chinatown, you are truly transported outside of this country. The colorful lanterns, pagodas, prominent awnings and signs draw you in. Street vendors, as well as local storefront businesses, offered all the necessities of life … and then some. One could spend an entire day just window shopping! What’s fascinating is the locals are going about their daily routine as visitors wander around getting in their way. We enjoyed checking out the local souvenir shops, produce stands, fish markets (live fish and other creatures in tanks) and apothecaries loaded with every medicinal item available in Eastern medicine.
Of course, one cannot go to Chinatown without partaking of the local cuisine. Going to Chinatown and not having a meal would be a missed opportunity! Peking duck is a must-have! Get it right off the hanging rack and let them chop it up for you. We decided to do just that and picked a random restaurant that served the specialty. One of my twin son’s girlfriends, Amanda (she lives outside the city), met us for dinner. We went overboard with the duck as well as other savory entrées on the menu. It was too much food for all of us, but it was worth the opportunity to sample.
After dinner, we strolled over to Columbus Park — a huge gathering place for the local men to play cards and checkers. The matches were heated and entertaining. A group of musicians were singing and playing traditional Chinese melodies, which really added to the ambiance of the park. It was the right place and the right time to end our tour. If you closed your eyes for just a moment, listened to the music, heard the chatter of locals and breathed in the smells, you are there … China!
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