Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Chinatown Sidestreets

As the city does it best to eradicate Chinatown and hand the property over to the luxury developers, much of it yet remains. Paying close attention on a slow walk through the neighborhood's sidestreets reveals an older, not-yet-vanished part of the city, a New York that still feels a lot like New York.



At the edge of the park, a man fixes wristwatches. Another mends shoes. It might be Mr. Zhong, who patches up to 50 pairs a day. From the shadows of a subterranean club comes the clicking cacophony of mah-jongg tiles. From a flower-heavy funeral car, the bereaved toss handfuls of Hell money to the street. A man walks by holding a pair of draped and twittering bird cages. Basement barber shops show off their poles.



Tiny, crooked Doyers Street is empty and otherworldly. It feels so real that it feels unreal, like a movie set. Known as the Bloody Angle for its violent history of gang warfare between 1870 and 1930, Doyers still has an entrance to a secret network of tunnels connecting it to Bowery. Tong soldiers used to attack in the dark then flee through the tunnels to safety.

In The Believer, Alec Wilkinson writes, "Near the Bloody Angle were gangster hangouts called the Doctor’s, the Plague, the Hell Hole, the Cripples’ Home, the Dump, the Inferno, the Cob Dock, the Workingman’s Friend, Mother Woods’, Chick Tricker’s Fleabag, and McGuirck’s Suicide Hall."


doyers street in 1909

The Nom Wah Tea Parlor, established in 1920, still stands on Doyers, displaying outside a table of zongzi, rice and meat wrapped in bamboo leaves and tied with string. On the step, men sit and smoke, enjoying the peace.


17 comments:

PIQUED said...

I'm sorry but I'm glad that they're trying to get rid of Chinatown. Those storekeepers are rude and money-hungry. They are only friendly to the white tourists and suburbian out-of-towners. I'm not white, and when I tried to buy a little trinket of necklace for $10 on one of those stores, the chinese storekeeper then told me that it costs $12.50--the extra $2.50 was for tax, he says. And once I tried to purchase a DVD portable player, they were asking me for my SS# and a passport. I'm sorry but I've lived all my life in NY and they think I just gout of fresh of the boat. So, yeah, please feel free to be nostalgic to these places -- it's ok, 'cause, presumably, you're white. I would rather have luxury development to be in placed there, 'cause at least I know I'm not being discriminated against and hoodwinked based on the color of skin, only on my class status.

Anonymous said...

the names of those old gangster haunts rock, can we bring them back too? ( old time gangsters included?) :) The vendors can be rude, I will agree but the overall feel of the place as it was should remain. And I'm not white either and I am always floating in nostalgia.

ShatteredMonocle said...

The fact that you had to go all the way to Chinatown for a story proves how increasingly irrelevant this blog is. What's that matter...nothing to cover in NYC? If you're so concerned about placating your readers...why not go to San Francisco's Chinatown? That will give you some insight into how wrong your blog is!

Love,
Some Small-minded Dickhead Yunnie

Anonymous said...

funny I've always been treated well by my fellow brothers and sisters.
from Lendy's on Grand to the young kids in the Elizabeth mall.
I think it's the new comers who do things a little bit different.
like how you can't find a decent cantonese style chow mein anywhere.
remember Yun Luck on Doyer's?

Anonymous said...

You know what I love to do? Read blogs I hate and then spend my time posting comments about how irrelevant they are. That'll really stick it to them!

And if that doesn't work and everyone on the site refutes my comments, I'll just post again the next day, because if god forbid you cover an ethnic neighborhood, you must be running out of material.

Anonymous said...

"So, yeah, please feel free to be nostalgic to these places -- it's ok, 'cause, presumably, you're white. I would rather have luxury development to be in placed there, 'cause at least I know I'm not being discriminated against and hoodwinked based on the color of skin, only on my class status."

I'm certain a number of salespeople in SoHo's storefronts also make assumptions about one's class status based on race. SoHo is just maxed out w/ luxury buildings whose owners are arguably just as money-hungry as those in Chinatown. Sure they may act polite, but they would do you over the same way. I say stop bitching and the next time someone gives you shit politely tell them to shut up or leave. Don't wish for further gentrification.

MyMyMichl said...

There you were, lamenting the loss of more old New York to a bunch of filthy, lucre hungry developers with no hearts, by the way, and all you get are a bunch of trivial, off topic posts about racism, and someone who has nothing better to do than send out negative posts.

I'm still happy Nom Wah is still there. I'm making it my forst stop when I return to the city after a summer at Fire Island.

Bob said...

"I say stop bitching and the next time someone gives you shit politely tell them to shut up or leave. Don't wish for further gentrification."

Absolutely. People of color have the most to lose from gentrification. At a least a working-class white like me can spruce up and pretend to be one of them when I have to be. These yuppie assholes are the biggest racists in the world. They don't want anybody a shade darker than a good tan milling about in their gentrified neighborhood. Too many minorities on the block and that suburbanite "there goes the neighborhood" mentality kicks in, you know. Don't forget that these bastards are the sons and daughters of the cowards that turned tail and ran to the suburbs back in the 60s and 70s.

Joshua said...

While not negating Piqued's experiences, I would like to remind him that, personalities aside, one must support Chinatown just like any other neighborhood facing Vongerification, simply because it is in our collective interest to do so.
I myself like Chinatown very much, as it is an important part of the city's (traditional, anyway) patchwork of cultural diversity. But even if I didn't, it's demise by the forces of gentrification would still upset me, simply because affordability protects affordability, and the fall of one neighborhood always enables the fall of another.

However, I will have to disagree strongly with your beliefs about yunnie tolerance. Specifically, that in lilly-white luxury land, you're not going to face problems due to skin color. I hope you don't really believe that. If I were you, I wouldn't expect enlightened tolerance from the people who amuse themselves with "ghetto parties" at college (type that in an image search engine; you'll see what I mean).

Anonymous said...

you're a good egg roll, joshua.
my mom used to make the americanized ones in LIC. they were the competition to chung king before they moved to Ohio. remember Temple Foods and Chun King (famous for their bi-pack)in the ethnic section of your supermarket?
LaChoy is the other brand.
All three brands are part of Hunt's Wesson now.

Joshua said...

Uh, okay.

still piqued said...

Where else should I get a portable DVD player -- Duane Reade? Walgreen's? Here I am trying to support some of the businesses in Chinatown, and time an time again I'm treated like a malefactor, getting followed in a store, treating with me disrespect, etc. At least with these new developers and businesses coming into the neighborhood, if I'm disregarded, it's because I don't have the money to afford their products, in other words it's just business, not personal, unlike theses stores that treat me in this neighborhood currently. And FYI, I've lived in the LES all my life. Not until you guys experience being discriminated against by people who themselves are fighting against discrimination, then all argument is just rhetoric. Vote Obama!

Joshua said...

To tell you the truth, Piqued, I think you underestimate the extent of my experiences. Still, I know where you’re coming from; I just disagree with the conclusions you draw. Especially about our yunnie usurpers bringing in a new age of color-blind tolerance. Luckily, this Monday’s Everyday Chatter 3 post featured a quote from the yunnies in a new luxury condo in Harlem who dislike the African drum festival that meets in Marcus Garvey Park (forgive me, “Mount Morris Park”), which sums up their attitudes nicely. I quote (from the New York Times):
“‘Why don’t we just get nooses for everyone of those lowlifes and hang them from a tree? They’re used to that kind of treatment anyway!’ read the message, a copy of which was provided to The Times. It added: ‘I hope you all agree that the best thing that has happened to Harlem is gentrification. Let’s get rid of these ‘people’ and improve the neighborhood once and for all.’”
So, this is the kind of stuff they’re thinking in their little heads behind all the baby fat.
A yunnie presence doesn’t help anyone, Black, Asian, Hispanic, or poor White. Far from being color blind for the sake of business, in my experience, I’ve found them to be shockingly backward. Many seem to be possessed of just about every ultra-conservative prejudice one can name, as well as a firm belief that they’re in some sort of righteous vanguard against bleeding-heart liberalism (a dangerous combination). Once again, I’m not negating your experiences, but 500% rent increases won’t solve any of those problems you mention between different ethnic groups. It just makes life more difficult for everyone.

so_chic_darling said...

The Yunnies are not human they are walking cash machines covered with designer logos. They are empty and ignorant of any history of anyone or anything. They don't care about you even if you're white because they ONLY care about themselves. Not only will they eat this city alive but they will consume the entire country with their greed. It may be too late to stop them as the top 1% controls 90% of the wealth and as the economy slips into a deep recession they will pick over the dry bones like vultures.

Anonymous said...

chinatown is my favorite place in NYC. been down there all my life. shopping & buying wholesale doing business etc. blacks are welcome in jewelry stores they buy the 24k solid gold. i buy solid so i know. as for discrimination, possibly thats correct in tourist places. maybe they had a robbery & were held up by black people. most chinese are 3rd world, they are in their own little area. you have to forgive sometimes. i live in the 3rd world, i have my own protections i do. so what? spend $$$ on bling, the chinese will love you. its all about money. as for charging more for trinkets, i never had this problem, usually the prices are marked.

laura said...

(for piqued): pay CASH. no one will ask for an ID. that is for credit cards/checks. got the cash? race is never an issue. people from the 3rd world grew up in police states. sometimes they go over board. we must save chinatown. its the last place left in manhattan besides upper el barrio. we are multi cultural in new york. which means EVERYONES buttons get pushed. have you taken a cab lately? if your a true new yorker, you take it in stride. i have been cursed-threatened in arabic, hebrew, somolian, cambodian, spanish. its tough out there for a white girl!

Anonymous said...

P.S. On Flickr - the photo labeled IMG_0864.JPG on your walk through Chinatown pictures - that is currently the old Chinese Theater that was there in the early 1900's. It is the same building too - just 'changed'. Just an FYI! : - )