|Photo by Hu Totya|
You exit the subway on
to immediate noise – car engines, diesel engines, honking, screeching, sirens, yelling, talking, and the general din of New York. Canal
Street leads to the
(the Manhattan Bridge
knockoff that carries the subways out of and into Brooklyn Bridge Brooklyn
as well as cars and busses) so there's loads of traffic. Chinatown
may not have more people crowding the sidewalks than other parts of Manhattan,
but it feels like it because the sidewalks and streets off Canal
Street are narrower than uptown tourist places
like Times Square and . Those narrow streets add a sense of mystery
and romance, most particularly after sunset when the neon lights and colored
bulbs come on highlighting all the signs in Chinese script. You could be somewhere far away. Rockefeller
Unless you live there,
Chinatown is two-square
miles of shopping, eating, and getting a cheap massage. The most visible shopping spills out onto the
sidewalks of Canal Street
between Baxter and East Broadway. Purses,
backpacks, cheap jewelry, and sunglasses (umbrellas as soon as it starts to
rain) sit on tables or hang from racks.
As you walk past these hole-in-the-wall stores whose doors roll up like
garage doors, the hawkers invite you to buy and to bargain for a price. These stores all sell basically the same
merchandise that changes out every few weeks.
Canal Street in
Chinatown is also where
you can get a knockoff designer purse, wallet, watch, keychain, shoes,
etc. If you’re interested in that, just
stand on any street corner and within a few seconds, someone will whisper,
“Handbag? Handbag? Watch?” and show you
a wrinkled photographic menu of designer items.
If you get hooked, you follow someone to the back of a shop, or to a van
parked on The Bowery, or down an alleyway to a door. You’ll have a variety of Louis Vuitton, Coach,
Chanel, or other famous brand goods to choose from – in the expensive versions
($hundreds) with genuine leather and brass trim or cheaper ($less and hundreds)
which have polyurethane trim that doesn’t wrinkled or stain, but looks
obviously fake and ends up in a thrift store instead of on eBay. You can choose Rolex, Patek Philippe, and
other watch brands as well. Then you can
brag that you have a genuine fake something or other.
The designers have boutique stores or have their goods for sale in high-end stores uptown, and they deeply frown at this illicit activity in
police watch for it and I’ve seen people scatter when a police van
arrived. At one time, the entire block
of stores from Baxter to Centre Street
were shuttered and padlocked – for months.
It was quite a message.
Purses and watches are not the only counterfeit items moving through
There’s also a lot of counterfeit money.
I remember once there was a 3-card-Monty game under a construction
“shed” (what New York calls
covered scaffolding). I played that scam
the first time I visited New York. I broke even because there was a police car
nearby and and I got him to come over and tell the man to return the money he’d
cheated from me. But I digress. There was a game going on under the scaffolding
on lower Broadway near Canal Street. A tourist had been suckered into playing, but
oddly, he was winning. The crooks
running the game were paying out. It was
fascinating and I stood there until I figured it out. They were giving him counterfeit money. Two counterfeit $20 bills for a real
one. They wouldn’t get caught passing
counterfeit money, the tourist would have that wonderful experience. I walked over to the Chinatown
police precinct and suggested they send someone to play 3-card-Monty on lower
Broadway. This is a floating game all
over midtown as well. Anywhere there are
crowds of tourist,s there is a Monty game.
Back to the good stuff.
There are a lot of massage places in
where you can get a very inexpensive one-hour reflexology session. That was my weekly event.
I also did grocery shopping in
Chinatown. Along Canal from Baxter to Mulberry I chose
from various tiny fresh vegetable and fruit stands at the edge of the
sidewalk. There were two fish markets
side by side near Baxter Street. And, one 3-floor general store that sold
maybe 100 types of tea – loose tea in huge glass jars, loose tea in packages,
and boxes of teabags. They sold over 100
types of candy as well as cookies, spices, canned food, etc.
There was at one time a terrific store on Lower Broadway called
It carried Chinese silk clothing, household products, beauty products
all sorts of wonders on two floors creaky wooden floors. There was plenty of space for wandering
around, and it was a flow-through, meaning you could enter on Broadway and exit
at the other end of the store onto Mercer Street. Unfortunately, the rent was raised on this
30,000 square foot store from $100,000 per month to $500,000 per month (yes,
that’s right, per month), and they closed down.
You can find Pearl River online though: http://pearlriver.com/v3/index.asp
There used to be a lot of unique shops on lower Broadway – art dealers selling prints, boutiques owned by the designers who sold their own clothes there, music stores, rare book stores, and even a holographic “museum.” All gone now because of high rents. The chain stores have moved in – The Gap, American Apparel, Starbucks. You could be at a mall in
After shopping, comes hunger. Sometimes I cruised south of Canal looking for a restaurant – there are many, but my favorite restaurant was actually Vietnamese – on
just south of Walker Street. It was always crowded at lunchtime, so I
tried to get there in the afternoon when there was a lull. I liked to sit at a two-top table near the
cash register and have a Vietnamese coffee (espresso dripped into condensed
And, more often than not, before going home, I stopped into Pearl Paint. This is a multi-story art store on
Canal Street near
Broadway. It has old wide-plank floors
that creak, every kind of art supply you can imagine, and quite possibly the
rudest staff you can find in New York. Overcoming that, I went there to buy gel pens
because they had a selection of 100s of colors and I used them up quickly.
More to come on