by Lynn Kim Do

Street Talk | Chinatown Confessions




Chinatown has always brought back kind memories for me. Maybe it’s the atmosphere or maybe it’s the kart with fresh puff pastry that I still can't walk by without buying. The sweet and very distinct smell hits your nose before the pillow soft texture hits your mouth.

I remember going to Chinatown as early as 8 or 9 years old when we would drive there from New Jersey. It was really the only area in New York that my family ever made time for, ever stir up the courage to travel to, the only place other than their home towns that they even feel remotely familiar with. The door-to-door secret passageways that sells really crappy or really really good knock-offs. The sounds, the words that feel like a secret language that I could never crack the code but was also never invited to. But oh, it sounds so pleasant. And still today, it sounds strangely comforting. The sweets in every store, every corner, they call for you. Literally. Men and women pulling you left and right, screaming at you, coercing you to come in. To buy—$5 for you. Real good. Come, come. You wanna buy? I sell cheap for you. Don’t you dare expect top notch customer service. This is as straightforward as it gets. Cold-hearted, real ass people who want you to buy this keychain as much as they want you to leave them the hell alone. The fruit stands on the street, sitting comfortably next to the fish market, all the smells sharing the same air rights together, in an ugly way, but bearable, voluntarily bearable. Where else can you get a whole Durian fruit and an entire cod at the same time?

To be quite frank, I don’t love Chinatown for all the delicious duck hanging by it’s feet, its oil dripping for days, drip drop, on a silver pan, and yes, I will still eat the crap out of that. I don’t love it for the large park tucked away in the back where you can find handfuls of people, some young, mostly old, playing mahjong, while other Chinatown headmasters sing and play their homeland classics as a crowd of white faces, brown faces, young faces, old faces surround the small band. I don’t love it for that one random Russian speakeasy that serves absinthe cocktails near Pell Place where I would gladly stumble to after indulging in lychee ice cream at Ice Cream Factory and Joe Shanghai’s soup dumplings.

I love it because it’s all those beautiful things I mentioned and it smells like shit, the people are rude, you can probably get a happy ending one place or another, and best believe, there’s not enough insecticide in the world to get rid of the army of human-size cockroaches that reside under the neighborhood. And yes, I love it. It’s flawed. It’s cultural. And it’s real, whether you like it or not. It's fucking magical.

 Photos by Daniela Spector