Monday, August 11, 2008

Lessons From Chinatown

I am officially a New Yorker. Not only is it the new address, it's the library card, the fact that I walk quickly while disregarding cross walk signs, and most important, the fact that I am enrolled at NYU.

I will explain my apartment search in another blog entry, but as a teaser, here is the outside of my apartment. You'll see that the door is just a grate, but it provides a nice draft.

Totally kidding. (That one was for my parents.) Pictures will come soon, but the apartment search is a little to fresh to review as of today. Instead I'll tell you about a recent adventure.

I spent the day organizing my room and getting distracted with this and that. I have to go to Ikea to get a wardrobe closet (a task I am ecstatic about other than the fact that is an act of spending money) so I am limited in terms of how much I can organize. Slowly but surely though, I am buying the necessary extension cords, etc.

I technically live on the lower east side (Losida for locals) but it's what I would consider wonderfully close to Chinatown. I decided I would rather get an extension cord from a local vendor as opposed to Path Mark so I started walking. I wandered in and out of stores that connected to other stores off the street level and saw many places without even a dollar sign or English number.

I bought my extension cord at a shop with the dollar signs I understood and continued to wander, loving every second of this new and foreign place that was and is so close to my home. I felt illiterate but wanted nothing more than to satiate my curiosity. I wanted to reach out and touch the Chinese characters, absorb their meaning, and taste all the foods I'd never seen.

One second it would smell like fresh fish, the next like steamed rice. There were moments when I regretted deeply inhaling because I was bombarded with odorous trash, but as soon as I smelled a bakery I ducked inside. The long, narrow shop was filled with people eating. I didn't recognize a thing, but saw that the items were only 80 cents so I figured I would try something.

The lady working there in her red v-neck Clima-lite shirt and bright yellow Nike trucker hat (which was, I confirmed, the uniform) looked at me with inquiry, as if to say, "What do white people get when they come to Chinese bakeries, I've never seen one here."

I walked back and forth across the display and saw items that appeared to have meat beside items that seemed pure as angel cake. I opted for something that looked like a gyro roll sprinkled with fine coconut sprinkles and filled with white stuff. Cautious of spending 80 cents on something suspect (yes, I am frugal), I asked the lady what was in the middle. She was nice about it, and answered in a tone that seemed to say, I think the English word for it is "cream."

I smiled thankfully as she put it on a red tray for me before I made my way over to pay. As I got to the front of the line I asked the cashier what one might call the pastry I had picked out, and she answered quite simply, "Cream."

Thus begin my Lessons From Chinatown. Lesson No. 1 goes like this: 1. Learning Chinese and infiltrating Chinese culture is appealing, but it isn't going to happen one dessert at a time (as I had loftily hoped as I ducked into that bakery whose name I couldn't tell you beyond the fact that it contained a few Chinese characters).

It's a lesson Chinatown may have to teach me again. This bakery couldn't keep me away if it tried. My Cream wasn't very sugary like most American pastries, but it was heavy and incredible, the perfect 80 cent dinner. I ate it at home, searching forums for someone who would like to meet once a month or so to learn English so I can learn what a Cream is really called.

And although I haven't blogged in forever, I haven't forgotten about music recommendations.

Check out Josh Pyke. The Aussie Acoustic folk artist will have you pensively relaxing, but then smash you out of that space with a shocking lyric here or there.


Blaire said...

I enjoyed reading this. However, after being in the city for two years, I do disagree.

Here is a quote I saw on the B train a couple of months ago. You may have read it, but I think it embodies what "is" New York perfectly.

"There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born there, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size, its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter - the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in search of something . . . Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness, natives give it solidity and continuity, but the settlers give it passion."

Because we go to school in the city, or walk without looking does not make us a New Yorker. There is great debate on how to take on that identity, but most say about ten years. We may not be New Yorkers, but we do indeed bring the passion.

Enjoy getting to know the city. The Fall is the best.