The Inside New York 2012 guidebook is officially printed! Go to insidenewyork.com or sign up on Amazon to be notified when it becomes available. :D
Tucked away between the more commonly frequented areas of the Lower East Side and the Financial District, at the end of the peninsula that is Manhattan, is an area of constant hustle and bustle, called Chinatown. The neighborhood’s two square miles is home to the largest concentration of Chinese in the western hemisphere, which only recently has opened up to slight diversification, and began sharing some streets with its neighboring neighborhood Little Italy.
In the 19th century Chinese immigrants made the move to the western hemisphere to California, expecting to work a few years, earning themselves enough money to provide for a family, and then return home to China. The Chinese were willing to work longer hours for less money. Tension arose, racial discrimination grew, and the Chinese fled east. By the late 19th century the Chinese immigrants found themselves in the slums of New York, making money as hand laundries. Racial-segregation and self-segregation kept the community independent from outside neighborhoods. The Chinese Exclusion Act and various immigration laws are reflected in Chinatown’s population history, but in the late 20th century when these laws were lifted and quotas were raised, Chinatown’s population grew and its neighborhood flourished. It has also become a notorious tourism spot, receiving mixed views from the locals. Definitely expect a language barrier—and do not be surprised if few jump at the opportunity to aid you. Bring a friend. You will not feel discouraged, only intrigued.
Weekend or weekday, be prepared for packed sidewalks. It is only the small percentage of tourists that unable to keep up with the fast pace, find themselves in a bumper-car like situation. Put your New York stride to the test and you will find yourself in the heart of Chinatown. Among tiny knick-knack stores selling jade jewelry and prayer beads, you will find bakeries and cafes with Chinese treats like pork-buns and casual communal seating. In these eateries you can commonly spot alters with offerings of food, incenses, and candles to Chinese Buddhist gods. After a pork-bun or a Hello Kitty mini-cake, stop in one of Chinatown’s ‘Super Markets’ (two words). Filled with more than just groceries, a super market like Hong Kong Super Market on 157 Hester St. boasts a wide selection of traditional home-furnishings and clothing. Not for the weak-stomached, however, that tank of toads is not a family’s next pet but their next dinner. Once your nose has adapted to the intense smell of dead fish from the numerous markets, slip into one of Chinatown’s famed tropical aquarium stores. This is no Pet Smart. Some of these underwater creatures will cost you a summer salary. For the record, they would be bought alive, to be kept alive.
$2.75 for a little slice of authenticity (verse Expedia.com, a year in advance, $1,000+ for just the plane ride) might as well get the taste first, Right?