All dark ahead, there’s a black out.
Proceed on and you will get lost.
Because you cannot turn about.
You must stand still at any cost.
That was Mirinda’s fortune as chosen at the Buddhist temple we visited as we wandered through Chinatown as set out by our Frommer’s guide. Quite an amazing place which changed from empty to full during our time within its environs.
We left the hotel nice and early, in order to miss the main heat of the day – yesterday taught us that much. Unfortunately, being a Sunday in the financial district, means there wasn’t a whole lot open, including Roxy’s diner. We ended up in a Starbucks on Broadway.
We then wandered down to Chinatown; Columbus Park to be exact. This is now a large area where lots of Chinese meet to play cards or something that looks like a cross between chess and checkers, to practice Tai Chi or to just hang around reading the paper.
Originally, this area was just slum tenements and pretty rough but then in the early 20th century, most of them were pulled down and this park made for the locals. One set of tenements was not pulled down because of racist fears that the Chinese who lived there would move into other neighbourhoods.
Well, I guess they stayed and now the entire area is an amazing collection of Chinese shops, food, people and life. It’s like being in Hong Kong – or, rather, how I imagine Hong Kong. Maybe Mirinda will be able to compare in about a month.
We walked through the park and spotted a bunch of mad sparrows, trying to wrestle home an entire bread roll.
Actually we’ve seen a lot of sparrows in New York. Mirinda has been quite delighted.
Anyway, we wandered across to the statue of Lin Ze Xu who was a force for good against the drug trade in the 19th century. Some claim he was one of the catalysts of the First Opium War between the British traders and the Chinese. While most of the people at the time were upset about China being ripped off by the western societies, Lin Ze Xu was far more concerned with the social impact that drugs had on the Chinese people. And there’s a statue of him in New York.
Mott Street is the heart of Chinatown. Chinese shops line both sides of the street, as well as the Buddhist Temple we visited. There wasn’t a lot of activity when we strolled through the first time but the people were starting to mill about, promising much crowding.
The biggest surprise of the day was the Eldridge Street Synagogue. An Orthodox synagogue, Eldridge Street has been around for a long time. It was the first synagogue built in the US by Eastern European Jews. It opened in 1887 after four prominent Jewish businessmen pooled their resources.
Prior to the synagogue being built, Jewish services were held wherever a room could be found. According to Sylvia, our wonderful guide, if you had a two bedroom apartment in the late 19th century, you’d have a synagogue within a few hours.
When the Eldridge Street synagogue opened, it stated with pride that it was Jewish with an amazing amount of Stars of David scattered all over the front of the building. This was a backlash reaction to the pogroms throughout Europe which forced most Jews underground. Synagogues would not be very obvious. But not this place!
The congregation kept getting bigger even though successful members would leave the area as soon they could. But eventually there wasn’t enough people to justify the massive church and they couldn’t afford the electricity to keep it open so the big doors where padlocked shut, the stairs blocked up and the church moved into the basement.
In the 1980s, when the doors were opened, the entire place was full of pigeons and rainwater where the roof had leaked. It was not very nice so, after collecting enough money, a massive restoration job was started. The finished place was reopened as a museum, which is still used as a church, in 2007.
The main victim of the years of non-use was the massive east wall rose window. There was no record of what it originally looked like and lately a lot of those square glass blocks people usually have in their bathrooms, were used as a sort of stylised set of holy tablets. I think it looked really good, as did Sylvia, but a new rose window was ordered and Kiki Smith created the masterpiece that is there now.
For more information, the synagogue has its own website here.
Emerging from the synagogue, we were about ready for a sit down and a coffee. We managed to find a convenient Starbucks where we sat and enjoyed some of that great Seattle coffee.
We had a great chat with a New York chap who was just a little bit cynical when it came to marriage. It wasn’t for him. He felt the need to change his women every two weeks. He had been married but divorced after three years. He had a five year old daughter but didn’t feel he should get married ever again.
His arguments against marriage were all a bit alien to us. Particularly the fact that he felt whenever a woman rang 911, it was an alarm for the police to come round and beat him up. He sounds terrible but was actually quite entertaining. Even so, we tore ourselves away and headed back to Mott Street, to look for somewhere to eat some dim sum.
We wound up in Young Gee, the number 1 for Canton chicken. We didn’t have chicken however. We had the dim sum combination which included Nigel’s favourite pork bun (one between two!) followed by sweet and sour pork served in half a pineapple. Very odd but delicious. We also had the biggest bowl of fried rice ever served to two people. It would have been enough to feed an entire Chinese village! Hopefully it didn’t get mixed up and served to someone else.
After lunch and totally stuffed, we slowly walked back to the hotel for an afternoon rest as the sun beat down on the melting sidewalks.
My fortune from the Buddhist temple was a little better than Mirinda’s:
You don’t have to worry any more,
Since success is almost at your door.
You better wake up soon and explore
Your possibilities hid in store.