In the olden days there was a Chinatown but in the major cities. The well known ones in the United States of America were New York City and San Francisco. If you wanted Chinese food, “authentic Chinese” food, you had to come to one of these neighborhoods. True, there was one in Boston, Chicago, Montreal, Portland, and so forth, but those two Chinatowns remained the ones people thought of for their respective left and right coasts.
My earliest memory of Gotham’s Chinatown was back in 19XX when I was X years old. Back then one could still toss firecrackers in the street and I remember it was a loud and festive time and the streets were packed with people, strange smells, carts and stalls, and all manner of chaos. We walked about a little and then went to one of the more upscale restaurants. High end restaurants serving Chinese food were rare then. Inside there were carpets on the floor, carved marble lions, tables with table clothes of real linen as were the napkins. It was a classy place of the Old Regime, the imperial court and perhaps refugees from Chang Kai Chek. I remember the chopstick lesson and having to use a fork and that this was the fanciest place my little sticky kid self had ever been. Then, after dinner, we walked about a little down these mysterious small crooked streets. We came across a little shop and inside there was all manner of toys, games, and things from China back when that was a novelty and not the standard issue of the Walmarts and Kmarts and Othermarts of the world.
Today, Chinatown seems on the surface the same, however, there are changes since those days so many decades ago. Gone are the formal restaurants where gentlemen must wear jackets … but that is the same for all the city. Also, there are more than Chinese represented in this “Chinatown,” a colonial title to an area of the city that despite our entering an age of Politically Correct we still refer to the space that has today spilled over to consume “Little Italy” as well as most of Flushing, Queens, and points south in Brooklyn.
Today one finds Thai and Vietnamese and other South East Asians as one finds Hipster bars and eateries in all corners of the area. The neighborhood is still predominantly Chinese, and rumor is that the Chinese building owners rarely rent to non-Chinese causing a greater concentration, but one may notice a graying of the population as they get ever older. Even if the current population seems not to be assimilating, there are changes ahead as these older people move on or die out and like “Little Italy” another group may come in to take their place, one that looks very different to the current population in language, dialect, ethnic affiliation, gender identity, and economic class. Which will make the old colonial ethnic nomenclature that much more archaic and out of place in a city of HO’s, Hills, Villages, DUMBOs, Heights, and Gardens.
Nevertheless, you can still visit Chinatown and need not rush there as you may have to rush to see the rainforest in Borneo that is now being torn down and turned into cardboard boxes at the rate of the land mass of the city of Paris each year. You can still see the smelly fish, wander the oily sidewalks, shop for the latest “Fuck You You Fucking Fucker” hat, teeshirt, or teeshirthat, or any number of knockoff brands of handbags or perfume or those old standard souvenirs. Try the bubble tea, have some ice cream, and do check out Nom Wah Tea House, the oldest and best dim sum place in the city.
Our future with China is uncertain. We will have to recon with a land teeming with humanity. My short time in Beijing was frightening when I saw entire neighborhoods had vanished since the last printing of my guide book (Zee Book) and the numbers of people living on top of one another and yet producing more and more people. If we are to believe the evolutionists, we are but animals and then this is what overpopulation looks like and this overproduction of humans can only spill out at some point from their geographic or political boundaries and we must all recon with those consequences on our own over-consumption of resources.
In the meantime, having been to see largely abandoned Chinatowni in Boston, Portland, Montreal, and Chicago (I cannot afford yet the entry fee to San Fran), I can only imagine that in the next several decades the club kids will be moving ever in as will the condos as much of Gothem becomes a playground for the rich and those that work here live out at the city limits or not here at all. And the next Chinatown?… perhaps that will be the world we live in.