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Little Trips

Went down to Chinatown on Thursday to, uhm, cough… well, I went looking for a place on Lisbon Street (I thought) which a friend recommended which had a lot of Japanese Playstation games, if you grok my drift, but I’d neglected to get directions. So I happened upon a policeman, whose badge said “So” on it (such a nice change, to see a pig with proper identification!), and asked him. He was not too busy, I guess, because after saying he didn’t reckon there was a Lisbon, and then changing his mind, and getting out his map, and not finding it, and offering about six other suggestions about which video store my friend could have meant, he said, “I think your best bet is this place down by the police station. I’ll walk you there.”

Just what I needed: an officer to accompany me on a mission to a questionable mod parlor around the corner from a police station. And then, “They can put in a chip so you can play Japanese games there,” he said.
I wasn’t sure if he was trying to feel me out, so I made big innocent Just Say No To Crime eyes at him and said, “No sir, that’s illegal.” He looked surprised; he didn’t know that, or said he didn’t, at least.

In the end he walked me partway down Canal and gave me directions – twice – to turn right at the Chase bank, I’d see plenty of cop cars there. I took off, half expecting to find a sting crew waiting for me.

All went well – the store was on Elizabeth, after all – and I was left with a half hour to kick around Chinatown in the sunshine. I made it a mission to find fresh lychees. I wanted to take some back to Aftaschoo and share the lychee-eating process with my students. Peeling a lychee is much like doing an alien autopsy; they have hard prickly red shells which yield to a thin, brain-like white fruit layer surrounding a sticky brown nut.

I set off through the maze of markets. Piles of strange vegetables lined my way, identified with characters still maddeningly opaque to my Roman-alphabet-only decoder. Chickens hung in the windows, in little holocausts of tormented flesh. At one or two aisles of fish I stopped. Not all markets can pull it off, but there are some as clean as the ice they pack the fish in. They maintain an immaculate smell of the sea capable of repelling the poisonous fumes of the city. I inhaled greedily.

I didn’t find any lychees; it would seem they are not in season. So my students, who innocently label any gibberish they hear Chinese, will have to wait until a later date for their “teachable moment” about China. I asked the Aftaschoo director, who is Jamaican, if we could take a field trip to Chinatown. He snorted, calculating the number of chaperones we’d need to take. I don’t even like to go to Chinatown, he said.

I can’t understand that. Chinatown is one of the best parts of New York, all busy with sensory overload. Better than almost any other neighborhood nowadays, in this age of chain stores, it fosters the right temperature and humidity for the breeding of independent shops and the proliferation of foreign brands – exactly why I could hope to find fresh lychees and obscure video games there.
I had been walking around with my traveling pack, ready to take my rejuvenated Playstation and other stuff up to the place where I would be housesitting for the weekend.

Evan is in town, and I find myself madly jealous of his backpack’s history: it has been to India, and the Czech Republic, and Brazil. Mine’s been as far as Seattle and Canada; with a lot of time spent in between in places like Mechanicsburg, PA and Dirty Sock, CA. In Chinatown, my jealousy quietly ambled away. I gripped the straps like suspenders and dug deeper into an obscure alley. Sun ricocheted off yellow and orange anime shirts with thug-life designs on them. A lone woman at the curb was weaving dry grass into beautiful little sculptures of butterflies and birds. Thin white women strode by, talking about computers and their jobs. Why leave home? Everyone’s on display here.

One Comment

  1. JAY ROCK wrote:


    Tuesday, March 25, 2003 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

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