I have never been to China, and it barely interests me other than to see The Great Wall en-route to Mongolia and Kazakhstan where the real fun's at. Why you ask? Well, I have been to Chinatowns all over the world and if China resembles them in any way, I want no part in it. It always smells like rotting shrimp gizzards and wilted dog testicles and it’s really hard to ignore that.
I do like to stroll through them and wonder how this entire sub-culture can exist within a city. You could literally live in an awesome location in New York’s Lower East Side and not realise you weren’t in Shanghai. In fact I bet there are old people being Goodbye Lenin fooled on these streets,
“nah Nan, its Beijing, crack a window can’t you smell the freshly slaughtered toad tongues? It’s a shame you are too old to go out, Mao's doing a tap dance show in the square”.
Not many things will get me to Chinatown. It might be filthy and assault all your senses with grot but I, and many others, will still follow our stomachs to Chinatown for the food.
Australia does amazing Asian food, and rightly so. A veritable feast of various cuisines from Thailand, Vietnam, Japan and even Nepal and beyond. It's one thing you miss eating from home, the delicious Asian food that they just don't quite do well everywhere else.
In one of my in depth discussions with strangers that I have had on this trip one fellow foodie, not the fancy style, the 'if you add marshmallows and pecans to pumpkin and then brown sugar it tastes great', kind. She doesn't rate this Asian fusion food hoopla, she tolerates Chinese. But then again one of her other cooking secrets is to add hard liquor to cupcake icing so…
With its history similar to our own America does have some great Oriental cuisine, the only other place I have had delicious Vietnamese food outside Vietnam and Australia was New York.
Chinatown New York is on the grow, much like China itself, gradually worming its way in to every aspect of our being. Even Australian koalas these days are probably just dogs wearing koala fur jackets made in China and bought for a special wholesale price.
Little Italy is located to the north and you would struggle to find a pizza for all the Peking ducks. As with all Chinatown’s the world over, it is a very good place to buy junk. Chinatown's specialise in junk stores. I am no economist but I'm pretty sure China's entire economy is 98 per cent made up of products sold for $2 or less. To be fair I am not sure where we’d be without them, imagine having to pay fair prices for things like mops, soap holders and spray paint. Barbaric.
What bought me into the depths of New York Chinatown on this particular occasion was another neighbourhood speciality, their bus links. You can take a Chinatown bus between New York and Boston for $15. The train costs about $70.
If you make it alive it is such a saving.
One day in the future I might look at that and say, "wow, the train is only $70" but in the mean time, it was to Chinatown I was headed.
This was my second time taking Lucky Star bus. The first challenge is finding the depot in the midst of the maze of Chinatown.
You can sit inside the painted garage on plastic chairs and wait. There is a bathroom that was cleaned back in 1993 should you need it. You have to ask for the key because they are trying to preserve its filth for paying customers only.
I chose to sit out on the side walk on top of my backpack which was stuffed with last minute items and bad packing so it made a good solid seat. I nick next door and pick up a Bubble Tea and wait for the bus. There is no reminder that you are in fact in Manhattan as you try to avoid your backpack sitting in congealed discarded special sauce with extra cat meat on the pavement. That and not choke on slices of tapioca coming up your bubble tea straw like a bullet.
When the bus pulls up to illegally park by the curb to load passengers it appears battered and bruised, missing half of its rear bumper and pumping out gases into the atmosphere. It looks like it’s had a rough day. Much like you probably look having ploughed through the streets of China with all your worldly possessions looking for Lucky Star's oddly inconspicuous shop front.
When you climb on board the smell of rotten cabbage smacks you in the face and takes your breath away. You see the Chinese girl opposite put her bin bag over the seat headrest and you consider that she’s probably on to something and this bus probably isn’t hygienic as such and make a mental note not to look at the toilets and just hold on until Connecticut.
As you take off out of Chinatown and across the Manhattan Bridge, shaking, speeding, swerving and rattling along you can understand why the side of the bus is damaged and why this trip costs a mere $15.
The Manhattan skyline disappears into the horizon as does any personal standards subcategory, transport.
Zài jiàn New York City.