A First-timer’s Guide to Chinatown – Part 2

Having talked about Manhattan’s Chinatown in brief, it’s now time that we lay down the groundwork for your subsequent visits to the eccentric neighborhood. In a nutshell, Chinatown is essentially a pocket of downtown Manhattan rich with history and tradition, and lots, lots of chaos.


I’ll try and be as specific as I can. Noise begins sharply at 6 in the morning. The streets are littered with spit and vendors, and crates and trash. And people. Lots of people. And lots of trash. The street signs and store names, they’re in a language you can’t possibly understand; and unless you happen to read/write Cantonese or Mandarin, there’s little to no hope.


But having lived there myself, I can vouch for the fact that humans are completely capable of learning how to survive on gut feeling and cheap dim sums. And also that Chinatown sometimes feels like a home away from home. And once you get the hang of this rickety neighborhood, you come to realize how Chinatown is a true New York City story. As you see it growing, merging with the neighborhoods, you see the great American Dream live in action. And all of a sudden, it feels almost blissful to get lost in Chinatown’s jam-packed labyrinthine streets.


Let me just put things into perspective. The Chinatown that we see today, it started to come to fruition around the late 19th century. The largest of its kind in the whole of America, NYC’s Chinatown has had roots in Eastern traditions since the mid-1800s. Being faced with bias and bigotry from the West Coast, the immigrants began moving to the East Coast with hopes of a better life. Subsequently, a lot of small businesses popped up. And once the immigrants established their households in the vicinity, they started bringing over family members from their home countries. An influx of immigrants from Hong Kong and the Fujian Province during the 1900s further helped the Chinatown to solidify its unique identity. And this is how Chinatown began to grow. A lot. So much so that when you walk inside any of the local apartments, you cannot help but feel like human Jenga. Prior to my stay in Chinatown, I didn’t actually understand how 10 people could live in a room. Now I do. Well, to be honest, I also didn’t know I could have a pork bun for breakfast.


Just take a bus to New York City because the Chinatown that we have today stands true to its cultural heritage, all the while enticing outsiders to come and explore the neighborhood.

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