The corner of Canal and Baxter is in the heart of China Town. There are a million reasons to travel own to this area of NYC. The best and worst of the past, the present, and the future are all here!
If you are a Scorsese fan, and what real fan of New York City isn’t?, then you will be happy to know that this area of NYC wasn’t always China Town. The real “gangs of New York” used to run these streets back before the Civil War when floods of poor Irish immigrants clashed with poor gangs of nativists and Free African Americans. This is even before it was little Italy. Good Old Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall gained wealth and power by using these gangs to “influence” elections. Some pretty rough stuff went down on these streets, I mean Charles Dickens basically said it was the worst neighborhood he ever saw and this is the “please sir could I have some more” guy.
All these tenement buildings you see still standing used to operate without heat or plumbing and these streets used to be filled with horse turds, garbage, and giant rats. You probably shouldn’t complain about the smells you may smell today in this area. As much as these areas saw violence and drunkenness and whoring. It was the first area in America where groups of various immigrants with backgrounds that differs from each other learned to be American and yeah I know it is dramatic to say, but the families of guys like JFK got their starts in America in places like this.
Ok so, besides touching history why go down here? Well, of course for the wacky fun of a Chinese New Year, dim sum, or my personal favorite, buying knock off sunglasses, watches, and belts. There are stores and stores and with the same kinda cheap jewelry, perfumes, and handbags. Go on in and have fun bargaining. Usually there is no place in America where you bargain, but this is like Honk Kong ladies’ market on the Hudson. You ask the price they say something, you say a half or a quarter of what the price is and the dance begins. If you don’t like the final price then just go to the next store, who cares? Oh and some stores are more high class, usually if there is a price tag then you shouldn’t bargain, just an unwritten rule.
Chinese New Year is obviously only once a year and usually in February but it is fun to go on down for this. There are parades with bands, old Chinese guys blowing off confetti tubes, and little kids throwing noise poppers on the ground. Oh, and my favorite part is the white guys who have married Asian ladies and have Asian kids, who are wearing the big paper mache dragons on their heads, the dads are wearing these I mean, or sometimes you’ll see two white gay dads wearing these dragon hats and holding their adopted Chinese kids, too cute! Go down a side street and get some roasted duck or whatever you like, don’t worry you can see it hanging in the window of about a million Chinese restaurants and markets.
The future you ask? You see all the sudden the signs for Vietnamese food? Ah the next wave of immigration my friend. But what is really next you see is Sudan. How you can tell is these groups of Sudanese men standing around on the corners with suitcases. These are the guys who are here without their families, guys who are happy to be away from the decades of civil war in Africa. The suitcases are filled with knock off purses, watches, and bootleg DVDs. All of these products are illegal of course and the secrecy and portability of the suitcases tell that tale. So who knows what the future will bring for these guys in this place or how they will get there but you know when you are down here, that it is like a volcano dropping lava into the ocean or something. It is like New York growing and changing in front of your eyes…lava.
Here is how to get there on the subway: