There’s a bar in Chinatown, called Whiskey Tavern. As per my First Apartment post, it was a great local watering hole for me during the first few years of my residency in New York City. For the longest time– as I don’t know if this is still true– their slogan was “I miss the old Chinatown.” When you ask any of the owners, Rob, Justin, or George what it means, he would tell you that it means something different to each patron.
For me, it conjured up memories of Chinese New Year.
This year the lunar new year falls on Monday, February, 8. When you attend the events that are held on the weekends before and after the holiday, you are guaranteed to be see a large assemblage of transplant hipster photographers capturing images of ethnic children engaging in a cultural celebration.
It wasn’t always this way.
From this first-person experience, not too long ago, Chinese New Year was a god damned terrifying thing. I remember driving into the neighborhood with my parents down Worth Street, and seeing just a big gray cloud over the area just north of Worth Street at Bowery.
The gray cloud was smoke, created by the firecrackers being set off as part of the parade in the street, and hooked to storefront awnings (every firefighter reading this is cringing). After stopping at my grandparents’ apartment, we would make our way to their shop, Fong Inn Too, on Mott Street. I remember my younger sister and I being bundled, head-to-toe, with scarves over our mouths, pressed between my mother and the cold winter-chilled buildings, to keep the smoke out of our faces. To children and the twenty-somethings transplants of NYC, it would look like a war zone. We couldn’t see more than two- to three-feet in front of us, trudging through inches of red paper, remnants of the firecrackers being set off all around us.
Once we made it to the store, we had to stay inside. There was no way around this. There is a small ledge and a window to the left of the door, and that is where my sister and I sat throughout the celebration. As lion dancers and dragons did their routines while the drums pounded away, my father and uncles, seemingly fearless, would string up more than 10 feet of firecrackers. In Chinese tradition lighting firecrackers keeps evil at bay, and let’s just put it out there that Chinese people don’t like evil spirits. We would leave the store coughing and our ears ringing.
The images throughout this post would have never existed if I attempted to capture them back before Giuliani changed the rules. It was such a terrifying experience, but it makes me so proud to be a Chinese-American in this city. Even after the rule changes, we make the best of it, and next week’s celebration will be another– albeit safer– fun year in the books for this Lady and her firefighter.
New York City is such a great place to explore cultures, both your own and someone else’s. It is not a melting pot in that we all come together and now we are just New Yorkers. I find it more of a chopped salad in that we come together, have our own distinct qualities and flavors, but together, we are quite tasty!
While I still miss the old New York, we must make the best of today and all of the tomorrows that we have to share with each other.