01 May 2007

My Dramatic Return To China(town)

Mouth watering. Head spinning. I can hardly contain myself. I’m on the subway en route to China(town) in New York City. The thought of crowded streets, outdoor fish markets, stretched noodles and gitchy “things” has me ready to pee my pants. As soon as we exit the station I’m enveloped in total chaos, and fully embrace it. My friends are struggling to keep up with me as I join the natural flow of thousands of bodies moving as one. They’re tripping, mis-stepping and doing their best to remain standing.

I ask around to find out where we can get an authentic-as-possible dinner. Mott Street is recommended and we’re off. I have this odd feeling inside that I can’t quite identify. People are offering us goods on the street and a “buyao” (don’t want) slips out. The saleswoman raises one eyebrow in interest. The girls find the most non-Chinese store and decide to stop in. The boys trek on in search of food. After scoping a solid six or seven menus I find a place that serves the all-powerful celery and lily buds dish. Before committing I decide to ask a man on the street where we might get some la mien. I ask in Mandarin. He stares at me blankly. I ask again. More blank stares. That feeling is still churning inside. Then I ask in English. He responds (in English) by telling me there isn’t really anywhere close by.

We’re now in the restaurant and ready to order. I ask the waitress if she speaks Chinese (in Chinese). She nods. I begin to order (in Chinese). She stares at me blankly. I ask her again if she speaks Chinese (in Chinese). She nods. I begin to order once again (in Chinese). Nothing. I eventually give up and order in English, supporting my requests by pointing to the items in the menu. The feeling inside is getting stronger. We eat some delicious (and fairly authentic) dumplings, sweet and sour chicken and brocolli with garlic, pay the bill (which is literally ten times greater than the check would have been in China) and hit the streets.

I still can’t quite identify this strangeness. Then, suddenly, without warning, a man leans back, hawks up some flem and launches a loogie through the air and into the street. It comes to me! I feel at home!!! It’s like I’m back in my element – my very “China” element. It’s amazing how content, calm and relaxed I felt; maybe even more at ease than I have been since returning to the US. It’s like my own world is almost more “foreign” to me than my world in China. Counting down until I “go international” again in two weeks. Until then, just follow the scent of Peking Duck if you want to find me.

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