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April 14, 2010 in The China Beat


Copyright April 14, 2010 Samuel Y. Liang. Used by permission.


On my way from England to AAS 2010, I stopped in New York for two nights and visited the Chinatown in Manhattan. This prosperous area sprawls beyond the boundary shown in the tourist map towards the shoreline of the East River; it also encroaches on neighboring Little Italy, which is increasingly like an island in a sea of Chinese shops and restaurants. The density of the shops and their gaudy commercialism, it seems to me, exceed those in Chinese cities and are quite similar to those in Won Kok, Hong Kong.

In a buffet-style restaurant, I got to know two Chinese immigrants sitting next to me. Both were in their late forties and had left their wives and children in China. One, from Jiangsu Province, graduated from a prestigious university in Shanghai in the early 1980s. He told me the hardship of working in America. He was a respected intellectual at home, but here he is a lower-class worker for restaurants and other merchants. He showed me his pale, thin forearm dotted with many oil-burn scars from working in restaurants. He changed jobs many times and moved between the major cities of the East Coast during the last few years. But such changes, he lamented, would never improve his situation or get him into the “mainstream American society,” as he is always within the enclosed community of Chinese immigrants.

He was visiting Manhattan from Flushing, Queens on that day. There are express minibuses run by the Chinese that connect this Chinatown with the thriving Chinatowns in Queens and Brooklyn. Main Street in Flushing, Queens is now dominated by a dense array of Chinese shops and eateries that even surpass those in Manhattan.