Unlike many Chinatown's around the world, which are are often symbolic neighbourhoods with touristic aspirations, New York's Chinatowns in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn are densely populated hubs for living and working for the city's immense Chinese communities.
Serendipity is a funny thing. You can't find it. Because it finds you. It finds you when you are not looking, when you least expect it.
Serendipity gave us the cover of Peddler's current Chinatown issue. On a typical Tuesday morning in New York City, I met Shirley Cai, Peddler's Art Director, on Doyers Street. We were looking to take photos of Chinatown shopfronts. We wandered past NYC's iconic Nom Wah Lounge, veering onto Pell Street, before turning onto Mott Street. At 8am, Chinatown exudes a sense of calm that is not normally found in it's pulsating streets. Unlike many Chinatown's around the world, which are are often symbolic neighbourhoods with touristic aspirations, New York's Chinatowns in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn are densely populated hubs for living and working for the city's immense Chinese communities. New York has the largest ethnically Chinese population outside Asia.
On Mott Street, I was stopped by a restaurant called Big Wong. I wanted to take a photo because I loved the name and Wong is the surname of one of my best friends in Sydney. Unexpectedly, a peculiar commotion started next to us. A lively, baggy suited Chinese man cajoled the crowd. He spoke to me in Cantonese, asked if we were 'media'. We said we were not, but he didn't accept that answer. He invited us to stay for the celebrations and food to follow. We loitered on the sidelines and waited. Soon, a kung fu troupe appeared, with drums and familiar lion in hand. The beat starts from the drummer, the most senior member of the troupe, and the dance kicks in, sounds and movements that punctuated my childhood cultural celebrations. The lion bobs and turns rhythmically to the powerful beat of the drums, which represents the lion's heartbeat. Gongs and cymbals frighten away the evil spirits. The lion's eyes bulge and flicker, a sight that frightened me as a child. The lion stalks towards a head of lettuce with a money-filled 'Hong bao' (or red packet) attached. It chomps the lettuce into it's mouth, snaffling the red packet, and spits the leaves back out into the audience, an act ripe with symbolism. The red packet is payment for a year of blessings. In Chinese, 'pickling greens' or 'choi chang', is a homonym for wealth and fortune, so having the lion spit the lettuce at you is good luck.
At the end of dance on Mott Street, monks appear for a photo opportunity. We are 'media', so we take lots of photos. By 8.30am, we are done. A cover photo captured. Another incredible New York morning experienced. Many childhood memories rekindled. We didn't look for this cover, it found us.