This is a photo with number one son taken back in January. I visited him briefly in New York earlier this month and can’t wait to go back next month. Our kids are kids no matter their age!
I’m a big fan of books published by Blacksmith Books in Hong Kong. What’s not to love? The press publishes mostly non-fiction narratives, memoirs, food, photography, and other art and culture titles pertaining to Hong Kong. But every once in a while it releases a novel or collection of short stories.
Blacksmith published David T. K. Wong‘s Collected Hong Kong Stories last month and it’s one of their best yet. Wong is a master storyteller and brings the reader back to Old Hong Kong, a time well before the Handover when Hong Kong culture was at its peak.
In his stories, which cover pre-WWII Hong Kong to pre-Handover Hong Kong, many of Wong’s characters mirror the many stages of his life, from a childhood in Hong Kong to a student in the US and the UK to a journalist in Hong Kong, as well as a civil servant there.
Some of my favorite stories involve cross-cultural love stories (“Lost River”,”Miss Tsushima”, “Julia”,”Strangers When They Part”, and “Hammer and Tong”). I also liked how a series of stories involved a place called Szeto’s Bar in Wanchai.
The stories deal with cultural issues like the desire for a male heir, filial piety, the preservation of traditional culture, and the suppression of locals during colonialism. But they also tackle issues that transcend borders like infidelity, sexism, and racism.
What I liked best about this book was Wong’s preservation through his words of a Hong Kong we’ll never see again.
Months ago when I saw that my kids had no school on my daughter’s 10th birthday, my mind started spinning and my fingers quickly went to Southwest’s website. I talked it over with my husband and a plan was born. I’d take my younger kids to New York for a day to celebrate Rachel’s birthday and to see my older son, Jake.
I was the queen of day trips when I was in high school, flying to cities like New York, Toronto, Washington, and Boston for lunch or a baseball game. Thanks to my mom’s job at United, those flights were free. That was then and this is now. We have no more airline benefits, but Southwest is inexpensive and very flexible with changes. I miss those day trips from my teenage years, but would my kids be okay going to New York for the day?
Hour 1: After landing at LaGuardia just after 11am, we cabbed it to the Lower East Side. I’d never been to the Tenement Museum and thought it would be fun and educational for all of us. But kids can’t go anywhere without eating first.
I found this cute cafe on the Lower East Side I thought my daughter would enjoy for a birthday lunch. The cab driver had the worst time finding Forsyth Street, but that allowed for a nice walk through a Chinatown park.
The kids ordered avocado toast. Martin had one of their freshly squeezed juices–spiced apple–and Rachel a mint tea.
My coconut curry chicken bowl hit the spot.
Hour 2: Our tour at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum lasted an hour and was fabulous. My dad’s father was born on the LES, so I thought it would be good for the kids to see what it was like to live in New York back in the late 1800s. And I wanted to see the museum, too. I picked the sweatshop tour, which brought us to three apartments on the third floor of the museum. We learned about Jewish immigrants and the garment industry and the American Dream.
Hour 3: So 30 years ago, my dad took my brother, mom, and me to the LES one Saturday night to see the house where his father was born. 20 Allen Street. But before we got close–my dad half a block ahead of us–my mom and I had a bad feeling. The street was deserted and unlit. It was frightening. We called ahead to my dad and pleaded with him to turn back. He relented and we never got to see 20 Allen Street.
Until last Friday.
I’ve been to New York’s Chinatown quite a bit over the last 25 years, so I’m not sure why I haven’t looked for this address. I was last on the Lower East Side 7 years ago, but was with my sisters-in-law and we were on a tight schedule to get in all the eating and shopping we could manage in 48 hours.
The neighborhood borders Chinatown and there were plenty of Chinese businesses on the block, like this noodle shop.
20 Allen Street was unmarked, but 22 was marked. My kids are standing in front of what should be 20 Allen. It’s hard to tell what will go in here when the building is finished.
The corner of Allen and Canal.
Hour 3: We cabbed it up to the West Village, where we’d meet Jake. But before that, we got in a little shopping at the Strand Bookstore and at Lucky Wang.
My friends sent Rachel a cute outfit and booties from Lucky Wang 10 years ago when she was a newborn, so I was excited to shop for some friends who just had their first baby.
Hour 4: We saw Jake’s dorm and did a little shopping at the NYU Bookstore.
Hour 5: After a walk through the West Village, we hopped a train to Brooklyn to meet my brother and niece in Park Slope. I used to bring Jake to Park Slope a few times a year when he was young, so it was fun retracing some of those steps and realizing that many of the shops on 7th Avenue were still open, including Grumpy Bean Coffee.
Hour 6 and 7: After my brother’s class was over, we walked to Talde, a Filipino-fusion restaurant Rachel picked from a list of restaurants my brother sent last week. We don’t have many Filipino restaurants in Chicago, so it was a fun change.
I didn’t take photos of all the dishes, because they came out quickly and the kids were all hungry. But here’s most of what we ordered.
Crab fried rice:
Short ribs dan dan noodles:
Shrimp with persimmon:
Talde gave us a chocolate covered blondie bar for dessert, cut six ways, but that was gone before I could get my phone out.
Then it was time to head back to LaGuardia!
The kids did really well on the flight back, despite an hour delay on the ground (we were 21st in line after the plane was de-iced).
I missed seeing my friends in NY, but it was best to focus on Rachel’s birthday and places she’d like to go. You only turn double digits once! Plus, there will be many more trips back. We’re all desperate to return.
Today in Chinatown, I taught the seniors the English words for seafood, including abalone and scallops. They really enjoyed discussing which seafood they like best and which they don’t like much at all. Abalone was one of their favorites. I found some cans of squid, oysters, clams, and octopus, as well as a bag of shrimp chips I passed around for them to sample. Food is one of those subjects that everyone can relate to. I loved hearing all the excitement around seafood today.
It felt like a perfect summer day in Chicago today, even though it’s only mid-February and should be snowy and frigid. The warm weather will be around for a while and we’re certainly enjoying it.
This photo was taken a couple years ago in Chicago’s Chinatown. The building in the middle was torn down last year and yesterday the one on the right was demolished. Three Happiness and Cantonesia were the to-go restaurants in the early 1980. Although their heyday was over long ago, it’s still sad to lose these buildings.
The City of Chicago is going to expand Wentworth Street, which is why these buildings have been demolished. It will be strange to see an empty corner when I return to Chinatown next week.