November 25, 2012 | Mandarin
Chinatown in Flushing, Queens
In which I visit the second of three New York Chinatowns.
I went to Flushing yesterday. I have been to Flushing many times, but the majority of those times were many years ago, and the area is much changed.
From what I have heard, the Chinatown of Flushing is considered by many to be a more authentic Chinatown than the one in Manhattan.
Arriving in Flushing
I am not really in a position to judge at this point. It did seem that way, but I think it also depends on where you are in the Manhattan Chinatown. On Canal Street last weekend, for example, there were mobs of tourists and many people trying to hawk their wares to those tourists.
But other parts of that Chinatown—heading further south and east, for example—are very different.
Early impression: the Flushing Chinatown does seem like more of a full-fledged residential community. I did not see tourists. I did not get very far on this day, but it is also a fact that at any given moment there are way more tourists roaming Manhattan than New York City’s other four boroughs.
I took the number 7 subway to the end of the line, Main Street in Flushing (doing Pimsleur all the way), and before I even exited the subway station was already confronted with Chinese-language advertising and signs. I am realizing now, as I write this, that one ad I saw (shown below left) was for the Resorts World Casino New York City.
Flushing Subway Station Ad
No Sign Shortage Here
As I walked up the subway steps and looked up, I saw more Chinese on signs hanging over me. Flushing’s Chinatown has many, many signs.
My total Flushing excursion yesterday circled only one block: starting at Main and Roosevelt, going a block along Roosevelt to Prince, turning left, going a short block to 40th Road, turning left again and going back to Main, then making another left to return to Main and Roosevelt.
My first stop, unplanned, was at Chung Hwa Bookstore, located at 135-29 Roosevelt Avenue. There I was helped by a young man who advised me on language books that I am not sure I will use, but I wanted to buy something.
Interior of Chung Hwa Bookstore
Books with Food Pictures
On Arranging Flowers!
On Cross Pacific Taxation Questions!
I Have No Idea What These Are About
This is an unfortunate impulse that visits to Chinatown(s) seem to be inspiring in me: the urge to buy things. My purchase included a textbook and two workbooks.
What I Bought. Sophisticated Stuff.
The employee helping me spoke Mandarin, so I tried out a sentence or two on him. I seemed to be understandable.
One thing that was funny was that I literally could not read one word on most books in the store, unless they had a helpful line of English text on them. Pictures were useful, but many books for actual grownups do not have pictures indicating subject matter.
I still have not studied written Chinese. Not only could I in many cases not identify the subject matter of books, I also could not identify subject matters of entire store sections.
After this encounter with personal illiteracy, I headed down the street and almost instantly saw a sign for a tea shop I had read about online: Fang Gourmet Tea, at 135-25 Roosevelt.
I walked in the front door and was confused; this was an entrance not to the store, but rather to a sort of mini-mall. And to enter the mini-mall I had to kind of veer to the left through what appeared to be an empty unrented vendor space (with someone standing in it, so I felt as though I was barging into a closed shop or something) and then go down a hallway.
Entrance to Mini-Mall Where Fang Gourmet Tea Resides
At the end of the hallway I came to the the tea shop, where right inside the door several Chinese people were sitting at a low table drinking tea. Well, maybe they were not Chinese, but the odds seemed good.
It pained me to enter the store, because I had the sensation of crashing a private tea party in someone’s house, but they smiled, so I tried to pretend I felt comfortable, and it almost, kind of, worked.
A petite employee greeted me and encouraged me to browse. It was a small shop, a little chaotic-looking towards the back, but with appealing tea in clear bags for sale up front and cabinets along the walls displaying tea sets you could buy. I looked around for a few minutes and then started talking to the employee, whose name was Sammi.
Sammi speaks Cantonese natively, but learned Mandarin after coming here. She said that nowadays, because of the influx of Mandarin-speaking immigrants, at work she mostly speaks Mandarin.
I didn’t really feel a need for more tea, but somehow I ended up buying “Tea for Golden Days,” on which packaging I was advised “Drink to Health, Drink to Beauty.” The ingredients were rose petals, osmanthus, and apple blossom.
My Tea for Golden Days!
I am not familiar with osmanthus. In some of the shop’s printed materials that I took with me, I later read: “The aromatic fragrance of osmanthus flower is unforgettable. It is commonly used in flavoring traditional Chinese teas and sweet desserts. Osmanthus flower has warming property and is good for stomach’s coldness.”
Fang is having a tea expo starting next month. It will be held at the adjacent Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel (Garnet Room), and if you go you can learn all kinds of things about tea, tea ceremony, and other tea subjects. It will run from December 15 to January 28.
Those dates are a little confusing to me, because that just seems like an awful lot of expo, but I am planning to check it out on one of the many expo days I can apparently choose from.
Another Tea Place Across the Street!
I thanked Sammi and walked down Roosevelt, passing the abovementioned hotel and Flushing Mall.
My next stop was a drugstore, Bio Plus Pharmacy, on Roosevelt and Prince. I was curious to see whether they had Chinese remedies alongside Western ones. I figured they did.
Strangely, since it was quite a small shop, they also had my hair conditioner that I find almost impossible to buy in Manhattan these days.
While at the cash register, I asked the two women there in Mandarin if they spoke Mandarin.
Bio Plus Pharmacy, Roosevelt Avenue
One said, “What?”
Oops. I repeated the question, and this time they understood. “Oh, you sound good,” I was told.
I think the first version of the question was probably okay, too, but I have noticed that if you expect someone to speak one language to you and they speak in another, the syllables are sometimes too surprising to be processed. You have your English-speaking brain on, or your Chinese-speaking brain, or your whatever-speaking brain.
It’s like when you think you are drinking a glass of orange juice and upon first sip you realize it’s grapefruit. At first it doesn’t go well, even if it is really good juice.
Anyway, the two women at the register did indeed speak Mandarin. It seemed that there would be numerous Mandarin-speaking opportunities were I to hang out in this neighborhood.
At the moment, my store of comprehensible sentences is growing rapidly, but it is still rather limited for any kind of useful conversation. My repertoire focuses heavily around discussions of children, wives and husbands, beer, water, tea, lunch, dinner, and what time it is. I do hope to improve that situation shortly.
I headed back to Main Street, where there was a lot of food activity, as indicated in the photos below.
Main Street Food Activity
Apples and Unidentified Animals
Food Selection Process
Obviously Not Food: A Dramatic Verizon Ad
I did Pimsleur lessons on the subway all the way back to Manhattan. (It’s actually not that far.)
Some teenage girls gave me strange looks. There is nothing to be done about strange looks from teenage girls. Such looks are inevitable.