Tag Archives: Chinatown

2 recent feats that should not be impressive

20 Jun

You’d think by now traveling between the US and UK would be old hat for me. I am traveling to Milwaukee for a friend’s wedding soon and have already lost sleep over packing. When Stephen packs for a big trip, he often does it the morning of, expertly folding clothes into his bag in 10 minutes. For me it takes days — sometimes even weeks — to decide what clothing and items to bring. This is always because I declare that I am going to get rid of a lot of my clothes, and by “get rid of” I mean leave them at my Kentucky home. I tell myself I will wear them when I am there and thus will not need to pack so much next time, but it never works that way. Each time I bring more and more back and end up buying more and more that I want to wear instead. Last week I sorted through my closet and piled a mound of “take back” clothes on the bed. “There is no way that is all going to fit in one sub-23kg suitcase,” I thought. So I did what I should have done years ago — I tried everything on. “If you would not walk out the door right now wearing this and feel confident, you are not going to wear this in Milwaukee or Kentucky, and thus it should not take up valuable suitcase space,” I told myself. And just like that half my “take home” pile went into the “donate” bag. I have a problem in which I get too sentimentally attached to inanimate objects, particularly clothing, so for me to get rid of a big pile of it was a big step. And now I can actually see what shirts are in my closet now, and hopefully my suitcase will not be overweight. Just once I would like to go to the airport without overweight bag anxiety — just once!

I accomplished another minor feat this weekend: I did not eat the last xiaolongbao. Let me back up a bit. We went out to lunch in Chinatown. As is customary in Chinatown (and China, for that matter), one must order at least twice as much food as the amount of people in your party should reasonably eat. Each dish we ordered could have been a shared meal in itself, and we ordered 4 of them. During the week I try to eat healthily and count calories, but on the weekend, everything is fair game. Ever since I was little I was taught to clear my plate — that not stuffing yourself after you’re full was someone rude to the cook and to the impoverished children of the world.

louis ck meal full.jpg

I ate way more than I should have at that Chinese restaurant this past weekend, but I still left food on my plate. There was one lone xiaolongbao left — I even went so far as to reach for it with my chopsticks, but I reminded myself that the food was already a sunk cost, and there was no need to make myself feel sick. Let’s face it, I probably should have stopped eating 3 xiaolongbao and 2 ribs earlier, but the fact that I didn’t completely gorge myself shows that I’m making progress. Maybe there’s a chance I won’t gain 5 pounds in America like I always do!

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The Olympics are one day away! So I bought dumplings

26 Jul

Tomorrow the Olympics begin, so naturally I decided today would be the day to buy Chinese dumplings. I know that sounds crazy, but I’ve been meaning to go to the Chinatown supermarket for a while now, and I figured I’d combine it with some last minute tourism. I was feeling a little guilty because I missed the Olympic torch this morning. I know it’s a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” but it was at 6:45. In the morning. There are three things in life I really don’t like — waking up early, standing in crowds, and heat. Seeing the torch would at least involve the first two with a hint of the third, so I decided not to go. But I felt like I needed to get into the Olympic spirit somehow. I love our neighborhood, but it’s so quiet and secluded, sometimes I just have to go see Big Ben to remind myself that I live in London.


And the tourists always remind me why I love our secluded neighborhood.


The crowds were out in full-force and I was asked multiple times to take photos of people in front of Big Ben.

These signs were everywhere:

I was trying to be artistic here but the sun was a little too bright. I never thought I’d say that about London weather.

I started walking towards Trafalgar’s Square. There were a butt-ton of people hanging out outside of 10 Downing Street, where the prime minister lives.

The massive amounts of swarming tourists everywhere wasn’t that surprising, as that’s rather common in London. What was surprising was this:

No cars! Only buses and taxis are allowed to drive around central London now. It felt a little eery.

This was a checkpoint. If you weren’t a bus or taxi you had to turn left, you couldn’t go straight. I think cyclists were allowed, but I’m not sure.

Remember when I saw all the signs for Horse Guards Parade a couple weeks ago? Like a typical American, I thought it involved guards on horses parading around and throwing candy to crowds of kids (the candy bit was wishful thinking.) Well, there are no clowns or elephants in Piccadilly Circus, and Horse Guards Parade is not a processional, but rather a large parade ground. I’ve had my photo taken with the horses that stand outside several times and had no idea what the building was for. Well now it will be the site of beach volleyball. Hooray, I saw an Olympic venue!

I finally made it to Trafalgar’s Square to see the official Olympics countdown. I love this pensive dude in purple.

There were little signs in the fountain telling you not to swim or drink from it. I definitely saw a toddler wading in it.

This German clock was going off and tourists were loving it.

Signs!

I was surprised Chinatown was so well decorated.

Love the alternating British and Chinese flags.

Wait, what is that at the top of the gate?

It’s the queen! Who cares if the Jubilee was almost two months ago, it was probably hard to get that up there and would be disrespectful to take it down. Right?

More Chinatown festiveness.

And now some final photos of all the flags of the participating countries displayed around Piccadilly Circus and Regent Street:

On the bus ride home I saw the South Korean archery team walking down the street near Lord’s cricket grounds, where they’re holding the archery events. Everyone on the bus pointed them out and got excited. I don’t know anything about archery, yet alone South Korean archery, but it was still exciting to see some real live athletes.

I may have missed the Olympic torch, but I saw Korean archers, an Olympic venue, and a London without cars. I also got my Chinese dumplings, hoisin sauce and edamame. Not a bad day.

Lions and dragons and giant cameras, oh my!: Chinese New Year in London

31 Jan

On Sunday Stephen and I decided it would be a good idea to check out the Chinese New Year parade, because getting off the Tube at Piccadilly Circus is always a “good idea” on a weekend, or any day really. We were quickly reminded why we spend most weekends at home watching the obscene amount of blu-rays we bought in the states instead of standing outside in the cold being bumped by tourists with large cameras who think that somehow gives them the right to push through crowds. The parade was relatively entertaining, mostly because they had people representing every Chinese zodiac animal walking around in inflatable suits. It reminded me of Air Willie’s wild antics that made Northwestern football games tolerable (no offense to my alma mater, I’m insulting football in general here).


What surprised me was the abnormal amount of white people and other ethnicities in the parade. Most cultural events have your token white person, but this was almost enough to make me feel like I wasn’t getting the full Chinese New Year experience, like when you have a Mexican chef at Benihana. Sure, his onion volcano is top-notch, but it doesn’t feel like the authentic Japanese hibachi experience you expect in a strip mall. The crowd watching the parade was mostly non-Asian, consisting mainly of fathers hoisting their children on their shoulders ensuring no one behind them could see even the special Chinese New Year double decker bus, and people with giant cameras. I’m not talking your basic DSLR or mega-zoom like I have, these were some serious “Get out of my way, I’m a PHOTOGRAPHER!” cameras with equally “MOVEEEE I’m important!” telephoto lenses. I can’t tell you how many times the parade actually came to a halt when it was time to turn the corner because too many people and their giant cameras were standing in the street taking pictures of the dragon dance (not to be confused with the lion dance, more on that shortly). I have a hard time believing all of those people were from reputable news sources assigned to document the parade. I stood behind one guy who had a full blown monitor attached to the top of his camera. I’m happy to report that his photos were still crappy.

When the parade was over everyone processed to Trafalgar Square for more festivities. By “process” I mean we were engulfed into the crowd and together slunk to the square like a giant amoeba pushing out its cytoplasm and slinking along. We were not happy.

“I immediately regret this decision!” I said out loud, imitating Will Farrell’s character from Anchorman.

We arrived at Trafalgar Square only to realize the festivities weren’t starting for another hour. We were not going to stand in the cold in the crowd for another hour only to continue standing in the cold in the crowd while the mayor and ambassador spoke and performers sang and danced. We decided to bail and walked against the motion of the giant amoeba crowd back into Chinatown for some lunch. Many places were closed because it was still before noon, but we found a delightfully overpriced dim sum place. Since we were only a party of two, and even in London Chinatown the Chinese despise people who dine in groups less than six, they sat us at a table in the middle of the central walkway of the restaurant, so everyone and every dish had to pass by us. We tried in vain to change tables, but decided we were too cold and hungry to care that much. So we ate our overpriced dim sum and duck in the direct path of every waiter. It turns out we were also in the direct path of something else. …DUN DUN DUN.

Halfway through our meal we saw someone hang a giant bunch of lettuce above the restaurant’s doorway. I asked Stephen what it was for.

“The lion,” he replied, then he thought about it for a second. “Oh crap, I bet they’re going to come inside,” he said. It took me a while to realize what he was talking about. I then remembered my years of watching my friends perform in Northwestern’s Chinese New Year celebration, and photographing the lion dance for my photojournalism project. The lion dance is an integral part of Chinese New Year and is often confused with the dragon dance because all white people (myself included) think the lion looks like a dragon. Here are photos to clarify:

This is a lion dance costume. The dancer is hidden by the giant lion face which looks like a dragon.

This is a dragon dance. The dancers hold the dragon by sticks.

Sure enough the wait staff started freaking out and frantically moving tables around, as if the lion doesn’t come every single Chinese New Year. We could hear the steady pounding of a drum drawing closer as the restaurant owner shoved our table to the side. We then stood there awkwardly as the lion dance troupe processed through.

Here you see the restaurant owner freaking out and Stephen's arm standing awkwardly in the path of the lion.

Here is an example of a woman with a camera that seems way too large and professional.

And here are some more photos of the lion dance moving through the restaurant and almost bumping into us multiple times:


Unfortunately I did not get any photos or video of the lion eating the lettuce because there were people in the way and I didn’t want to put my coat on to go outside, but imagine a person inside of a lion costume (that looks like a dragon) grabbing the lettuce, grinding it up, and throwing it out the lion’s mouth to the delight of children gathered around. You can then also imagine pieces of lettuce sticking to the bottom of your shoes as you exit the restaurant.

Overall it was a neat experience but I don’t know if we’ll be going again next year. I like to avoid crowded situations that turn me into Eric Cartman.

Chinatown parking lot throwdown

18 Jul

You read that correctly–things almost got out of hand in Chinatown this afternoon…over a parking spot. Chicago’s Chinatown has an abundance of parking–paid lots, metered lots and street parking. But it also always has an abundance of tourists and locals so spots are always hard to come by. Today was particularly rough since there was a street festival going on. A street was closed (which meant less parking opportunities) and the place was abuzz with white people buying samurai swords and downing egg rolls. So I did what people normally do when there’s a shortage of parking–I waited. I lurked at the end of a metered lot, waiting for someone to leave. This is a common practice in Chinatown. Cars line up and as a spot becomes available, the first car in line puts on his turn signal to let everyone know he is through waiting and that is his spot. Stephen and I waited a good 10 minutes before a family came out and took their sweet time getting into their van. I moved up and put on my turn signal. But just then another car came into the lot from the other direction. A guy jumped out of the passenger seat and stood next to the spot in an attempt to prevent me from taking it. When my honking did nothing, Stephen jumped out and started yelling at the guy. “This is Chinatown,” the guy tried to use as his defense. I’m not sure if he meant that as it’s a free-for-all and human decency doesn’t apply, or white girls driving green Beetles shouldn’t get parking spots. Either way, I’m glad I had Stephen with me. After some arguing, the guy finally stepped aside and I pulled into the spot. He continued to stand next to my car as we went to get the pay-and-display slip. I was afraid we’d come back from lunch to find my car had been keyed or covered with bubble tea. Thankfully the little Chinese guy was all talk.

I guess that’s what we get for going to Chinatown two days before going to the real China. I’m not really sure what we were thinking.

Amoking kills happy fun times please

30 May

There are few things in this world that bring me more enjoyment than seeing Chinese (or any other non-English speaking) people wearing nonsense English shirts. I saw a lot of them when I was in China last summer. There are the ones that don’t make sense at all (like “Beautiful things are happy when you”) as well as the just plain random. I remember seeing a girl with “Orange slices” written in large letters on her shirt.

Today we had lunch and did a little grocery shopping in Chicago’s Chinatown. Our cashier was wearing a shirt that read something along the lines of “Keep with like-minded people to prevent others from amoking.” It had a picture of a happy white dog on it. (I’m still trying to find the connection.) I found it especially interesting since amoking–or smoking, rather, is so prevalent in China.

And to prove I’m in it for the humor, not the hating, I’m tempted to buy this shirt and wear it around China, just to give the Chinese some amusement (and all the more reason to sneak photos of me). (For you non-Chinese readers, the characters mean “White people don’t understand.”)