“Dim sum? You want dim sum? Good dim
sum! Also Pepsi!”
— dim sum pushcart owner “Uncle Bennie”
Like many major metropolitan areas in the United States, Hudson City has a neighborhood populated almost exclusively by persons of Asian extraction. And like those other cities, Hudson City refers to this neighborhood as Chinatown.
During the Twenties and Thirties, when Chinatown was considered a den of vice, newspaper writers often referred to it as “the Yellow Crescent” due to the neighborhood’s shape. Today most people consider that term crass and insulting, and Chinatown’s gone from being seen as a place of depravity to one of hard work and cultural diversity.
Modern Chinatown is a busy, crowded neighborhood with seemingly little in the way of central planning — residential buildings sit cheek-by-jowl with commercial ones, and often the top floors of a small store or shop serves as a residence for the store’s owner and his family.
Factories and other businesses that rely almost exclusively on Chinese labor cluster along the waterfront.
Many of these are little more than sweatshops that hold their employees in quasi-slavery, though a rising class of Chinese entrepreneurs is doing what it can to provide better jobs and working conditions for Chinatown’s residents.
Elsewhere, the shops and restaurants that outsiders think of when they hear the word “Chinatown” dominate the commercial scene.
- ONE NEIGHBORHOOD, FOUR WORLDS
- Little Saigon
- Little Tokyo
Chinatown “proper” consists of those parts of the neighborhood still dominated by Chinese — which is to say, most of overall Chinatown.
The use of the same name to mean two different areas, one of which is part of the other, causes all sorts of confusion except among the Chinese themselves, who always seem to know which one they’re referring to.
It occupies the western half of the neighborhood.
Korean residents, most of whom come from Seoul and other parts of South Korea, live mostly in the northeastern part of greater Chinatown.
They keep to themselves, rarely mingling with their Chinese and Japanese neighbors. Although they encourage some tourist traffic to Korean restaurants and stores, for the most part Koreatown keeps to itself and prefers to be left alone.
Wedged in between the other three neighborhoods, Little Saigon evolved in the 1970s to handle the influx of Vietnamese (and Cambodian and Laotian) immigrants after the end of the Vietnam War.
Although not quite as stand-offish as the Koreans, the residents often prefer their own company (they don’t even have nearly as many restaurants and other tourist attractions as the other neighborhoods).
Located in the eastern and southern parts of Chinatown, Little Tokyo is home primarily to persons of Japanese ancestry — one of the largest concentrations of ethnic Japanese outside of Japan itself, in fact.
The residents are a curious mix of successful Japanese businessmen who long for native surroundings (and most of whom work in Bankhurst, Blackbridge, Highlands, or Worthington, not Chinatown) and poorer Japanese trying to get by.
The architecture of the area is an eclectic blend of Japanese and American that strikes some critics as hideous, others as charming.
To mark the “entrance” to Chinatown, neighborhood movers and shakers long ago commissioned a special statue.
It depicts four celestial dragons, one facing each direction, rising from a wave. The distinctive appearance of the statue as a whole, and the individual dragons, have become closely associated with Chinatown.
Most of Chinatown is heavily built up, with buildings clustered densely together.
The largest open space is Mott Park, where locals go to relax and walk on grass instead of concrete.
A small building crammed to the gills with Chinese antiques, curios, knick-knacks, and dust-gatherers, Great Wall Gifts is a mecca for collectors of Chinese art and artifacts.
Established in the mid-80s to take advantage of the growing American fascination with Japanese pop culture, Japanamania sells all things trendy and Japanese : anime, manga, card games, toys, you name it.
Although it mainly caters to locals by selling books written in various Chinese languages, Thousand Leaves also carries a selection of English-language books on various Asian subjects.
Opened in 2012, this club mixes traditional samurai-themed Japanese decor (suits of samurai armor, swords, medieval illustrations of Japanese warfare) with more modern touches to create an intriguing “technosamurai” look that seems to appeal to both Japanese and Westerners.
Chinatown’s most famous Chinese restaurant didn’t earn its reputation just because of its food (though its food is without a doubt excellent).
It’s also known for a 1996 incident in which three members of the Scarlet Dragon gang came looking for their enemies, members of the Emerald Door gang.
Established by comedian Jimmy Konishi in 2002, this upscale sushi restaurant takes its name from Konishi’s famous “it’s raw fish, people!” comedy routine.