Date: November 4
Time: Around 1:28 p.m.
Location: Columbus Park, entering the park through the northeast entrance, sitting on a south-facing steps of the pavilion near the mahjong players. Briefly, in the northwest entrance of the park.
Weather: sunny, cooler, pleasant.
Background: Between Days 2 and 3 of the Chinatown project, the City of New York was struck by Hurricane Sandy. Coastal areas in Staten Island, Red Hook, and Far Rockaway were destroyed. Dozens of homes in Breezy Point, Queens, burned to ashes. Much of Lower Manhattan flooded, including the Holland and Battery Tunnels. MTA suspended Subway service city-wide for multiple days. Most of Greenwich Village and other areas south of Fourteenth Street remained without power all week long. Authorities attributed at least [number] of deaths to Hurricane Sandy.
Sunday morning, we took the A Train to Penn Station and walked to the 11:00 am church service at Marble Collegiate on Twenty-ninth Street and Fifth Avenue. From there, we took the 6 Train to Spring Street and walked to the Occupy Sandy Donation Center on Hester Street, where we dropped off a bag of non-perishable donations including diapers and canned food. We approached Chinatown from the East, cutting through Confucius Plaza, where we saw the Little Man we’d seen on the previous two weekends. He was pushing his cart, wearing the same clothing, indifferent to us and everyone else around him. We stopped and watched him a few seconds as he went about his way. From there, we had dumplings at [name of restaurant here] and proceeded to the park.
Transcript of observed events:
Dictation: No trees down. Really loud music. Much more festive atmosphere. Perceptibly happy to be outside. Tai-chi continues. Generator’s going outside bathrooms. Make-shift tables, peg board as garbage cans. MUCH louder. A harpsichord. Open karaoke, man and woman singing a duet. Sit on the steps. Little man in John Lennon glasses stares at me until I smile at him, and then he smiles back at me. Tourists are back. White people walking around, man in a rainbow colored sweater. Cardboard used as board game top, Italian tourists with tour guide in pocket. Sun is out, temp is cooler than it has been.
Artist: “I’ve never voted in New York, so I don’t know where to go.”
Photographer: “Can you only go to your voting center?”
Dictation: A tourist tried to take a picture of the Chinese women, but the women said no. Sun dropping down behind the courthouse building. The man with the rainbow-colored jacket, striking, wandering around. Children are back outside. Probably 300 people within sight, more than the first day. Brooklyn-looking couple with a bike. Kids with purple pants, playing. Sitting on concrete, hard, cold. No visible signs of the hurricane anywhere at all. Very little wind.
Dictation: Wondering if and what of the population would vote in the election. Remembering the Census: 75 names associated with a single apartment number. No possible way of knowing how many people live in Chinatown, can’t count electricity, can’t count water usage, census lists several hundred thousand people down here, but could be ten times as many, easily. How many will vote? Income disparity between NYC wealthy and poor similar to Sub-Saharan Africa. Financial District less than a quarter mile from Chinatown. Columbus Plaza as an organism. Like the first day of spring, an air of celebration. Old woman teamster’s hat local 23 united.
Dictation: No flags today. Leaves very still. Large elderly population out today. No soccer games. Sun Yut Sen middle school couple blocks away near Emma Lazarus high school for English scholars. Passed on the way over.
Writer: “How you doing, my love?”
Photographer: “I’m okay.”
Dictation: North Face jacket, Yankees hat, winter hat, lots of sneakers. One woman yelling at the other women, yelling at the women who refused to be photographed. Man with rainbow colored hoodie still wandering around, bag of some kind, plastic bag. Teamster Lady checking out the Artist’s drawing. Manhattan-looking brunette takes picture of Manhattan-looking blonde, reverses role takes picture, carrying Hollister bags [indication of tourists?]. Sun dropping below the courthouse. Winter apparel reflecting the the drop in temperature. 43 degrees out. French Connection bags, Nova York, tourists, speaking either Italian or Spanish, sounds like Italian.
Dictation: First refusal to be photographed. Teamster Lady very interested in drawing, Spanish overheard, Italian overhead. Traditional 52 card deck used by garbage can poker players, more laughter.
Writer: “I’ve read or remember from one of my psychology classes that children can identify sad or happy music based on whether it’s major or minor chords, cross-culturally to a certain degree.”
Artist: “There are way more basketball players.”
Dictation: Clapping and applause for the conclusion of the duet.
Photographer: “I’m sure that they recognize us.”
Writer: “A few, I’m sure.”
Artist: “Tourists look at us the way that we look at the Chinese.”
Writer: “Someone’s using an iPad to record the music.”
Dictation: Gloves and a jacket, but some kind of forearm warmer, women bundled up. So much more music. Not as many people smoking? Smokers off to the right. [Moves to northwest corner of park six feet away]. Quick spot-check to see if anyone’s getting arrested. Rust from the lamppost. Tai chi guys wearing gloves, one white guy, the rest Asian. Generator being used to maybe pump out water from the women’s bathroom, generator used to powerwash the women’s room, police car still parked on Bayard and Baxter.
Dictation: Cops driving Chevy Malibu, maybe an Impala, drive up Bayard, continue. Cold, very cold, winter coming. Old Chinese woman with white hair looking out the window of the Thai food restaurant. White guy rollerblades by with a backpack on.
Dictation: Tai-chi, two men moving hands, synchronously fluid motion, but not forced on each other. Small Chinese man and Chinese woman, with baby stroller, each of them, going by detention center entry point. African American man comes out of booking center. Asian man with wooden leg walks by, with a cane in his left hand, not wooden, but otherwise stilted, braced-leg of some kind.
Dictation: NYC parks rec ranger drives into park. New Yorker couple walks by, cop with short sleeves walks by, parks police washes the bathroom.
Parks Police Officer: “Michael, Michael. . .”
Dictation: Parks officer scolds a tourist who has walked past the closed gate. Parks lady asks the guy Michael if he wants to come in tomorrow. He’s covered in water. Talking about people who are trying to sneak into the bathroom even though it’s visibly closed. [Returns to steps].
Dictation: Sun has now gone behind the courthouse building in the 15 minutes that we’ve been here. Sounds more like flutes.
Artist: “How is it over there?”
Writer: “Quiet. Doesn’t appear to have flooded at all.”
Dictation: Possible tree down, but hard to say, possible cause for makeshift table. Taking a loop through the mahjong tables. Chinese November 2, paper on ground. [Moving around in the area immediately in front of the steps, amidst the players].
Writer: “Dr Sun Yat Sen’s ‘All Under Heaven Are Equal’.”
Dictation: Vanilla condensed milk out of a can with a straw, wooden flute, an accordion, microphone singing women, nice North Face jacket. Scaly white white dry skin. Lots of bicycles chained up. Man with long hair, two babies in his stroller, noise of slurping coffee, mahjong, Nautica jacket. 30 men gathered around the table, much more contemplative, clear hierarchy of mahjong players. Wondering about the similarities between mahjong and chess. Skeletal old man sitting under the statue. Probably 42 degrees out. Wondering what parts of China they come from? Sounds of Chinese chatter pervasive. New York City parks man scolds the mahjong players for using a garbage can with cardboard on top of it. Unperturbed they find another garbage can higher up. A dog.
Writer: “First time we’ve seen a dog? Looks like a small boxer.”
Photographer: “Every time has been a different experience.”
Artist: “A weird air of forgetfulness.”
Writer: “It seems to be relief.”
(This is Part 7 out of a nine-part series. To read the Eighth Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Chinatown click here.)