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Chinatown, the largest Chinese neighborhood in the world after the one in San Francisco, really is a city within the city.

Once you step into Chinatown, which continues to expand well beyond the original area between Canal, Bowery, Worth and Baxter Streets, among the intricate tangle of electrical cables strung between the walls of ramshackle, humble dwellings, you’ll come face-to-face with thousands of signs in oriental characters vying for an extra square centimeter or two, all surrounded by a mix of exotic aromas created by a medley of spices, seafood, Peking duck, pork pies, exotic fruits and fermented vegetables…

Chinatown is all this… and much more!

The best way to visit this incredibly bustling neighborhood of the city is to just go with the flow, trying occasionally to make your way out of the crowd to explore a surprising eatery or two. Outside of the better-known restaurants, you can also root out authentic oriental cuisine tucked away behind the markets, at the stalls or in other joints with less-than-perfect hygiene that you’ll find pretty much everywhere, trust me!

And if you’re a fan of luxury knockoffs, this is the place for you: on Canal Street, and on the streets around it, you’ll find almost-perfect copies of every brand on the face of the earth. The price you pay will depend on how good you are at haggling!

If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a little peace and quiet among such chaos, head for the Mahayana Buddhist Temple: the gilded Buddha inside, depicted in the lotus position and more than five meters tall, commands an incredible silence all around.

Before I go, an interesting fact: the first Chinese native to settle in this area, around 1700, was a man called Ah Ken, who founded a tobacconist’s shop. Later, towards the end of the 19th century, following a large number of job offerings, albeit in dreadful conditions, for the building of the Central Pacific Railroad line, the first significant wave of immigration began. However, the Chinese community almost never found favor with the locals, and for almost 60 years, the Chinese Exclusion Act remained in force. This was a racial law issued in 1882 to prevent the granting of American citizenship. 


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