Chinatown Kid

Dear J-

You know, J-, as well as I how comfortably suburban we grew up — large lots, green lawns, and shady, quiet streets.  We spent summers in the gentle grace of screen doors, our cologne the sharp chlorine of community pools; smelling distant thunder as a ionizing green threat.  And yet I somehow found myself more often than not in Seattle’s International District — Chinatown, if you will — dragged along as part my parents’ quest to find bargains for the store.  As an outsider entering that (as National Geographic put it, in November 1975) gilded ghetto, we were privy to a surprising number of behind the scenes deals.

I never saw it as a huge imposition until I was thirteen or fourteen and the prospect of ten hours on the road and endless afternoons spent double-parked, wary eyes on the lookout for chalk-wielding patrollers, loading our van to the gills with boxes, bins, and bags marked in foreign characters stretched away into drudgery.  Before that I loved rolling into Seattle mid-morning, stepping amongst the sussurous pigeons in the park; there would always be an opportunity to have an amazing lunch — ordering food is itself an art, you know.  On that strength, indeed, I’ve added retirement in a San Francisco Chinatown walk-up to the list of places to experience life (right there next to Crescent City, New Orleans, and Santa Fe).

This is a Bust:  A Novel by Ed Lin

This is a Bust: A Novel by Ed Lin

Ed Lin has done two favors for me; he’s reawakened the memories (waiting in line to get the right egg tarts — mentally comparing all the other Chinatowns (Vancouver, San Francisco, Oakland, Boston) to that benchmark Seattle district — seeing past the funny names and fading bright paint to the palette of faces beneath) and he’s managed to excise the New York Chinatown of Year of the Dragon from my psyche — all this with two delirious nights spent with This is a Bust.  I ran across the name via back-posts of angryasianman, located copies of his work (his first novel is Waylaid), and devoured it faster than I expected.  Having read free eBooks (i.e. copyright-expired Project Gutenberg classics)  has made me a slow reader, right?  The mystery plotline was secondary to establishing Robert Chow’s Chinatown as a living, throbbing character — and the issues of race were handled with a realism (that is, without resorting to flat stereotypes) missing from the images and words passed down to me; I regard it as a personal tragedy that I know less about the Water Margin, Journey to the West, and the Three Kingdoms than about Norse mythology (thanks, Dungeons & Dragons).  Back to the novel, though — definitely worth digging up a copy for yourself.

Mike

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