Sunday, April 25, 2010

Big Trouble Little China

My mother and I recently took a trip to New York City. It was a first for both of us. We stayed in Times Square, we ate in posh restaurants, and even took in a Broadway Show. At the time we thought we were living our own little version of The Real Housewives of NYC. You would have thought that we grew up on the Upper East Side in a rent controlled apartment with a view of the park. We were absolutely ridiculous. We had lunch in Chelsea, we went shopping on 5th Ave, took pictures in front of the Plaza, and then one afternoon we had the bright idea to wander over to Chinatown. This is where our little vacation took a wrong turn and we almost ended up with our pictures on the back of a milk carton.

Mom desperately wanted a knock off Chanel handbag. She drug me to parts of New York City that were certainly not in any travel guide I have ever seen. Our taxi dropped us off on the ever infamous Canal St and so it began. Let me start by saying that the sheer amount of people piled in and out of these little makeshift stores was enough to send any claustrophobic into therapy for years. I immediately noticed that NYPD’s finest was also camped out on every corner. I could not decide if that was a good thing or bad thing. Either way it made for some nice scenery.

The first couple of huts that we went into had plenty of handbags but nothing with the kind of label that we were looking for. Every shop owner that we walked past tried to waive us in telling us…“We make great price for you”. “Come in! Have a look”. “Hey pretty lady you want Rolex?’. I have never been so popular in my life. I was eating up all of the attention and really enjoying myself but Mom was on a mission so we pressed on. After a few more “stores” we began to realize that tracking down anything with the word Chanel on it maybe harder than we thought. We discussed giving up and calling it a day. Suddenly I heard a voice behind me whisper “You want handbag? Gucci, Prada, Chanel?” I turned to find a rather small Asian woman in large black sunglasses nodding me to follow her. I looked over at my mother and told her to follow me. We had hit the jackpot.

The small woman, we will call her Connie Chung, was wearing a brown hoodie that was at least 3 sizes too big for her and kept talking on a walkie talkie as we followed her down Canal St. Connie told us to stay far behind her so it would not look like we were following her. This was evidently not her first rodeo. Every few minutes or so she would look back and make sure that we were still there. Before I could say Jimmy Choo she had led us off of Canal St. and into some real shit. The streets signs were now in both Chinese and English. I no longer saw any other tourists passing us on the streets. Now we were surrounded by little Chinese woman carrying grocery bags and Chinese men sitting outside smoking cigarettes. I looked over at mom and whispered that we may be in “Big trouble little China”. She of course did not get the reference and gave me that same funny look that she always does when I throw something random at her.

After what seemed like miles Connie finally turns around again and whispers to me “No more store, you look at picture”. I had no idea what she meant. At this point we were so far into this misadventure that I really didn’t care. I had to see how this played out. Connie gets on her radio again and I see another woman across the street talking back to her. This one was much taller and you could tell by the way she carried herself that she was much higher up on the counterfeit ladder than Mrs. Chung. Once we made our way across the street the taller woman pulled out a laminated piece of paper from underneath her Bra. She was a real class act. She had us go stand in a corner and open it up. Once we opened up the sweaty piece of paper we saw that it had pictures of handbags on it. I now understood what Connie Chung had whispered to me earlier. Mom sorted through the 50 or so handbags and picked out one that she wanted to look at. I nodded to the tall broad to come back over as we had made our choice. My mother pointed to the picture of the one she wanted to look at. Before we could get another word in, she said yelled at us that it would be “90 dolla”. I burst into laughter. I seriously thought she was kidding. She apparently did not think this was funny at all and snatched the paper out of my moms hand and walked off.

Mom and I looked at each other and knew that we might be in some serious trouble. We were now deep into Chinatown and all kinds of lost. I was not positive that we would be able to find our way back to Canal St. I started picturing myself being sold into slavery and forced to work in the factories that make the handbags. I had leap into action and use whatever brain cells I had left over from my teens. I grabbed mom by the hand and started trying to retrace our steps. Connie saw us making our way back with out a purse in hand and gave us a dirty look as we passed her. What an amazing friend she turned out to be. We finally made it back to Canal St after making a few wrong turns and seeing things I really could have lived my entire life without seeing. The streets were once again peppered with pale faces and women wearing fanny packs. I had never been so happy to see poorly dressed Americans in my life.

I was checking out a particularly good looking member of the NYPD standing a few feet away from me when I heard another voice behind me whisper.. “You want handbag”. I turned to Mom hoping she would have had enough of Chinatown and wanted to keep walking. This was not the case. I was surely high if I thought for a minute Mom was prepared to leave NYC without a beautiful knockoff on her arm. The woman was on a mission. I turned to the voice I heard behind me and nodded that the deal was on. This time our tour guide was an adorable little Chinese man. I immediately named him Fried Rice. He was a much better fit for us as he did not seem near as sketchy and smiled almost too much. He was wearing a delightful little button down tucked into his khaki pants. I liked him right from the start.

Fried Rice took us behind a park just off of Canal St. and led us into a building that was within spitting distance of the Manhattan Bridge. Our new friend did not speak as much English as I would have hoped but he knew enough to get the job done. He took us into what we thought was an apartment but ended up being handbag heaven for my mother. Every square inch of the place was lined with every label you could think of. From floor to ceiling was nothing but handbags in every color of the rainbow. My mother finally found one that suited her and began the long bargaining dance that Canal St. is known for. Fried Rice eventually settled on a price that seemed fair to the both of them and we said our goodbyes.

Mom and I eventually made our way back to civilization and into a cab. We had made it out of this near disaster alive and well despite our better efforts to completely throw caution to the wind. Mom marveled at her new handbag and I vowed to never set foot on Canal St. again.


Jenny Georgio-who said...

Okay this is funny because I've actually been there. I went to NYC with some friends and family and my sister in law was dying for a Coach sling. We had the same whispering "You want handbag" and we followed a little kineza for what seemed for miles, into a grocery store, into their basement. Of course after that super long trek my sister in law decided the price wasn't right. I threatened to leave here there. Finally they agreed on a price.

Freaking insane! Sounds like y'all had a great time though. I love New York!

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