Paradise in Chinatown



Neighborhood: Chinatown

Chinatown Optical and Church of the Transfiguration (photo by the author)

It is blazing hot at midday in Chinatown, June, 2022. The doors to the Church of the Transfiguration on Mott Street are open, so I decide to duck in to cool off. “Lord, give us eyes to see,” a young Asian priest recites the offertory prayers. The church is small with cream walls and wooden balconies running along the sides. 

There are about 20 people scattered through the pews, mostly alone, some with a partner.

As people line up to receive communion, I slip out. Kitty-corner from the church is my destination, Chinatown Optical. I am here to pick up my frames with a new prescription for the lenses; my reading has been getting fuzzy, and nighttime driving a bit of an adventure.

As soon I walk in, a young woman, whose nameplate reads Sunny greets me and checks to see if my glasses are ready. They are. I sit at one of the stools along the counter, and a young man checks the fit. They both are wearing masks.

The store seems like a version of heaven: Clean and bright; friendly, attentive people; plenty of interesting things behind the counter to look at; no muzak or loud voices—not to mention access to water and a bathroom. And, if not giving you new eyes to see, they do restore your vision—to the extent possible.

bowl of pho (photo by the author)

Just a few blocks away, in the shadow of the Manhattan Detention Complex (a.k.a., “the Tombs”), is a row of small restaurants. I choose a Vietnamese one and order a bowl of pho with oxtail. It arrives quickly along with a plate with mint, bean sprouts, sliced hot peppers, and lime. As I eat, there are the sounds of clanging pots from the kitchen, waiters calling to each other across the closely packed tables, and diners slurping and chatting over their bowls of noodles. Another version of heaven.


David Allen is a professor of English Education at the College of Staten Island (CUNY). He lives in Staten Island.

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