Author: Sophia Ng
Columbus Park in Manhattan’s Chinatown remains my favorite place in the world. Columbus Park is noisy, crowded, and doesn’t have real grass like other parks. To enter Columbus Park via Bayard Street is a uniquely overstimulating multisensory cultural experience.
On an average weekend day, every available table is taken up by gambling and spectating senior citizens. If you try watching these groups play too closely, you can expect suspicious stares and an eventual hand gesture from an uncle to shoo away. There’s generally no place to sit in Columbus Park. Any (not decrepit looking) public bench is probably already occupied by restaurant workers on their break or grannies leisurely having a chat. If you look over by the elevated awning, you’ll probably see a wushu group practicing their martial art. Sometimes they bring out their swords which makes it all the more exciting to watch. On any given afternoon, you can expect to hear three different erhu performances within a 15 feet radius of wherever you stand in the park. However, within minutes, the sound of the erhu strings will be drowned out by an ensemble of senior citizens singing their hearts out to classic Cantonese opera.
I go to Columbus Park to feel grounded. Despite the general hustle and bustle of New York City, I don’t mind going to an even noisier and more densely concentrated place to relax and reflect. Born and raised in Flushing to Hong Kongnese parents, I have more recently been surrounded by foreign tones of Mandarin than by my family’s native dialect of Cantonese. At Columbus Park, however, I’m comforted by familiar sounds of my family’s dialect.
I go to Columbus Park because it gives me a sense of community. It’s the place where I envision my grandmother, who has since passed away, socializing with her fellow Cantonese immigrant garment factory colleagues on weekends. It’s the place I go to when I am downtown but want to be alone (because no one will bother you at Columbus Park). On summer days, it’s a place of convenience to eat my favorite scoop of Don Tot ice cream from Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. It’s also the place I go to when I am overwhelmed and need be reminded of the simpler joys of life, like fearlessly singing loudly and slightly out of tune in a public park for all to hear.
Columbus Park is part of my cultural heritage as a Chinese American New Yorker. Columbus Park will always remain my favorite place in the world. Columbus Park is home.