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The Return of the ‘Bad Boys’ of Chinatown

Their friends call them the Chinatown kai doy — Taishanese for “bad boys.” They shot pool, rode motorcycles, and wanted to be James Dean. People would cross the street when they saw them, finding them just a little too rambunctious for comfort.

朋友们称他们为华埠kai doy,台山话“坏小子”的意思。他们打台球,骑摩托车,想成为詹姆斯·迪恩(James Dean)。他们在街上吵吵闹闹的样子会让人们不安地躲到路对面去。

It has been a while since the bad boys of Chinatown made anyone nervous. The hair they used to grease into pompadours has turned white; and instead of cigarette packs, they carry photos of their grandchildren.


On a recent Saturday the gang — or what remains of it — was gathered at Yee Li, a restaurant at Elizabeth and Bayard Streets, reminiscing about the old days. They were there at the behest of the original kai doy, Danny Moy and Soy Chu, who for the past 17 years have organized annual reunions at the restaurant.

在最近的一个星期六,这伙人——或者说剩下的那几位——聚集在位于伊丽莎白街和摆也街路口的裕利大饭店,回忆起过去的岁月。他们受最早的kai doy,即丹尼·梅(Danny Moy)和索伊·朱(Soy Chu)的邀请出席这次聚会,在过去17年中,他们每年都在这间餐厅组织重聚。

Mr. Moy and Mr. Chu have been friends since before they hung out at pool halls, growing up in the area during the 1940s and ’50s. In those days, Chinatown was small, just 10 or so blocks around Mott, Pell, and Doyers Streets. There were only about 5,000 people in the neighborhood, and everyone knew one another. Children were often left unattended.


“I lived in 56,” said Larry Lau, 76, a retired commercial artist, referring to 56 Mott Street. “Danny and Lungie lived down the hall. We ruled the first floor. When other kids had to go in or out of the building, they used to run past the first floor, hoping to not bump into us.”

“我住在56号,”76岁的的退休商业艺术家拉里·刘(Larry Lau)指的是勿街56号。“丹尼和龙吉在走廊那一头。我们是一楼的霸主。其他孩子不得不进出这栋楼时,通常要快速跑过一楼,希望不会撞见我们。”

Mr. Lau, like those squeezed around the banquet tables in Yee Li, felt a strong connection to Chinatown, though most of them had moved away during the 1960s. Some had driven in to the reunion from Connecticut, or New Jersey, or even Virginia; Mr. Moy flew in from California. One fellow, 77-year-old Sammy Lum, had stayed in the neighborhood. He made the trip from across the street.

他们中的大多数人在20世纪60年代都搬走了,刘仍和那些挤在裕利大饭店宴会桌旁的人一样,对华埠有一种很深的感情。有些人从康涅狄格州、新泽西州甚至弗吉尼亚州开车过来参加重聚;梅是从加利福尼亚州坐飞机来的。77岁的老友萨米·林(Sammy Lum)还住在这一带。过一条马路就到了。

Over 10 courses of Cantonese food — jellyfish and roast pork; fried shrimp and gai lan — they traded memories of childhood exploits. How they played kick the can on Pell Street and stickball by the Tombs prison. They knew all the underground tunnels in Chinatown; got in fistfights with the kids from Little Italy. Sometimes, they trekked up to Central Park to go fishing. “And do you know where we got the worms to go fishing?” Mr. Lau said. “We dug them from the mayor’s front lawn.”


Mr. Moy, 76 — an energetic talker with a booming voice known among friends as “the mayor of Chinatown” — pointed out people in the crowd. This was Constance, he said, indicating a woman seated to his left; they dated when he was 17, but her father forbade her from seeing him. That was Tracy, whose father used to own this restaurant; before that, it was a bar. George Kwong was called “Sleepy,” for how he looked after a few beers, and Donald Chin was “the Duck.” That was Lungie — Henry Eng — nicknamed after the Taishanese word for “dragon,” because he was the best dragon dancer. Mr. Moy and Lungie were especially close because they were both mixed-race and adopted. Once as children, they got in trouble after they bored a hole in the wall between their apartments, hidden behind the couch, through which they used to talk. 纽约时报中英文网 http://www.qqenglish.com

76岁的梅是一位声音响亮且健谈的人,被朋友们称为“华埠市长”——他指了指人群中的一个人。那是康斯坦丝,坐在他左边的一个女人;他们曾在他17岁时约会,但她的父亲禁止她见他。那是特蕾西,他的父亲曾经拥有这家餐厅;在那之前,这是一个酒吧。乔治·邝(George Kwong)绰号“Sleepy”(“昏昏欲睡”的意思。——译注),是因他喝了几瓶啤酒后的样子而来,而唐纳德·钱(Donald Chin)是“鸭子”。那是龙吉(Lungie)——亨利·伍(Henry Eng)——他的绰号是台山话中“龙”的意思,因为他是最好的舞龙师。梅和龙吉特别亲密,因为他们都是混血和被收养的孩子。儿时,他们在他俩公寓之间的墙上钻了一个洞之后遇到了麻烦,那个洞藏在沙发后面,他们那时常常通过那个洞说话。

As teenagers in the ’50s, Mr. Moy and his friends formed the Jade Club on East Broadway, in a space now occupied by the Golden Unicorn Restaurant. It was a place to host record hops and dances, closer to home than other socials hosted by the Chinese student associations at Hunter College or Columbia University. They played rock ’n’ roll records, and practiced Latin dancing — there was a craze for Latin music sweeping the city back then. Young people from other Chinese communities — in Washington, D.C., or the now-long-gone Newark Chinatown, or from as far afield as Jamaica or Cuba — came to their dances.

作为50年代的青少年,梅和他的朋友们在东百老汇现为麒麟金阁餐厅的地方成立了翡翠会(Jade Club)。那是一个举办流行音乐舞会的地方,与亨特学院(Hunter College)或哥伦比亚大学(Columbia University)的中国学生协会主办的其他社交活动相比,这个地方更亲切一些。他们播放摇滚唱片,练习拉丁舞——当时拉丁音乐的狂潮席卷了整个城市。来自其他华人社区的年轻人——比如华盛顿特区,或者消失已久的纽瓦克唐人街,又或者来自牙买加或古巴这种遥远地方的年轻人——也来到这里参加他们的舞会。

Over the next decade, most of the crew left Chinatown. Mr. Lau and Mr. Moy joined the Army in 1961. (“I think every person in Chinatown was glad when we joined,” Mr. Lau said.) Others went to college, or found jobs, or they married and moved to the suburbs, settling in Long Island or New Jersey or Connecticut. But through the years, a sense of having experienced something special during their childhood in Chinatown has kept them close.


The Chinatown they were born into was on the cusp of transformation. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which virtually ended Chinese immigration, was repealed in 1943, around the time the boys and their friends were born. For decades the act effectively kept Chinatown’s population frozen at around 5,000 people. Slowly the repeal ushered in a wave of acceptance for Chinese in America.


When the last vestiges of the Exclusion Act were fully rolled back in 1965, Chinatown’s population exploded — some estimates put it as high as 150,000 — as new immigrants came from Hong Kong, Vietnam, Fujian Province in southern China, and elsewhere.<纽约时报中英文网 http://www.qqenglish.com/>


The little Cantonese village became a melting pot.


For this crowd, those changes are something to celebrate — a reflection of the improved status of Chinese immigrants. But they also mean that what made their childhood special — the intimacy of a tiny Chinatown, frozen by exclusion, where everyone knew your name — is largely gone.


Mr. Moy, Mr. Chu and most of his friends were part of the first American-born generation in their families. Mr. Chu’s parents immigrated during the 1920s from Taishan in what was then called Canton — the region in southwestern China where, until the 1950s, a vast majority of Chinese in America came from.


In Chinatown, Mr. Chu’s father worked as a cook, supporting seven children and a wife, squeezed into a one-bedroom apartment on Division Street. “We grew up without material things, and learned from growing up in the streets of New York City,” said Mr. Chu. He attended Stuyvesant High School, where he was one of just a few Asians at a school that is now 70 percent Asian. He went on to found a software company called New Year Tech and retired in Virginia.

索伊·朱的父亲在华埠当厨子,七个孩子和太太全靠他一个人的收入,一家人挤在地威臣街一套一居室公寓里。他说,“我们在物质匮乏的环境中长大,从纽约街头的成长过程中学到了很多。”他后来念的是史岱文森高中,当时是该校为数不多的亚裔学生之一,现在这所学校70%的学生是亚裔。后来,他创立了一家名为New Year Tech的软件公司,在弗吉尼亚州退休。

Mr. Moy was adopted as a baby by a prominent Chinatown couple. His father was the head of the influential On Leong Merchants Association, and his mother, who was born in Shanghai in 1919 and sold at age 6 to a traveling circus troupe, had performed as an acrobat with Barnum & Bailey Circus. After the Army, Mr. Moy spent 45 years working for a steel company called the Earle M. Jorgensen Company, becoming a vice-president of marketing, and eventually retired in California.

丹尼·梅还是婴儿的时候被华埠一对有声望的夫妇收养。他的父亲是颇具影响力的安梁商会(On Leong Merchants Association)的会长,母亲1919年出生在上海,6岁的时候被卖给了一个走江湖的杂耍团,曾在玲玲马戏团(Barnum & Bailey Circus)担任杂技演员。从陆军退役后,丹尼·梅在一家名为Earle M. Jorgensen Company的钢铁公司工作了45年,当上了负责营销的副总裁,最后在加州退休。

Now once a year, Mr. Moy and Mr. Chu and their friends conjure the Chinatown of their youth. The impetus, Mr. Moy said, was 9/11. “I was living in California and I’d seen the towers come down, and it bothered the hell out of me,” he said. “I thought, ‘Well anything can happen.’ So I called up my buddy Soy and said we should get together. And I’ve made an effort to get everyone together every year since.”


Over time, the logistics have changed as people have aged. Cancer, strokes, and other ailments have taken their toll; many of their friends are dead. “We’ve probably lost eight or nine guys who used to come to these,” said Mr. Moy. He himself had to delay this year’s reunion (it’s usually held in September) because of a hip replacement.


Yet, even on a cold December evening, nearly 50 people made the effort to come out to Yee Li. Over the last course of the meal, Mr. Moy struggled to recall another game from his childhood: “I’m forgetting — what was it called in Chinese? The thing you kick, with the feathers on it? We used to make them out of newspapers and chicken feathers.”


A waiter, passing by, called out in Taishanese, “That’s called gai mo yin.” It was a feather ball, also known as shuttlecock or Chinese hacky-sack.


“That’s right!” said Mr. Moy, who looked satisfied. It was another piece of the past, restored.




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