Walking the Manhattan Bridge [Written for Urban Ethnography class journal]

The Brooklyn Bridge is convenient. It’s rather majestic. It’s got more history per brick than any other structure I’ve seen, save the pyramids at Giza. Horrible, but fascinating, history. It even has a tradition, which I totally missed for two years of walking across it, of couples sticking padlocks on the railings with phrases like “__ + __ forever” scratched on them.

The Manhattan Bridge is not convenient (for me). The walkway is low and tight, so you have to constantly be on the lookout for oncoming cyclists. The view consists of parking lots, graffitied roofs and apartment balconies, and faded awnings labelled in Chinese. It was designed for functionality. So why do I keep taking the extra 45 minutes to walk home over it?

It sounds stereotypical even in my head, but I have to say that the business part of Chinatown smells amazing. It’s a great place to amble, lost in your thoughts, and the steam that carries the smell of freshly cooked rice through hopeful restaurant doors. Nowhere else can passing an open basement make your stomach tighten in anticipation.
I was starving but lacked my secret weapon — Alena. If you like Chinese food and have a friend who’s fluent in Mandarin, DO NOT let her move to D.C. Not wanting to be the token tourist stumbling all over the Americanized menu, and being kind of broke anyway, I picked up the pace toward the George and my cheap pasta. I’m glad I feel like an outsider in Chinatown, though — I like knowing ours is an actual Chinese enclave, not just a block of restuarants and a herb shop. Of course, ethnic enclaves tend to come with their own special problems (encouraging stereotypes and generalizations among outsiders, as with “Little Italy,” which never really existed the way most Americans thought it did).  But who can help loving a place like this?

It beats me why anyone would get excited about getting their photo taken in front of a Mahayana (Buddhist) temple, but there are always one or two tourists with cameras around when I pass by the big one on Canal Street. I guess it sounds somehow exotic to them?

What makes the view from the Manhattan Bridge cool is the rooftops. Covered on the Chinatown side with washing lines, deck chairs, and the aforementioned youth street art, and on the Brooklyn side with playgrounds (best idea EVER), pools (second best idea EVER), and squash courts. Oh, to have an apartment in DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) . . .

The Brooklyn Bridge from the Manhattan Bridge

I wonder if the city purposefully does not advertise the Manhattan Bridge walkway so that it can funnel tourists to its more iconic neighbor? No need to wonder.  The Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, although so close together, represent two very different New York Cities.


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