The bitter-sweet essence of Chinatown

Sometimes the best things come from the least expected place.

At least, that’s what I’ve found to be true on the other day when I was out running some errands in the weekend in a very heavy traffic conditioned Chinatown.

Amongst the traffic noise in this part of town, something else caught my attention as my ears heard a tune in the near distance.

Sitting before me, a man in a bucket-like hat donning in a black suit complete with a red tie, pulls and pushes on his erhu’s bow, gliding it against the erhu’s string, making a harmonic tune while holding and picking at the instrument’s string from the top of its head with the other hand.

Chinatown's essential musician

As I got closer to him, I’ve notice that he does not only plays the erhu, but also plays a clicking bass-like instrument underneath his foot to create a snapping beat sound to go along with his main tune.

As I stood there between Broadway and Alpine St. watching and listening to his performance, I’ve noticed he had an instrument case next to him filled with other instruments, and of course, some spare change left for him by passer bys who supports his work.

Re-visiting Chinatown with a new vision

Listening to his music, I can’t help but imagine a sense of homesickness that is yearning to remind me of my inherit national homeland country and its people over at China. Even without my actual visit to China, I can imagine myself as an immigrant leaving the country and coming to America hoping to make something of myself and send my fortunes back to the family at home, or perhaps choosing to stay back in the homeland and regretting it for the reminder of my life for not being bold at taking my opportunity in striking it rich.

Chinatown: home away from home

Chinatown, one of many places in Los Angeles, is a home away from home for many of those who came before me and who may arrive now from China to get a slice of the so-called great American piece of pie that’s embedded with the romanticized ideas of Democracy, Independence, and a free Marketplace. I can only imagine the arrival of the newcomers to this country who must endure the reality of their hard and poor working condition, the mistreatment one receives from their neighbors in one’s community or within one’s intimate living space, the struggle to survive the daily life of trying to understand another foreign language other than one’s own tongue, and on top of that, one may feel very homesick – if not feeling alone – from all the changing factors one must adjusts to so to continue living in the so-called free world.

These are the thoughts and ideas that runs through my mind as I stand and listen to the musician’s work as he plays his erhu from the beginning ’till the end. His music reminds me of the blues we sing – or at least, I imagine we sing – to ourselves when we need some relief from the sorrows we may encounter in our daily lives.

Even if we don’t really admit we have some sorrows – or feel somewhat sorrow about anything or for ourselves – the musician’s work plays on the strings of people’s hearts and on the delicate eyes and ears of the audience who are either standing in the crowd or they’re just passers by on the street.

After his performance, I handed the man his tip, and he responded with a brief “Thank you” as he nodded his head. He then started up on another piece as his fingers and hands started moving again after the brief pause from the last song.

His music, if it were compared to life and time, would be the symbols of continuation since the things of the matter have no absolute ending since there’s always a constant direction and movement that comes from them – in other words, things don’t stop moving because there’s always something there to take its place and help it continue on.

Click on the audio player below to listen to a clip of the man’s music:

What’s in store for next Tuesday?

The next story is going to take us back home to Lincoln Heights where I take a journey and explore the community’s garden.

Join me here next week as I take you into the less traveled path and into an unfamiliar scene in the district city to see what’s hidden in its plot.

Notes:  I wanted to have a follow up with this week’s story about the mystery music man of Chinatown to share with you for next week, but since I’m trying to catch him around the weekend and trying to get him for a few words, his music, whether a good thing or not, has been doing most of the talking for him now.

So until I can get the man to talk with me in words, I’m going to hold this story in development.

In the mean time, feel free to leave comments or questions for this post.

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