Dumpling House


LOCATION Chinatown

RENT $1,000 [rent stabilized]

SQUARE FEET 300 [three rooms over restaurant]

OCCUPANTS Adley Atkin [graphic designer, illustrator]; Chris Madak [freelance art and technology consultant]

It’s not very big, is it? [Chris] It’s like a quarter of an apartment. [Adley] It’s even smaller than I thought it was going to be. I moved in last month. We know each other from Hampshire College.

So here you are above Joe’s Shanghai and thousands of bubbling dumplings. [Chris] One of the most obnoxious things about living here is that the line to get in the restaurant goes halfway up the stairs when it’s cold. The restaurant ventilation occasionally shakes the building.

I did hear a noise coming up the narrow, old-world back stairs. Our teakettle rattles. You have to go on the roof.

I don’t want to. The roof actually smells like dumplings. I’m vegetarian. I was walking up the Bowery one day and I saw a crab escape from one of those tanks in a restaurant. He got out by standing on the back of a lobster.

Isn’t that like life? Is it?

How many of you young non-Chinese are living in this neighborhood—not counting artists who got lofts in the ’70s? I’ve only seen maybe four non-Chinese people around. [Adley] If you go around Canal, I’ve heard there are more. [Chris] I wondered if we were encouraging the gentrification of the neighborhood. The rates of Chinese immigration are still really high. I think we’re kind of a drop in the ocean.

My friend A. lives near here over a secret mah-jongg parlor and he hears the tiles clicking all the time and once he found a solid gold bracelet outside the building door and he thought somebody won it in a game and now he wears it all the time. It’s a link bracelet and I told him that’s what women wear but he doesn’t care. It makes him feel rich. Anyway, a local real estate agent told me that most of the property is owned by members of the Chinese community and that they are loathe to sell, which is great because that means Chinatown will stay Chinatown with its red and gold dragons and durian fruits, but the agent also said that owners are not resistant to developing condos or tripling rent. I love how intensely focused people are down here. They are very much involved in the bustle of their own world and selling roots and lily bulbs and they could really care less about anything else. Chinatown is a great place to come on a lonely Western holiday because you realize that the world hasn’t stopped and the people on the street could care less about, let’s say, Valentine’s Day. I love that. On Canal and Mulberry you can get food for a dollar. My girlfriend used to live here. We found it on the Internet. We actually thought it was a joke ’cause we’d never seen a Chinatown listing.

What’s that door downstairs? It’s like the herbalists’ storage closet. The two businesses above Joe’s are a law office and an herb and tea store.

No, not that one—the silver-vaulted door outside of that regular apartment door. We were conjecturing about the door—that people leave the door open and still get ventilation.

But you don’t need a vaulted bar cage to guard an apartment. It’s the only thing that makes sense.

Who lives there? A hipster kid.

Oh, darn. So there’s no mystery. It must have been there when he moved in. Though maybe the hipster kid is a front. [Adley] I’ve run into him a couple of times. Whatever he does, he comes home with Barneys Co-op bags. His apartment is twice as big. I’ve heard some phone conversations, Rod Stewart coming out. [Chris] It’s not what you bargain for when you move to Chinatown.

What was he saying on the phone? [Adley] Oh, I wasn’t listening in.