Monday, December 10, 2007

Mysterious Shopping in Chinatown

Doggy Kimona. $18-$25 from PEARL OF THE ORIENT.
by Anita Sarko

Between the generally awful food, the toxic shock of Chinese-produced toys and wretched memories of jury duty, it’s rare that the typical Manhattanite would consider Chinatown to be destination shopping. In addition, when fave Chinese one-stop shopping emporium, Pearl River, moved further north on Broadway, it seemed TOTALLY unnecessary to take that slow train or walk.

Alas: We were wrong. (Slap slap)

During my latest jury duty torture session, I found that I actually enjoyed my lunchtime strolls through the area. Therefore, I returned a few more times to REALLY peruse the offerings.

It was a gift shop, PINK COLLECTION INC. (75 Baxter St., 212.608.5666), that first caught my eye. Actually, it was the massive lit piggybank in the window. Once inside, I was mesmerized by not only all the porcine-themed merchandise, but the quality and uniqueness of their Hello Kitty items. For some odd reason, the owner banned me from shooting pictures of one wall. Even odder, he later changed his mind ... with much fanfare.
Baseball Pig nightlife. $35 from PINK COLLECTION INC.; atop Hello Kitty seat/playchest ($18).
Stuffed pig. $35 from PINK COLLECTION INC.
There was NOTHING inflammatory on the forbidden wall, nothing obscene, nothing embarrassing. There were just bedazzled tschostkes, as far as I could tell. “Why wouldn’t he let me photograph that wall before?” I asked the adorable salesgirl who was interpreting his directives. “I have no idea.” She laughed.

I stupidly wondered to myself (thankfully) why there were so many pigs ... until I remembered that this was the year of, according to the Chinese calendar. (Duh) Luckily, I asked the salesgirl her name before I left. “Kitty.” She replied. How perfect. “Goodbye Kitty.” (Bet she hasn’t heard THAT one before ...)

Cat grass was about the only thing missing from the exotic array of plants displayed at MANHATTAN FLORIST & GIFTS, LTD (878 Bayard St., 212.385.0003). Shoved into the cramped space were everything from Money Trees (“Those are for good luck”) to Buddha’s Hand (the weird fingered citrus fruits that have started to appear in posh groceries) to festive Holly adorned with berries in red or pink. If a vase of Holly is too mundane a hostess gift during the holidays, there’s always the Wow Factor attained by carting in a prehistoric looking Pitcher Plant.
Pitcher Plant. $32 from MANHATTAN FLORIST & GIFTS, LTD.
Money Tree. $20-$225 from MANHATTAN FLORIST & GIFTS, LTD.
These carnivorous oddities are part of the Venus Flytrap family and can grow to be large enough to not only solve insect problems, but actually ingest rodents. “Magazines and TV programs come in here all the time. So do movies.” The proprietress boasted. “They love to use our plants as props.” However, when I asked her to tell me which magazines, programs and movies, she looked at me like I was insane. “I CAN’T reveal their names!” She said firmly.

First the wall, now this: What ARE these people hiding?

The only thing kept hush-hush at the next interesting shop was the NAME. It had none. However, if you’re looking for really interesting and well-crafted Chinese shoes and slippers, go to the corner of Mott and Pell Streets. While on Pell, you might as well attend to the other end of your body since Pell is obviously Japanese hair-straightening central. There’s salon after salon after salon ...
Pink silk jacket with Velvet Centipedes and Heavy Embroidery. $85 from WHOLE WORLD FASHION BOUTIQUE, INC.
Shoe display. $28-$38 from Corner of Mott and Pell Streets.
I was so knocked out by the gorgeous fabrics and unique designs of the made-to-order clothing at MADAM DESIGN INC. (38 Mott St., 212.349.0818), I literally begged the owner, Susan Din, to let me take photos. She responded to my pleas with a look of extreme alarm. “Must paint a picture of computer so I can see!” She responded ominously. “PRINT a picture?” I asked.

“Paint! Paint! No picture! No picture!” She yelled. “Please?” I piteously nagged. “No!” She answered firmly, then pointed to a dress I had chosen. “No more of that material!” I gave up. Just so you know, this place is really worth checking out. Frockcoats are around $180 and custom silk Cheongsams go from approximately $280 (no piping) to $400 (single piping). Naturally, prices depend on the materials used.

Rose cut-velvet chiffon Cheongsam. $268 from WHOLE WORLD FASHION BOUTIQUE, INC.
“These are people from old country who think they’re still there.” Explained Carol Tsao, owner of the neighboring PEARL OF THE ORIENT GALLERY (36 Mott St., 212.267.5765). “They are afraid.”

“Don’t listen to them” said the man eating takeout next to her. “It’s legal HERE to take pictures!” “Outside.” Corrected Ms. Tsao. “But, if I’ve already asked and have been denied, I would show disrespect.” I suggested. They agreed. I guess the solution is just not to ask.

Anyway ...

If you need a gift for someone with a dog, PEARL OF THE ORIENT is the place to go. You will DIE when you see the Chinese and Japanese robes, jackets and kimonos in red, blue and green satin for Fido. The prices range from $5.99 to $40, depending on the clothing choice and the weight of the pooch.

Another great shop for humans is just down the block. And they let me take photos! WHOLE WORLD FASHION BOUTIQUE, INC. (17 A Mott St., 212.267.4210) is very big on velvet, cut velvet chiffons, embroidery and beading. “This is NOT Pearl River.” Owner Joy Chan explained. “Everything here is handmade. We have LOTS of beautiful things.” I absolutely agree.

Finally, I happened upon a clothing store with contemporary fashions that didn’t look cheap or feature Hello Kitty emblems. Both the knitwear and the coats were standouts at M.ZEN (8 Pell St., 212.227.1907) ... especially the coats. Italian-made and generally black, they are priced between $199 and $299. Helpful hints: Larger sizes go quickly and paying in cash will garner a discount of 10-20%.
"Doggie" models Chinese Robe. $30-$40 from PEARL OF THE ORIENT.
Black Coat. $199 from M.ZEN.
Jemy Dong models a sweater. $100 from M.ZEN.
When you need a breather from the perplexing inscrutableness of most of Chinatown’s shops and its shopkeepers, take yourself to TENREN TEATIME (79 Mott St., 212.732.7178) where you can sip or takeout the BEST bubble tea you’ve ever had.

The life-changing Vanilla Chai sells out early, but the melon milk shouldn’t be ignored. Make sure to get a VIP card to get a freebee small size after you purchase 10.

Psst! You can tell anyone you want about everything I’ve just told you. I am NOT afraid.