I made the short drive to Beantown, my head in a cloud. I would spend the weekend trying to process what happened and pondering the next steps. I also needed to rest and ice my wrist, in order to relieve the pain and reduce the inflammation. Once I drove into the city, I was greeted by an elegant arch, flanked on both sides by bronze statutes .
Unlike DC’s tiny and rapidly diminishing enclave, Chinatown Boston has created a strong foothold since the late 19th century, it is now the only surviving Sino-Chinese community in New England. In the mid 1800’s, the lure of gold and construction of the transcontinental railroad brought the first wave of Chinese immigrants to America. The Chinese were paid lower wages than their counterparts causing the Whites to begin fearing for their jobs resulting in anti-Chinese sentiment. To escape the discrimination, many of the Chinese moved east and their communities became increasingly segregated. The first Chinese migrated to Boston from San Francisco in 1870 to break up a strike at the Sampson Shoe Factory.
Chinatown along Harrison Street was created due to the anti-Chinese movement and the desire to separate the community from the rest of the city. But today, the opposite is happening. In Chinatowns all across America, gentrification has taken hold and the Whites and Wealthy are steadily moving back in. Since the beginning, the Chinese have weathered a lot of cultural challenges and abuse in America, but thankfully, today, Americans have prudently learned to embrace the heritage and cuisines imported from mainland China.
Such is the case of dim sum. In ancient China, weary travelers trekking the Silk Road to Europe stopped along the way at roadside tea-houses for rest and replenishment. Several hundred years later, restaurants in Hong Kong, adding the freshest ingredients, refined the dishes to a classical culinary art form The delicious recipes were exported to the U.S. when thousands of Chinese immigrated to San Francisco during the Gold Rush of the 1850’s. Now it is a staple in every excursion to Chinatown.
Thankfully, there are several high-profile dim sum eateries in Boston. Famished and forlorn, I entered the very first eatery I stumbled upon. The establishment appeared modest from the outside but once inside the atmosphere transformed into a banquet hall filled with communal tables packed with multi-generational families. Hei La Moon is a highly-rated sprawling, bi-level banquet hall filled with office workers, tourists to wedding parties.
Usually there’s a long wait, but today my timing was fortuitous and I was able to secure a seat right away next to an Asian American couple with two young children. They appeared to be making light conversation while ordering everything that came over in boxy, stainless steel carts. I was given a paper ticket and a pot of tea while I waited patiently for the next cart pushed around by a lady yelling out her wares.
If you’re indecisive like me, you’ve come to the right place. The prices of each dish is so reasonable, you can usually afford to order everything that catches the eye. If you don’t like the fluffy steam buns (char siu bao) or the chewy, translucent skin in the shrimp dumpling (har gow), there’s no shame in leaving food untouched.
And you don’t need to speak a lick of Chinese to eat like a Hong Kongese. You can just wait for the steamy, hot carts to come to you with ladies yelling out their offerings and point to the dish that you’re eager to try. The server will stamp your sheet, and you’ll be rewarded with bite-sized morsels that serves it purpose in whetting my appetite. People start eating dim sum early in the morning. During the lunch hour madness, it can be quite a chaotic scene.
It’s better if you’re dining with others so you can order a wide variety and find something you like. Cheung fun (steamed sheets of filled rice noodles served with sweet soy), steamed pork ribs, chicken feet, tripe, congee with preserved egg, you name it. But even going solo, the portions are small enough that you can consume lots of dishes before you’re ready to take on your final round of dessert — normally an egg-filled custard that’s both crispy and sweet, washed down generously with miniature cups of boiling hot tea.
I started with the Char Siu Bao, (fluffy steam buns with pork) and Har Gow (shrimp dumplings wrapped by chewy, translucent skin). The couple next to me were chewing on Chicken feet and slurping congee. Next to the hot, simmering bowl, were long, golden brown strips of dough, deep fried and chewy called Youtiao.
“So do you guys come here, often?
“Well, we don’t live too far from here. We’re from South Shore and every time we’re in town, we make a beeline for Chinatown,” the young mother responded.
“Yeah, we like to get Dim Sum, since it’s four of us, so there’s something for everyone,” the father chimed in. “I couldn’t agree with you more. I like the convenience and you get full without breaking the bank,” I added.
“So do you live here?”
“No, I’m from DC. I’m actually in town because I have an arraignment on Monday in Hingham.”
“Really, that’s just down the road from us. We live in Quincy. What happened – do you mind if we ask?”
“Of course, not,” I replied. I straightforwardly started on a dramatic narration of yesterday’s events. The couple listened attentively over bites of small bites of Char Siu Bao and Har Gow.
They were familiar with Marylou’s and couldn’t believe they called the police on me.
“What a frivolous waste of taxpayers dollars. When you call the police, bad things can happen,” the husband remarked.
“I couldn’t agree with you more. If there are any issues, the first thing to do is approach the customer and let him know your concerns. Try to work it out first before calling 5.0”
“Absolutely, and even if you couldn’t come to terms, you always give the other party a heads up before calling the cops. If no one is been harmed, let them know ahead of time,” he added.
They wished me the best of luck, and I thanked them for hearing my story as I showed the waitress my bill filled with over a dozen stamps and handed her two dollar bills. What an enjoyable meal. The service wasn’t the best and neither was the cleanliness. But you go for dim sum not expecting white linen service. If you’re a dim sum enthusiast, it may not be the best tasting or freshest ingredients you’ve ever had, but if you want dim sum and you’re in Boston, Hei La Moon must be on your bucket list. I spent the rest of the day touring Boston. The next day, I would drive to Hull Beach so I could be ready for my arraignment on Monday.
The drive to Hull was serene and reflective. Contrary to what some out-of-towners may think, the name was not acquired from the hulls of hulking shipwrecks that dotted the coast near the Nantasket peninsular. Instead it is named after Kingston upon Hull in the United Kingdom. Hull used to be the playground for the rich and famous.
The super wealthy from all over New England vacationed here and stayed at beach-front homes. It was only an hours drive from Boston, and people could come here by car, train or ferry. Over a hundred years ago, Paragon Park was a popular amusement park with rides and entertainment for all ages. Tourists from all over flocked here in the summer to swim, relax and catch a thrill on the 98-foot wooden coaster, the tallest in the world.
[ Image: Paragon Park, circa 1980.png ]
Paragon Park, circa 1980
Sadly, much has changed over the years. Nantasket Beach rapidly started losing crowds to nearby Cape Cod with its increasingly-fashionable Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.
In 1984, Paragon Park closed, and the coaster was torn down and sold at an auction for a song and a dance to Six Flags in Bowie, Maryland.
In May 1975, to mark the 30th anniversary of the end of the Allied victory in World War II, two Soviet destroyers visited Boston Harbor for five days. The destroyers were the first Soviet ships to dock at a U.S. port since the beginning of the Cold War. Sailors were given a tour of the area including Nantasket Beach.
While the amusement was dead, the views were still in demand. The park was transformed into a condominium complex with breathtaking views of Nantasket Beach and Massachusetts Bay.
It was a prime spot, but developers fell on hard times with rising interest rates and an earth-shattering rash of foreclosures. Many of the condominiums were never built and today there is a large tract of vacant land that was once filled with rides and park goers. Thirty years later, there is not much here to attract tourism dollars – just the calming sounds of the ocean and the miles of secluded coastline. There are a few fancy restaurants to attract the deep-pockets and bars and night clubs for millennials to party at. Hull has slipped into a culinary wasteland with ample vacancy and distressed property that yearns to attract the lost crowd that once came in droves.
The only remnant of the historic park is the the carousel built in 1928. And even that is dilapidated and shows years of neglect. It’s a travesty, especially since Hull with it’s pristine beaches and treasured history has a lot to offer. That’s why I was both delighted and shocked that I would be one of the few lucky ones to be enjoying a cold-water swim catching a wave as I slowly made my way into the Massachusetts Bay.
I eased in. First my ankle, then to my knees, splashing water on myself to acclimate to the chilly water. The roaring surf did the rest. There was already someone else ahead of me. He was already chest-deep, body surfing, big smiles. “So how’s the water?” I inquired. “Chilly, but down right warm for this time of the year – we’ve had an unseasonable winter.”
“Oh yeah, where there aren’t a lot of swimmers out today – most are just relaxing in the sand.”
“Yeah, they’re waiting till August, the water will be a tad bit warmer then.”
“I’m Chito by the way,” I said reaching out my hand, still shivering from the cold. “Nice to meet you. My name is Tiger short for Jim Six Tiger”
“Pleasure is all mine. So what do you do? “I’m a firefighter and paramedic at the Scituate Fire Department.”
“Really, are you born and raised here?” “Not born, but have lived here most of my life. Started a family here.” “So what do you do – are you vacationing?”
“I’m a truck driver, but I’m here for another reason.” So, I gave my new friend Tiger my 5-minute narration as he listened and caught some waves.
“Yeah, it’s sad to say Bro, but I’m not surprised. That’s another reason to move back to the city – there’s little diversity here.”
“So my arraignment is tomorrow and I’m gonna fight the charges and defend my name.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong man no need to have a bullshit charge on you for that shit.”
“Yeah, so you’re familiar with the Rockland Police Department.”
“I’ve been around there. Unfortunately that’s the world we live in in a world where we have to be careful not to make white people uncomfortable”
The Court dropped two charges and kept the Disturbing the Peace (which is great news since Witness intimidation is a felony)
The Prosecutor told me that the DA would dismiss this charge if I pay $150. However the arraignment and the dismissed charge would show up on my record.
I told them I would rather have the charge dropped (not dismissed) which they refused. They begged me to pay the $150 for the dismissal but I held firm.
They then set the pretrial hearing to Sept 12.
I don’t qualify for a public defender so I told them I would represent myself. They also informed me that the max penalty of Disturbing the Peace is $150 (the same amount they wanted me to pay today)
The Prosecutor hinted (informally) that this charge would never go to trial (they have bigger fish to fry)
Good to hear. I was ready to hit the road. I had visited Cape Cod, Boston and Hull. Now I needed to visit another place that I visited many moons ago when I started in the Navy.