Day 72: Frilly Philly to Cheeky Chicago

Most visitors to the US would not normally include Philadelphia on their list of must-sees, but Americans would find that Philadelphia is representative of what would be considered an all-American city. Its early history certainly rivals that of Boston, the industrial golden age was built there, and it has deep connections to the 60’s era of rock and roll.

The weather over the weekend didn’t help the gray color of the city, but a strange injection of pink showed up in unsuspecting places. First it appeared in the fountain at City Square, then later.

As I meandered over towards Chinatown, I discovered how universally consistent the food, services and physical environment were to those elements in other Chinatowns around the world. Perhaps the similarities were more so in American-style Chinatowns because of their vintage, but they also appeared in latter-day Chinatowns in other cities like London, Sydney, Auckland, and Zurich. The money spent in Chinatown gets recycled a number of times before discharging out into the rest of the world, so there are social, economic and political spinoffs to keeping purchases within the community. It also keeps prices dirt cheap and affordable. Maybe this contributes to the common look and feel of each community.

I wondered where the Chinese get the recipes for old standbys like dim sum, egg tarts and Ho fun? Internet?? A Master Martin Yan chef who qualifies and certifies chefs for consistencies and maintains an archive of secret recipes? An underground triad network of chefs who kung-fu chops you off the list if you are non-compliant to the recipes honed since the Sung Dynasty?

I found this question very intriguing and mysterious. Maybe there was some giant alien spaceship distribution point near that town in New Mexico that delivers the stuff from outer space or the shopkeepers secretly 3-D print the food at Kinko’s for Chinese dim sum subscribers.

While I was eating my comfort breakfast of shrimp noodle and rice congee with pork and 1000-year old egg, a young 30-something Asian male entered into the fluorescent pink dim sum shop. He was meeting a middle-aged man in a suit. He ordered an Avocado smoothee that the shopkeeper behind the counter repeated: “Avocado?” “Yeh. Smoothee.”

I eavesdropped. The smoothee drinker was advising an older man on how to get a life insurance broker’s license. He explained that, with a license, you can advise people on Obamacare and rake a $50 service charge. They carry on their conversation about details, percentages and commissions.

Later that day, we initiated our first major overnight adventure on Amtrak from Philadelphia to Chicago. Here are a few starter shots. Watch for the USA-Russia cross-country train competition ahead.

Scenery along the way:

The train:

2 thoughts on “Day 72: Frilly Philly to Cheeky Chicago”

    1. I will be comparing Amtrak to the Trans Siberian Express before I complete this year’s world tour, so stay tuned. You can read the early August posts along the Trans-Mongolian Express.


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