TRAVEL BY DESIGN
UNCOVERING EXOTIC TREASURES IN
During the Han dynasty (206 b.c. – 220 a.d.), the trade route known as the Silk Road stretched from China to points west as far away as India, Egypt, Persia, Arabia and Rome. These civilizations were influenced by China trade, which brought them silk, jade, porcelain and tea – not to mention philosophy and technology. The Chinese returned home with exotic flora and fauna, minerals used to make indigo glazes, rare gems, iconography and a knowledge of cartography never before seen.
Today's Silk Road adventure is a mere train ride from Connecticut, shorter and more comfortable than camel back, but no less fascinating. When we think of Chinese culture certain images appear – silk, jade, tea, pearls, kung fu and many more. With this in mind, I've noted some of my favorite stops to visit on your next Silk Road tour of New York City's Chinatown.
Jade remains a constant fascination because it's a stone of many virtues, among them the power to protect the wearer. My source for rare and original jade jewelry is Andy Ting of Jade Paradise (85B Bayard St., 212-406-9022). Ting has three decades of experience with jade and his vast knowledge, extensive collection, and old-world approach is a rare find among the hustle and bustle of Chinatown. Novice collectors can expect to find pieces at Jade Paradise for less than $200. Experienced collectors can find treasures that cost a king's ransom. I examined some breathtaking pieces from a cache reserved for his most serious clients. Ting is always hospitable and generous with his knowledge. If you seek more in-depth advice, call ahead to make an appointment and he can have translation available.
Pearls have been traded in Asia since they were discovered in 3500 b.c. With more than 30 years of pearl experience, Sandra Went of L.F. Lapidary (76 Bowery, 212-226-8113) provides custom services including grading, color matching and design. Went is a wholesaler who welcomes walk-ins with an appointment. Shoppers "in the know" keep her a closely guarded family secret, bringing their daughters and grand-daughters there for special occasions. Went designed a spring-time treat—a necklace of Keshi pearls and faceted peridot gem stones with 14K gold. It's my favorite pick for the season.
When I'm traveling and I find a painting or calligraphy I just can't live without, I have it un-mounted and rolled up. When I return home, I go straight to the trustworthy Simon Ho of Chinese Art, Supplies and Framing (7 Pell St., 212-219-2828). His tiny second-floor location is packed with original contemporary calligraphy, paintings from China and genuine Ming and Qing Dynasty porcelain antiques, as well as a variety of Chinese art supplies. Ho's expertise in Chinese literature, calligraphy and traditional scroll mounting are evident in his work. His humble shop belies his vast knowledge and the care he bestows upon every piece he frames.
Herbal medicine dates back thousands of years in China. Today, American and European surgeons are studying pain-free surgery techniques in China using only acupuncture. Frank, as he is known to his loyal patients, is the resident herbalist at Lin Sisters (4 Bowery, 212-962-5417). He explained the virtues of herbal tea and its ability to boost the immune system. Lin Sisters has never advertised—word of mouth has provided a steady business for over 20 years. Services provided include on-site diagnosis for herbal treatments, acupuncture and therapeutic massage. "Thirty years ago, acupuncture was illegal in America and today it's accepted by some insurance plans," explains Frank. "Americans are more open-minded today." He said people nowadays are interested in detoxification of the body, as much as they are about preventing and curing what ails them. With this in mind, Lin Sisters is my choice for curing what ails you.
Another way to stay healthy—in body, mind and spirit—is by practicing the art of Kung Fu. Bo Law Kung Fu (385 Broadway, 212-925-3339, www.bolawkungfu.com) provides instruction in classical Chinese martial arts for adults and children. The Essential Kung Fu Workout will provide you with a challenging new experience that can help you become stronger, focused and confident. You can call or visit their website to arrange a group or private trial lesson.
Chinatown is one of New York City's most fascinating cultural attractions, home to a diverse population. I hope that you take advantage of the treasures that await you on this modern Silk Road journey.