If I was alone, I would have never let the man lead me into the bowels of Chinatown. With my luck, a raid would have happened and I would have found myself being hauled away and deported back to China, where incidentally, I am not from. But I was not alone. I was with my big white Bwana--who claimed he could probably fight off at least 50 Asian men if things turned ugly. So, when a man approached us saying he knew where to find good stuff, we followed him. At first we were circumspectly walked around in circles, ostensibly he was getting expert opinion as to whether we were under-cover cops or not.
Apparently we got the "ok" and we were shepherded to an unmarked warehouse with an old fashioned freight elevator. We were cranked up to about seven floors and brought to a locked room that opened with a secret coded knock. We were ushered into a tiny room, the door quickly locked behind us. I half expected the torture session to begin but instead a slight Asian woman asked us: "What do you want?"
She was referring to a wall of designer purses.
Sidebar: ever since designer knock-offs have been linked to organized crime and terrorist funding, I've sworn off my purse addiction.
And yet last October 28th in NYC, there we were, in search of Dooney and Burkes at the request of the ladies at Steve's practice. We did not find what they wanted. After perusing the goods and not purchasing in bulk--we were no longer afforded the luxury of the crankable elevator.
Instead we were directed to the stairs. We passed at least a hundred fifty people working silently at their sewing machines, churning out designer goods that are hawked all over the country in large black plastic bags.
Some of them looked up from their work albeit curiously, while the rest simply ignored us. They may not have been handcuffed to their Singers but their shoulders expressed resignation, and their eyes, emptiness.
There was no raid that day. But I left thinking of all those people in that warehouse. I wondered if their migration to America improved their life, or if it ended up being a lateral move-- except now they are removed from a people and place they are not foreign to.