Sometimes, you do things that make you appreciate where you are, and remember why you choose to live there.
This weekend I visited Flushing Meadows Corona Park for the annual Cinco de Mayo festival. Flushing Meadows is the largest park in Queens, and 1.5 times the size of Central Park. The park is well known due to its proximity to Shea Stadium and the World Tennis Center as well as its famous structures: the Unisphere that stands as a symbol of Queens and the ancient towers leftover from the World's Fair that we all know as an "alien launch pad" in Men In Black.
Ironically enough, this park is right in my backyard...about a 10 minute drive away (yes I drive, one of the perks of being in the outer boroughs!), yet I had never been there until yesterday.
The Cinco fest was so much fun! It was a beautiful day, a beautiful park, and so many families were out. Little kids were whizzing by on skateboards and bikes, men were playing cricket and soccer, and even some pot-bellied old Mexicans were getting in on volleyball games. Spanish was definitely the first language for most of the people around us.
As we got nearer to the actual festival, foreign ballads lofted over from the concert stage, and the food stands came into view. Yummmm. We sampled as much as possible -- arepas (sweet cornmeal pancakes filled with mozzarella), chicken empanadas (one of my favorite Spanish foods) and tamales (steam cooked corn dough stuffed with peppers wrapped in corn husks). We tried on sombreros and pretended to fit in, and it was a grand ol' time.
It's times like this that make me really step back and appreciate the borough I've made my home in. Queens is the most diverse community in the country. That's something to be proud of. Living in a place like this, there is such a great opportunity to try and appreciate, if not understand, the cultures surrounding you.
A smattering of the cultures in the borough I call home:
Chinese - Flushing, Queens is a miniature version of Chinatown in Manhattan. When traveling down Main Street, the signs suddenly change to Chinese characters only...kind of difficult when trying to find a particular restaurant. I tried a "hot pot" meal for the first time in Flushing a few months ago, and it was so interesting. You order everything raw...chicken, shrimp, beef, blood (eeek, who knew people wanted to eat that?!). It comes to the table in heaping plates, and you sit around the table and cook your food over a communal "hot pot" of sauce. Personal party rooms hooked up with karoke add to the vibe.
Hot Pot City
40-33 Main St.
Flushing, NY 11354
Disciples of Sri Chinmoy - A large group of around 300 devout European followers of Bengali guru Sri Chinmoy call my neck of Jamaica home. They shun drinking and honor extreme athletics and discipline for the guru, once called by the Wall Street Journal, "the stunt man of the spiritual world." Each year, the disciples run the longest foot race in the world. Called the Self-Transcendence Race, each participant runs 3,100 miles...long enough to cross the country and then some...yet the race course is a single city block. They loop around my neighborhood from 6am to midnight everyday for nearly 2 months, logging at least 57 miles per day in a goal to move beyond themselves and do the near impossible through meditation. Amazing to see.
loop around Thomas A. Edison Vocational Technical High School
165-65 84th Ave.
Jamaica, NY 11432
June 15- August 5, 2008
Japanese - I had never eaten sushi until college. I had never eaten Thai food before college either. Kyoto has both, and their lunch special can't be beat. The intimate seating and decor are very calming and zen, and I can always find something unique and tasty to try here, no matter what kind of appetite I have.
153-11 Union Turnpike
Flushing, NY 11367
Jewish - Jamaica Estates and Fresh Meadows both have large communities of Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish families. In fact, the Jewish community center near my apartment was supposedly featured once on The Nanny. You know..."the flashy girl from Flushing, the Nanny named Fran..." The neighborhoods in J.E. and F.M. are immaculate. It's quiet, the streets are tree-lined, and everyone goes for strolls. I love walking through the neighborhoods and checking out the beautiful old homes. Cunningham Park, a large park in the area, is my fav for summer jogs, picnics, frisbee and having catches.
Union Turnpike near the intersection of Francis Lewis Blvd.
Fresh Meadows, NY 11366
Czech - The last remaining original beer garden of the city is located in Astoria. Called the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden, this beer lover's paradise is a piece of NYC history. Try out the thick and delicious Eastern European brews, and try the Czech food specialities. The beer garden is the place to be all summer...get there early or don't expect a seat in the large picnic-table filled outdoor oasis.
Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden
29-19 24th Ave.
Astoria, NY 11102