Tuesday, March 13, 2012

20 For the Price of 1-- Riding The Manhattan Chinatown To Flushing Bus

Well it took longer than I expected, but I finally made it onto the Chinese bus that runs between Manhattan Chinatown and Flushing Chinatown. For one thing, the one way fare is now $2.75 instead of $2.50, but it's still an amazing ride. I had used my previous visits to scout out how the bus operated. This was necessary because it's a rather unusual bus--the bus does not have markings saying where it goes, there are no marked bus stops, and the bus has no schedule but runs Disneyland style--the bus waits until it fills up, then an empty one pulls up behind it.

Shortly after arriving at my hotel in SoHo, I headed on out to the "bus stop". Sure enough there was a row of buses parked on Division St., a couple of people lined up in front of the lead bus, and a longer line behind the next bus. The lead bus appeared full so I got in line for the second bus. We started getting on the bus, and I made sure and asked the driver if this was the bus to Flushing. It was only a couple of minutes before all 20 seats were filled, as required for the bus to take off. With the bus holding 20 passengers and the fare of $2.75, the total fare for a full bus is $55, or exactly the same amount I paid the cab to ride from JFK into Manhattan the same afternoon. 20 for the price of 1, as compared to my single rider cab fare from the airport, is indeed a great value. We got to Flushing in about half an hour. However I've gone to Flushing often enough to know that the bus driver didn't get off at the regular exit from the freeway. Soon I saw he was driving through a residential neighborhood, rather than going to the commercial district, which I found interesting. He eventually stopped to let off a passenger--I don't know whether that was a regularly scheduled stop or by request. (My guess is the latter.) Shortly thereafter we were on Main St., and after a few more stops we reached our destination of 41st Ave.

The purpose of this trip to Flushing was to visit the food court at the New World Mall, which opened up this past summer. When the bus arrived at 41st Ave., I quickly made my way over to Roosevelt St. where the mall was (even though the mall's street address was Main St., a quirk of New York City's street address system). I had a little trouble finding the mall since I first went to the wrong part of Roosevelt, then ultimately discovered that the entrance was half a full block up from Main St. I had previously visited the other Chinese food courts of Flushing, which could be generously described as dives, if not worst. However, this food court is really nice, reminiscent of the food courts one finds in enclosed shopping malls.

The New World food court has 30 different eating places, but I had also done my homework about the mall and found that there were a large number of eateries I wasn't interested in--Sichuan style, Japanese, Korean, etc. Consequently the number of targets was much smaller. My first stop was Noodle Village where I spied the fish cake soup. It was really good--large, rectangular slices of fish cake cooked almost until they were crispy. Next was Hottest 86, not so named because they served spicy food, which they don't, since it's Hong Kong style, but because, well who knows why? (The 86 does refer to their main location on 86th St. in Brooklyn.) There I had the fish fillet in black bean sauce with the crispy coating which was pretty good. Also picked up the glass noodle soup from Sliced Noodle which was great when I sampled it on the spot. I also bought snacks for later, including a pumpkin pastry at Tianjin Foods, and a salty/sweet rough flatbread from Casserole Big Bowl of Noodles. I headed back to 41st Ave. to catch the bus back to Manhattan. This was a little more confusing because I poked my head into the first bus in line, and when I asked the driver whether this was the Manhattan Chinatown bus, he replied "Brooklyn." (Good thing he spoke English.) He then directed me to third bus in line, and I rode back to Manhattan.

While this may sound silly, riding the Chinatown to Flushing bus and visiting the New World Mall food court was a dream come true. I am really impressed with the Chinese bus to Flushing. It's incrementally more expensive than taking the subway to Flushing, which costs $2.25 on the #7 train, but it cuts travel time in half and makes Flushing more accessible to Manhattan than I would have imagined.

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