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The South Side’s destination treasures: Tasting Chinese culture close to home

Wed, Jul 10, 2013

Although the CTA’s South Side Red Line is under construction for the summer, it’s still easy to get to Chinatown, although the Cermak-Chinatown stop is among those temporarily closed. Just get off the Red Line at Roosevelt, one stop further north, and catch the CTA No. 62 bus southwest to Archer Avenue.

In 1993, the City of Chicago along with the Chinese community completed Chinatown Square, which starts at 2100 S. Wentworth Ave. and extends south. The two-level commercial center includes many shops and restaurants. In the very heart of the center is the Pan Asian Cultural Center, which is surrounded by bronze statues that represent the 12 signs of the Chinese Zodiac. The plaza is the site of performances and events throughout the year.

As I strolled the square, delightful scents of Asian cooking wafted from each storefront and barbequed duck and chicken were hanging in the windows. I stopped into all sorts of candy and trinket stores before settling at Chi Café in Chinatown Square. On the waiter’s advice, I ordered the fried fish in saki sauce, and my friend ordered the sizzling beef. I would recommend both, which are reasonably priced at about $8 each.

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Just down the street from Chinatown Square is the Nine Dragon Wall, which is usually the first sight for people getting off the Red Line at the Cermak-Chinatown station. Ancient Chinese believed that the number nine was the most prestigious number and that the dragon was the soul of all creation. The nine dragons are supposed to bring good fortune for visitors to the wall.

The Chinatown Gate, completed in 1975, serves as the entrance to the “old” Chinatown on Wentworth Avenue. Because it is a modest storefront, you might miss the Buddhist Temple at 2249 S. Wentworth, but the temple features a variety of statues and is the perfect place to meditate.

Ping Tom Park is about 12 acres of green space along the Chicago River north of Archer Avenue. It is accessible by Water Taxi along the river at Michigan, Madison, LaSalle/Clark Streets and North Avenue. The Chicago Park District plans events and festivals throughout the year.

The Chinese American Museum of Chicago, located at 238 W 23rd St., suffered a terrible fire in 2008 but reopened in 2010. Its focus is “the Great Wall to the Great Lakes:” immigration and creation of a culture in the Midwest. Current exhibits explain Chinese festivals and offer oral histories and stories of larger family associations. Admission is $5 and $3 for students and seniors.

The Chinese Cultural Institute, 2130 S. Wentworth, offers 90-minute walking tours on weekends (10 a.m. Fri/Sat/Sun) through the summer. Cost is $10 and reservations can be made by calling 312.842.1988 (chinatowntourchicago.com).

The annual Chinatown 5K & Youth Run will be July 13. Its objective is to promote Chicago Chinatown and encourage community participation. To register, go to Chinatown5k.com.

By Torey Darin
StreetWise Editorial Intern

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