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Manhattan’s Shangri-La: The Columbus Park Pavilion

July 17, 2012

“Haven’t you ever dreamed of a place where there was peace and security? Where living was not a struggle but a lasting delight?” -Frank Capra

As the world’s most influential city, New York City has become an epicenter for global tourism.  Every year, over 50 million foreign and domestic visitors venture here for an opportunity to stare into the eyes of Lady Liberty, scale to the top of the great Empire State Building, and wander the effervescent streets of Time Square.  The city has no shortage of monumental landmarks, but sometimes the most popular sites aren’t always the most incredible.  Shrouded by the chaotic skyscraping jungle of lower Manhattan, the Columbus Park Pavilion might just be this metropolis’ hidden gem.

Situated at the intersection of Mulberry and Bayard St., Columbus Park Pavilion is a recently renovated community space located at the edge of Manhattan’s Chinatown.  Demographically, it is populated by seniors and young children of Chinese decent.  The area has a large fenced soccer field and basketball court.  There are tables scattered throughout, often occupied by locals playing checkers, cards, and other forms of recreation.  The landscape is dotted with soaring trees, large boulders, and benches, providing travelers with a place to escape the hustle-bustle environment of New York City.  A moderate sized social pavilion overlooks a square that is anchored by a twelve-foot bronze statue of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, a revolutionary leader who helped establish the Republic of China proceeding the fall of the Qing Dynasty.


Superficially, the Columbus Park Pavilion appears as just another inner-city recreational area, but when inquired beyond its facade, visitors realize there is something deeper here, something serene.  Much like the seductive music of the Greek mythological Sirens, a peaceful serenade surrounds the air here, slowly luring visitors inward.  As travelers curiously investigate the violin-like symphony produced by the Chinese erhu instrument, they will unknowingly wander into a land of vintage life.

We are often told that vitality is reserved for the young, but that notion only seems to be myth in Columbus Park.  Despite being dominantly occupied by seniors, the place is glaring with life.  People gather around crowded poker tables, shouting, laughing, and heckling as if they didn’t have a care in the world.  Children everywhere are joyfully frolicking about as they are chased by their ever-smiling grandparents.  Around the bend, a group of seniors sings karaoke and cracking jokes about their “American Idol-worthy performances.”  Up on the pavilion, a tai chi master instructs a new generation of practitioners, while a nearby admirer observes in near trance.  Looking over the fence, a father purposely plays clumsy goaltender as his two young sons fire soccer balls in his direction.  Over on the rocks, a man naps blissfully, enjoying what seems to be a warm summer afternoon dream.  As if lost in a dream ourselves, all the tourists here are evidently enchanted by the milieu.  As a comforting soft wind blows through, we suddenly realize, we’ve been here for hours, just staring, listening, and feeling, as if caught in an optical meditation.

To visit the Columbus Park Pavilion is to experience true community.  It is an avenue for travelers to learn, appreciate, and feel connected with Eastern society, outside of the capitalistic orientation of New York’s famous ethnic enclave.  Just being here promotes self-reflection, a measure of the true worth behind living and aging.  Tourism isn’t just about seeing sights, it’s about physical and personal discovery.  You won’t see any big skyscrapers or famous television personalities here, but you will see friendship, love, family, and happiness.  And aren’t those the things we yearn for most in life?  So the next time you’re in lower Manhattan, throw away that Lonely Planet guide book and just follow the music.  Perhaps it will lead you to Shangri-La.  –Ping Zhou

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