The first ‘American’ opium den was opened in Mott Street in the 1880’s where Bohemians would dream on divans alongside the criminal classes. George Appo the infamous conman and pickpocket squandered a fortune there. Around this time Tommy Lee ruled the dominant ‘On Leong’ gang thus controlling all activities (commercial, gambling, dives and dens) in the vicinity. He also wielded the powerful Chinese vote. Subsequently Mr. Lee was dubbed “The Mayor of Chinatown”. But the region’s true villains sprang from the Five Points (intersection of Mosco, Worth, Baxter Sts.), a diabolical section that spawned the legendary gangs: the Pug Uglies, the Dead Rabbits and the Shirt Tails.
In contrast to CHINATOWN’S unsavory past I have chosen the Mahayan Buddhist Temple located on Canal Street before the Manhattan Bridge. A true oasis of calm exists inside. The temple’s interior is lavishly decorated in vivacious magentas and gold trim with paintings of various bodhisattvas on the walls. Center-stage, a huge golden Buddha sits in a lotus position. Pick up a fortune scroll or simply enjoy the serenity before heading off towards the markets.