In the last few years, the brightest minds of the government of Mexico City decided to give the metropolis a motto. They chose Capital en Movimiento (Capital in Motion), although never explained just what that was supposed to mean. This buzzing bright sign with the blazing slogan is located on one of the inner-city freeways in the north of town. The photo was taken during rush hour, at about six in the evening, when traffic is so dense that “motion” is per centimenter.
Mexico City’s Chinatown, on Calle Dolores between Calles Independencia and Artículo 123, is all of one block long. I have eaten at several of the street’s restaurants, and the food was … edible. I practically grew up in New York’s Chinatown, so after moving here, missed Chinese food with great longing and nostalgia.
It took years, but I finally found an excellent Chinese restaurant in Mexico City. This is the signpost for Ka Won Seng. It is located at Calle Albino García #362, at the corner of Avenida Santa Anita in the Colonia Viaducto Piedad, not far from the Viaducto metro station.
Here, many of the customers are Chinese, who sit in groups of eight or ten at circular tables with Lazy Susans in the middle, gorging on a corresponding number of dishes. Among my favorites are the roast duck, the Singapore noodles, a spicy hot pot with tofu and eggplant, and the steamed pompano with ginger, scallions and soy sauce.
Unearthing this place is a story of blind luck. One afternoon I was in a taxi, stuck in traffic, and made conversation with the driver. He mentioned in passing that his sister had married a Chinese immigrant. I told him how much I loved Chinese food and how I hadn’t found a restaurant I liked in Mexico City. He suggested I go to Ka Won Seng – or at least I think he did, because he remembered neither the name nor the address of the place. He was only able to give me a vague idea of where it was located. I scoured the neighborhood on foot for an hour or two until I stumbled upon it.
In Mexico City — as well as other parts of the country — citizens are more accustomed to having what they think is Chinese food (chop suey and the like) in what are known as cafés de chinos (Chinese cafes). Some of these places date back to the 1920s, and were opened by Chinese who came to Mexico to build the railroads and stayed on. They tend to serve coffee, sweet rolls and enchiladas suizas as well as sloppy versions of ersatz Chinese cuisine. This sign, in the door of Ka Won Seng, warns all who would enter that there are no sweet rolls, coffee, or Mexican food available across its portals.
In the past 25 years or so, while on the job, Gregg Lucas has broken four ribs, both hands, both legs, dislocated his left shoulder and hurt his back so badly that he needed to wear a neck brace for eight months. Nevertheless, he says he loves his work – he’s an actor, model and stunt man – so much that he would never think of leaving show business.
Perhaps, however, he was thinking of hedging his bets when a couple of years ago he bought PIN Pollos, a chicken shack in the Colonia Roma on Calle Campeche, almost at the corner of Monterrey. The birds are marinated and grilled over a wood fire. You can have them delivered to your home if you live in the area, by calling 5574 6349. Sometimes the actor will bring them to your doorstep himself.
Lucas grew up in the U.S. but has lived in Mexico for the last 15 years. Here, he has modeled for Eagle Eye sunglasses, a brand of milk marketed to people over 40, and has even been the Marlboro Man. He’s appeared in various Mexican soap operas, and was “the first guy to get killed” in Matador, a Pierce Brosnan vehicle that was shot here.
He hopes to combine his two professions at some point. “I have an idea for a TV commercial,” he says, “where, to deliver a chicken, I get on a motorcycle, then a paraglide, then a jeep and finally on a horse.”
Centuries ago, when I first arrived in Mexico City, I asked my girlfriend at the time – she would later go on to be my wife and then my ex-wife – if she wanted anything from the corner store. She said, “Get me a Bubulubu.” Accent on the third “u.” I thought she was putting me on; making fun of the gringo. I’d go to the corner, ask the guy for a Bubulubu and he’d look at me like I was from Mars. How could anything called a Bubulubu exist? O ye of little faith. In fact the Bubulubu, advertised here as “much more than a chocolate,” does exist. It is a chocolate-covered marshmallow with a layer of jelly. Should you be interested in my ex’s rants on sundry themes, click here.
According to Forbes magazine, Carlos Slim Helú is the second richest man in the world, primarily due to his virtual monopoly of telecommunications in Mexico. Today, with the downswings in world markets, his net worth is a mere $60 billion. He lives in Mexico City, a metropolis where about half the citizens hover at the poverty level. As such, he was almost a comic-book villain for the chapter in my book about inequality.
Not long ago it surfaced that a “cybersquatter” from Jakarta named Ahmad Rusli bought the domain name www.carlosslimhelu.com, and proposed that the magnate should give up $55 million in exchange for the return of his moniker. If Slim refused, Rusli threatened to direct all traffic to that address to a porno site. (Given how obscenely wealthy Slim is, some might see poetic justice in the idea.)
However, a passel of Slim’s lawyers appealed to the U.N.’s World Intellectual Property Organization, which ruled that the domain had been registered in bad faith and should be returned to the entrepreneur free of charge. The story appeared in the Reuters web site on January 14. Click here to see it in English or here for the Spanish translation.