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November 10, 2017 / Katie

The Truth About Chinese Takeout

Several years ago when I still lived in Yorkville on the Upper East Side (after I moved out of Chinatown), my parents came to New York to spend the Christmas holiday with me. On Christmas Day, as our family tradition dictates, we found a local Catholic church and went to mass at St. Monica’s. For some reason, the altar server helping the priest (he was too old to be called an altar boy) and his blonde bowl cut caught my attention. So later, after mass had ended and we had walked over to the bus stop to head to Christmas dinner, my parents and I both laughed with surprise when we realized the same altar server was now standing in the Chinese takeout next door. Mass had scarcely ended, and here he was, ordering beef chow mein in a puffer jacket and jeans instead of his long, white robe. He had changed clothes, slipped out the backdoor, and raced over to Szechuan Kitchen in less time than it took us to round the corner of 79th Street and First Avenue—he must of needed that moo shu pork real bad.

That memory, of all things, has lingered in the back of my mind as I spent the last year photographing and interviewing Chinese restaurant and takeout workers. The ‘Chinese Takeout’ project, as I’ve dubbed it, first took shape in Jimmy Briggs’s Social Change Journalism class at ICP and then blossomed during my time as a TED Resident this past spring. My work is not done yet—I discovered too many incredible stories and characters to condense the project into a concise photo essay (my original intent), so I am actively pitching a longform article that I hope to find a home for soon.

In the meantime, you can catch a first glimpse at a few of the stories I uncovered through this 6-minute TED Talk:

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