The last decade has seen Chinatown evolve into Asiatown - with Korean bul gogi sputtering raw on grills, Burmese potato dumplings hopping in woks, Tibetan tea slippery with salt and butter, Vietnamese sugar cane seeping shrimp mousse, and sushi and pad Thai selling on every corner. The hybrid Asiatown may soon make cutlery extinct on this island, in favour of the chopstick. Once, it would have been possible to drape a London- style archway over Canal Street and to pretend that the jaunty red trestle signified some kind of focus, an x-marks-the-spot, a limit. But in New York today, every road leads to Mandalay, and if it's not simmered in coconut milk and steeped in lemongrass, New Yorkers aren't eating it. It was only a matter of time before the monsoons arrived, which they have done with a vengeance this summer (Hurricane Fran only last week) and then, of course, came the rickshaws. Last year, an enterprising company called Ponycab released a fleet of pastel-lacquered bicycle-propelled pedicabs on the city, aiming to attract a politically correct, fuel-economising, downtown-visiting public. At first PC downtowners balked at making a grown man cycle his legs off but lately, weakened by the late summer heat, New Yorkers have succumbed, and are falling damply into Ponycabs everywhere, journeying from their favourite dim sum hangouts to their most trustworthy condensed-milk-with-bean-sprout-and-jelly-candy dessert drink spas for 50 cents a minute (cheaper than a cab). Riding in cushioned, open cabs at a pace that allows window- shopping and shameless ogling, clients let the breeze blow away the guilt of making some poor sod Fred-Flintstone them around town.
"It's really not that hard," Bill Sennett insists, as he pedals. It's 35 degrees and the back of his T-shirt simmers with sweat. Cars honk and screech, swerving to dodge his baby-blue cycle as he pedals a sloppy arc across six lanes of traffic. "People think we're suffering," Sennett continues. "Who's suffering?" Apple-cheeked, light of hair, dressed entirely in blue - shorts, sneakers, sunglasses - he doesn't look mournful. "This is exercise. It's theatre on wheels." He tells of the time a passenger surprised his wife at work with a pedicab ride, a rose, and two glasses of wine. Then he jingles a bell on his handlebars. "The ladies like the bell," he confides. "I gotta watch out, though; if I do it too much, the kids come up wanting ice cream." Apart from confused children, Sennett's job has only one other hazard: garrulous Asian clients. "Every time, they tell me: "Hey, we use rickshaws in my country." He harrumph:, "I'm like, I know already!"Reuse content