Just after sunrise, pairs and trios of Chinatown residents enter Ping Tom Memorial Park. As we walk and stretch, the tiger lillies unfurl. The prairie is dense with yellow, purple and orange blooms. By midmorning, children leap out of their strollers and clamber onto the jungle gym. By noon, meditative wanderers perch on rocks by the river. Low slung and extra long tug boats putter upriver heaped with mounds of sand. If we’re lucky, we see the ancient bridge house lift into the sky. At the height of the day’s heat or chill, we retreat to the circle of protective southern trees and listen to the trains bleat. Come evening, couples from all over Chicago marvel at the immense and intricate murals in the park. They stroll and hold each other as the panoramic view of downtown starts to glitter on the darkening sky.
In Ping Tom Memorial Park, a certain slope is often dotted with picnickers, perhaps slicing bread and butter, but more likely munching on some of Chinatown’s unparalleled takeout (such as Yummy Yummy Noodle’s bitter melon with egg, or Ken Kee Restaurant’s pork intestine). On this hill one chilly day last November, my brother ducked the wind to take photos as his wife wedded my partner and I. The century-old St. Charles Air Line Bridge bore witness to our chattering vows. Later, we said cheers over steaming hot pot.
Ping Tom Memorial Park is steps from our home. My partner and I walk there nearly every morning, sometimes separately and often together. We loop around that hill on our way to the red bridge from which I once spotted a turtle sunning itself. That is an auspicious sign for endurance and longevity, I think. In any case, I rise in the mornings to walk and slowly stretch and slightly dance alongside my fellow Chinatown residents, before the rest of Chicago makes their way toward the serene Ping Tom Memorial Park.
Ping Tom Memorial Park, 1700 S. Wentworth Ave. 6am–10pm. chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/tom-ping-memorial-park