In Chinatown, a new fresco of noodles with notions of home


The locked doors of the former Ho Toy Noodle company now divide a painted fortune cookie. A golden strand of the cookie wraps around the corner of the building and flows into bowls of noodles. The mural, “Where We Belong” by the Thai artist Ponnapa Prakkamakul, stretches 150 feet through the walls of 79 Essex St. in Chinatown. Oxford Properties Group, in partnership with the Asian Community Development Corporation, ordered the mural and unveiled the finished piece on July 14.

Noodles, an iconic dish of Chinese cuisine, represent a sense of belonging to the community of Chinatown, whose locals strive to preserve its history and culture from displacement and gentrification. The Chinese name for the mural – “Gui Shu, Gui Su” – means belonging to a place of return, destination and support.

A corner view of “Where We Belong” by Ponnapa Prakkamakul.Katy rogers

“The meaning behind the name is in response to the gentrification of Chinatown, not only of the Chinese community, but of all nationalities – that it is a neighborhood they belong to,” Prakkamakul said in a statement.

Prakkamakul collaborated with the A-VOYCE program of the Asian Community Development Corporation, asking young people in the Chinatown neighborhood to share their favorite traditional noodle dishes. At the workshop, they drew wedding noodles, New Year’s noodles, birthday noodles – comfort foods from their childhood. Each responded to the prompt with their own catch, drawing meandering, mixed bowls or crisscrossing lines topped with scallops.

Judy Wong, calligrapher and president of the Boston Chinese Calligraphy Association, translated their stories of family traditions and childhood nostalgia into Chinese and English texts. “We would have noodles every week,” reads the mural. “I was hungry so I drew more noodles,” reads another from a student in the workshop.

Prakkamakul also used reviews from the Ho Toy Noodle company as inspiration for the project and noticed themes of sharing, generosity and trust. These keywords were painted in little golden bulbs along the edges of the noodle strands. She wanted to emphasize the importance of family businesses in sustaining the Chinatown community.

Ponnapa Prakkamakul's mural
Ponnapa Prakkamakul’s mural “Where We Belong” at 79 Essex St.Katy rogers

When she started the project in June, pedestrians seemed not to notice the artist working around the clock. She said people used the road as a shortcut, rushing past the building. But as she added more color and text, people started to slow down, “like walking in a museum.” And if they walked in groups, they stopped to talk about the fresco.

In an interview last week, Prakkamakul said: “I almost feel like the street is transformed from a shortcut into a space where people can relax.”

Kyung Mi Lee can be contacted at [email protected]

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