“Tashi delek!”

I got my haircut in Chinatown yesterday, as usual. I sat down in one of three barber chairs facing a mirror. I made several surreptitious glances in the mirror in front of me, at an old woman sitting next to me with her eyes closed.

She was not getting a haircut. She didn’t exactly look Chinese. I thought she looked vaguely like a North American Native American, but more Asian.

Her hair was parted down the middle and pulled back tightly into a bun held back with a piece of leather with a stick through it (I’m sure there’s a name for this thing, but I’ve forgotten what it is).

My haircut done, I stood up and looked down on the old lady. “Oh,’ I suddenly realized, “she’s wearing a long skirt with mismatched horizontal stripes of various colors on it. She must be Tibetan.” Actually I said the “Oh” out loud, as I was so surprised.

Her eyes opened and she looked up at me. I looked down and offered, “Tashi delek,” with a head bow.

Her eyes opened wide, as did the eyes of the young woman on the other side of her, getting a blow-dry. They both said the proper response at the same time, “Ta-SHI delek,” in surprise.

Then we chatted for a few minutes. The younger woman spoke English but the older lady did not. Had I been to Tibet? I hadn’t, but I explained that my first wife was Chinese and she introduced me to some Tibetans. One of them had taught me to say ‘tashi delek’, just so I could be friendly if I should meet Tibetans on the streets from time to time.

Did I live in Chinatown? No, I live way uptown. I come here because the haircuts are good and cheap.

Do you live in Chinatown? No, we live in Brooklyn but come here because the haircuts are good and cheap.

Do you make the annual march from the United Nations to the Chinese mission? And when is that?
Every August. I march but my mom can’t anymore.
The Chinese are taking over everywhere in Tibet. It’s harder to live there. More people are leaving.

I thanked them for the conversation, and they thanked me for being polite in Tibetan.

It’s about 20 years since Tsering taught me how to say that greeting. In that time I have shopped at a camping store that recently went out of business. Every worker there except the owner was Tibetan or Sherpa. I greeted them and they greeted me, every time I came in.

And roughly 15 years ago I got into a taxi. I looked on the driver ID. His name was Tenzing. Through the partition I said, “Tashi delek.”
He responded, “Tashi – WHAT??!”

New York Rocks!

Geologic info about NYC structures:

From Canada: The first floor exterior of the Chrysler Building is faced in labradorite, a very shiny dark stone with large greenish black crystals.

All the stone around Bethesda Fountain, except for the stairs themselves, is New Brunswick sandstone. Unfortunately sandstone is a porous, soft rock, and it was badly eroded before they rebuilt Bethesda Arcade 10 or 12 years ago. The third arch in on the right side coming from the stairs has a big hole in it!


I think the stairs at Bethesda Fountain are Massachusetts granite. I think also that the steps at the 6th Avenue entrance by the Jose Marti statue are Massachusetts granite as well. I haven’t researched either of these. Does anyone know?


The Brooklyn Bridge is mostly steel, but the towers are Maine granite and Essex County, New York, limestone. The blocks are held together by Rosendale cement, a natural cement made of dolomite, from Rondout Creek up in New York’s Catskill Mountains.

Indiana in Midtown:
17 of the 18 structures in Rockefeller Center are faced with Indiana limestone, specifically Bedford limestone, as seen in the movie Breaking Away.
(The Switzerland building is faced in Swiss marble.)
A cool thing to do with student groups is to have them aim their phones at any wall of the limestone above the granite, and photograph it up close. Then ‘unpinch’ the photo and see actual fossils from the bottom of a shallow ocean that covered the whole region around where the Great Lakes are. Those creatures lived around 250 million years ago. The most recognizable ones are bryozoans, which look like miniature coral.

The Empire State Building is also faced with Indiana limestone. The various kinds of marble in its lobby come from different countries. Swiss people and Irish people swear up and down that it’s Swiss or Irish. And we Irish, by the way, really know how to swear.

Speaking of the Irish, St Patrick’s Cathedral was begun in 1859 but construction was halted when most of the workers went to fight in the American Civil War. As a gesture of healing when construction resumed, the Gothic arches of the windows and doorways are of Tennessee marble from the South. The exterior walls are of Indiana limestone from the North.

Long Islanders:
Tens of thousands of houses were built in Nassau County after the Second World War. Long Island is made of pebbles pushed down from Quebec and Ontario, by 2-mile-high glaciers, during the four ice ages. Most of the pebbles are yellow or white quartz.
There are still a few sidewalk slabs around town that are made of the gravel dug up to clear space for the basements of all those houses on Long Island.
There’s a good number in Brooklyn Heights, for instance on Orange Street right outside the Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims. But really, they’re found all over town.

Ohio in the financial district:

Besides the Society of the Cincinnati plaque at Federal Hall, the Federal Reserve is faced with Ohio sandstone.

Connecticut provided most of the brownstone that was used for townhouse facades between 1840 and 1900.

Has your area contributed to the rock of New York City? Please tell us about it in the comments section!

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