Photo Illustration: Curb; Photo: Courtesy of Theme
New York“21 Questions” is back with a focus on creative New Yorkers. Runs Ruoyi Jiang Chop Sue Cluba Lower East Side boutique that sells Chinese fashion, home goods and arts and hosts adjoining parties and mah jong nights.
Noun: Ruyi Jiang
Neighborhood: Lower East Side
works: Founder and Director of Chop Suey Club
What’s hanging over your sofa?
I don’t have a sofa at the moment, but there is a piano with a bench in the living area, and above it hangs a drawing of my friend William Puccina, a wonderful artist. Swap the fee for a month of subletting in my old apartment.
What was your first job in New York?
My first paid gig in New York was as a photographer on set for a student film at New York University. At the time, I was hanging out with people on the Film Masters program.
What color have you always been attracted to?
Purple, orange and gray. Purple is the color that I find interesting to look at. There is something a bit mysterious about this. I find it very exciting. I love the vibrant energy of orange. It really goes with everything. Gray is soothing. I’m renovating my shop now, and the entire space is in silver and gray.
What art or artifact are you most surprised by?
I have some embellishments by photographer Ren Hang. I got it from an art bookseller in China shortly after Hang’s death, when there was still some work available, but now it’s impossible to find. They are very thin brochures made up of his photos. Each of them is named after a month, but I think he only made them until November. Each month’s format and style is different, and they’ve only made 100 copies each month. I couldn’t believe I laid my hands on them.
Which New Yorker would you like to hang out with?
The first person that comes to mind is Pete Davidson. He looks kind of aloof, and there’s just something about him being totally New York cold. He doesn’t take himself too seriously and opens up about his own thoughts and vices. He seems like a fun person to smoke with.
What is the last thing you made with your own hands?
While I was in a restaurant waiting for the check, I was playing with napkins and making little animal figures.
Is there one thing you own multiple copies of?
It’s totally random, but I have three copies of Kae Tempest’s poetry book Olds brand new. I bought one when I was in Greece, because I knew their work and liked the cover, which has decorative motifs used in pottery. A friend gave me one. I found one left behind by a roommate. They are all designed a little differently, which I find very interesting.
What is the New York City Museum you always come back to?
The Met, because it gives me an excuse to also go to Central Park.
What do you always have next to your computer?
I have a copper Zippo lighter that my friend gave me. I love opening and closing it.
What is the best view of the city?
Standing in front of 169 bars on East Broadway looking west, you see these layers of New York architecture: Chinatown residence buildings, the Manhattan Bridge, the city council district with neoclassical buildings, and steel and glass skyscrapers. I find it surreal. For me, it’s a snapshot of New York.
What building or object do you want to redesign every time you see it?
At the moment, what stands out most to my eyes are those sculptures on Allen Street between Canal and Delancey. Some of them are pretty terrible! They appeared overnight two months ago. I guess other people here don’t like them either, because a lot of them were instantly destroyed. New York can do much better with its public art. People see more public art than in a museum. Don’t you want to put something good here? Something that represents the neighborhood?
What is the one thing you would change in your field of work?
I have a big problem with fast fashion. Working in retail, the thing that always bothers me is how the clothes go down after a season. It makes no sense to me. Just because new things appear, aren’t old clothes good anymore? It is good and as needed. I understand that the store needs cash flow and that customers want more fashionable things and gravitate towards the new, but it creates a huge burden.
If you could live anywhere in New York City, where would it be?
Where I live now: The Lower East Side. My shop is here, and it’s right next to Chinatown, where there is such a strong sense of culture and I can get groceries and delicious food at reasonable prices. Historically, the Lower East Side is an immigrant neighborhood, and being from China, I feel a familiarity with that. Over the past few years, a lot of people have moved into the area – downtown kids, new stores, new restaurants – and we have a lot of neighborhood friends, residents, and business owners who stop by and say hi.
What would you store if it stopped being produced?
coffee and cigarettes.
What do you do to get out of a creative rut?
I talk to friends or people a bit to distract my feelings from being limited by what I was thinking.
Where was your first apartment in New York City and how much was the rent?
It was in Greenwich Village around 2010, when I was going to NYU. The rent was $2100 for a one bedroom that I shared with my friend at the time. It was expensive, but we got free internet from the nearby law school.
In which city do you go to be alone?
It was a spot in my shop before it was renovated. On the second floor, I had a slight view from above from the window, which faces the corner of Orchard and Hester. When I was sitting at my desk, I could see everything that was going on at the crossroads and no one could see me. I was playing music, and it felt like my own little world, where I could do whatever I wanted.
What’s the worst advice you got in your career?
When my mom felt I was working hard, she said I should find a rich man to help smooth things out. Being a mother, she didn’t want me to suffer. But that’s not for me, and it doesn’t work the way you think it does. Maybe he can help me financially, but in the end he is not there to help me improve myself.
What have you given someone that you wish you could get back?
I have no regrets for what I gave.
What’s your favorite NYC restaurant and regular ordering?
Waila, a Thai restaurant on Forsyth Street. I find all his food incredibly delicious. I love trying new things, but I always order the crab fried rice too.
What descriptive phrase would you like in your obituary title?
Something about having a good time – “Oh, that was fun.”