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Boston Chinatown’s gaming tradition

Mary Soo Hoo Park hosts intense Xiangqi matches.

Mary Soo Hoo Park is like the foyer for two of downtown Boston’s biggest draws. It lies at the base of the gate on Beach Street that welcomes visitors to Chinatown. And it kicks off the Greenway from the south, the first emerald in a necklace the city is still learning how to wear. Named in honor of a longtime community activist, Mary Soo Hoo Park was just renovated. It’s not a big place, at 0.082 acres, but within its vibrant red fence is a bit of space to breathe. The park’s tables, which sit in the shadow of a massive highway vent, play host to fierce games of Xiangqi, otherwise known as “Chinese chess,” a shared social tradition amid the bustle of neighborhood commerce. The men who play, and those who huddle around to watch, banter between moves (and in some cases between drags on their cigarettes). Despite the incessant car horns and the putt-putt of diesel delivery trucks, you can hear, if you’re close enough, the faint sound of game pieces being slid across the board by weathered hands.

Scott Helman is a Globe Magazine staff writer. He can be reached at shelman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @swhelman.WHAT DO YOU HEAR? Send ideas to shelman@globe.com.
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