Another Day of Low Pay and High Risk
By COREY KILGANNON
The new deliveryman
stood in the cramped kitchen of the Ming Garden, a Chinese takeout restaurant
in Queens, on Friday and stared into the bubbling deep fryers and large
woks hissing and crackling with food and flaming oil.
The food was shoved into bins, cartons and bags and then handed to the
new worker, Hing Wong, 27, to be delivered on the rough streets of South
Mr. Wong had been hired three days earlier to replace Huang Chen, 18,
who on the previous Friday night was killed by two teenagers when he
delivered food to them. The youths wanted money for Air Jordan sneakers,
the police said, and robbed Mr. Chen of all he had: $49 in delivery
money. They beat him in the head with a baseball bat and stabbed him
in the chest to avoid being identified, the police said. Then they used
his car to take his body to a park and dump it in a pond. They were
arrested hours later, the police said.
Mr. Wong, a friend of Mr. Chen's who had been working at a restaurant
in a safer section of Jamaica, said he knew Mr. Chen's father, Xing
Shou Chen, who owns Ming Garden. For this reason, he agreed to replace
"My wife say, 'Deliver, no good, not safe,' " he explained
in broken English. "But I tell her, 'No problem. I know the area.
I take care of myself.' "
On Friday, Mr. Wong was concentrating only on three packages of steaming
food that were getting colder by the minute. Dressed in a white kitchen
smock and a black ski cap, he hopped into his Toyota, parked where Mr.
Chen had parked his Lexus a week earlier.
Mr. Wong put the food on the passenger seat and squinted at the order
forms. There was a chicken dish bound for a block where homes have heavy
iron bars on their doors and windows. There was a spicy beef dish headed
for the South Jamaica Houses project. And there was a chicken and broccoli
dish to be taken to Rochdale Village, the sprawling apartment complex
in South Jamaica where Mr. Chen was killed.
Mr. Wong agreed to take the job despite the pleas of his wife and his
parents. Many restaurants in rough New York City neighborhoods refuse
to deliver. But certain Chinese takeout places, like Ming Garden, on
Guy R. Brewer Boulevard across from Rochdale Village, say they rely
on their delivery business to make a profit.
Sometimes it is the deliveryman who pays. Mr. Chen was one of at least
four deliverymen killed on the job in southern Queens over the past
five years. Several others have been seriously injured after being called
and then beaten by people who placed the orders. Immigrants' advocates
say that countless other robberies and attacks have gone unreported.
In Mr. Chen's case, the police arrested Nayquan Miller, who lived in
the apartment where Mr. Chen was killed, and Charles Bryant, both 16.
They have pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, robbery, weapons
possession and tampering with evidence. They were charged as adults
and were being held without bail.
The crimes have reached a flashpoint. In a case on Thursday, the police
arrested three teenagers - a 14-year-old girl and two 15-year-old boys
- in the Bronx in the knifepoint robbery of a Chinese immigrant delivering
food to them.
Several City Council members and immigrants' advocates have called for
a one-day moratorium on restaurant food deliveries today to honor Mr.
Chen, whose family has a funeral planned for 11 a.m. today in Chinatown.
On Friday, with the car's stereo playing a Chinese ballad, Mr. Wong
zipped around to his destinations, usually leaving his car running with
the doors unlocked while he carried the food into building lobbies.
He stopped at Building 6 in Rochdale Village, across the street from
Building 8, where Mr. Chen was killed. Mr. Wong delivered the order,
which cost $10.95, to a woman who handed over $11.
"No tip, no problem," he said, shooting a glance at Building
8. "No safe is problem."
At the next stop, he was handed $9 for an $8.75 order, and at the South
Jamaica Houses the bill came to $11.50. A child handed him exact change.
"Always children no tip," explained Mr. Wong, who said he
makes 30 to 40 deliveries a night and earns about $70 a shift. Still,
he manages to support his wife and their 3-year-old son in their small
apartment in Elmhurst, Queens, and send some money to his parents, whom
he left in the Fujian province of China when he came to New York in
Often the orders he carries are for less than $10. Deliverymen are warned
to call customers downstairs to the lobby, but they often ignore this
because customers tend to tip better for delivery to their apartments.
Mr. Wong said, though, that the delivery people he knows have stopped
going to customers' apartments since Mr. Chen's death. He wonders how
long that will last.
Many deliverymen speak little English and are regularly harassed or
ridiculed by local residents, said Tomi Adeleke, 15, of Rochdale Village,
who stopped at the restaurant on Friday with her cousin Temmy Izevbehai,
"Some people are just ignorant," Ms. Adeleke said, leaning
against a video game that promised "lifelike" violence. "But
killing someone for a few dollars? That's crazy."
Many customers leaned through the cutouts in the store's bulletproof
glass and said kind words. An 8-year-old-girl named Saychelle passed
a condolence card to an employee.
Then her mother, Maureen Allen, said: "It's sad to think that a
couple of teenagers who wanted sneaker money could murder another human
being for pocket change."
2004 The New York Times Company