Visiting Chinatown in my youth, when we travelled north of the border to Vancouver, was to step straight into the exotic. Back in the 70’s, what did we know about China, really? Or Chinese people? Sure, there was Bruce Lee. And Keye Luke. Flower Drum Song. Chow Mein, egg rolls, fortune cookies.
To experience real “Oriental” culture and cuisine, we thought, you had to go to Chinatown! Indistinct tinkling music drifting quietly through air heavy with incense, the smell of bamboo everything, and scents of things I couldn’t even try to guess. Paper fans, candies wrapped in edible rice paper, little toys that broke in the car on the way home. These are my memories of Chinatown.
Later, as a newlywed, my Hong Kong-born husband and I would head down to Seattle’s International District for Dim Sum on a Saturday morning, or sometimes a late night snack of Beef Chow Fun. Later still, after migrating to Canada and starting a family, his parents came and settled right in Vancouver’s Chinatown, (the original one, not Richmond), and delighted in touring our children around the narrow streets, pointing out the fresh fish swimming in the restaurant tanks, waiting unknowingly to become someone’s lunch.
So, I read with much interest, and not a little sadness, this article in The South China Morning Post, highlighting the inevitable slide of Chinatown.