We started our day today by taking the Skytrain to an area near Chinatown and Downtown. Our first scheduled event of the day was to meet up with someone named David Yurkovich (yes, another David, not to mention that we have three David’s in our group) who gave us a mini-tour around Carrall Street Greenway. Known as the green streets, the area’s environment is very eco-friendly as it is surrounded by many greenery, which serves the function of calming traffic. Aside from the trees, the street design and features also help promote safety for pedestrians and cyclists. Carrall Street is designed in a way where there are two main traffic lanes, and the fact that these lanes are narrowed favors pedestrian and street safety, which I think can attract more people to the area and thus promote the greenway. Another street feature that can further enhance the safety of pedestrians and bikers is its elevated bike lane, which separates bikers away from pedestrians and thus decreases the chance of injury. One thing I learned from David’s tour was that the whole street would be closed down for community events, which I envision something similar to the street fairs in San Francisco Chinatown to take place. Carrall Street seems to have a good balance for its visitors, although I feel that it may favor pedestrians and bikers a bit more.
After the tour on Carrall Street Greenway, we rushed to the meeting place for our next tour on Vancouver’s Chinatown, provided by a group named “Tour Guys.” When we arrived at the meeting area in front of the Art Gallery Museum, we didn’t see any tour taking place. Assuming that the tour already began, we attempted to catch up with the rest of the crowd which we found to be located a few streets away. Attempting to make my way through the large crowd, I slightly heard the tour guide informing the group about the history of Chinatown by listing some events that happened in certain years. Throughout the tour, I have learned that Vancouver’s Chinatown shares some similarities with SF’s Chinatown through its history and community. For instance, the benevolent associations in Vancouver’s Chinatown can be compared to the family associations that we have in SF’s Chinatown, since they both serve the function of helping with community struggles. Another common trait between the two Chinatowns is that a majority of the population are immigrants from the Canton province, which indicates that both towns are filled with Cantonese words on a daily basis. An issue that affects both Chinatowns is gentrification, where people from other neighborhoods are pushing into Chinatown and prices are being raised. A slight difference of Vancouver’s Chinatown is that there has been an ongoing debate on whether the neighborhood is undergoing gentrification or revitalization, which is a process in which a neighborhood is losing its prosperity. This is something that I don’t see, and I don’t hope to see in the future, in SF’s Chinatown. Another similarity was found between the Chinese immigrants in these two different cities, that both groups came to the West as laborers who worked in coal and gold mines and also as railroad workers.
Despite the many similarities that the two Chinese communities share, there are some differences of the space usage and appearance between the two. First of all, the formation of the two Chinatown neighborhoods were originated from different aspects. The beginning of SF’s Chinatown was Portsmouth Square, today’s living room of the neighborhood, while Vancouver’s Chinatown originated from its Shanghai Alley. There are also some differences of the alleys in the two Chinatowns. In Vancouver’s Chinatown, many businesses took place in its alleys, such as laundry shops and grocery selling. On the other hand, the alleyways in SF’s Chinatown have many functions and features, including illegal activities, some merchandise selling, and many family associations. Both cities’ Chinatown now serves the purpose of tourist attraction, specifically on a Chinatown tour.
Aside from the similarities and differences that Vancouver’s Chinatown shares with the one in SF, some facts and events that I learned from the tour stood out to me as I found them quite significant and interesting. During the beginning era of Vancouver’s Chinatown, its alleys lived over 1000 residents, which lead to the existence of bunk beds which can conserve space and live more people. Back then when resources were limited and everyone needed a place to sleep in, these bunk beds were out for rental periods of eight hours, and it costed one dollar for chinese workers and two dollars for white workers. A major event mentioned in the tour that struck me was the anti-Asian riot that took place in June of 1907, where a group of white men who were discriminating Asians roamed into Shanghai Alley and destroyed many buildings and businesses in Chinatown. The riot went on for about twenty minutes until the group migrated to Japantown and attempted to do the same act. Fortunately, residents of Japantown heard the news on radio stations and started to prepare themselves to confront this attack. This event marked an important time period in the history of Vancouver’s Chinatown. From the tour, I also learned that another wave of Chinese immigrants arrived in Vancouver in the late 1990s, the time period where Hong Kong was returned back to China and people were afraid of communism. The tour guide lead us through landmarks and alleys of Chinatown, and the tour ended at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s Chinese Garden.
After the Chinatown tour, we went to meet up with city planners Helen and Wesley, who gave us a presentation on some information about Chinatown and a future vision and plan on the neighborhood. Helen shared with us the Chinatown neighborhood plan and economic revitalization strategy. In her presentation, I learned that Strathcona was the neighborhood where most Chinese people lived back then. An interesting fact that I found was that Chinatown is actually one year older than Vancouver the city itself. Following the presentation was our meet-up and “afternoon tea” with Doris and her co-workers, who are attempting to start a youth program that would help the community of Vancouver’s Chinatown. Through our conversation, we shared a lot about the role of our youth programs and also our personal thoughts and experiences. Topics that we’ve covered include how we became involved in the program, factors that motivate us to stay, and the community needs that would require the work of non-profit organizations. With the heart of starting a youth program in Chinatown, Doris and her team asked us questions and tips that would help her reach her goal. In my opinion, a comfortable place that can provide a feeling of ‘home’ is an essential aspect of retaining a youth group. Another tip that I would say to form a youth program is to find a topic or issue that the youth is interested in and that would help the community, which will motivate youths to stay involved and also make them feel that they have contributed into making a better community.
With the remaining time of our day, we headed to the Aberdeen Shopping Centre to add some leisure time to our trip. The Skytrain brought us directly to the entrance of the shopping mall, which I find convenient for many local shoppers and visitors to the city. The escalator brought us to the lowest level of the centre that lead us into the entrance area where a design has captured my attention. I was quite fascinated with what I saw, a section with red-colored wood pieces and another with green-colored wood pieces that form together that seem to make the shape of a dragon. Retrieving my childish innocence, I walked through the middle of the “dragon” playing with the pieces of wood. The lobby then lead us into the area where all the stores were located. The shopping centre was a big area, consisting stores on several floors. There was a lot to explore in the mall, and what triggered my excitement after a long tiring day were all the Doraemon figures that I see in many of the stores. I also found the ramen noodle snack that brought back my childhood memories, which I no longer see in San Francisco.
Despite the fact that we were all tired and exhausted, we still had to find a place to eat dinner. We headed back to the Richmond neighborhood and settled in a Shanghai cuisine for dinner. When we entered, the waitress told us that the restaurant was about to close and that we had to quickly order food. I guess this was one of the fastest times we have ever placed our order but we had to, and we also quickly consumed the food. After a long day of non-stop meeting with people and groups, we learned a lot about Vancouver’s Chinatown and finally ended our day.
- Shirley Tsang