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Chinatown: Vancouver’s Asian enclave

 

Vibrant banners line Chinatown’s streets
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Strolling the bustling streets of Vancouver’s Chinatown is like venturing into a far-flung world, or for some visitors and expatriates, one that feels a little bit like home. The clatter of conversation can be heard by the throngs of people milling around. And the aromas emanating from shops that are packed with bins of woody mushrooms, dried seafoods, and other delicacies invite further exploration.

The best way to be introduced to Chinatown is to walk through the ornately decorated Millennium Gate on Pender Street. This cornerstone of the community was built in 2000 to connect downtown Vancouver to Chinatown. From here, you can turn the clock back to 1890. Wander the area that was then known as Shanghai Alley and Canton Alley, where you would have been among the thousand immigrants that established Chinatown.

Nearby, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden was built according to the style of Ming Dynasty gardens. The jade green water, 15th-century-style pavilions and water-worn limestone rocks typical of a classic garden offer a welcome respite from the bustling neighbourhood.

Chinatown is still a traditional community with longtime residents, historic buildings and shopkeepers that still sell traditional herbs and teas. In recent years, more modern shops have made their way to Chinatown. Bombast Interiors and Peking Lounge are two furniture boutiques that bridge the gap between east and west. Massive crowds still converge at 1000-seat Floata Seafood Restaurant, Canada’s largest Chinese restaurant, to eat dim sum and Peking duck — a Cantonese speciality. Others pack into Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie, where you can still find favourite items such as pot stickers and fried rice, but with a more western sensibility. Can’t speak Chinese? No problem. Here, you can find a fun “menu” of key phrases, such as  “I love you,” and “Where’s the dance party?”

At night, old neon signs light up Chinatown’s streets and vibrant banners contribute to the colourful atmosphere. The Chinatown Night Market creates a flurry of activity on weekends from May to September, while the annual TD Vancouver Chinatown Festival attracts 50,000 revelers. Visitors should also be on the lookout for Van Van — the first Chinatown mascot worldwide — a panda that represents the spirit of the community and bridges past and present.