I'm sure there are reasons why my favourite spot in Canada is the
corner of Pender & Columbia Streets. And the area around it, in a
loose one kilometer radius.
There are the obvious similarities to the crowded bazaars of old Delhi... chaotic traffic, jaywalkers galore, friendly hawkers pushing dubious products, the absence of fixed prices, grungy dives featuring authentic local food served by surly waitresses, map-clutching outsiders in the tourist season.
There is another reason. For five years, from mid-2003 to mid-2008, I worked in the red brick building that stands at that corner - 88 East Pender Street. It is Vancouver Film School now, but back then it was a place called Channel M. A small, independent, multicultural TV channel where a diverse group of eccentric media types produced news and programming in a zillion languages.
We would drink too much coffee, deal with the day's catastrophe, joke about it over fish chop suey at New Town Bakery (or BBQ duck at Kam Gok Yuen), produce our show(s), bemoan the imminent death of television, and go home. And then do it all again the next day.
One summer, the bubble-tea place six doors down became our regular haunt. The one with the rogue electronic door sensor that went welcome and bye-bye, come again, in a grating, subway-announcer voice, at random intervals. We’d walk outside with our papaya green tea and coconut jelly, greeting bewildered tourists with bye-bye, come again.
The bubble tea place is gone now. As is the shop with the large bronze robot (stolen from the Fifth Element prop room?) in the display window.
Yes, it still looks like Chinatown. But there is more happening here than is apparent in a casual stroll down Pender. New condo developments are popping up, radically changing the social and commercial landscape. Some of the old businesses are gone, others look endangered as funky salons and skate and coffee shops appear. Yellow-jacketed private security guards are visible everywhere, keeping an eye on the undesirables.
Foo's Ho Ho still serves Egg Fu-Yung in the distinctive 1911 building across the street from 88 E Pender. The restaurant almost closed down in 2011, but was rescued by a loyal group of Chinatown old-timers. I walked by the place last week, and it was still in business. But as with so many of the older businesses here – the tea and bamboo importers, the dried deep sea creature & nameless animal part sellers, the decapitated duck in the window cafes – it seems only a matter of time.
My Channel M friends get all philosophical, shrug their shoulders and say that change is inevitable. To that I say - sometimes change stinks.
by Wayne Chan | May 3rd 11:55 am
My daily commute is like a small gear of mechanical time, of epicycles upon epicycles, where days turn to months and to years, and the seasons cycle through. The rhythms of time are constant, but the changes they bring are not.
by george ilsley | May 3rd 1:44 pm
The neighborhood of Broma in Vancouver (around Broadway and Main) used to have salmon streams and a temperate rainforest. Now it has hipsters.
by Brendan Harrison | Apr 12th 12:54 pm
When white supremacists moved into my neighbourhood, I was forced to reconsider what community meant to me.
by Monica Meneghetti | May 2nd 11:45 pm
Queer Banffites come in every stripe but, like other wildlife, most of us are well-camouflaged.
by Christin Geall | May 3rd 10:16 pm
In my neighborhood, houses float out to sea. They’re jacked up from their foundations, lifted onto trucks, and barged away.
by Ashok Mathur | May 2nd 4:02 am
There are enough green tea and chop suey joints all over Vancouver, so why do I care what happens to Chinatown? I'm not sure, but maybe you can read my story and figure it out...