Asian Influx Altering Fabric of Vancouver Anglo-Canadian Feathers Are Getting Ruffled

Article excerpt

Among the first things Thomas Tam tells this city's new arrivals from Hong Kong, Taiwan and elsewhere in east Asia: Keep your voice down in public, and, whenever possible, speak English.

It might sound like jarring counsel in a country where individual liberty is paramount and which is officially bilingual and multicultural. But despite immigration policies constructed around the premise of tolerance, Tam said that Canada remains a place where Anglo-Canadian feathers are easily ruffled.

Even in Vancouver, a place so easygoing it recently allowed a marijuana cafe to remain open for more than a month, the cultures do not always blend easily, said Tam, administrator of a Chinese social services group. The Asian presence is nothing new in British Columbia. There has been an established Chinese community in the province since the mid-1800s, and about 20 percent of Vancouverites are now ethnic Chinese. But the latest wave of Asian immigration, particularly from Hong Kong as it prepares for next year's takeover by China, has changed the fabric of Vancouver. Generally, "the tolerance level is high," Tam said, but "some people have the concept of the host and the guest: `You come to my place, you speak my language' " and otherwise adapt to the surroundings. "We tell the new immigrants, first, the voice. In Hong Kong and Taiwan, they speak loud. It is very noisy and crowded. They forget Canada is a quieter place. And we want them to use English when Canadian people are around." Vancouver a city where a majority of families cite languages other than English as the one they use at home and where the main hospital is helping establish Western scientific underpinnings for such traditional Eastern health practices as acupuncture and herb treatments. Yet where the cultures collide, at the schools and in the neighborhoods, - there has been tension over such seeming trivia as the as the size of doorways. In West Vancouver, long-established and sometimes modest neighborhoods quickly changed character as affluent Asian immigrants moved in and what came to be dubbed the "monster house" took the place of smaller bungalows. …