Magazine article Sunset

Tale of Two Cities: Vancouver and Hong Kong Both Eye an Uncertain Future

Magazine article Sunset

Tale of Two Cities: Vancouver and Hong Kong Both Eye an Uncertain Future

Article excerpt

In Richmond, British Columbia, street names ring with tweedy Canadian reserve: Alderbridge, Hazelbridge, Westminster. It is the buildings lining these streets that surprise. The sleek Aberdeen Centre promises that "visitors will be delighted with the lively features," including fashion boutiques and fortune-telling. Virtually all the center's shoppers are Chinese.

The end of this month marks a turning point in this Vancouver suburb. On July 1 the People's Republic of China takes control of the crown colony of Hong Kong from the British. No place except Hong Kong itself eyes this change with more nervous anticipation than does greater Vancouver. Or, as it is sometimes called these days, Hongcouver.

"To the 19th-century Chinese, British Columbia was Golden Mountain," says Angela Kan, executive director of the Chinese Cultural Centre of Vancouver. "Vancouver was Salt Water City." As Kan explains, Chinese immigration to Canada's west coast parallels Chinese immigration to the western United States: in the 1860s, Chinese worked British Columbia goldfields; in the 1880s, they built the trans-Canadian railway. Parallel, too, was the discrimination they suffered. Chinese could not vote, could not enter professions. They could not own property, except in the downtown blocks centered around Pender Street.

Today, Pender Street remains the heart of Chinatown. Market stalls display dried eel and bok choy. When you tire of shopping, you can retreat to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. But the Chinese community has expanded far beyond its historical confines. And immigration is not merely an interesting facet of Vancouver's past.

"Vancouver is an immigrant city," says Don DeVoretz, economics professor at Simon Fraser University. "Much like New York at the turn of the century." Canada changed its immigration policy in the 1960s to welcome people from around the world - giving particular favor to the well educated and affluent. In the 1980s, many Hong Kong residents, skittish about the coming change in government, discovered Vancouver as a refuge.

Today the Chinese population of greater Vancouver numbers almost 300,000. Suburbs like Richmond are 25 percent Chinese. You can join in early-morning tai chi in Queen Elizabeth Park; you can read three competing Chinese-language newspapers, including Ming Pao, one of the largest Chinese dailies in North America. …

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