This morning took us down to old Chinatown on a shopping mission. We don’t live that far away but it’d been a while; I’d forgotten its cheerful grubby intensity, and you can get some bargains. With a Cantonese-food lament.

I don’t suppose Vancouver’s old Chinatown is that unique, most big old North American cities have them; although I’d heartily recommend a visit to the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden. Boy, can you get bargains; starting with parking at a dollar for two hours; we were on the sixth level of the parkade, which gave us an unusual angle on downtown.

Downtown Vancouver viewed from Chinatown

Also, the produce on sale looked pretty good and was priced a lot cheaper than Safeway sells it. Mind you, the foodstuffs included quite a few items that I am quite unable to identify, some of them tasty-looking, some, not.

The main streets seem to be doing OK, but in the various little malls and arcades there are a few boarded-up storefronts. Chinatown’s economy would probably be doing a lot better if it weren’t crammed right up against the Downtown Eastside, with its aromas of hard drugs and slow death. Some of the decay, though, is picturesque.

Decaying sign on brick wall in Vancouver’s Chinatown

We stopped by some noodle house for lunch; given the size of the community and the fierce competition, I assume Vancouver must be one of the world headquarters for fine Cantonese cuisine. Unfortunately, I can’t stand the stuff. I try it every year or two to make sure, and I’ve been wined and dined in Hong Kong by savvy locals trying to impress me, so I’ve given it a chance. Yes, this includes Dim Sum. Anyhow, the noodle house served us huge lashings of food, I picked at mine and managed to enjoy some green beans. The kid, however, took one bite of his chicken and shrimp in egg sauce with flat noodles, brightened up and made a serious dent in a plateful approximately the size of his head, so maybe he’ll get more value out of Vancouver cuisine than I do.

We wandered into a random arcade and ended up doing some unplanned Christmas shopping. One of the stalls had its wares lined up densely behind dusty glass under a really bright incandescent light; you might want to blow that one up for a closer look.

Chinese figurines in dusty display case

When we got back to the car, Winter’s sideways sun was really trying to make the loveable beat-up old neighborhood look good.

Winter sun on Vancouver’s Old Chinatown

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December 03, 2005
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