Last year over 30,000 Asians immigrated to Vancouver, and more
than a third were from Hong Kong. Chinese Canadians alone constitute over
25% of greater Vancouver's 1.8 million people. But not in Chinatown.
The Aberdeen Centre is the landmark of the Chinese shopping centers. Aberdeen and the surrounding Asian Canadian-owned shopping centers form the main thrust of Asian commerce. On weekends they can draw thousands with a taste for roast duck and some community spirit. Close by, you'll find Parker Place shopping center, developed by Hong Kong investors. Also in walking distance is T&T, a shopping center developed by Taiwanese money.
Vancouver's Asian flavor doesn't all come from the land of the red dragon, however. The land of the Rising Sun has reared its head in the middle of the slew of Chinese malls in the form of Yaohan Center.
These malls have concentrated in the city of Richmond, a suburb of Vancouver and a significant hub of Asian settlement, with an equally divided, culturally harmonious mix of Asian and white.
Francis Chan moved from Hong Kong to the Vancouver area three years ago and spends his workdays at the United Chinese Community in Richmond Services Society acclimating recent Chinese immigrants to the Canadian way of life. "The Canadians have been very welcoming, very friendly," says Chan. "Last weekend during British Columbia Day, we had a street party with over 100 households. Our street is actually known for its racial harmony. It's a relatively new subdivision, about 60-70% Caucasian; the rest are mostly Asians from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Fiji, Philippines."
Chan chose to leave Hong Kong because of the impending Communist takeover. He weighed his options between the U.S. and Canada. "Canada has a more stable economic and social environment. And its multicultural diversity makes settlements of non-whites easier," he said.
Chan arrived with his wife, two children and mother-in-law. and spent the first two months living with relatives in Vancouver while he looked for more permanent residence.
Richmond was it.
"The house's price, accessibility to work and good schools were deciding factors," says Chan. He lives about 25 minutes from downtown, but the distance doesn't faze him. "Whether or not one lives downtown, transportation is convenient."
Chan and his wife are active in their kids' school, they volunteer in parents' groups and take part in neighborhood activities like their neighborhood watch. Their local participation is but one brush stroke on the bright canvas Asian communities as a whole are painting. Cultural activities, once known only to small local communities, have grown into national pastimes.
One such pastime that has caught the hearts of Canadians nationwide is the dragon boat race. Vancouver has at least one each year, while Toronto schedules three. The air is charged with the excitement of long multicolored boats, topped with dragons' heads, long tails, scaley bodies and hundreds of paddlers frantically rushing their boats to the finish. Drummers pound to the action as sideline crowds break into shouting matches for their favorite teams. The 2000-year-old celebration originally meant to ensure prosperous and bountiful crops is now more of a symbolic sport, representing man's struggle against nature and his fight against dangerous enemies. Nearly every major city in Canada has a dragon boat race with several hundred paddlers from teams across the country.
Recently the Chinese New Year Fair drew 30-40,000 Vancouver residents to the Pacific Coliseum. Exhibitions, dancing, singing and vendor stalls filled the arena. Like a trade show with powerful entertainment, the fair is now an established community institution.
"We can expect more and more such festivals and community events to develop over the years," says Chan. He stresses, however, they are not Chinese Only festivals. "It is open to all. It is a community-wide thing. It adds to the multicultural color of community life."
The prosperity of metro Vancouver's Asians is easily read by examining the real estate market. Kerrisdale, one of the original towns that surrounded Vancouver, used to be all white. The quaint village town, known for its genteel restaurants, fashion boutiques and gift shops, is now about 70% Asian.
"I bought a house in Kerrisdale in the mid-70s for about $75,000," says Brian Wilson, president of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce. "The influx of Asian people has driven the real estate value very high. Now, the houses average between $750,000 and $900,000." At nearby Quilchena Golf Club, Asians make up roughly 10-15% of the membership.
The success and affluence of anygroup, especially if is appears based on family contacts, can foster jealousy and even rage. "The Aberdeen shopping area was the focus of somewhat of an uproar last year," says Wilson. "50% of the immigrants who move here do not speak English. Most stores only had unilingual Chinese signs."
"Their increased visibility produced its own particular backlash," said Canada's federal human rights commissioner Max Yalden in response to an uproar over Asian-majority communities. "In this case, it took the form of suggestions that such-and-such community was too concentrated or exclusive or insufficiently diverse."
Vancouver's Ming Pao Daily News responded by asking local Chinese to be more self-critical. In a piece entitled "Members of the Community: Dig our Own Scar First"--a Chinese idiom calling on people to look at their own faults--the newspaper encouraged readers to re-evaluate potentially annoying personal habits, avoid flaunting wealth and cutting trees on their property, and to respect traffic rules and wait patiently in line at checkout counters. Examine your own propensities towards racial prejudice, the newspaper encouraged.
"This is good advice for all Canadians," Yalden wrote in a report.
"Now you see bilingual signs," says Wilson. "I'm trying to bring together all communities this year. I'm having a joint luncheon in November with Raymond Chin, president of the Richmond Asian Pacific Association. We live in the same area, we work in the same area and our kids go to the same school. The more we integrate, the better we'll get along."
Another concern among the Asian community is that Hong Kong immigrants are arriving with less than honorable intentions. They arrive in body only, set up sham ventures to warrant their entrepreneurial entry into Canada, but leave most of their money and spirit back in Asia where the real fortunes can be made. The Asian malls are left with bare-bones boutiques with low stock. Page 3