Victoria’s Chinatown, the oldest in Canada, holds a special place in my heart and my memory. I grew up vegetarian and back then, in the 1970s, there wasn’t as much mainstream focus on vegetarianism as there is today.
Mushroom Fried Rice and Chop Suey presented nice options on the rare occasion that my father took us out to eat. Don Mee on Fisgard Street was our usual pick. I remember the excitement as we crossed under the glowing white sign with bold black letters and then up the wide red carpeted staircase to the dining room. Like the sign on the street, Don Mee is constant and reliable and you know that when the majority of customers eating there are Asian, the food must be pretty good.
We always got White Rabbit Candies after dinner as a treat. They’re white and chewy and wrapped in rice paper. It was quite thrill to eat paper.
A New Generation Experiences Victoria’s Chinatown
I experienced Don Mee as a grown up with my own kids recently, and we pick a bag of White Rabbits afterward. It was a comforting feeling watching them run under the giant sign and up the staircase, just like I did when I was their age. The biggest attraction for them once we were seated, was the Lazy Susan in the middle of big round table. I had to keep an eye on my tea because the twirling was random, but constant. The connection between moving your plate and how the other side of the table would also be affected wasn’t quite there.
Hollywood Comes to Chinatown
My distant love affair with Victoria’s China Town followed me from my childhood into my college years. We chose Fan Tan Alley as the topic of our final documentary video project. We looked into the gambling dens, Opium Parlours, secret windows and doors and alleyways that form part of its history.
Fan Tan Alley is the narrowest street in Canada and parts of the 1990 Hollywood film Bird on a Wire with Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn was filmed film there. It was a big deal back then. Victoria was buzzing with the excitement of having such big stars in town and by the time the movie hit big screen, Fan Tan Alley had been transformed from about 200 meters to several thousand, thanks to the magic of editing.
Fan Tan Alley boasts an eclectic array of unique boutiques, even a barbershop where the barber doesn’t speak too much English. I watched a friend take a seat and hope for the best. Gestures of “little bit” were made and the nods of understanding were exaggerated.
A Portal into another Time and Culture
The Gate of Harmonious Interest was installed in a 1981. It plays music and hosts time capsules and frames Chinese Lanterns that hang on wires above street level behind it. Colourful produce and trinkets and clothing displayed by vendors spill out the doors their shops underneath.
In 1995, Victoria’s Chinatown was designated as a National Historic Site and while there is change and growth and development, it remains constant and familiar – a portal into another culture and life that I don’t want ever completely step out of.
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