He’s in London, and this is what he saw:
What I find odd about some business and community leaders in a town like Vancouver: their tepid and often begrudging (when not hostile) response to cycling and bike lanes suggests a lack of awareness of what is happening in the world around them because it’s not change that reinforces their worldview or adds to their personal benefit. Geller, coward or not, sees change in other places that makes it more understandable at home.
This Sunday, I joined a tour hosted by the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of B.C. – “On the Streets and Up the Stairs” – where, four flights above Pender Street, we were welcomed here:
This is the meeting room for the Mah Society of North America – one of the family/clan societies that provided mutual help to those Chinese, overwhelmingly male, who had few options for support outside Chinatown in a hostile Vancouver. Over the last century, these societies acquired their own buildings, constructing them floor-by-floor on narrow lots primarily along Pender Street. (You can find out much more here, in a 2005 report done for the City by CCHS on society buildings.)
Looking down from the walls are the faces of prominent members who, maintaining dignity in a discriminatory society, would likely be surprised to experience the Vancouver of today:
Some today – like Councillor Kerry Jang (second from left, below) – represent all of Vancouver, even as the societies struggle to find a relevant role in the large, amorphous Chinese community, many of whose recent arrivals have no historical or geographical relationship to the benevolent associations or even to Chinatown.
Our guides were John Atkin and Bob Sung, here on either side of Larry Wong, below, whose memoir, Dim Sum Stories, reveals the world of his childhood and youth in Cinhatown, from the 1940s to ’60s.
From them, I learned three intriguing things about the design of the society buildings:
Only the benevolent societies had buildings with outdoor inset balconies, a style (often crudely imitated in faux-heritage design mistakenly thought to be a generic architectural feature of southern ‘Chinese’ design).
Secondly, the floors were often added over time, each serving a particular purpose: one for a hospital, another for society meeting rooms, others for commercial uses.
And third, there were no secret tunnels or hidden rooms (constructions of a xenophobic media taking their original cue from Charles Dickens’s last novel) nor were there even courtyards, at least in Vancouver with its shallow lots and dividing lanes – except in one case behind the Yue Shan building, the consequence of the serendipity of construction over time.
A narrow passageway leads to Pender Street to the south; the backs of ancient storefronts, now blocked over, are evidence of the shops that used to line Market Alley to the north – a possible restoration of which might be in the future as energy and diversity return to Chinatown over the next decade. But it won’t be the Chinatown of memory, or even the one of today, which is already going through a transition as new and non-Chinese-related businesses move in and new condos are constructed.
But the one key thing I learned: without the presence of the benevolent associations, just as in the past century, there is no true Chinatown.
Next event for the CCHS is “From the Silk Road: Asia in Fashion, Fashion in Asia.”
Fashion historian Ivan Sayers will expand your fashion knowledge as he presents extraordinary historic clothing from his own world-class collection.
Thursday, November 6
6 pm (program at 6:30 pm)
Richmond Cultural Centre Performance Hall, 7700 Minoru Gate
Before Nov 6 – $30, at door – $35
Tickets here. Event 814008.
The basis for that?
I’ve been using every opportunity over the last few months to talk up a fact I noticed in June: biking is still growing a bit among people ages 18-24. But almost all the growth in the last decade actually comes from older people. American biking rates are now almost identical among people aged 25 to 54, and (this really knocks my socks off) almost identical among people aged 55 to 84.
Is Vancouver’s ‘biking rate’ the same for people 25 to 54 as it is for those 55 to 84?