By Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun | Link to Article
Jeremy Lau sometimes wishes familial duty didn’t compel him to live in central Richmond.
“I’d like a more typical North American city and lifestyle, with not so many Chinese people,” said Lau, who came to Canada from Hong Kong in 1993. “When you immigrate to a new country, you don’t want to experience just what you’re used to. You want a new adventure.”
So why does Lau, who works in the high-tech industry, remain in the heart of the largest, highly concentrated, ethnic Chinese enclave in Canada?
To support his parents-in-law, who live with Lau and his wife. They don’t speak English or own a car. Like many recent and elderly immigrants, Lau’s in-laws feel more comfortable in Chinese surroundings.
It’s arguable that no major city in Canada has changed more rapidly because of Asian immigration than Richmond — an island of farmland, subdivisions, Asian malls, apartment towers and English-language signs promoting eateries such as “Shanghai Wonderful Restaurant.”
More than 60 per cent of Richmond’s mostly well-off 200,000 residents are immigrants, among the highest rate of any major city in Canada.
When he was interviewed, Lau was having his hair cut in a salon across the street from Richmond City Hall, which is located on No. 3 Road just west of what could be the most densely ethnic Chinese neighbourhood in North America.
This commercial section of Richmond includes part of the region known as “The Golden Village,” an array of glittering high-end Chinese-themed malls and hotels, including the Aberdeen Centre, President’s Plaza, Parker Place and Yaohan complex.
According to the Canadian census, an astonishing 80 per cent of the residents in the rectangle of highrises, low-rises and retail outlets east of No. 3 Road, between Landsdowne and Blundell, are ethnic Chinese.No neighbourhood in Metro Vancouver appears as dominated by one ethnic group as this urban Chinese enclave east of No. 3 Road. The only region of Metro that is almost as concentrated along ethnic lines is the west Newton area of north Surrey.
But this buzzing census-tract neighbourhood, where four out of five residents are ethnic Chinese (mostly from China) does not stand alone in Richmond, a relatively affluent suburb that is home to Vancouver International Airport and its scores of daily flights to and from Asia.
There are two more large, high-density ethnic Chinese enclaves to the east and west of this No. 3 Road neighbourhood. These are residential zones where more than two-thirds of inhabitants are Chinese.
One is a subdivision of large, mostly new pastel mini-mansions fronted by gated driveways between No. 2 Road and Gilbert, bordered by Granville and Blundell. The other is a more modest neighbourhood west of Garden City Road and south of Westminster Highway.
Indeed, in a wide four-kilometre radius of Richmond City Hall, the proportion of residents who are ethnic Chinese averages about 50 per cent.
For his part, Lau says his in-laws feel more comfortable in such a familiar Chinese environment. “They’re restricted in where they live. They don’t communicate that well. When people ask them questions in English, they don’t understand,” said Lau, 47.
It’s a similar case for many ethnic Chinese immigrants from Hong Kong, Taiwan and China who struggle with English. Their expressed sense of comfort and security in this ethnic enclave seems to bear out University of Victoria scholar Zheng Wu’s thesis that new immigrants to Canada feel “protected” in enclaves.
But he also found people in ethnic enclaves feel less sense of belonging to their new country. Wu’s position dovetails with that of famed Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam, whose extensive U.S. studies found enclaves often contribute to distrust among residents.
Jessica Kuo, a 31-year-old dentist in central Richmond, shares Lau’s desire that the city somehow find a more multicultural mix. But she still likes it.
“It’s very comfortable, very safe and affordable,” said Kuo, who emigrated from Taiwan to Canada when she was a youngster. She appreciates the clean air of Richmond, especially compared with polluted Taiwan.
And Chinese supermarkets, shops and restaurants are inexpensive in Richmond, Kuo said, because “the competition is fierce.” She also thinks the high proportion of Mandarin speakers may help her young child learn the language, in addition to English.
Kuo and Lau both commented on how immigrants to Richmond from China in the past decade are not particularly outgoing or friendly. Lau said many Chinese immigrants “tend to not want to expose too much of themselves.”
And Kuo said it took a long time for her to get used to how wary immigrants from China are often as polite as those who grow up in Metro Vancouver. “It’s just a different style of communication.”
Despite the social shyness and even distrust that Lau and Kuo experience from many new immigrants to Richmond, both said there is a great deal in the community to make an ethnic Chinese person feel they’re back in their homeland.
There are scores of Chinese-language restaurants, supermarkets, shops, acupuncture centres, real estate offices, giant Buddhist temples, martial arts outlets and Chinese malls and hotels. The roaring outdoor Summer Market on the Fraser River — which explodes each season with exciting Asian music, food and shopping — has become a vibrant symbol of the city’s Chinese-oriented culture.Laurence Tom, who was born in B.C. and lives in south Delta, sometimes drives to Richmond to shop. But even though his father was from China, Tom said he usually feels “like a fish out of water” among all the Chinese people in Richmond.
There’s too much “hustle and bustle,” Tom said. And since most recent Chinese immigrants speak Mandarin, he can’t communicate with them. He knows only a Cantonese dialect, so he generally stays away.
However, K.S. Cho, the owner of Tae Kwon Do College, across the street from city hall, is committed to working with the population. He moved to Richmond almost a decade ago to try to instil deeper Asian values and philosophy in the city’s mostly Chinese residents.
Even though Cho says he’s making slow headway in converting Richmond residents to martial arts philosophy, he offers 25 tae kwan do classes a week, mostly to Chinese youngsters.
The signs in the tae kwon do master’s storefront on No. 3 Road promise students that they will learn self-protection, release their inner “energy,” “over-rule fear” and develop a “powerful confident mind.”
Instead of worrying about “winning and losing” in the martial arts or life itself, Cho says he’s on a mission to instil more “divine” and “humane” values among his tae kwon do students in Richmond and beyond.Even with its large proportion of ethnic Chinese, Richmond is by no means alone in being a stronghold. Throughout Metro Vancouver, one out of five residents have Chinese origins.
Mainland China is now B.C.’s top immigrant source country, and the vast majority of the province’s newcomers settle in Metro Vancouver. Chinese immigrants are cited for raising real estate prices in many urban neighbourhoods, including Richmond.
In addition to Richmond, online maps created by The Vancouver Sun, based on Census data, show that Chinese people from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan have formed many more enclaves in Metro Vancouver.
For example, ethnic Chinese make up roughly 40 per cent of the population of most of southeast Vancouver. Ethnic Chinese are also focused in south Vancouver around Granville and 49th, in central Burnaby around Kensington and Halifax streets and in pockets of northern Coquitlam.
That said, Richmond remains the most striking bastion of Chinese culture — a place where scores of Chinese-language signs on restaurants and shops are often bigger than the same outlet’s English-language sign.
Many of those large Chinese signs are on No. 3 Road, directly across the street from Richmond’s stylish city hall, with its airy, contemporary West Coast-style, architecture.
The lack of prominent English-language signs on the shops next to city hall represents the kind of symbolic issue that might set off cultural-protection alarms in a more nationalistic place, like Quebec.
In La Belle Province, language laws dictate that all commercial and social outlets must display their names more prominently in French than in English. Battles have raged in that province over English-language signs being oversized by a few centimetres.
But there is no similar sign law in Richmond, nothing insisting English remain in the city’s visual forefront. Or that English be displayed at all.
Since there has been resistance to protecting the English language in Richmond, commercial outlets in the city can post signs with only Chinese characters, if they so desire.
Richmond communications officer Ted Townsend said the city’s “intercultural advisory committee” a few years ago put the issue of language on signs on their proposed 10-year work program.
“I believe their position was that there should be a requirement for English on all signs,” Townsend said. “It caused a bit of furore at the time and was generally seen as overkill. It hasn’t come back as an issue and I think the committee may have decided to leave it alone.”
The maps were created using data adapted from Statistics Canada Census Tract Boundary Files (Cat. 92-168-X) and Census Tract Profiles (Cat. 92-597-X), 2006 Census.
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