Getting Zen in Vancouver’s Chinatown
Vancouver's Chinatown has its own unique atmosphere that sets it apart from nearby Gastown, Crosstown, and the Downtown Eastside. I can’t remember the area ever being very appealing to me. As a child I distinctly recall odd and unusual smells radiating from the sidewalk stalls selling peculiar foods. I was never sure if I loved or hated Chinatown.
On my recent visit I was surprised to find that I was drawn to how colorful and vibrant the neighborhood is. The Chinese garden, elaborate street lamps, colorful lanterns, heritage buildings, and sunshine won me over. I had so much fun photographing Chinatown!
Around 1890, Chinatown was home to more than 1000 Chinese residents! Between 1890 and 1920 immigrants continued to settle the area. Much of the community's activities and entertainment evolved around a 500 seat Chinese theatre built in 1898.
Over the years, Chinatown has dealt with community conflicts, economic hardships, and the decline of nearby areas like the Downtown Eastside. Today, most Chinese immigrants settle in Richmond.
Recently the City of Vancouver implemented a revitalization plan to maintain the heritage buildings and historical importance of Chinatown.
Right after I snapped the photograph above, two elderly Chinese men walked out of the building. They saw me taking a photo of their building and started laughing and pointing at me while they spoke loudly in Chinese. I'm sure to them the door is uninteresting and mundane, but I was drawn to the turquoise color.
What to do
- Visit a traditional Chinese herbalist.
- Try a coconut bun, steamed bun, or other delicacy at one of many Chinese bakeries.
- Eat dim sum at a restaurant.
- If you're visiting during Chinese New Year (late January or February) check out the celebrations and parades.
- Spend an hour in the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden (note that you can enter and enjoy the public Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park at no cost, but the attached Chinese Garden charges admission).
When to go
You can visit Chinatown any time of the year, but like most outdoor places in Vancouver, it’s best on a sunny day.
If you're in Vancouver during January or February you'll be right on time to enjoy the festivities surrounding Chinese New Year.
After walking the streets of Chinatown I decided to head towards the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, famed for being the first of its kind built outside of China!
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
The garden is named after Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, a medical practitioner and first president of the People’s Republic of China. The garden opened in 1986 in time for Expo 86, which was held in Vancouver that same year.
Chinese architects used authentic materials from China during the construction of the garden, while the connected public park was built by local architects and sourced materials from North and South America. The garden was built using traditional techniques to incorporate Ming Dynasty architecture.
Classical Chinese gardens use Feng Shui and Taoism to achieve a sense of harmony between four main elements: rocks, water, plants, and architecture. Take a walk through the Chinese garden and see if you feel balanced.
A pond or lake is the central element of a Chinese garden. The large pond symbolizes tranquility and the jade green colour is created by clay that lines the bottom. Lily pads and lotus flowers grow on the surface, while turtles and large goldfish live in the water.
Walking the winding path through the garden was a relaxing way to end my afternoon in Chinatown. I highly recommend that you spend some time in this unique and historic Vancouver neighborhood!