Chinatown.  The last bastion of a seedier part of a western city where people come to experience a glimpse of “China” and when ready, walk or drive back to a place where picket fences and doorman await them.  Every major city in this world outside of Southeast Asia has a Chinatown.  London, Paris, Melbourne, Madrid, Milan, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York come to mind quickly.  It shows the vast distances that, for the most part, countries go to take part in trading and doing business in China back in the 1800s.  In turn, the Chinese would immigrate to these foreign shores to make money of their own, and as late as the 1970s in Europe, would go and seek higher education in countries like Austria and Switzerland.  Like many immigrants, they took on vocations that is not only practical, but necessary.  Laundromats and restaurants became typical business establishments.  As their business grew, the Chinese immigrants started to bring family members from home to live a life where opportunities, at least to them, are plentiful.  This was especially the case after Mao took over China in 1949.

In London, the Chinatown is not huge, but for what it is, it is quite diverse in its cuisine offerings.  Cantonese, Sichuan, and even Vietnamese to just name a few is quite a common sight.  For those of us who are Chinese, we participate in going to Chinatown to experience ourselves what it’s like for our community to be in a foreign place.  Our expectations of the food are tempered because of ingredients, more than talentless chefs.  You would think that with today’s shipping technology, ingredients would be plentiful.  That it can reach far and wide, and the Mongolian Beef you have in Los Angeles will taste the same as it does in London.  But it doesn’t.  There’s the cost of ingredients, the limited amount of purveyors who stock items like lemongrass and Thai chilis, the demand of those kinds of dishes in a western city.  As one restaurant competes with another on a simple dish like beef with stir fried vegetables, it’s tough to offer something drastically different to entice new customers.  But Chinatown is still a place that offers a different experience for locals.  It is a place they can go and experience food and community where they may not have the opportunity otherwise.  And in that sense, Chinatown is a good thing.  It’s a cultural awareness that needs to happen for us to live in a diverse society.  Like a Little Italy, Little Saigon, Little Ethiopia, and Koreatown in Los Angeles, we get to taste a little of each cultural without having to visit a country that we might not have the means to visit.  And to experience something new is quite exhilarating, even if there’s no replacing the real thing of traveling.  Because experiencing something new brings new perspectives and values to our lives that help us grow.  And that is always a good thing.

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