Victoria: intercultural or a faux British tourist trap or hotbed of Chinese history?
Just back from a wonderful and fun dragon boat weekend in Victoria, which seems to be in the tourist news a lot right now. On the Friday, the headlines were that the Empress Hotel had lost a “signed” major convention because the “convention scouts” didn't like the “agressive panhandlers.” On Monday, another newstory targeted the “tacky tourist” shops on Government St, with “50% Off” and “Clearance” signs used to draw in tourists.
For some of the paddlers in the Gung Haggis Fat Choy / Pirates dragon boat team who had never been to Victoria before – it was a wonderful weekend. We walked around the inner harbour, enjoyed the Dragon Boat festival activities, walked through the shopping district, and through Chinatown. We experienced the nightly streetlife with the pubs, restaurants and buskers along the inner harbour. Were there panhandlers? Yes. Have we become immune or desensitized to them? Maybe.
The visiting Californians from the DieselFish team were all very enthusiastic about Victoria. During their 2002 visit, they raved at Victoria's cleanliness. This year they stated that Victoria was the “total package” – everything interesting and within close walking distance. They enthusiastically want to come back for next year.
The faux British thing? They were amazed all the stores with British references such as “Irish Linens” and the “Irish Times” pub, and of course “The Empress Hotel.” They didn't make it to “High Tea” or a visit to the Royal BC Museum – but they did want to go for “Fish and Chips.” They also visited the “Sticky Wicket” pub both on Friday and Saturday – known for its preponderance of paddlers hanging out during a dragon boat weekend.
For myself, following our mini Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner at the Golden City Restaurant on Fisgard St, near Chinatown – our Gung Haggis group went for a walk through Chinatown, looking for some ice cream, then along the Inner Harbour sea walk. On the way back I dropped off from the group, and went to the Irish Times Pub. There was great fiddle music and I quickly struck up conversations with some ladies about my kilt. Where is but Victoria, could you meet a Chinese-Canadian wearing a kilt during a dragon boat festival weekend, or have haggis in a Chinese restaurant?
My family has a lot of history in Victoria on both my father's side and my mother's side. Victoria used to be the largest Chinatown in North America at one time. It was the first landing site for all boats coming in across the Pacific Ocean, and my father's father Wong Wah, used to manage the largest Chinese dry goods store. My great great grandfather Rev. Chan Yu Tan, spent some time ministering to the Chinese community, and his daughter Rose settled in Victoria. Whenever I visit, I always try to contact my grandmother's cousins – my “Auntie” Roberta, and “Uncle” Victor. Uncle Victor Wong fought during WW2 and was stationed in Burma with special forces, during the time when Chinese Canadians born in Canada, could not vote in BC. Times later became less prejudiced and my Auntie Roberta's brother-in-law Ed Lum became the mayor of Saanich.
On the Sunday evening, I had dinner with my cousin Winston's family and their dinner guests. Of course they asked me about the dragon boat races and the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner. Before the evening was over, we had made plans to hold a dinner event for next January, and I had brought out my accordion to lead singalongs of When Asian Eyes Are Smiling, and Scotland the Brave – as well as a mini version of Hungarian Dance No. 5. The conversation included topics such as our multi-generational Chinese Canadian heritage, and the Chinese head tax. On Monday before I left Victoria, my cousin took me to 2-for-1 Fish and Chips at the Picadilly Pub in Oak Bay – an English Pub, owned by the same owner as the Irish Times. When I returned to Vancouver – I met some friends at Doolin's Irish Pub after 9pm, for my pint of Guinness.