Thinking of travel to Asia but the economy has you pinching dollars instead of pennies? Forget the costly airfare! Forgo the jetlag! Within a 20 minute drive from the heart of Vancouver, you can find yourself in a seemingly new land where the signs and languages speak to you in Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese to name three.
You have entered the city of Richmond where more than 60% of the population is of Asian descent and the restaurants and hospitality services invite you in with characters that are not a part of the English alphabet.
Up until the last decade, the heart of Canada’s Chinatown was in downtown Vancouver on the avenues that connected to Hastings Street. Over the years as the area became ridden with drug addicts and vagrants, people began to shy away from going there.
While it is still a popular area, with a goodly number of markets and restaurants doing reasonable business, many of the merchants made the decision to relocate. The area they selected, almost as though by referendum, was the nearby community of Richmond.
Not long ago, Richmond was largely sprawling farm land interspersed with the occasional high rise and strip mall. Slowly larger malls took hold and office buildings and hotels sprouted. Today it is a vibrant city with little farmland to be found, unless you go all the way to the outskirts of its boundaries.
The population may be largely Asian but they share the Canadian dream for themselves and their children for a prosperous and peaceful life. And with less than a year to go, with the completion of the Olympic Oval where all the speed skating events will be held in February 2010, Richmond and its residents have also become a part of B.C.’s Olympic dream. The Oval is a magnificent structure on the Richmond landscape. Its eco-friendly design uses wormwood, which are trees destroyed by devastating pests, then cut down and recycled into the ceiling of the dome, giving it a unique architectural look.
After the games, the Oval will be part of a lasting legacy as it is transformed into a multi-sport complex and wellness centre for Richmond and the rest of Greater Vancouver.
But it becomes clear who will use the facility most frequently when you observe the mix of people taking advantage of the open public skating opportunities available now on a regular basis until we get closer to February 2010. Hundreds of people lace on their skates to create their own vision of crossing the finish lines well ahead of the competitors left behind.
It is here where you fully realize the face of Canada has changed, with the presence of so many different visible minorities who have chosen to make this country their home in the last one to 100 years plus. On the evening I was there, those visible minorities filled more than 80 per cent of the skates that traced that oval.
They were novices and skilled. They were stumbling children and senior citizens. And with a sense of pride they were all enjoying the edifice that will be theirs for decades to come.
Not far from the Olympic Oval is the recently opened River Rock Casino Resort. It does not need to wait for the Olympics to prove its success. The hotel is already operating at a high capacity, with its suites often filled with overseas and out of town visitors.
Its theatre stage is filled with professional musicians backing the voices of entertainers like Joe Cocker, Julio Iglesias, Paul Anka and Liza Minnelli, all scheduled for coming weeks in April and May.
While shopping options abound in Richmond, the Aberdeen Centre again underscores the Asian personality that is now so much a part of the business mix. While many of the recognized retail brand names exist there, you are more likely to come across outlets like Lotus Seats, Tokyo Renaissance, Luk Fook Jewelry, Santayaya and Taiwan Yong Lai Xiang Dried Foods. The food court is, for the most part, an Asian culinary mix that enhances the perception of a country within a country. But don’t worry, everyone can speak English and they provide exemplary service to all.
But it is the culinary options also available outside the mall – which can be easily found in the strip malls or as freestanding locations situated around the heart of the city, often referred to as the Golden Village – that draws Vancouverites and makes a Richmond stay worthwhile unto itself. Pick your pleasures. If you want traditional Chinese menus they are common. Think of an Asian country whose food is your favourite and you will find it. Blend that with the ideas of the young Asian entrepreneurs who have created new restaurants for a modern society, built upon the principals of the old with the fusion of the new.