“Ni hao,” says a red painted wall on the southwest corner of Main and Keefer. The enormous particle board inscription is an English phonetic spelling of “hello” in Cantonese, part of an advertisement for a coming condominium development in the rapidly upscaling Union-Keefer-Georgia radius between Main and Gore streets in Chinatown. The inscription has the unintended effect of mocking the people crowding the bus stop below. Most of Chinatown’s Chinese residents can’t read or speak English, nor can they afford what the developers call “achievable home ownership” at 1888 Keefer St. Obviously, the condo advertisement is not for them, though it pretends to speak their language.
What gets lost in translation is that despite the new condo towers, restaurants, and coffee shops catering to a new class of English-speaking residents and workers in the neighbourhood, Chinatown’s longest-standing residents are barely holding on to their homes in a part of the city that has been central to their lives and family histories in Vancouver.
“They’ll force a smile to cover the pain and overcompensate for it, to reassure me that things are fine when I know they’re not,” Deanna Wong, the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre’s Chinese seniors’ outreach coordinator, told me. “They have my contact information. But a lot of times they won’t want to trouble me for it.” […]
Change is happening quickly in the DTES and Chinatown. Next month, Vancouver city council will pass the 30-year local area plan for the neighbourhood. And the city is already considering leasing the site of the former Vancouver police station at Main and Cordova streets to a California tech firm, despite interest from community groups to use it as a hub for social innovation that serves the Downtown Eastside community.