british columbia has long felt like a second home to me–the kind of second home where i feel like i belong even more than my real home–regardless of how much i love my real home. even in a city that bounces a bit to an off-beat, my husband and i seem to bounce just a little more…off…than everyone else. but when we’re in vancouver we feel a little more on the beat. vancouver has all of the elements that i love about my own city (except for their somewhat frightening sky-line–architecture seems not to be a priority there)–and still feels like pacific-north-west-home to me. but, in addition to the water, the mountains, and a proliferation of pine trees, i feel like there is a much stronger, better integrated, and more visible asian influence–and a more visible mixed-race population. the air is mingled asia, europe, and north west–a delicious combination. there is true cultural fusion–and true internationalism.
maybe my favorite instance yet of the amazing slice of culture is the richmond summer night market. night markets are regularly held all over the world, and from what i can tell, originate with ethnically and culturally chinese communities. the richmond night market opens on each weekend night throughout the summer at 7 in the evening, and remains open until 1 am. as we drove up to the market, orange-clad traffic officials directed incoming cars, and we finally gave in and paid $5 to park. we walked towards the market, which is located behind a rather large industrial complex–at first i thought the market might be inside the giant warehouse. it was such an interesting feeling–not being able to see the market, but walking past hundreds of market-goers toting their wares back out to their homes.
the night market isn’t a farmer’s market–though, the kinds of asian tropical fruits that are rarely available in my city are flow in at the instant they reach peak ripeness. lychee, mangosteen, dragon fruits–are sold after being rushed from the nearby airport. these kinds of fruits are an expensive–and usually unfulfilling–luxury in my city. like pineapples, they are shipped in before they are ripe and the resulting fruit seems not worth the price. we sat and peeled fresh lychee with our friends and enjoyed lychee the way it should taste, and not unripe, or drenched in syrup.
but the imported fruit aside, the night market is mostly about imported goods, and good food. we wandered in and out of row after row of stands and i had such a feeling that i was not on the north american continent. it felt so deliciously international–that i could be walking through a night market in hong kong, or give in to the wave of nostalgia that washed over me as certain objects rushed me back to my last visit to korea. anything you could want is available–from piggy banks that look like bowls of ramen noodles, to imported korean stockings and underware (the best in the world, koreans say).
however, by far, the most impressive part of the night market is the food.
there are two long rows of food stands at the night market–and it is careful going to navigate as hundreds of people smack their lips hungrily and try to decide what to eat. there are fusion options–hot dogs dressed in various asian flavors, blueberry pie filling wrapped in eggrolls and fried–and very traditional, such as the takoyaki my husband greatly enjoyed. there were whole potatoes spiral cut and fried on a long skewer in one whole piece, “rice burgers,” and seoul street food including dduk boki and oddeng guk. truth be told, it was quite overwhelming.
as i stood there trying to decide what i wanted to eat, hundreds of people walked by me–families with tiny babies, people with dogs and gangs of teens. i checked out what they were eating and drinking, from lovely ginger coolers to delicious bubble teas. we tried humbow, tiny eggrolls called “rollies” stuffed with korean kalbi, hong kong egg pastries stuffed with chocolate and made on specialty devices resembling waffle irons. i indulged in a honeydew bubble tea–and we people watched.
by the time we left it was after midnight, and the market was still rolling along. billows of wonderfully scented smoke rose up into the dark night sky and we walked out towards the parking lot. i still feel like i left north america that evening. but i’m even more delighted when i realize i didn’t.