Chinatown’s Cryptic Signs

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Throughout our South America trip, we didn’t really see any Chinatown, except maybe in São Paulo where it was more like Little Japan. Oh, fear not, Feng found Chinese restaurants all the way, mostly in Santiago where Chinese food (and sushi) are popular, and rice is a staple food in all of Latin America anyway.

Back in Ottawa, I headed to Chinatown almost right away. I needed groceries and I like to buy from small businesses, it’s a nice change from Loblaws, Walmart, Food Basics or other giant retailers. For a while, after Mark was born, for the sake of efficiency, I shopped at the brand new T&T Supermarket, an all-things-Asian superstore. But it’s far, by the airport, located in another bland plaza in the middle of nowhere. These days, I’d rather go to Kowloon Market, on Somerset, a block from the red Chinatown arch.

Chinatown in Ottawa is small and unimpressive by world standards—it’s just a few blocks that stretch on Somerset West from Little Italy to Bay Street. The “street of the Tang people” as it is called in Chinese (唐人街) has an traditional arch (排放), a bilingual street sign, many murals featuring Asian themes, shallow bas-relief of stylized Zodiac animals underfoot and themed street furniture like red garbage cans and benches featuring laser-cut ideograms. Along the steep street, there are many Vietnamese phở restaurants (all serving the same menu items), one supermarket (the above-mentioned Kowloon), beauty salons, a pharmacy, travel agencies, Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Korean restaurants in various degrees of fanciness and many small convenience stores.

You can find pretty much anything in Chinatown if you can read a language other than English or French. What fascinates me is that you truly step into another world, and not just a small version of China. Dozens of cultures are catered for and help each other: the Korean shop rents Spanish karaoke songs, the Chinese restaurant has Halal meat, the Indian corner store sells chopsticks… You are at the crossroad of the world.

If you are looking for something in Chinatown, just slow down and read the signs displayed in stores, behind salt-covered windows, or affixed to doors.

Yeah, some are rather cryptic. You may need a dictionary.

Sorry for the picture quality, snapped with my phone and frozen fingers…

Rice. Stacks of bags of rice.

Rice. Stacks of bags of rice.

Sky lantern. Not sure if Ottawa's by-laws allow them...

Sky lantern. Not sure if Ottawa’s by-laws allow them…

Umbrella available! Twice! With little doodle!

Umbrella available! Twice! With little doodle!

One of the many ads in Chinese posted on the walls. This place is looking for a dishwasher (if my translation is accurate...).

One of the many ads in Chinese posted on the walls. This place is looking for a dishwasher (if my translation is accurate…).

Double Happiness. Just not for pigs and ducks, I guess.

Double Happiness. Just not for pigs and ducks, I guess.

Next time you are looking for pork bones... this is where you should go.

Next time you are looking for pork bones… this is where you should go.

Spanish Karaoke videos in a Korean convenience store that also sells LED lights.

Spanish Karaoke videos in a Korean convenience store that also sells LED lights.

Watch your step! Like, PLEASE!

Watch your step! Like, PLEASE!

Travel packages to China and Asia.

Travel packages to China and Asia.

A bit of everything here...

A bit of everything here…

Refugees welcome. Chinatown is also the places where many cultures meet.

Refugees welcome. Chinatown is also the places where many cultures meet.

Refugees welcome. Chinatown is also the places where many cultures meet.

Refugees welcome. Chinatown is also the places where many cultures meet.

New crop of rice!

New crop of rice!

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

8 Comments

  1. Right, I never really understood why Chileans love sushi. I met up with a blog reader back in 2011 when I was in Valparaiso, and she recommended a Chilean sushi joint. They fry those things! And coming from someone who lived in Japan for 5 years, that was quelle horreur!

    • Eeek. I admit I didn’t have sushi in Chile, but they seem to love fish and have an extended coastline, so it kind of made sense to me. Fried sushi? It defies the purpose!

  2. Brrr – these pictures even look cold! I love Chinatown in Toronto, we didn’t go to Chinatown in Ottawa, I didn’t even know that there was one!

  3. Well, this is my first ever Chinatown and my wife and I like to walk on Somerset whenever we can, and one gets Mango Kulfi at Kashi foods, which is quite decent 🙂

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