Liverpool’s Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in Europe. Not one of the oldest, but THE oldest. The earliest Chinese presence in Liverpool dates back to the early 1800s. Because of this glamorous title, Liverpool’s Chinatown has become somewhat of a tourist attraction.
That is why when we first arrived in Liverpool, one of the first places we visited before school started was this famous Chinatown place. We were pretty excited when we reached the Chinatown Gate, supposed to be the largest multiple-span Chinese arch in the world outside China.
Our excitement was short lived though. Because what greeted us beyond the arch was this:
A couple of Chinese restaurants and… some cars and… nothing! Basically just an empty street devoid of any human activity. Do you know what went through my mind at that moment? I was basically thinking three words: “What the f**k?”
Sure, we saw some rather Chinese things along this street, like this parking vending machine with a Chinese design casing..
We also saw the Liverpool Chinese Gospel Church, complete with the Chinese name, 利物浦华人福音教会. This church is supposed to be rather famous among the Chinese community in the region.
But, this was not what I imagined a Chinatown to be. I am from Kuala Lumpur, and if you have been to KL’s Chinatown in Petaling Street, I guess you can understand my disappointment. In my mind, a Chinatown is supposed to be bustling with people and activity. I always thought the Chinese are well known (and sometimes well hated in Europe) for being extremely hardworking and neglecting work life balance. Shops is Chinatown are supposed to be open from early morning till late night. A Chinatown should not resemble a deserted town with all the shops closed in the middle of the day!
Before you comment that maybe the Chinatowns in Europe are like that, let me show you a picture of London’s Chinatown. This is taken in September, it is not Chinese New Year yet.
We learnt very quickly that Liverpool’s Chinatown is not really a very good tourist destination. And there really wasn’t a proper Chinatown anyway. The shops are scattered sparsely along a few streets in that area where the arch stands.
If you are a tourist visiting Liverpool and have quite a bit of time to spare, then sure, make your way to the arch and take some pictures. It is an impressive arch after all. And it is like 2 minutes walk from the Liverpool Cathedral. But if you are on a tight schedule, then I think you won’t be missing a great deal even if you give this place a pass.
So, if Liverpool’s Chinatown is not good as a tourist attraction, is it good for anything?
Well, if you are an Asian who is going to be living in this city for a while, then why, of course this place is crucial! Moving to a place so far from home, you will inevitably miss home and crave familiar food at some point of time. This is when Chinatown is your life savior. There are 2 Chinese supermarkets in adjacent streets of the arch, 鸿图 Hondo Supermarket and 中华行 Chung Wah Supermarket. Well, I say Chinese supermarkets, but they are basically Asian supermarkets. You will be able to see familiar food and items here.
I know for most East Asians, rice is a staple. In fact there are many Malaysian Chinese who has this mindset of I must have at least one meal of rice every day, otherwise my life is incomplete. The problem is, most British supermarkets/grocery stores only sell basmati rice, long grain rice and risotto rice. They are not the same as the white jasmine rice that we are used to on our side of the world. To buy the kind of rice that you are familiar with, you best bet is always the supermarkets in Chinatown.
Oh, and your best friend in the middle of the hungry nights, the instant noodles. The Asian instant noodles. They might be priced 2 to 3 times more expensive than what you pay at home, but how can you not pay up when you are desperate, right?
For Malaysians, if you are lucky, you might even see durians. Actually, when you look at the price, you would probably not consider it as lucky..
That’s not £4.78, that’s £14.78! For 1 durian! You go and do the conversion yourself..
This was in 2007. I’m actually not sure how the place has become as of today. I suspect nothing has changed though. There were a couple of redevelopment plans announced over the years, in 2010 and again in 2012 I think, but none of them gained any traction and was soon forgotten. If anyone has any more recent and better news, do share with me.
I thought I was writing a travel post, but I guess this post is for both the tourists and the longer term visitors. Anyway, I hope I have been informative again in this post..