Asian centre delivers on global experience

Ontario intern heads west to visit Far East

On Tuesday, I went to the Yaohan Centre. I've been to Chinatowns and Japantowns in Ottawa and Toronto, but never to a whole mall before.

Dozens of small shops with all-glass walls line the upper floor with the Osaka Market and aromatic food court taking up the bottom. As a journalist, I have a nose for news, not to mention good Asian food, so it seemed fitting to start my assignment by heading to the food court.

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Besides, Osaka Market is similar to T&T supermarket and there are a few of those around Ottawa, so it wasn't so unique. The "two items and rice combo" was the exact same price at every stall ($7. 49) so the only decision was what kind of food: curry, sushi, Korean barbecue etc. But I suspected none of them had anything spicy enough to satisfy my fire-lovin' palate.

I finally ventured towards a Chinese food stall and, while looking at the trays of chicken, beef and vegetables, I asked one of the cooks what was the spiciest chicken. She didn't say anything but pointed to a couple of trays. That's when a guy - of Aboriginal descent, I think - beside me chimed in.

"The key is to douse it in that stuff." He motioned to the jar of Sriracha sauce, the red chili paste, with a flavour I'm too familiar with after living on my own for two years while going to college. I used the stuff to turn my flavourless Styrofoam cup of noodles into a spicy flavourless Styrofoam cup of noodles. We made small talk as he walked out of the mall. He mentioned he was from Calgary, and I told him I was from Ottawa. I asked him what there was to do in the mall. He laughed. I told him I was working for the Richmond News and was on assignment to explore the various quirks and qualities of the city and record my impressions.

I could see him pondering this as he pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket, placed one of them in his mouth and lit it.

He mentioned a car dealership across the street was having a sale, and laughed again.

Finally, he said, "I would help, but I gotta make it home," and left.

Genuinely Asian I headed back inside and up to the top floor. The glass walls of shops were what struck me the most. The architects seemed to be going for a modernist look, but it came across as gimmicky. Although, perhaps the walls stood out because the stores were so void of people? One store actually did have a single collegeaged employee, but he was busy tapping away on a cell phone and didn't even acknowledge me when I walked in. (Tuesday afternoon is clearly not their busy time).

One store I had never been in before was a Chinese herbal medicine and supplements store.

I've never seen this much ginseng in my life. I inquired about it and was told it's "just ginseng, some wild, some farmed." Another bag caught my eye. This one was red on one side and clear on the other, with no markings other than the price: $208 per bag.

I asked the shopkeeper what it was, without looking up from her ginseng sorting tray, she said "fish stomachs for cooking soup" - of course it was.

One thing I've enjoyed about Richmond so far is its multiculturalism.

Yes, Canada parades itself as a mosaic, instead of a melting pot, and, yes, in Ottawa there's diversity as well, but it doesn't feel the same. I've walked streets in the Chinese neighbourhoods of both Ottawa and Toronto with a bowl of pho or take-out boxes of sesame chicken in my hand, after a few pints at a watering hole, but when I walk through the Yaohan Centre, it feels genuine, not just a few blocks zoned for hospitality and food service.

I'm curious to see where my feet take me in Richmond next time.

These assignments have taken me to Steveston and now, this unique mall. I'd like to set my sights on the Olympic oval, maybe another day trip to the Golden Triangle or an evening at the Night Market when May rolls around.

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