If you’ve ever been to a major city in Asia, you will know that, for the most part, these cities never sleep.
That can hardly be said of Richmond.
The city may have a relatively large Asian population, but it is far removed from the likes of Hong Kong, Bangkok, Tokyo and Seoul – emphasis on “far.” However, despite still being a back-up plan to Vancouver, Richmond has developed its own unique, little hot spots at night, largely influenced by its Asian residents.
And, as the city continues to grow, it’s only natural that it absorbs more night owls and a greater desire for night activities. Furthermore, there’s a lot of great scenery to absorb beyond dusk.
I began documenting a typical Friday night in Richmond at a typical Friday night locale — the movies, Riverport SilverCity to be exact.
With the wife and a couple of friends, we had initially planned to see the new Seth Rogen flick Neighbors, but were running late so settled on Godzilla. I personally found the movie slightly chintzy, but give it a passing grade as it picked up near the end, especially when the monsters destroyed Steveston.
Afterwards, I left the group to continue on my journey into the night.
My first stop, at around 11 p.m., was Matsuyama Japanese Restaurant on Alexandra Road, a.k.a Eating Street, where I got a bite to eat. Matsuyama has been a signature restaurant in Richmond for decades and owner Paul Lee has seen a lot over those years.
“Over there and over there, that used to be a forest,” said Lee, pointing out strip malls and hotels that have been built over time.
Lee’s restaurant is open late and is a popular gathering place for young people, mostly of Asian descent. It’s a common sight to see gatherings of young Asians chatting and laughing along Eating Street and tonight was no different.
I asked Lee what he envisions for this area in 10 or 20 years. Could it boom into a 24/7-night scene with neon signs, inflatable advertising tubes and, dare I suggest it, curbside restaurant seafood tanks, common throughout Asia?
“I don’t see that happening. It’s good the way it is. We close at 1 a.m. and that’s good enough for me,” said Lee, who was born in Hong Kong and came to Canada at age 17.
“You see that place. That place would be packed all night if this was Asia,” he said, pointing to Jade Seafood restaurant across the street.
Lee said the increased variety of food has made Eating Street an attraction unto its own. Indeed, the rise in Korean restaurants is nice to see, as I love spicy Asian food. I recommend Haroo Korean Restaurant, although their kimchi is a bit mild.
After I left Matsuyama, I drove down Alexandra and noticed a group of young adults hanging outside a place called Trapped, a reality escape game establishment. I inquired about their games and spoke to owner Paul Chang, who said the area’s parking and foot traffic attracted his interest in setting up shop in the strip mall.
I spoke to four enthusiastic guys in their early twenties – Ali, Sidd, Husan and Hamed, each who came from different cultural backgrounds (Pakistan, Palestine, India, and Afghanistan, respectively), but all from Surrey.
I asked them why they came to Richmond to hang out and what their impressions were of the area.
“Well, there are a lot of Chinese people,” quipped Ali. “We just needed something to do,” he added.
I asked them what they could do in Surrey.
“Well, you can go to a park and smoke and drink,” replied Hamed.
As they went off to play their game, I thought it’s a good thing the city has a few fun places for young people to go on a Friday or Saturday night. And I hadn’t even been to karaoke yet…
Next stop was the Richmond Night Market, next to the River Rock Casino and Resort, just before closing time. I’ve been here before and it’s a well-documented adventure in Richmond.
This market, as well as the International Summer Night Market on Vulcan Way can offer a couple of great hours of entertainment for people of all ages. The market brings me back to my time traveling Asia; slurping noodles, bumping shoulders and smelling something new with each passing step. But, alas, meat on a stick, stuffed animal prizes and cell phone trinkets have run their course on me.
As I had parked my car at the casino, I decided to walk down No. 3 Road to Millenium Karaoke, nearly all the way back to Alexandra. I should have taken the Canada Line as it took some time and, frankly, was a less than inspiring walk, passing used car lot after used car lot and a XXX video shop going out of business. I also noticed the Szechuan restaurant that took over from the 24/7 restaurant Knight and Day that used to be there years ago. A box of onion rings to go would have been nice, but I may just have to settle for some food from No. 9 Restaurant at Lansdowne Mall.
I arrived at Millenium to see a throng of young Asian people outside, most of them smoking. I had arranged to speak to bartender/manager Katt Chow, but she was too busy, so I settled with the establishment’s very personable owner Don Lai.
Millenium is one of a handful of karaoke joints in what we Richmondites like to call the Golden Village. Karaoke is an affordable outing and an entire night out will cost, about $10 per person, plus food and drinks. I urge everyone to try it. Millenium also has a liquor licence, a rarity for karaoke establishments here, unlike their Asian counterparts.
“We’re the first karaoke place that got a liquor licence in the past few years. The city doesn’t hand them out. It’s very hard to get,” said Lai.
One has to admit, what’s a karaoke without a little beer to calm one’s trepidation? The atmosphere was “bumping” but it turns out, the area had seen its fair share of problems until recently, according to Lai, who was raised in Victoria and describes his place as “Asian-Canadian.”
“Back in the day there were a lot of fights at, I think it was, (now defunct) Viva Club. And we don’t want any of that,” said Lai.
To be sure of not having any problems at Millenium, Lai has hired a bouncer. I had to admit to Lai, visiting Millenium for the first time, I was taken aback by the man’s large stature — hence some questions about what the heck goes on around here.
Alas, Millenium seems like a great place to sing and have drinks responsibly. The sound systems pump out tunes like nobody’s business and there are lots of smiles to go around. To boot, it stays open until 2 a.m. and offers people a place to go when places like Matsuyama close their doors (although you’ll likely need a reservation as it was jam-packed.)
I was curious what the most popular songs of the day are, but Lai said he didn’t know as he wasn’t the biggest karaoke fan. He suggested I call up other karaoke places in town to see what they were.
An employee at K-Fever Karaoke on Capstan Way obliged me with their top-five Korean Pop songs (although most of their customers are Chinese and request songs from Chinese artists, K-Pop is far more popular worldwide). And so it goes, Heart is Beatingby the band 100% is topping the charts at K-Fever. Overdoesby Exo is also popular.
Far be it from me to know these or any other artists despite having lived in Seoul for a few years. I like to stick to the Western favourites like Michael Jackson, Metallica and Johnny Cash.
Sleepy eyes were coming on and it was about 1:30 a.m. by the time I left Millenium. I missed the last train on the Canada Line and had to walk briskly back to the casino, briefly taking in the silence of the Fraser River’s middle arm.
I entered River Rock with $20 cash in my pocket and headed straight to the roulette table, throwing it down on red. Black struck and I bemoaned the cruel mistress that is the River Rock.
But that loss paled in comparison to my friend Colin, who I bumped into as I was about to leave. Colin’s an avid poker player who usually does well for himself; but he had apparently just lost $200.
“If you’re willing to gamble, you’ve got to be willing to take your lumps,” he said, just after he lost an additional $50 on roulette (black, again).
I drove Colin home, explaining to him the merits of knowing his limit and playing within it; by this time it was about 2:30 a.m. I headed to Steveston to see if I could get a glimpse of the Camelopardalid meteor shower. No dice, again, as there were clouds and too much light pollution.
I walked around the village a bit, but it was pretty much a ghost town, save for a few bronze statues talking to one another at the Cannery; a far cry from the crazy chaos of Godzilla, for sure.
Top songs at K-Fever Karaoke in Richmond
1. Heart is Beating by 100%
2. Overdose by Exo
3. Question by Ha U-Sun
4. Far Away by C-Clown
5. Not Spring, Love or Cherry Blossoms by High4