Young Chinese: Chinatown Needs to Change
By Tong Chen
BU News Service
Jasmine Bao was standing behind the front desk in the Lunar New Year flower market in Chinatown. Surrounded by customers and passers-by, Bao was wrapping free souvenirs with old newspapers in a slow rhythm.
“This is not how Chinese New Year should look like,” said Bao. As an intern in a travel agency which is one of the sponsors of the flower market, Bao was asked to distribute free New Year calendars and posters.
Chinatown may seem authentic to American tourists and hungry Bostonians, but to some Chinese students, Chinatown doesn’t leave a good impression. Despite the fact that it was the Chinese New Year, Chinatown hasn’t held any celebrations or events this year, except the flower market.
“We want to promote Chinese New Year and culture to more people,” said Courtney Ho-Ha, Executive Director of Chinatown Main Street. “Each year is a learning experience on how to make it better than the last year.”
The Chinese New Year flower market has been organized by Chinatown Main Street for four years. This year, due to cold weather, the market took place in a tent which allowed small vendors to sell flowers and some Chinese New Year goods like red pockets and lanterns.
“It’s still cold inside. But it’s always good to have the chance to sell our flowers,” said Jeff Weng, a vendor who has been coming to the market for two years.
Ho-Ha said the vendors used to be set up in the middle of the streets during the Chinese New Year five or six years ago, which was causing all types of traffic backups in Chinatown. Now, the flower market is held at a park in front of the Chinatown gate, which helps prevent traffic problems.
However, in spite of the positive views the organizer and vendors have, some young people had different opinions.
“I haven’t heard about the New Year flower market until this year I got the internship,” said Bao, a graduate student at Northeastern University who came to America from Shanxi Province one year ago.
Unlike what China has during the New Year, Bao believes the atmosphere in Boston Chinatown was less exciting.
“Every New Year market in China is big and crowded,” Bao said. “But in Boston, Chinese New Year seems boring.
Yuki Zhu was in Chinatown for food. Seeing the market tent, Zhu went inside but left without buying anything.
“I was excited and wondered if I can get something for New Year,” said Zhu. “But the market is even smaller than my room.”
Zhu graduated from Northeastern last year. Living in Boston for over four years, Zhu has never been to any New Year events.
“Chinese New Year is like Christmas,” said Zhu. “It’s the most important in the year.”
As a cultural center in the city, Chinatown is expected to feel like home to the Chinese students. However, some Chinese students in Boston believe Chinatown needs to offer more holiday events and improve its environment as well.
“Chinatown is a great place for food, but it’s hard to find a parking spot,” said Tian Yu, a junior at Boston College. “I have to always park in the garage, which costs about 10 bucks an hour.”
Yu comes from Canton, where dim sum is from. Missing her hometown food, Yu often goes to Chinatown to explore nice restaurants. But, Yu said the lack of parking spots and the dirty environment in Chinatown have always been a headache for her.
“The garbage in front of some restaurants really make me uncomfortable,” she said. Yu describes herself as a “Chinese food aficionado.” She has visited several Chinatowns in other cities, and she even believes the jumbled environment is a common issue in most Chinatowns like in New York and Chicago.
Besides the environment, crime is also a concern in the neighborhood. According to Sampan, a bilingual newspaper in Chinatown, crime statistics in December 2013 were higher than the same period in 2012, showing that six robberies, three aggravated assaults and 11 larcenies occurred.
Yifan Chen, a freshman at Boston University who comes from Shanghai, said his friend happened to be a victim.
“She was walking through Chinatown to the Green Line Station,” Chen said. “She felt someone was tugging her purse, but when she realized, her purse had been taken away.” Chen said his friend went to Chinatown for food every weekend, but after that incident happened, she is afraid to walk alone there.