Tannis Ling says the turnout to the Vancouver Chinatown Night Market has become much sparser in the three years her restaurant has fronted the 18-year-old festivities on Keefer Street.
“And the vendors were kind of lackadaisical about the whole thing. If it looked like there was a slight chance of rain, they wouldn’t necessarily all set up, so it looked sparse in that way, as well,” said Ling, owner of Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie. “But I always thought the whole thing had a ton of potential. When you see it from a distance is looks great. There are tents and lights and action and motion; it’s just that the contents of the market is a little bit outdated.”
Ling and Ken Tsui, who run pop-up shops and dinners, have approached the longtime organizers and cooked up ideas for a fresh version of the market they hope will reflect the influx of new galleries and restaurant to the area while continuing to celebrate Chinese culture.
Along with the more traditional Vancouver Chinese Night Market fare, a rotating roster of food trucks will sling street eats from one end of the block-long market on Columbia Street.
The revived market is expected to feature an equal mix of new and old vendors. The entertainment is also going to be rejigged. “There’s nothing wrong with karaoke, it’s just there was a lot of it,” Ling said.
Folk and lion dancers, singers and martial artists from previous years will continue to take the stage for the first hour, but Ling and Tsui also hope to engage visitors with a storytelling series, ping-pong and mahjong nights, kite-making classes for kids and a monthly movie night that is to include a screening of director Ang Lee’s 1994 flick Eat Drink Man Woman.
Vancouver’s Chinatown Night Market once dominated four blocks. “Once the Richmond ones opened up, it kind of drew away a lot of the business here in Chinatown,” Ling said. “It’s a pretty good reflection of what’s happened to Chinatown in general.”
Ling, a member of the Chinatown Revitalization Committee, spoke to its members before she approached the Vancouver Chinatown Merchants Association with her ideas. “I was kind of half expecting a little bit of resistance, but they were not like that at all. They were completely excited. I think they knew [it was floundering] and they didn’t know what steps to take to improve it,” she said.
“There were a little bit too many stalls with cellphone covers and a couple too many stalls with underwear. And I like that stuff, the cheap and cheerful… meat on a stick and potato tornadoes. They’re the things that come with a Chinese night market and I don’t want those to go.”
The night market runs 6 to 11 p.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from May 17 until Sept. 8. Interested vendors and sponsors can email firstname.lastname@example.org.