Sharon Chan is excited about her latest invention: her own version of the sauce used for curry fishball, a popular cultural snack that she is introducing to visitors at the first-ever Vancouver Hong Kong Fair.
She is one of more than 60 vendors who are coming together at SFU Harbor Center on Friday to celebrate artists, customs and traditions, in what organizer HK House said will be Canada’s biggest celebration of Hong Kong culture.
“Flavor is not just taste. It is memory, and we pass that along in our cuisine,” Ms. Chan said about her motivation for cooking. “Even though we may have left our roots, we don’t want to forget.”
The Vancouver fair is taking place against the backdrop of turmoil in Hong Kong, where protests against the Chinese government’s increasing interference in the city’s affairs have led to arrests and imprisonment of activists. As Hong Kong residents increasingly lose avenues of expression, many in the diaspora are now seeking to highlight the city’s distinctive identity relative to China.
“We are Hong Kongers, but we’re not your regular Chinese,” Ms. Chan said. “We are group of unique people from Hong Kong with Chinese ancestry.” She often takes pains to correct people in Vancouver when they assume that she is from China: “No, we’re from Hong Kong.”
The Toronto-born foodie had until recently been living in Hong Kong with her children, but the family moved back to Canada earlier than expected in the aftermath of the protests. She and her friends have been looking forward to the fair as a long-awaited chance to experience the community again.
“This fair is important to many Hong Kongers as a place of reunion and a place of Cantonese culture.”
Fair organizers are looking to bring the bustling atmosphere of a Hong Kong market into downtown Vancouver. Heiky Kwan, a volunteer at HK House – founded in 2020 as a Hong Kong diaspora collective consisting of both immigrants and those who are Canadian-born – said the fair is intended to rejuvenate a sense of connection that is otherwise lacking.
“The moment that more Hong Kongers landed in Vancouver starting in 2020, that’s when we realized: Yeah, we actually don’t really have a community. It’s not that strong. The diaspora is there, but we don’t really celebrate with each other,” Ms. Kwan said.
“That’s what we want to stimulate and what we want to encourage, to help foster that community of Hong Kong creators and small businesses.”
Esther Yuen, another HK House volunteer, said the team put the fair together on short notice while its members worked full-time jobs.
“You’ll be surprised with the number of people wanting to get something together when they really love their heritage and culture,” Ms. Yuen said.
Jeannie Chan, for example, is excited to do tarot-card readings at the fair, which she used to do when she lived in Hong Kong. The former Apple Daily journalist used the practice as a way to deal with the trauma and stress of reporting on the 2019 protests.
Apple Daily, shuttered by Hong Kong authorities last year in a press-freedom blow for the city, was famous for its pro-democracy stand and criticism of China. Jeannie Chan said continuing her tarot practice has helped her stay connected with her community.
Tickets for the fair have been in very high demand – and the response goes to show how much dedicated spaces for Hong Kong culture is needed, Ms. Kwan said.
And while the fair is apolitical, one can find events and vendors at the fair making side references to the protests. It’s an acknowledgment of what Hong Kongers have gone through in the past few years, organizers said.
“Just speaking in the community’s language is very comforting for them. That’s not something they can encounter in the everyday, so we become a safe refuge,” Ms. Kwan said.
“There’s a community that we need to foster, and an identity that we need to preserve.”
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