I might have my issues with China but that said, one of my favourite places in the world to have breakfast is in San Francisco’s Chinatown. I love the hustle and bustle. The mania that passes for normalcy. The smells. The noise. Even the windows dressed with dead ducks have their appeal. Practically every Chinatown I’ve visited has been the same – full of life and vigor: Vancouver BC, Los Angeles, London, New York. And that in itself had created a pattern in my mind, a pattern that has been broken by Chinatown Milan, Italy.
Okay, in fairness, while San Francisco’s Chinatown has its origins in the gold rush of the 1900s and takes up about 22 blocks of the city, Chinatown Milan is much, much smaller and far more recent.
Chinese immigrants first arrived in the city as far back as the 1920s but it wasn’t until 1979 and onwards that they started to come in earnest. By the turn of the century, there were about 10 000 Chinese immigrants in the city – and probably more today. Located between the streets of Via Paolo Sarpi, Via Bramante, and Via Canonica, Chinatown Milan is one with a difference.
And what makes it different? It has style. Milanese style. The Milanese are a stylish people. Enviably so. And, apparently once the Chinese vendors figured out what makes the Milanese tick with regard to shopping preferences, they adapted accordingly. Instead of the noisy chaos, there’s a quite elegance about the place. Duck is still readily available but the window space is given up to parma hams. Chinese ‘stuff’ in all its forms and fancies is to be had, but displayed with a certain panache that San Francisco probably wouldn’t know what to do with. And while many locals moved out when the Chinese retailers first moved in, they’re slowly coming back. The area is prospering.
And yes, there are the money markets, and the tacky shops selling the usual Chinese fare but even those have some class. But there are expensive designer shops, too – more upmarket – catering to the Milanese pocket and the Asian tourist. It has everything that your usual Chinatown has – in style. I was bemused.
What got me though, was how well the two cultures have blended and how part of the city Milan’s Chinatown is. It seems to have assimilated. Or has it? I read that Chinatown is the target of many prejudices and tension. The fear that many Italians have of China is mainly due to the fact that the very important fashion business suffers from dumping prices and copying.
And apparently moves are afoot to relocate it to another part of town… where it would be ‘less infringing’. Who knows. If you’re in Milan, it’s definitely worth a visit.