Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images

North America’s 10 Oldest Chinatowns

Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images

Chinese New Year has arrived. For those looking to ring in the Year of the Monkey, you don’t have to hop a plane to have an authentic experience. From New York to San Francisco, North America is full of historic and fun-filled pockets of Chinese culture. Here’s how to celebrate at 10 of the oldest.


Founded: 1848

What to do: The line out the door at Golden Gate Bakery in San Francisco’s Chinatown should tip you off that it has some of the best food in town; get there early for egg custard tarts before they run out. Around the time of the mid-autumn festival, Golden Gate is also the best place for moon cakes. Further immerse yourself in the culture at The Chinese Historical Society of America.


Founded: 1858

What to do: Victoria's Fan Tan Alley, the narrowest street in Canada, measures 35 inches across. Although the street is a popular tourist destination in its own right, there's much more to do than take arm-stretching selfies: The alley and surrounding streets are full of tea, clothing, and souvenir shops.


Founded: 1860s

What to do: Now, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese communities have been incorporated into Seattle's International District. Visit the Wing Luke Museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian, to learn about the Pan-Asian experience in the U.S.



Founded: 1870

What to do: The restaurant Hop Louie is housed in a bright yellow, five-level pagoda built in 1941. Head straight for the bar and order a Scorpion bowl.


Founded: 1870

What to do: Dr. Sun Yat-sen Park celebrates the Chinese leader, who spent his formative years on Oahu, and features a sculpture of him as a 13-year-old boy. Honolulu is a sister city of Zhongshan, where Dr. Sun was born.


Bryan Thomas/Getty Images

Founded: 1870s

What to do: Nom Wah Tea Parlor, which opened in 1920, is still owned by the same family and is the oldest continually-run dim sum place in the city. Go hungry.


Founded: 1870s

What to do: The Lan Su Chinese Garden in downtown Portland features plants like orchids, peonies, and bamboo; there's also a traditional Chinese-style teahouse.


Founded: 1877

What to do: This Chinatown is home to four paifang, or arches, one facing each cardinal direction. In particular, the bright red southern arch is a popular selfie site.


Robert Giroux/Getty Images

Founded: 1886

What to do: The striking Canadian Chinese Monument on Keefer Street was built to honor the many Chinese immigrants who built Canada's national railway as well as the Chinese men who fought for Canada in World War II.


Founded: 1900-1910

What to do: Head to Dragon City Mall for textiles, home goods, sweets, and other products sent straight from the mainland.

Hubert Grimmig, Kultur- und Tourismus GmbH Gengenbach
Inside the German Town Where Advent Is the Main Attraction
Hubert Grimmig, Kultur- und Tourismus GmbH Gengenbach
Hubert Grimmig, Kultur- und Tourismus GmbH Gengenbach

The German town of Gengenbach takes Christmas very seriously. So seriously that it counts down to the holiday with one of the biggest Advent calendars in the world.

Two decades ago, the town of 11,000 people on the edge of the Black Forest set out to bring in more tourists during the holiday season. So to make its holiday market more unique, Gengenbach began turning its town hall into a building-sized Advent calendar.

Now, every night from November 30 to December 23, the windows of Gengenbach’s Baroque city hall light up with artistic creations inspired by a yearly theme. At 6 p.m. each evening, the lights of city hall go up, and a spotlight trains on one window. Then, the window shade pulls up to reveal the new window. By December 23, all the windows are open and on display, and will stay that way until January 6.

Gengenbach's city hall lit up for Christmas
Hubert Grimmig, Kultur- und Tourismus GmbH Gengenbach

Each year, the windows are decorated according to a theme, like children’s books or the work of famous artists like Marc Chagall. For 2017, all the Advent calendar windows are filled with illustrations by Andy Warhol.

According to the Guinness World Records, it’s not the absolute biggest Advent calendar in the world. That record belongs to a roughly 233-foot-high, 75-foot-wide calendar built in London’s St Pancras railway station in 2007. Still, Gengenbach’s may be the biggest Advent calendar that comes back year after year. And as a tourist attraction, it has become a huge success in the last 20 years. The town currently gets upwards of 100,000 visitors every year during the holiday season, according to the local tourist bureau.

The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]


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