Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Chinatown Will Not See Olympic Torch

The Olympic Torch is on it's way to San Fran giving the city the honour of being the only North American city to host the legendary flame. But it is unlikely to go through Chinatown Mayor Gavin Newsom was reported to have said in the San Fran Chronicle.

This, he said, is due to the narrow streets and congestion and nothing to do with the prevailing political unease against China. Or the arson attack on the Chinese Consulate last week or the request that during the ceremony a city official publicly records a protest at China's human rights record.

Certainly Chinatown's streets are smaller and the pavements are a crush of people and stalls. And when the flame came to San Fran in 2004 it did not go through Chinatown.

But how do the Chinese community feel about this as the Games are in their homeland?

I wandered through and spoke to traders and shoppers. Their responses surprised me especially as this is the oldest Chinatown outside of Asia. Call me naive but I am new to San Fran and have not browsed in Chinatowns around the world.

I had great difficulty in getting my question understood. My first encounter set the scene for what was to follow. Two older, smartly dressed ladies who had been chatting on the pavement struggled to interpret my words. Finally, between them they smiled encouragingly at me:

'I've no idea at all.... you go ask the police!'

After that other people gave me blank looks and stares, the occasional shake of the head mixed in with such phrases as 'No speak English,' 'I speak Chin-eesey,' 'I'm sorry, no English.'

In one shop a customer joined in with staff to try to help. As we stood there, fat white dumplings steaming behind the counter, the three women made an effort but gave up with apologetic glances. Even a girl handing out leaflets for a new Chinese health centre wasn't able to converse in English.

Some said blankly, 'I don't know about it.' One said, 'I don't care,' while another lady's offering was that the previous procession had been in another street. Did she mind? She didn't seem to know. All of which conversations were conducted with linguistic difficulties and gesticulations.

Finally, I met a friendly couple in a healthfood store who easily understood my question. What do the people of Chinatown think about not having the Olympic Torch in their streets?

'Some people would like it but some don't know about it,' said the woman. The man smiled broadly. 'I would like to stand outside the door and see it!' he said.

Did I ask anyone in Chinatown what they thought of Tibet? There was no point. They wouldn't have spoken in Chinese either!

The Olympic Torch processes through the streets on Wednesday, 9 April.

No comments: