Chinatown has begun to take shape, after two arches were mounted one on the corner of Independence Square and Charlotte Street and another at the corner of Charlotte and Park Streets. Chinatown has now entered into the national conversation; sparking mixed views about the initiative that has twinned China’s Shanghai with Port of Spain.
Chinese merchants, who have been a feature of Charlotte Street for centuries, have welcomed it. But it has incurred the vendors’ angst since they claim Port Of Spain mayor Joel Martinez failed to consult with them. They also think Martinez should tend to the dilapidated infrastructure and issues including flooding, mentally ill and socially displaced people. Several vendors said Charlotte Street has its special charm, and, he should also take his Chinatown to Frederick or Henry Streets. Both vendors and merchants claimed they were not consulted by Martinez or Local Government Minister Kazim Hosein.
Kudos for Chinatown
“I like the idea of Chinatown. I have not seen the arches.”
So said popular Wing Sing, proprietor Wong Tai Leung, as he fielded customers.
Turning to his employee, he said: “Lena, where you working?”
Smiling broadly, Lena Labban said: “Chinatown.”
“You have to take a walk outside and you will see the arches with the fire breathing dragons. I can’t wait till they paint the town red. Red is the Chinese colour for prosperity,” she added.
While bagging Chinese prunes, another employee Listra Mayers said: “Red is the colour of obeah. I went into a house and it only had red. I walked right out. But I can’t wait to walk on cobblestoned streets. Chinatown is a good initiative.”
Mayers said she had a penchant for Chinese medicine and cuisine.
“I had some problems with my menstrual cycle. I took Chinese medicine. Don’t talk about Peking duck. Everything got sorted out. My flow regulated,” she said.
Reaching for a box, Labban said: “We have everything here for “action.” We setting bedrooms on fire.”
Up came Chris Wong Sang (son of the late Joyce Wong Sang), who said: “It is a good idea. Chinatowns exist in New York and London. I know Cuba has one also.”
Pointing to the red lanterns, Wong Sang said: “Wing Sing must like the idea of Chinatown. The whole store oozes Chinese products. Soaps. Condiments. Soy Sauce. Moving movie was filmed here. He is an icon. He’s been here forever. His story is in the book Descendants Of the Red Dragon.”
‘Gotten a lot of abuse’
Since the arches were mounted, Wong Sang said: “I have also gotten a lot of abuse. I am a Trini. Friends from all races. People saying all kinds of nasty things to me. Treating me like a migrant. Allyuh Chinese want to take over. Go back China. Other Chinese people have complained about the abuse.”
Wong Sang also said the vendors are an integral part of Charlotte Street, and, whatever decisions were made should benefit them.
“The vendors feel people want to run them off Charlotte Street. They have to be allowed to ply their trade. They are part of the landscape. Nobody should remove them. Let them stay. The hodge podge adds to the Charlotte Street attraction.” Roland Robertson said people see Chinatown as a mecca for cheap products.
Vincentian Patsy Richards said: “I can’t understand what all the fuss is about. We have a Chinatown. Only foolish people condemning Chinatown. Ralph Gonzalves (Prime Minister) fixed the place real nice. When the boat comes, it is bringing products from China. The whole wharf has sweet potato, dasheen and arrowroot. We have Garifuna Indians. It is a real melting pot.”
Fix flooding, infrastructure
After 1 p.m., a massive downpour caused vendors and shoppers to scamper for shelter.
Murky water started flowing into the stalls. Vendors covered their fruits and vegetables as commerce ceased.
Clad in plastic bag hat and garbage bag cloak, Huggins pushed water from the tattered tarpaulin. After they reached for a bottle of puncheon (firewater).
Huggins said: “After two broomsticks, the $700 tarpaulin burst. Look at the water gushing down. The mayor (Martinez) should fix the flooding. Fix the drains. We need better infrastructure. Are you going to invite tourists to shop on a nasty street?”
Gibbs said the city was infested with rats. “Leptospirosis. You are not seeing them. But rats are everywhere.”
Shopper George Prizgar said: “It’s not a good idea. Police blocked off the street. When people can’t get work. Think what will happen with crime. When casinos come down here, think about the situation.”
Fruit vendor Jude Bissoon said: “They need to fix Charlotte Street with the flooding. Look at debris after the rain. We have mentally ill and homeless people walking under the arch. It’s not a good idea.”
Losing T&T heritage
At a George Street barber saloon, a barber said: “When Martinez looks out his window, he does not see crime and poverty. He only sees people driving fancy cars. He does not see drugs and guns. When Trinidad sinks, after people like him sellout to the Chinese, they will flee where they have big money.”
He added: “We went and borrowed money from China. Rowley sold out. The bottom line is it’s a Chinese victory.”
Other patrons said they did not like the idea of having to rendezvous in Chinatown.
“Charlotte Street will be no more. When you come from foreign, Chinatown and not Charlotte Street will hit you. We are losing our heritage,” said one customer.