Stepping into Asia - the Crystal Mall
A short time after moving to Canada, I heard about a new mall that had opened in Vancouver, called “Crystal Mall”. It was said to cater mainly to Asian clientele, with shops, restaurants, beauty parlours, services like travel and insurance, and a wet market. I never forgot about the catchy name and I remained curious about it, but somehow I never made it there for a visit. Until last weekend.
It’s not in Vancouver
First off, the Crystal Mall isn’t in Vancouver or even Richmond, but in Burnaby. And it’s only a block away from Metrotown, the biggest shopping mall in British Columbia. We have been at Metrotown often, but we never even noticed that other mall. With a name like that, I imagined the Crystal Mall would be very striking, but that’s not the case. It’s actually quite unassuming when you approach it from the street, and my husband, who grew up in BC and has been in the area many times, told me he had never noticed it either.
Don’t be fooled by the boring exterior - the mall itself is quite remarkable. We felt transported to a different continent. The store signage and advertising were mostly in Chinese - or at least a language that looked like Chinese to me - and only the prices were in Arabic numbers. Erik and I stuck out like two sore thumbs: two massive Caucasians strolling through a sea of Asiatic looking customers. The stores appeared to be very much targeted to Asian households, with very specific goods and services offered that we didn’t understand or needed. The stores were small and crammed, and there was nothing “Western” about it, which only added to the mall’s overall charm and foreign feeling. We were a bit intimidated but also very intrigued.
The Wet Market
A big part of the ground floor is occupied by a large wet market. When I say “large” I don’t mean that there’s lots of room to move around, quite the opposite. There were a ton of vendors, with a huge amount of foods stacked high, meats, seafood, mushrooms, spices, produce, baked goods and many more things I didn’t even recognize. I wanted to take so many pictures, but I asked a security guard if I was allowed to photograph and he figured it was better not to because of privacy issues, so I put my camera away. I tried a couple of times to find out what a specific item on display was, but I simply could not understand the answer, maybe because the seller’s accent was too heavy, or because there was so much bustling and noise around. Eventually, I gave up. We just strolled around for a bit and took in the colours and the sounds, and then we moved on. On our way to the upper floor of the mall, I snapped a picture, but it doesn’t do the colours and the atmosphere any justice.
The Food Court
The food court is right above the wet market. Already on the escalator upstairs, you were hit by the perfume of many Asian dishes. We passed by numerous counters and tried to understand what they were offering, but we felt we were woefully unequipped to understand Asian cuisine. The recommendation we had received for Shanghai House Dim Sum led us to a booth at the very end of the food court, but the sign “Cash Only” ultimately prevented us from even trying to order something (since we didn’t have any cash with us and no idea where the nearest ATM was located). There was also no place to sit anywhere, because the area was buzzing with people having lunch. Despite the mouth watering aroma, we just didn’t feel courageous enough to attempt to order something from a menu we didn’t understand.
When we eventually left the mall and stepped back onto the curb, it felt like we had left China and returned to Canada. The country where the spaces are wide, the ethnicities manyfold, and Tim Hortons takes credit cards.