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The Chinese are known for having traveled far and wide starting a long time ago, and as a result there are Chinatowns—known in Mandarin as 唐人街 (tángrénjiē)—on six continents and in nearly every country. In Europe, notable Chinatowns are in London, Antwerp, Paris, and Amsterdam. Pockets of Chinese immigrants and their descendents exist across Australia and New Zealand with proper Chinatowns in many of Australia's larger cities. Asia too has some of the world's most famous Chinatowns, including Bangkok's, Yokohama's, and Dubai's, and even countries with significant or even majority Chinese populations such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore have areas referred to as Chinatowns. Middle Eastern cities—Tel Aviv—for instance, has a Chinatown, and South Africa boasts several. Madagascar, Morocco, and Mauritius all have small Chinatowns as well. South America's Chinatowns in Lima, Caracas, Buenos Aires, Havana, Santo Domingo, etc. are known for their lively—and, to many, novel—blend of Asian and Latin cultures, although some have stopped developing and stand today mainly as tourist novelties. But the greatest in number and size are generally North America's Chinatowns, with the U.S.'s and Canada's histories as immigrant countries. Today, every nearly major city in the U.S. has at least one; San Francisco's and Manhattan's the most renowned. Many of Canada's cities, particularly Vancouver and Toronto, are home to large concentrations of Chinese immigrants and their descendents. As far as the world's oldest Chinatown, that claim seems to go to Manila's, which dates back to the 16th century.
Chinatown in the City of Angels
Los Angeles's Chinatown has a history spanning over 100 years. Like the histories of many Chinatowns, this history reveals many of the struggles that Chinese face as immigrants and, later, descendents of immigrants to a country where racial identity plays a prominent role in society.
The city's original Chinatown was located on what is now Los Angeles's main transportation hub, Union Station. The entire neighborhood was picked up and moved a few blocks to its current location in the northeastern corner of downtown in the 1930s; in the early 2000s, Chinatown became a literal stop on the map with the unveiling of the Chinatown light rail station.
In the 1970s, Chinatown, led by restaurant-turned-nightclub Madame Wong's, resurfaced as a cultural and arts center among the city's punk rockers. The success of this club, fronted by a Shanghainese woman in her 50s with a legendary penchant for throwing audition cassettes she didn't like out her car window, led to copycat Hong Kong Café's opening down the street. But with the tapering off of the punk and new wave scenes throughout the 1980s, these venues eventually closed, leaving Chinatown with its characteristic swap markets, jewelry stores, restaurants, bakeries, pharmacies, and supermarkets catering to the greater Asian American communities rather than specifically Chinese.
But in the early 2000s, with its history, kitsch appeal, proximity to downtown and Hollywood, and relatively low rental prices, interest in Chinatown once again piqued among artist and hipster circles. Today several small galleries, bars, and trendy boutiques operate on a central pedestrian alley lined with tourist shops peddling inexpensive, Asian-themed kitschy knickknacks—everything from "samurai" swords to ceramic pipes, teacup sets to Chinese-takeout purses.
Of course, being centered in Los Angeles virtually guarantees that L.A. Chinatown will be most known worldwide for its appearance in a number of movies, most notably Rush Hour starring Jackie Chan and Roman Polanski's Chinatown.
Today, Chinatown is home to many Vietnamese residents as well, and on the streets you'll most often hear Cantonese, Spanish, and Vietnamese with the occasional English from tourists or even less common Tagalog or Mandarin conversation. Street signs in the area are written in English and traditional Chinese characters; some also display Spanish and/or Vietnamese. Los Angeles contains a multitude of ethnic enclaves—Little Tokyo and Historic Filipinotown are in adjacent neighborhoods to Chinatown, and Koreatown, Little Armenia, and Thai Town are not much farther beyond that.
The eastern periphery of greater Los Angeles is home to other, much larger predominantly Chinese/Taiwanese areas, including Monterey Park, Alhambra, and the San Gabriel Valley. In many ways, including the dearth of tourists and the fact that Mandarin is widely spoken, these neighborhoods are much more reminiscent of modern-day China than Chinatown itself.