Shopping for Asian Stuff

I thought I would write about shopping since I just updated the “Shopping” page of to include some local places to shop for Asian stuff.  It is far from complete and I’d love to hear from readers about your favorite place to find Asian stuff.

Chinese Building in Victoria, BCAfter collecting frequent flyer miles for 10 years with Northwest Airlines, Delta who purchased NWA gave me two years to use or lose those miles.  So about five months before I would lose those miles we checked to see where those miles would take us.  And 158,000 miles got three people to Vancouver, BC last summer.  That was as far as we could fly on those miles when I tried to book, but it changes daily.  But I’ve always wanted to go to Vancouver.  I even had some extra help on getting the inside scoop on Vancouver, as one of the families at my son’s preschool is from Vancouver and are living in the US for a couple of years.

What does traveling to Vancouver have to do with shopping?  Well, it turns out that Chinatown in Vancouver is Canada’s largest Chinatown.  And Chinatown, Victoria, BC is Canada’s oldest Chinatown and the second oldest Chinatown in North America, second only to San Francisco.

When traveling with a four year old, shopping is not high on the list of must-dos, but we took an hour to visit Chinatown, Victoria, BC.  It was about the size of Chinatown in DC, but I got some nice pictures of the area.  Chinatown, Vancouver, BC was better for shopping.

Chinatown, Vancouver is fabulous for shopping for the average tourist looking for Asian goods.  When traveling with my husband and Danny, we only allotted two hours for Chinatown shopping. Chinatown felt more like being back in Vietnam than anywhere else I’ve shopped since.  And two hours is not nearly enough time to shop this huge area.  The place stretches for blocks. I was looking for decorations and things related to Lunar New Year.  I found a little of this and a little of that to bring home.  After lunch in Chinatown at a pretty authentic place, we drove down to Richmond, BC.

I never would have heard of Richmond if Danny’s classmate’s mom hadn’t told me about it. She said was about 80% Asian and we had to go. (It may only be 60% Asian in fact.)  I’m not sure how towns are classified in Canada, but Richmond looks like a town just south of Vancouver.  Chinatown, in Vancouver proper is a tourist area and looks more like Chinatown in NY.  In Richmond, there are huge indoor malls which cater to the wealthy Asian population.   I explored one of the malls, Aberdeen Centre, in Richmond. It was like nothing I had ever seen before.

My impression was from a quick 30 minute shopping trip while my husband stayed in the car while Danny napped.  For one thing, I only saw one other Caucasian family, everyone else who was shopping there was Asian or Asian-Canadian.  The mall looked like an upscale Tysons Corner Mall, which I imagined would be like if it were situated in Singapore.  There were luxury car dealerships right in the mall.  Most of the shops were way beyond my budget.  There was one curious store which just sold upscale Japanese toilet/bidets.  This toilet/bidet combination has heated seats and this is where I met the one non-Asian family.   I just had to take a picture. There was one store, Daiso which according to their website is “a unique combination of dollar and convenience store”, is the only place I took to time to visit.  If you want to get your household equipment from Japan, this is the place to do it.  The section for wrapping paper and gift boxes was absolutely huge and beautiful.

Anyway, it was a real experience to shop in a mall where I was an ethnic minority.  All the shops I wanted to visit were in the more touristy Chinatown, Vancouver but my visit to Aberdeen Centre in Richmond, was worth it just for the experience.  And I wished I had more than 30 minutes to explore before it was time to go to a child-friendly attraction.  Richmond is where the lovely old fishing village of Steveston is located.  So all the shopping in Richmond was just a side trip for our real destination of Steveston.

And Vancouver Chinatown even had an Asian Night Market on the weekends which we attended.  We went to some of the night markets in Saigon.  This was no Saigon Night market, but it was fun and introduced us to some stores which we wanted to visit when we actually got to Chinatown during the day a couple of days later.  Plus the fact that it was summer and we were with a four year old, means we went there before it got dark, so we couldn’t get the same atmosphere as if we could have seen it a little later.

We didn’t shop enough for various reasons when we were in Vietnam in 2008.  Part of the problem is I didn’t know I would need or want all these Asian goods because I hadn’t been a mom of an Asian boy before. Other reasons are there just was not enough time and either we were sick or Danny was sick for the time we were in Vietnam.

So now I want to find Asian goods.  I met a woman at the Tet Festival in Northern Virginia last year who told me about a place to buy Ao Dai’s (Vietnamese traditional costume). She didn’t know the name, but described where it was.  One would think that such a place would be in Eden Center in Falls Church, which is known as Little Saigon. But it was further out in Falls Church.  It turned out to be My Linh Tailor at 7242 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church.  This is the local place to go and buy a ready-made Ao Dai for your child or have one custom made for yourself.  It is in a strip mall with a Vietnamese restaurant and a Vietnamese Market called ‘Nha Trang Market’.

There is also a dealer who sells traditional Chinese and Vietnamese costumes who I have seen who sells at the Asian Festival which used to be in Reston, but last year was in Fairfax.  At Vietnamese Culture Camp, Catalyst Foundation had a Saigon Market that sold lots of great stuff and all to benefit Catalyst Foundation.

I shop H-Mart regularly.  They have had rambutans, (a fruit we ate in Vietnam) all fall this year and several times a year they get in dragon fruit.  Dragon fruit is grown in the province Danny is from so I find myself buying it a couple times a year. It is pretty and sweet but doesn’t otherwise have much flavor and Danny doesn’t really like it,  so I’m not sure why I continue to buy it.

Where do you shop? I know I’m missing a million places that people love. I intend to get down to Fairfax to visit Fair Trade Winds and I need to get back to Eden Center and buy myself a new lion dance puppet from one of the sellers in the center.  Danny loved my old lion dance puppet to death.  They are only available just before Tet/ Lunar New Year, so it is coming up on the time to buy one.

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