Photographers, both well-known and amateurs, flock to the small block of three streets, situated just off Leicester Square, spending all hours of the day, snapping. Chinatown tends to be an object of extreme attraction for the people with cameras. To the point of exemplifying a fetish.
Whilst I enjoy seeing their work as I scroll through my Instagram feed, I often feel that those images fail to reveal the answers I seek.
Half English and half Chinese (Hakka), I don’t speak the language and am not particularly in touch with my cultural background.
I remember the confusing experience of going to one of the restaurants with my family as a kid. Intimidated by the conversation between the restaurant staff and my family who seemed to be in an argument, while still occasionally breaking out in laughter despite the torrid war of words moments before.
I feel like I’m expected to belong here, yet I don’t feel like I do. I’m just another gweilo to the people who live and work in Chinatown.
But the disconnect I felt within as I stood alone, neither part of the tourists nor locals, made me notice a similar struggle within Chinatown as I took on shooting this project.
Tourists, strolling, eagerly looking at the menus of the restaurants; locals, dodging tourists, going about their daily business.
On their smoke breaks, restaurant and shop staff would sit off to the side, spectating at the scores of parading tourists moving through the streets. Some stopping to peep down at the menus of the numerous restaurants and others taking the mandatory selfie with the lanterns or the iconic gates in the background.
Maybe I’m reading too much into this. What I saw as conflict may just be a perfectly coefficient relationship. Both locals and visitors, exchanging goods and experiences in a way that works for everyone, together.
I’m just the one feeling left out.