The Hongcouver

Halloween horror: Why did Chinese scare off Vancouver trick-or-treaters?

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 November, 2013, 10:39am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 February, 2016, 11:52am

Snow blankets Vancouver’s North Shore mountains and lonely pumpkins moulder on the city’s doorsteps.

It’s nearly a month since Halloween and the festivities are but a sweet (and sticky) memory for the city’s children.

But some intriguing data has emerged in All Hallow’s wake. It suggests that trick-or-treaters somehow detected Vancouver’s most-Chinese neighbourhoods - and steered clear of them.

My unscientific (and light-hearted) analysis is based on a crowd-sourced map, created by urban planners at Bing Thom Architects and the Vancouver Sun. The map was based on householders’ reports of how many trick-or-treaters they received on October 31.

The map showed 15 clusters of two or more homes within two blocks of each other that reported receiving more than 200 young visitors. When I overlaid the Halloween map with data from the 2006 census, it revealed that not one of those clusters occurred in a Chinese-majority neighbourhood – and there are plenty of those across Vancouver.

Metro Vancouver’s ethnic Chinese population is at its densest (80 per cent) around Richmond’s Number 3 Road. In this area, only one household even bothered to report, stating that they had given away 25-50 pieces of candy - a paltry amount.

By contrast, the epicentre of the Halloween frenzy occurred in the Queen’s Park neighbourhood of New Westminster, in two tight clusters of 12 homes. One resident there told the Sun that they ran out of candy and turned out their lights after being hit by a tsunami of 452 trick-or-treaters. And the proportion of Chinese in Queen’s Park? Among the lowest in metro Vancouver: 5.5 per cent.

The median Chinese ethnicity of the 15 clusters was 11.8 per cent (compared to metro Vancouver’s 18.2 per cent). But that was skewed high by the sole 200-plus cluster in Richmond. That cluster was in the neighbourhood of Seafair, where Chinese ethnicity is 26.1 per cent. Yes, that is higher than the metro Vancouver average, but it is far below the 40-80 per cent Chinese ethnicity of Seafair’s surrounding neighbourhoods.

Even in Richmond, the most Chinese city in North America, trick-or-treaters converged on one of the least Chinese neighbourhoods in their vicinity.

There could be any number of explanations for the apparent negative correlation between Halloween participation and the Chinese ethnicity of neighbourhoods. It could be that trick-or-treaters possess some uncanny ability to sense and avoid Chinese areas (a kind of ethnographic “shining”, perhaps?). Maybe Chinese households were simply less likely to take part in the survey. Or there could be other forces, unrelated to ethnicity, steering children away from Chinese districts.

A spokesman for Bing Thom Architects said cultural preferences could play a part in deterring participation in Halloween. “Think about it from the perspective of a new migrant from Hong Kong or China,” he said. “You have strangers in masks coming and knocking on your door in the middle of the night demanding stuff. From the migrant’s perspective, that’s not fun. That’s a home invasion.”

However, the spokesman said it was just as possible that pragmatic economic choices were instead directing the movements of trick-or-treaters. He said trick-or-treaters tend to steer clear of wealthy neighbourhoods featuring big homes on large lots, regardless of ethnicity.

This might seem counterintuitive: surely rich neighbourhoods offer rich pickings?

Not so. The traditional cost-benefit calculation of the trick-or-treater – distance walked and time invested versus candy received – demands that they hit as many households as possible in a given time. Far better, therefore, to concentrate on densely populated areas with narrower lots and multi-family dwellings like townhouses.

Wealthy Chinese migrants tend to favour suburbs with single-family homes on large lots. In this way, economics, not racial awareness, might dictate a non-causal aversion to Chinese suburbs.

There was certainly no shortage of Chinese faces among the trick-or-treating hordes, further diminishing the possibility that ethnic preferences were solely at play. The 350 little extortionists my wife and I received at our home included a variety of Chinese vampires, princesses and zombies, doubtless attracted by our extravagant jack-o’-lanterns.

The Hongcouver blog is devoted to the hybrid culture of its namesake cities: Hong Kong and Vancouver. All story ideas and comments are welcome. Connect with me by email or on Twitter, Ian Young @ianjamesyoung70