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City scope: forbidden city

Anna Chen in London

 

 

Oriental City, on Edgware Road, north London, was one of the best-kept secrets among British Chinese in the capital until its closure, in 2008.

Non-Asians who discovered it marvelled at the range of Eastern stores, such as a bakery, jewellers, hairdressers, a martial arts shop and the huge Japanese supermarket, where skilled fishmongers filleted fish for sushi.

While upmarket patrons dined in one of the posh Chinese restaurants upstairs, the rest of us could choose from the 20-odd stalls in the food court, sampling fare found nowhere else in the city. Where else could you find a durian stall in London, one albeit exiled to the car park due to olfactory concerns?

The shopping centre served a bustling citywide Chinese clientele and as a multicultural commercial success, you'd think its future would have been secure. But, by 2006, developers had targeted the site for yet another supermarket and a new, smaller Asian retail space. After a failed challenge by business owners, Oriental City closed in 2008, having been given the kiss of death by London's then mayor, Ken Livingstone.

Plans for the redevelopment included a 400-square-metre Chinese community centre, but even this minimal conces-sion has now been dropped, angering many.

Branding the move "shameful", actress Irene Ng wrote on a petition site: "Despite being the third-largest community of colour in the UK, the Chinese community is again [being] overlooked. I am staggered that this community of tax-paying Britons is expected to live and work in this country while continuing to be discriminated against."

Shun Au, chairman of the Chinese Mental Health Association and leader of the petition campaign, says: "Although the developers have no legal obligation, they have a moral responsibility to honour what they have displaced, particularly as they will be making money out of the new, smaller Oriental City.

"There is not a single centre for Chinese in the borough."

Sonny Leong, chairman of the Chinese for Labour group, is urging unity.

"There is no better time than now for the Chinese diaspora to come together and speak with one voice," he says.

Just how invisible do they expect us to be?

 

 

 

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