Richmond's Aberdeen Centre touts itself as western Canada's "first truly Asian shopping experience", but that does not capture the extent to which it uncannily replicates a middle-class Hong Kong shopping mall.
There are stores for Swarovski crystal, massage chairs, expensive Japanese jeans and Doraemon stuffed toys. Tenants include Hong Kong mainstays like Giordano, Izzue, Luk Fook Jewellery and HSBC. Hungry? Bubble tea, Beard Papa cream puffs and every flavour of Calbee potato chip are on offer.
The mall offers a distinctly Hong Kong experience in one other subtle respect, putting it at the heart of a controversy about Chinese-language signage this week: its bilinguality.
The Aberdeen Centre's managers insist that two-thirds of store signage must be in English, while the rest can be in a language of the tenant's choice.
That policy was cited approvingly this week by petitioners, concerned by Chinese-only signage, who suggested using the mall's rules as a model for a bylaw for all of Richmond. The proposal was rejected by the Richmond city council on Monday.
Joey Kwan, promotions and public relations manager for the Aberdeen Centre, refused to comment on the growing proliferation of Chinese-only signage elsewhere in Richmond. But she said the rationale behind the mall's policy was simple: it did not want anyone to feel excluded.