Listen, if you want to go see Morrissey at the Orpheum next month, knock yourself out. I advocate no boycott. Tickets seem to be selling—The Orpheum added a second date—and it’s super easy to see why. Not only will the Orpheum be his first concert in Canada in fifteen years, but Morrissey and The Smiths are bigger in Canada now than they ever were before: the new-80s has so surpassed the original 1980s that much of 80s music has become more popular now than it ever was originally. Kids today don’t know much about Morrissey's biography. But I’d wager that a vastly higher percentage of Vancouver millennials today know his name than they did, say, back in 1997, the last time he played at the Orpheum. I was at that show—I fucking invaded the stage and hugged a topless Morrissey at that show—but even still, there was just the one show. After it ended, apathy resumed. You could have stopped 100 random people on Granville and asked them their thoughts on The Smiths and 99 of them would not have known what you were talking about.
People are complex and people mis-speak. I imagine existence is impossible sometimes for Morrissey, a human being treated like a deity whose every word is scrutinized as an emanation from a sacred scroll. But Morrissey did say this: “You can't help but feel that the Chinese are a subspecies." And I live in a city where the consequences of casual English racism towards the Chinese were catastrophic and cruel. All of the good, upstanding, old-timey English-Canadians in Vancouver felt precisely the same then as Morrissey does now. Shit, back in 1890 you could walk around Powell, puffing on your pipe, stringing together sentences containing the words “subspecies’ and ‘Chinese” to your heart’s content. Fit right in, innit? Oh man, we fucked around with the law back then and nobody said boo! Gerry Butts would have been in heaven! Head taxes. Disenfranchisements based on racial make-up. Shit, why not make Chinatown sidewalks more narrow—nobody deserves as much walking space as an Englishman!
The Pink Pearl, where I am pictured below, opened in 1980. It is one of the first restaurants in North America to serve dim sum. It’s about twenty minutes down the road on East Hastings, in a part of the city where gentrification hasn’t quite reached. Cantonese cuisine—what most English-speakers everywhere call simply “Chinese food”--is one of the hundreds of beautiful things that survived all of Vancouver’s racism to help give Vancouver a much richer and more unique cultural identity. (On the way to The Pink Pearl, about a twenty minute walk, I passed five other Cantonese restaurants. Not all of them are great cultural gifts. You want my advice? Stay clear of The Gold Penny. Like, if it is between eating your own arm and Gold penny, sprinkle salt on a bicep and start gnawing.)
Dim sum tastes have changed. At first dim sum came on carts. Then they took the carts away. Then dim sum came a la carte. Then a lot of the cool dim sum joints took the carts away: too old-fashioned, total the-way-your-grandparents—ate-dim-sum situation. The Pink Pearl changed nothing. It was the originator. It stood by its carts. They kept on rolling. And, in the fullness of time, the Pink Pearl has been proved right. People started missing their carts. A lot has changed on that strip of East Hastings. it's not a neighbourhood as such anymore. It stands alone amongst the desolation. Throughout it all, the cavernous and red dining room stayed open. The city came pouring back.
The problem I have with Morrissey’s casual racism “…the Chinese are a subspecies” is two-fold:
1) It is factually untrue. Multiculturalism works. Only the multicultural cosmopolis is the true city. Cosmopolitan… living cheek-to-cheek with people from all over the world. I experience, every day in my own neighbourhood, a fully functioning, safe and sophisticated multicultural city. You take away Chinese immigration and you take away my green grocer and my doctor, my dentist and the best motherfucking Siu Mai I have ever tasted in my life. Multiculturalism is not just possible—it is extremely, kick-assedly, desirable.
2) Racist speech like that—like even just the one sentence—has real world consequences. All it takes is a few influential people giving legitimacy to the idea that humanity is separable into races, each possessing inherent and unchangeable traits, and the next thing you know, we’re all pulling a collective Liam Neeson, telling ourselves it’s natural to want to walk around the city with a blunt weapon looking to bash the head in of the first person we see who is not one of us. Vancouver’s entire history as a city is a story of powerful Englishmen using the scientific theories of racism as a legal basis to do immoral things on a mass scale. I just think that the last thing Vancouver needs right now is another rich Englishman who thinks he’s better by birth and by blood than several billion others. We’ve been down that road before, and it leads nowhere good.
You go if you want to go. I’ll be at The Pink Pearl. Or Western Lake. Seriously, I’m going to Kalvin’s.
First stop on the Dumpling Trail: (picture at top of post) Cheng Du Xiao Chi, Richmond. (bottom picture) Deep up inside The Pink Pearl.