Chinese dragon parade circa 1960

Spectators sitting atop the Ho Ho Chop Suey sign to get a better view of the Chinese dragon parade circa 1960. Don LeBlanc photo, Vancouver Public Library 79795B

Museum of Vancouver

© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.


The Ho Ho sign at night

The Ho Ho sign at night. The Ho Ho did not become Foo's Ho Ho until 1998, when Joanne Lam Sam and her late husband James took over the business. City of Vancouver Archives CVA 780-475 F14-E-1 Folder #20

Museum of Vancouver

© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.


Bao Bei sign 2012

The challenge for Chinatown in coming years, Bao Bei owner Tannis Ling says, will lie in striking a balance between Chinatown’s historical heart and its new generation of entrepreneurs looking to set down new roots in the area. Phoebe Glasford photo

Museum of Vancouver

© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.


Vancouver Chinatown 2012

A City of Vancouver grant that supports new neon signs in Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside helped fund the installation of the Bao Bei neon sign that hangs outside the restaurant. The sign is inspired by old-world commercial design for Chinese medicine packaging, an extension of Tannis’ vision for the restaurant to bring together the old and new. Brandy Waterfall photo

Museum of Vancouver

© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.


Jim Wong-Chu in front of Foo's Ho Ho

“Chinatown’s existence is owed to this imposed isolation by a relatively racist society at that time. It was only until after the Second World War, 1947, that Chinatown and the people in Chinatown moved out and bought land and lived like ordinary people." Jim Wong-Chu, Chinatown historian.

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© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.


Tannis Ling tells us what motivated her to install a neon sign outside her restaurant.

NARRATOR
Tannis Ling tells us what motivated her to install a neon sign outside her
restaurant.

TANNIS LING
It had always been a dream of mine to put a neon sign up because it’s
reminiscent of old Chinatown.

I know the city was trying to revitalize this area by offering these grants and
encouraging more people to put up signs like this.

I have always loved the artwork of neon signs and just how it reminds us of the
past, and just how much life they bring to the street.

NARRATOR
Inspiration for both the Bao Bei sign and distinctive interior design comes through
a book, Tannis says.

TANNIS LING
I found this book, it’s called Hong Kong Apothecary. It’s just a book of
pictures, and it’s just a collection of labels and bottles and there’s a lot of ornate
motifs and certain shapes that they use that they repeat quite often. So I wanted
that kind of delicate, apothecary, Asian look to it.

NARRATOR
While the look of Bao Bei evokes nostalgia for an old style of Chinese
commercial design, the menu and Tannis’ vision for her business keeps a steady
eye on the present and future. Tannis’ vision for Bao Bei contrasts sharply with
traditional Chinese restaurants.

TANNIS LING
I took care to make this an enticing, comfortable environment for people to come
down to and have a more intimate dining experience, rather than dining in a
huge restaurant with huge tables and really bright lights and no music and no bar
program at all.

Chinatown used to be an exciting place to be back in the 60’s, and I really
wanted to recreate that kind of atmosphere here.

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© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.


Bao Bei owner Tannis Ling shares her thoughts on Chinatown’s transformation and what it means.

NARRATOR
Bao Bei owner Tannis Ling shares her thoughts on Chinatown’s transformation
and what it means.

TANNIS LING
It seems to be happening very quickly. All of a sudden in the last year, Chinatown
has just gone crazy. And you know, I worry, obviously.

You know, somebody was telling me that the Chinatown in Washington, DC is
just completely gentrified and beyond. You know, they have a Starbucks, and a
Bath, Bed, and Beyond with Chinese characters underneath. You know, that’s
the last thing I would want for this area.

But at the same time, obviously, it needs a push, you know, for people to come
back in and spend money, and you know, the neighbourhood needs to be
revitalized. But it’s a delicate, it’s a fine line, you know. Like how far do you go?
 
NARRATOR
Tannis acknowledges that she is a unique hybrid of eastern and western influence.

TANNIS LING
You know, it’s really hard to find somebody like me, who’s Asian, who grew up
here, who cares about their culture and cares about their roots, but still thinks
more modernly, more on the western side. So kind of combining the two ways
of thinking, I think, would be the best kind of business owner in this area. But
there’s not that many people like me, it seems like.

NARRATOR
The challenge for Chinatown in coming years, Tannis says, will lie in striking
a balance between Chinatown’s historical heart and its new generation of
entrepreneurs looking to set down new roots in the area.

TANNIS LING
It can’t stay like the old Chinatown forever, but we don’t want to also move it into
this completely different direction, which is not Chinatown at all.

Museum of Vancouver

© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.


Jamie Lee Hamilton grew up in Strathcona and has frequented Foo’s since she was a teenager in the 1970s.

NARRATOR
Foo’s Ho Ho has a devoted following from many longtime Vancouver residents.
Jamie Lee Hamilton grew up in Strathcona and has frequented Foo’s since she
was a teenager in the 1970s.

JAMIE LEE HAMILTON
Yeah, well, the Ho Ho Chop Suey, as it was known back then, I would often go
there. It had a really interesting vibe to it. It was very eclectic, you know, people
from all walks of life.

The décor was very Forbidden City-like. You know, lots of reds and golds. And it
was just fabulous.

And you know when you walked through Chinatown, it was exciting. It was like
Vancouver’s Hollywood. The lighting, the people, the excitement, the cabarets,
the nightlife.

NARRATOR
What’s left of Foo’s neon signage is just a trace of what used to grace Pender
Street in Chinatown’s neon heyday. A spectacular sign wound its way up the wall
of the New Sun Ah Hotel, which houses Foo’s. That sign was removed for repairs
in 1987 and then became the property of the Museum of Vancouver. Jamie Lee
Hamilton remembers the old neon sign.

JAMIE LEE HAMILTON
The original sign, you know, the rice bowl, and the spoon, and the steam coming
out. It was just really colourful and bright. I’d like to say it was very showmanship-
like. It was befitting, I thought. It was glamourous.

NARRATOR
Civic historian John Atkin remembers the Foo’s sign as a bright beacon for the
delicious food inside.

JOHN ATKIN
There were those kind of figurative signs that just quite literally said “This is what
you’ll get inside.” The Ho-Ho in Chinatown did the same thing. “We’re a chop
suey joint and here’s the big bowl, here’s the chopsticks, and here’s the steam.”
And so this is what you’re going to get in here.

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© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.


Liz Lee shares her thoughts on how Foo’s feels like home.

NARRATOR
Chinatown historian and longtime patron Jim Wong-Chu reflects on what makes
Foo’s so special.

JIM WONG-CHU
Foo’s Ho Ho serves a very unique kind of food. It’s an old-style Chinese food.
The pedigree of the Chinese food is probably over a hundred fifty, two hundred
years old.

It’s a food that was brought from the villages. That’s very different from a lot of
the Hong Kong style, Cantonese-style foods that are now present.

And this food was really unique. It’s been hybridized and made Canadian in
some ways. That’s where your Egg Foo Young comes from, your sweet and
sour, and chop suey, and all these dishes.

You know, this place makes the best Egg Foo Young in town. And it’s a certain
style. It’s a very humble dish, but to make it well is not easy.

NARRATOR
After her husband passed away in 2009, Foo’s Ho Ho owner Joanne Lam Sam
needed help to keep the restaurant going. Liz Lee, a longtime patron and friend,
stepped in to lend a hand in managing and running the restaurant. Liz shares her
thoughts on how Foo’s feels like home.

LIZ LEE INTERVIEW #1
I think people come down here because of the home-like atmosphere that we
have here. You know, it’s not a “Come dressed up.” You come as you are.

I’ve had all my children’s moon-yets here. That’s a celebration of their first month
of life. And all my grandchildren, six of ‘em, we’ve had our celebrations of their
moon-yet here, too.

And my mother, we’d always come down for Mother’s Day, or we’d go cook at
home, but we’d rather enjoy coming down here instead. But I think that’s what’ll
keep this place going, is tradition.

NARRATOR
Despite a strong community of loyal customers who love the food and adore
Joanne, the future of Foo’s Ho Ho is uncertain as Chinatown continues to
change. Here’s more from Jim Wong-Chu.

JIM WONG CHU
Chinatown is changing and, you know, we’re living day by day. We don’t know
where it’s going to go, but you know, we’ll do what we can with it.

You know, you’re tasting food that is almost impossible to find. It’s like traveling
back in time. It’s something very precious and very unusual. And I think that
that’s worth saving.

Museum of Vancouver

© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

This Visible City activity is an introduction to the history of Chinese immigration in Vancouver. The photos and descriptions of Foo’s Ho Ho’s historic neon sign in Chinatown, as well as original interviews with patrons will introduce students to the importance of food and gathering places for immigrants in Canada. Students will be asked to compare the significance of this historic traditional restaurant with a contemporary fusion restaurant, Bao Bei. Photos, descriptions, and original interviews will be provided. To conclude, students will be asked to identify links between their own heritage and its contemporary placement by designing their own fusion restaurant and sign.

Learning Objectives:

- Demonstrate effective research skills, including accessing and assessing visual and auditory information in order to summarize and form a critical opinion
- Introduce students to the history of Chinese immigration to Vancouver
- Learn about historical and contemporary factors that help define Canadian civic identity, including culture, language, heritage, and community
- Explore the links between food and cultural identity
- Demonstrate effective written, oral, and graphic communication skills
- Speak and listen to extend thinking by personalizing new ideas and information

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