Chinatown - would we fit?
August 7, 2006 10:55 AM   Subscribe

Would to non-asians be comfortable in Chinatown?

My boyfriend and I would love to move to Chinatown in Boston or Toronto. We love the culture and the atmosphere, but are a little worried about not being asian and living there. In some areas people are harrassed for not being the same ethnicity of those around them - would that happen to us? It doesn't seem likely, but I figured I'd ask here to find out exactly what to expect.
posted by fr0zen to Human Relations (11 answers total)
Wouldn't happen at all in Toronto (and I'm fairly sure Boston would be the same). A lot of different cultures live in both cities and the likelihood of being singled out based on ethnicity in Toronto is very, very low.
posted by purephase at 11:07 AM on August 7, 2006

If the Chinatowns in Boston or Toronto are anything like Little Chinatown in Flushing, (Queens NY), good luck finding someone willing to rent to you.

About 12 years ago, I decided that Chinatown wouldn't be a bad place to live - it was very convenient to both my job and school, and rents were fairly reasonable. I also, like you, liked the general vibe of the whole neighborhood. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that apartments were only rented by word-of-mouth, and you wouldn't get that word if you didn't speak Mandarin. Even if you did somehow get wind of an place to live, it would suddenly become unavailable as soon as the landlord saw you.

Again, Boston or Toronto might be different, so please don't take this as me saying "don't even bother". But, you should probably have a backup plan if it doesn't pan out.
posted by deadmessenger at 11:11 AM on August 7, 2006

I've lived in Chinatown in Toronto since last December, and I'm super-white and haven't had any problems at all. It's a great spot to live, lots of super restaurants, nice little neighbourhoods, and the markets are incredible. It's a pretty diverse place; I haven't felt like I'm treading on someone else's territory.

On preview, there's a ton of white/other people living here too, with lots of student housing since it's very close to the University of Toronto. It's certainly not a Mandarin-only zone.
posted by heatherann at 11:14 AM on August 7, 2006

Best answer: I live in the Chinatown in downtown Toronto. And here not being Chinese is not a problem. If you go into a shop or market and the person behind the counter doesn't speak enough chinese to ring you up, they'll get somebody (often their kid) to help. But that is rarely a problem. Actually, I've been in malls and neighborhoods out in the suburbs where it's been a lot harder to get by if you don't speak Cantonese. Toronto has quite a few suburban enclaves where chinese self-ghettofication has occurred.
Keep in mind, Toronto's Chinatown is 1) not homogeneously Chinese and 2) just a neighborhood. Need to go to a chain grocery store? Want to get a DVD that's not a bootleg? Just walk an extra block or two. I love the neighborhood. And it overlaps with Kensington Market, which is an amazing little part of town. My biggest advice if you move to this or any Chinatown: get a place not on one of the main streets. With all of the street vendors selling fish and produce, things can become.....fragrant.
posted by thecjm at 11:20 AM on August 7, 2006

I suspect Chinatown in Flushing is a special case: there are lots of Chinese moving there, and it makes sense that owners would try to maintain the ethnic base. In most Chinatowns, they're probably more worried about just keeping the place rented, like most landlords, and don't particularly care about your ethnic background.
posted by languagehat at 11:23 AM on August 7, 2006

boston does not really have much of a chinatown anymore. it is down to a few blocks these days. it has all but been replaced by condos and large offices buildings.
posted by phil at 11:48 AM on August 7, 2006

The landlords in Chinatown, Flushing prefer asians because they do not have a culture of litigation. Many of the rentals there have shortcomings that could be exploited by a legal-minded tenant. Chinese renters are less likely, for instance, to deduct rent for days the water heater doesn't work.

For this reason the Flushing landlords also prefer east Indian tenants.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:19 PM on August 7, 2006 [2 favorites]

No, not really. They just have different expectations. You can find a little attic dormer room there for a few hundred a month, but it won't be up to the standards of a manhattan apartment renter.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:30 PM on August 7, 2006

b1tr0t, to further elaborate: In Flushing, when the water heater breaks, the landlord might say "Sorry for the problem, my cousin is coming to fix it." If it didn't get resolved immediately due to some kind of complication then the tenant might say "Sorry for the inconvenience, but I have taken another apartment because of the water problem."

An american renter who got the place through an ad in the New York Times might say "This is a violation of housing rights and I am seeking compensation."
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:47 PM on August 7, 2006

I lived in Chinatown in boston about three years ago and being non-asian wasn't an issue even though the fact that almost everyone else on the street was. The poster who discussed different expectations may have hit the nail on the head, because while Chinatown is growing smaller, the parts that remain are some of the less-desirable housing in Boston proper despite not being cheap. (I paid more in rent than I did later to live in Beacon Hill.) I moved in in June and out in December when I came back from the holidays to discover that my heat was non-functional. The apartment stayed vacant for almost two years before they found someone to take it.
posted by bcnarc at 7:21 PM on August 7, 2006

Getting an apartment in Toronto's Chinatown isn't hard, and not being Chinese won't be an issue. A lot of students from the University of Toronto live in that area. It's also fairly cheap to live there.
posted by chunking express at 9:33 AM on September 27, 2006

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