HaveYouBeenHere? The Forever Frantic Chinatown, London

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Part of my frequent walks throughout Soho always results in a wander through Chinatown: the forever frantic part of London, in which there is always something going on, and with the blink of an eye you're guaranteed to miss something somewhere.

Unlike the surrounding area, Soho -- which is narrow, old streets with messy cobbled roads barely fit for a single vehicle -- Chinatown celebrates the different in London. It celebrates the stark contrast in cultures of the many thousands that step beneath its red overhanging lanterns each day.

To many, Chinatown is home to multiple Chinese restaurants, and that may be the case at a glance, but it's far more than that. You'll find yourself in the upper floor of a densely-packed convenience store resembling that of a Wong Kar-wai's Chungking Express.

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You'll notice that each crevice isn't just filled with various boxes, but also food products that you'd certainly never even heard of before. You're transported into the narrow consumerist walls of India, Thailand, Japan, Korea, and of course, China. However, all of this is completely missed with just a few steps, as these stores have one small entrance that don't reflect the inner labyrinth of food and cooking supplies.

You will, however, notice the sheer numbers of people of various nationalities and ages venturing in and out of these stores with all kinds of premade treats and drinks; some even have their own little bakeries for Asian delights that sits by the counter. I have tried something from there before, but I honestly can't recall what it was exactly.

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In a pandemic London, Chinatown hasn't lost its frantic nature. There are some minor differences in how the location is functioning to deal with the current rules: bars and restaurants must operate outside only, leading to a wide range of outdoor seating areas further filling the streets with people and causing narrow pathways as crowds flock from Piccadilly Circus to Soho. Tourism is still somehow a thing as you'll constantly see people standing beneath the famous Chinatown Gate with friends and family for photographs.

I recall walking through a crowd of people through a narrow passageway through the sounds of rather spiritual singing, only to be met with two elderly individuals that sat by the path in a state of meditiation, seemingly in a different world to those passing by. That contrast would stick with me for the rest of the day, sitting in the back of my mind: who is really out of balance here? Is it me with my senses plagued by the views of beer and food? By the constant noise and progressing from one location to another, seemingly unsatisfied with where I was and what I had?

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To me, Chinatown is the London I love. It's the people, of various nationalities and cultures, displaying those differences. There's personality that is celebrated and displayed in a way that welcomes. There's a style to it that should never be lost or replaced with giant skyscrapers and neatly-packed convenience stores, most likely franchised and found throughout the country. I'd happily take the gritty, frantic appearance of Chinatown over modern glass that stretches as far as the eye can see.

I'd like to think that as time passes, we appreciate such areas as they should be appreciated. That they aren't forgotten or replaced and modernised. Though time will tell as to whether that happens, and I certainly wouldn't be surprised if they do significantly change. After all, London is a city that changes each day.

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