Feb 16th, 2018, 12:59 PM

The Parisian Chinatown

By Hind Ngouonimba
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Georges Seguin
The cultural hub in the 13th arrondissement.

During the spring break, I did not have the chance to leave Paris. I spent the first half of the break eating Ubereats and being depressed about the awful weather. I decided to shake out my routine and go explore a different arrondissement of Paris with my friend. My goal was to escape the typical Parisian lifestyle of cafés and pâtisserie and experience a different cultural hub in Paris. After doing a bit of research, we decided to head towards the left bank to the 13th arrondissement. 


Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Myrabella

Before jumping right into the subject, let me do a quick recap of the neighborhood. The 13th arrondissement, also known as Quartier Asiatique, is the largest cultural center for Asian communities in Paris. I visited the Triangle de Choisy located on Avenue de Choisy. The area is filled with high-rise apartment buildings and Chinese and Vietnamese local businesses. Before the 1970's, the 13th arrondissement was predominantly French. However, in mid-1970's, due to political instabilities in China, a large number of Chinese families immigrated to France, especially to Paris. The choice to come to Paris was not random, in fact, Chinese began to inhabit the 13th arrondissement due to the availability of space. 

Since the immigration wave in the 1960's, Paris has welcomed immigrants from all over. The city has allowed for different cultural hubs to form. The 10th arrondissement represents African cultures, for example, the area around Barbes represents the Maghreb and other northern African countries. The 18th arrondissement is more representative of Serbian people. Inside of Paris, everyone can find their home.


Image Credit: Hind Ngouonimba

I am not too familiar with Asian culture, however, I had the chance to visit China three times. Strolling through the 13th arrondissement, I had some concern whether the Parisian Chinatown would reflect the same culture I experienced during my travels. In China, I've visited Beijing, Wuhan, and Hong-Kong (which is an autonomous territory). I can say that the 13th arrondissement does not reflect the culture I experienced in China. Throughout my walk, I especially noticed a difference in architecture. The architecture in Chinese cities is more industrial than in the neighborhoods of Paris, such as the 13th arrondissement which styles a majority of its architecture with a Haussmannien style. Aesthetically, the Parisian Chinatown didn't resemble the Chinese cities that I have visited, however, Chinese culture was preserved in many ways within this little community of Paris.


Image Credit: Hind Ngouonimba

In the evening, my friend and I took a walk down Avenue Choisy which crosses down the middle of the 13th arrondissement. While walking, I took a long time to observe my environment. The first thing I noticed was that the population living in the neighborhoods around the street was mostly Asian, whereas if you were walking in the 7th arrondissement this wouldn't be the case. By paying attention to the languages spoken, I observed that the predominant language was Mandarin. What was striking to me was the language used on store signs was also Mandarin. The contrast of Asian stores next to French and American stores was unusual, but it was interesting to see all the languages side by side. 


Image Credit: Hind Ngouonimba

I began to realize Mandarin used on flyers, storefronts, and signs- the language was everywhere around the neighborhood. I was pleased to see how the Asian community was able to practice languages like Mandarin in a French capital. I see this as an effort to conserve their culture and pass it down to the younger generations. I found a lot of flyers offering Mandarin teaching lessons for children. I was amazed by this! Even though they are not in Asia, they are conserving their identities. Asian communities living in the 13th arrondissement are continually juggling between two cultures. This particularly interested me because as an African, I don't see the same with my lifestyle here in Paris. When I'm taking a walk around the 10th arrondissement, I'm facing my African culture and it feels like home, however, I did not have the chance to learn my language here. I had to learn it from my parents and didn't have a community like I observed in Chinatown. 


Image Credit: Hind Ngouonimba 

I recommend visiting Chinatown to get away and try something different from the typical Parisian lifestyle. In this neighborhood, you can eat authentic Asian food. While Asian restaurants are all over Paris, they are nowhere near as authentic. I recommend eating at "Fleur de Lys" on avenue de Choisy. It was the best Asian meal that I have ever tried in my entire life. If you decide to try this restaurant, order the Nems. Besides dining, there is panty of other activities to do like shopping or Karaoke. Visiting Chinatown for the first time during the spring was a great experience. I plan on returning back in the future to visit this fascinating neighborhood. 


Image Credit: Hind Ngouonimba