Ghosts of Chinatown

Clarence Kwan

"Ghosts of Chinatown" was published in Active Cultures' Digest, Issue 08, February 2021.

Images: Clarence Kwan, Ghosts of Chinatown, 2021. Courtesy of Clarence Kwan

Kwan Gar Jun aka Clarence Kwan aka @thegodofcookery is a part-time Chinese BBQ apprentice. His book Chinese Protest Recipes explores racial injustice, identity, and solidarity through the lens of Cantonese food. Clarence works in New York City, and resides in Toronto, Canada.
A year into a racially charged global pandemic, my memories of Chinatown are beginning to blur. Chinese restaurants haunt my dreams. How are they doing, where have they gone, will they still be there when we can finally go back.

The need for social distancing has forced me to draw on my memories of Chinatown. These are actual wonderlands that exist in my subconscious. Some places are places I frequent, others I have yet to visit. The emptiness of these restaurants is surreal. It makes me think about how much our people have to endure—physically, socially, financially and mentally. Visiting them on my screen at home, during lockdown, is a safe, therapeutic, and frightening experience.

This photo series explores the isolation and desperation of Chinese restaurants during COVID-19. It consists of 8 lucky images from my own camera roll as well as found sources on the internet depicting Chinatown life—past and present, real and fictional— which have been re-photographed from the computer screen.

The final photos are fantastical, dream-like depictions that tell the story of the struggle and loss of Chinatowns throughout the diaspora. The result is a lo-fi, empty, distant facsimile of the real-life experience.

Active Cultures is a cultural organization that explores the convergence of food and art in contemporary life.