Chinese New Year a beacon for Chinatown Precinct

By Jess Carrascalao Heard

It was 11am on a Friday, and the president and vice president of the Chinatown Precinct Association, Danny Doon and Eng Lim, had just ushered me into one of the precinct’s food courts to have a chat.

The year has started slowly, with a quiet post-lockdown world made even quieter during the holiday season with closed offices and state government incentives for local tourists to visit regional centres.

“Since the easing of lockdown, gradually people are coming back, but not up to the amount last year,” Mr Doon said.

But despite the low foot traffic, Mr Doon and Ms Lim were feeling positive, and counting their blessings; it’s almost time for the biggest cultural event on the calendar, Chinese New Year.

“It’s very important,” Ms Lim said. “It’s the first day of the lunar month. So, you start the year well, you start the year right, you start with a celebration.”

She counts herself fortunate to be in Australia, where thanks to low COVID numbers, festivities can still go ahead, albeit in a COVID-safe manner.

“We’ve done it smaller … we still have got to be very safe and keep our social distancing, but it’s good with a smaller event. You can still gather,” she said.

Mr Doon hopes local tourists from far and wide will visit for the celebrations.

“We encourage country people to come to Melbourne and watch the Chinese New Year celebrations … we’ll still put on a show,” Mr Doon said.

The lack of tourism has been a blow to the precinct during past months, with COVID rules curtailing large gatherings and restricting movement.

Another difficulty has been the lack of international students.

“[International students] always get their part-time jobs in all the restaurants … there’s hardly any international students to help out working in the hospitality trade,” Ms Lim said.

Mr Doon added that international students brought in extra tourism for the precinct as well.

“With the international students in Australia, they would bring their father, their mother, their grandparents, their brother, their friends … the whole family will come,” Mr Doon said.

But even despite low foot traffic and the difficulties of the past year, Mr Doon and Ms Lim were thankful to have so much passion and interest from council. 

“We are very, very fortunate to have, by the City of Melbourne, so much passion and interest,” said Ms Lim.

“Like, look at the way one minute you see there’s a street for car parking, and next thing you see, it’s a parklet,” she said.

Mr Doon and Ms Lim are also grateful for the support that the City of Melbourne has given them in planning the Chinese New Year festivities.

“We should all be very happy that we could at least have a mini-celebration,” Ms Lim said.

“We should think positive, feel positive that at least we can still gather together.”

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