China Town, the nerve centre of Chinese immigration in Mauritius, is a spatio-temporal bubble where elements of the past and modern life are juxtaposed. Old and sometimes ruined shops, Mah-Jong houses, traditional restaurants and fortune tellers rub shoulders with brand new buildings and busy businessmen. This historic district of Port-Louis remains one of the best preserved in the Mauritian capital, despite the advanced decay of many of its old buildings.
China Town is actually a very small district that runs along the Royal Road for about 500 meters. It was created by conurbation: during the first wave of immigration of Chinese workers to Mauritius during the 18th century, a few traders settled along the street in the centre of Port-Louis. At that time, all immigrants from China were systematically directed to China Town, where existing traders helped them to the best of their ability. As time went on, other businesses opened their doors in the surrounding area. In this foreign land where they did not understand the language, immigrants had a tendency to regroup.
Everyone knows that you can find just about anything and everything. In the Win Tai Chong store, for example, if you go there a few days before the Chinese New Year, you will see fireworks enthusiasts looking for their favourite holiday items, shelves packed with dried or pickled vegetables, sauces and decorations, and so many customers that there will be so many of them on the sidewalk.
Further up the street, the Atlantic Store is just as impressive, with its windows loaded with dishes, toys, firecrackers, fans, musical instruments and other unexpected objects. On the sidewalk, impatient customers line up to enjoy dumplings (a kind of local dim sum) and not far from the street vendor, an imperturbable old man supervises the unloading of his provisions, which immediately disappear at the back of the shop, behind a large red wooden door.
Food stands are set up not far from traditional music groups, shopkeepers take their carefully selected products out on the sidewalk, while the streets, all lit by hundreds of red and yellow Chinese lanterns, are closed to traffic. On these lively nights, you could also meet dancers hiding timidly behind their fans, women dressed in qipao (a traditional Chinese dress), and even attend small Miss Chinatown beauty contests.