Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Stumbling Across Madrid’s Unknown Chinatown in The Blink of An Eye

Though it is widely believed that there is no Chinatown in Madrid, it turns out I was fortuitously able to discover it in about 30 seconds.  Even the tour guide on our tour of Spain and Portugal, who is from Hong Kong and who did tell us a little about the Chinese living in Spain  was unaware of this Chinatown. 

By way of background, this month’s tour of Portugal and Spain has been one of the most Chinese food deprived trips I’ve been on.  Basically I saw one Chinese restaurant in Lisbon on the first day of the trip, which was coincidentally right next to the hotel, then didn’t see another Chinese restaurant anywhere for over a week.  The last two days of the trip were in Barcelona, where restaurants are quite commonplace, and where two of our three group meals were at Chinese restaurants, something which I had mixed feelings about.  While I like to eat at Chinese restaurants wherever I go, and found these two restaurant visits insightful, I really didn’t get a chance to sample Barcelona’s vaunted local food.

Also, typically on our other recent trips to Europe, South America, Dubai and India, many hotel breakfast buffets offer at least a small section of food for Chinese travelers.  However not one of the six hotels we stayed at during the trip had any.  Even the Barcelona hotel didn’t have a Chinese food section in its buffet, but they did make a different accommodation for a large Chinese tour group from Shanghai–a private VIP room with specially prepared dishes.  My sister-in-law was erroneously directed into this room as the waitress mistook her for one of the Shanghai group members, and as the first member of our group to make it down to breakfast, she didn’t realize the mistake.  But while the Novotel had a special menu for this Chinese group, including some kind of Chinese vegetable dish, and all in all she said the special meal wasn’t very good.  

So now my discovery.   We’re riding on Highway 42  from Toledo and approaching Madrid, perhaps twenty miles out of town.   We had ridden for miles of boring countryside so I had actually stopped looking out of the window.  But I looked up and peered out and saw what appeared to be a semi-industrial area, and noticed what looked like a Chinese shopping center, with one store with signage that said “Wenzhou”, and another one which was a Chinese bakery.  I also saw a highway billboard in Chinese.

When we got to our hotel in Madrid, I mentioned my sighting to our tour guide.    He previously had told us how that most of the Chinese in Spain were from the city of Wenzhou, famous for manufacturing knockoff designer goods.  (The only Wenzhou people in the US are found in New York, where a decade ago they controlled the fake DVD business that was booming at the time.)  Inasmuch as our guide leads this tour of Spain and Portugal probably 10 times a year for Cantonese and English speaking Chinese Americans and Canadians, I figured he had passed by this Chinese enclave many times, and would have additional information about it.  However, when I mentioned this “Chinatown” I saw, he said there was no Chinatown in Madrid and I probably just merely saw a Chinese restaurant named Wenzhou.

Not satisfied with his response, I did a Google search for “Wenzhou Madrid” which brought up Wenzhou Supermarket with two locations, one on the edge of downtown Madrid (in an area with a scattering of Chinese residents and businesses) and the other in the area which we had driven through, called Fuenlabrada.  It also pulled up a map of of Fuenlabrada which showed two other places called Wenzhou Market, and other businesses within the area with Wenzhou in their name.  Further armed with the name Fuenlabrada, I was able to get a full picture of this Chinatown.  Fuenlabrada is home to a large number of warehouses used to store various types of goods imported from China, usually representing lower priced merchandise.  There are hundreds of Chinese companies employing thousands of workers, here with Fuenlabrada being likely the largest Chinese commercial center in Europe.  The Chinese economic activity here is no secret, but little attention has been paid to the corollative development of a  Chinese residential community in the area, creating a new Chinatown for the Madrid area. 

While traditional Chinatowns in the United States and worldwide were largely founded by Cantonese migrants, decades ago, who knows how many other communities like Fuenlabrada Chinatown, of recent origin founded by Chinese mainlanders, there might be around the world?  And lucky for me we drove by Fuenlabrada  and I happened to look out of the bus window at the right time.

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