When Tommy Wong arrived for work in Chinatown Thursday morning, he was excited to see a change on his Gore Avenue storefront.
The business had previously been the target of repeated graffiti vandalism.
“I think it’s extremely beautiful,” the operator of Chung Shan Trading Company told Global News.
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Last month, the longtime herbal merchant was so frustrated he wrote back to the taggers who defaced his rolling shutter with his own tag.
It read: “(Hey) u, go find a job make your day. What a shame of your life? Coward. What else u can do? Ha Ha. Graffiti. Your mom will (be) happy to see u found a job. Ha! Ha!”
Vancouver Chinatown merchant writes message to graffiti taggers targeting his storefront
Wong’s message caught the attention of two well-known Downtown Eastside street artists.
“I think it’s awesome that he put that up there, right? I would as well if it was me,” said Jamie Hardy, who is also known as Smokey Devil or Smokey D.
“(The graffiti was) really disrespectful, it’s not like he’s a big corporation, he’s just an independent guy.”
With the support of Chinatown muralists and the Vancouver Chinatown Business Improvement Association, Smokey D and Trey Helten decided to make it right, and met with Wong.
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“I’m an empath so I could feel his stress and anger and frustration when we were talking to him,” Helten said.
“He must get tired of it,” added Smokey D, referring to the various graffiti tags Wong has experienced. “It was just like junk, it wasn’t like it was anything nice. It was just garbage, right.”
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Together, the pair designed a mural for Wong’s shutter and another with Chinese characters for the barber shop next door.
“Chinatown’s my neighbour,” said Helten, who lives in Strathcona and works in the Downtown Eastside.
“So it means something to me to take care of it.”
Over several hours Wednesday, Smokey D sketched and painted a likeness of Wong at his front counter with his ginseng and other herbal products in jars.
At one point, Vancouver police pulled up in the alley, after receiving a call about active graffiti.
But this project was sanctioned, with both merchants signing paperwork approving the street art.
Chinatown merchant writes message to graffiti taggers
Smokey D, who once spent eight months in jail for doing graffiti, said he mostly paints “legally” now and enjoys using his talents to help tackle the 300 per cent spike in graffiti the Vancouver Police Department has documented in Chinatown.
He’s been painting for 20 years, and the hope is other taggers will respect his work.
“As long as I’ve done it like this, I don’t think anyone else will come and touch it, right, so it’ll be a win-win,” he said, as he applied the finishing touches Wednesday.
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Barber Kim Wong was elated when he saw his mural, which also includes the words, “Respect Chinatown.”
“Very, good job, I like,” the owner of LEO Fine Hair Salon said.
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The barber rolled his shutter up and down several times after opening his shop, just to take pictures of the art.
Meantime, Tommy Wong, whose words helped launch the paint makeover, gave his portrait, which includes the greeting “Welcome to Vancouver’s historic Chinatown, British Columbia, Canada,” a big thumbs up.
“It’s fascinating. Yeah, that’s right – this looks like me!” he said.
Wong said the personalized artwork is an example of respect, and he hopes other stores in the area get different murals.
“I like it, good job,” said Wong.
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