The Chinatown-International District in Seattle has a high concentration of business owned by people of Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese descent. There are some great places to eat, shop, and a fantastic museum.
We entered the International District by passing Union Station, which was built in 1911 to serve Union Pacific Railroad. Passenger train service stopped in 1971 and the building remained empty for nearly 30 years. These days, it’s the headquarters of Sound Transit and the grand hall is rented out for private events.
You know you’re in the International District when you see dragons on power lines and Chinese characters on street signs. At King Street and 5th Avenue, there’s the Historic Chinatown Gate, erected in 2007.
We started our exploration of the neighborhood by taking a walk down Jackson Street. There wasn’t much of interest except the former Bush Hotel. The side of the hotel advertises low rates and that it’s modern and fireproof. That would have been important in a Seattle built up after the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. The building is now a low income housing project.
Next, we walked down King Street, where we passed by Hing Hay Park. It features a pavilion donated by the mayor of Taipei in the 1970s. There are also benches with chess tables.
Wing Luke Museum
The main reason we went to the International District was to visit the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience. It’s an excellent museum that documents the experiences and struggles of Asian Pacific Americans. The museum is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution and is named for Wing Luke, a Chinese-American politician who tragically died in a plane crash in 1965.
Admission to the Wing Luke Museum is US$17 for adults (as of January 2018) and includes a guided tour to areas accessible by tour only. It’s closed on Mondays.
We first enjoyed a temporary exhibit on Bruce Lee, who moved to Seattle in 1959 and later attended the University of Washington. Next was another temporary exhibit about Asian Pacific American beverages and how they can help shape a community.
Upstairs, we visited a temporary modern art exhibit that exposed the “absurdity of war”. There were several haunting pieces.
Across the hall was an exhibit focusing on the Asian Pacific American experience. It touched upon work, home life, religion, and struggles such as Japanese internment.
Finally, we went through the community portrait galleries, focusing on the Vietnamese, Filipino, Pacific Islander, Cambodian, and Indian communities. The section on the Killing Fields in Cambodia was especially moving, with haunting photos of prisoners.
Before leaving the museum, we took the guided tour. It goes through several rooms of the East Kong Yick Building, including a historic hotel, a Chinese American family association meeting room and mahjong room, an apartment belonging to a local woman, and an import shop dating back to 1910. The tour took 45 minutes and the docent was very knowledgable. We highly recommend sticking around for the tour.