top of page


Escape to the Orient with Lucie



Porte de Choisy, a mosaic of lives, colours and fragrances, a gentle breeze dancing among the shadows of the skyscrapers. Lucie, a shooting star in this sprawling universe, was waiting for me with a smile that reflected all the mystery of this cosmopolitan district. This pretty strand of China slipped skilfully between the buildings that surrounded us. All around us was a forest of concrete, a jungle of intertwined dreams and realities. Lucie confided in me the secret of these thousands of dwellings that stand like sentinels: each housing its own business, its own history. She remembers her childhood, when her mother would guide her to a hairdresser who practised her art in the heart of a flat. Sometimes, they would share a meal together, forging bonds over cuts and discussions. Grocer, hairdresser, manicurist, cook... a vertical city, a city brimming with talent and flavour, where every corner of a flat conceals a treasure to be discovered. And now it's all at your fingertips, thanks to dedicated apps in the native language that unites these parallel worlds. Chinatown, a living canvas, an urban symphony, where borders blur and possibilities intertwine like the streets and avenues of this metropolis in perpetual motion.



Lucie, a lover of gourmet pleasures, led me through a maze of food shops, a vibrant labyrinth of flavours and colours, a far cry from French gastronomy. She told me about the uniqueness of Asian food, a green symphony of exotic vegetables and fruit that seemed to come straight out of a fantasy world. Among these treasures, durians stood out like olfactory enigmas. She introduced me to their paradoxical delicacy, to the essence of strawberry hidden behind their reputation as "stinky fruit". Carefully, she explained that they had to be enjoyed in moderation, as they contained sulphur, which gave them their repulsive smell, and that excess could lead to digestive turbulence. A delicate, precise treat, the price of which in punnets reflected its rarity. Lucie had opened the doors to an unknown world of taste, where every mouthful was a sensory adventure, where flavours defied expectations and where pleasure was revealed in nuance.




Alongside the strange silhouette of Notre-Dame de Chine church, we discovered a small presbytery which, like a window of opportunity, enthusiastically displayed all the activities on offer beyond the catechism. A veritable cultural kaleidoscope unfolded before our eyes: Chinese, English and French classes; the gentle murmur of guitars and pianos, the graceful rhythm of ballroom dancing, the soothing harmony of Taï-Chi Quan, and the fierce discipline of Taekwondo... An eclectic mix of skills and talents that blossomed within this association. Lucie told me that the parents, busy with their shopping and other obligations, often entrusted their children to these various activities, creating an impressive ballet of cars that came to pick up the young pupils on the pavement. These children, patient and curious, would wait, forming a human mosaic on the pavement, sometimes triggering a joyful traffic jam that no one was in a hurry to clear up, because in this corner of the city, the lessons of life mingled with the teachings of books, creating a veritable tableau vivant of energy and diversity.




We hurried across the pavement and into a dark car park. "Don't be afraid," she whispered with teasing amusement. And suddenly, like a revelation, an altar dedicated to the worship of Buddha appeared at the corner of a bend. "Unfortunately, it's closed," she regretted, "but it's still possible to question the officiants when they're present. Some of them speak French." In this sacred precinct, the atmosphere was imbued with mystery, and the air vibrated with spirituality. The moment was suspended, an invitation to explore the mysteries of this culture that was being revealed at the back of a car park.



The Arche de la fraternité, a vibrant symbol of friendship between peoples, stands like an artistic enigma in the heart of Chinatown. Designed by Parisian artist Georges Rousse, this monumental work is a sincere tribute to France and the Île-de-France region for their warm welcome to refugees from South-East Asia in the 1970s. Lucie explains to me the deeper meaning of this creation, explaining that the Arche de la fraternité embodies the Chinese character "mén", which translates as "door" or "opening". But the mystery of this work of art lies in its anamorphic technique. Intentionally distorted, it only reveals its true meaning from a specific angle. It all comes down to perspective, the way you choose to see. To fully appreciate this door, the curious must take the trouble to find a precise point marked on the ground in the Avenue de Choisy, where they will have to position themselves meticulously in order to contemplate the Arche de la fraternité, a living metaphor for the diversity and unity that characterise this cosmopolitan district.




Wallace fountains proudly bear the name of their benefactor, Sir Richard Wallace. Inspired by London's drinking fountains. Of the various versions, the caryatid model is the most prominent in the Parisian landscape. The distinctive colour of these fountains, a deep, soothing green, was chosen by Napoleon III himself. This colour was then imposed by the City of Paris, creating a visual coherence. Paris is home to seven different coloured examples of the Wallace fountains, each displaying a colour in harmony with its surroundings. Among them, the red fountain on Avenue d'Ivry, next to the Asian supermarkets Tang Frères and Paris Store, resonates with Chinese beliefs, where red embodies joy and prosperity, a burst of good fortune in the heart of Chinatown.




Red everywhere





The Olympiades district, nestling in the heart of the 13th arrondissement, stands as an essential testament to the urban planning of the 1970s, a period when ambition and creativity came together to create something new. This vast triangle, bounded by Rue Tolbiac, Rue Nationale and Avenue d'Ivry, is the result of a project that took shape between 1969 and 1977, built on the remains of the former Paris-Gobelins goods station. The very name of the district, "Olympiades", is a tribute to the Olympic Games, with each tower taking the name of a host city of past Olympics, from Helsinki to Mexico to Tokyo, evoking a world of competition and international encounters. 10,000 people call this district home, including a thriving Asian community, enriching this urban enclave with their traditions, culture and dynamism.



In the heart of the Olympiades, the shops stand like ambassadors for Asia, with motifs and architectural influences reminiscent of the pagodas and imperial palaces of the East.



Quiet day on the Olympiades slab



A mural by Chinese street art artist Satr.



Buddha as decoration in restaurants.



The old railway lines, once vital arteries leading to the defunct Paris-Gobelins goods terminal, have now been lost beneath the heavy Olympiades slab. Lucie, as she shares her memories, recalls an unusual experience: she had accompanied a relative by car under this tangle of depot shops. In this subterranean world, the atmosphere was not devoid of a certain anxiety, an atmosphere of little comfort.



In 2017, Spanish surrealist artist Okuda San Miguel created a monumental fresco for the first time in Paris, in the 13th arrondissement. A very pop Mona Lisa!

The work, 50 metres high and 15 metres wide, is a representation of the Mona Lisa. It is entitled 11 Mirages to Freedom.



A very pop passerby too



The time has come to say goodbye to Lucie, and I realise that my whirlwind exploration of this district was just a fleeting glimpse of its riches and mysteries. Now I'm faced with the obvious: I must return, immerse myself further, and take all the time I need to plunge deeper into this fascinating world.

bottom of page