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Obscure action figures and blingtastic cell phone covers have been staples of Vancouver’s Chinatown Night Market for 17 years. But while the cheap and cheerful trinkets are back for the 2013 season, change is in the air.

“I grew up with the market; it felt like there was a chance to bring in some new energy and a new audience,” said Ken Tsui, a filmmaker and pop-up event creator responsible for reinvigorating the weekend happening that runs on Keefer Street in the heart of Canada’s largest Chinatown.

That new energy includes adding a thick slice of local hipsterdom to the dozens of returning vendors and full menu of steaming food stands. Cool first-timers such as Poppytalk, which specialises in artsy stationery and supplies, and The Pie Shoppe, with its handmade fruit pastry treats, rolled in for the market’s 17 May soft opening, with other vintage clothing, arts and crafts and artisan ice cream merchants poised to launch by 1 June.

Dining-wise, a new Saturday food truck meet-up – serving everything from fish tacos to Indian fare – aims to tap local love for funky street nosh. The truck Chicken on Rice specialises in Singapore’s favourite comfort grub, while other regulars serve everything from shrimp dim-sum to the wildly popular tornado potatoes (freshly cooked spiral fries on skewers).

But it’s the eclectic programming that Tsui hopes will entice Vancouverites back to a market that’s been overshadowed in recent years by rival events in Richmond, 10km south of the city. From a stage near Keefer’s Columbia Street intersection, the season’s ambitious line-up includes performance storytelling, hip-hop karaoke, outdoor film screenings, a Street Fighter II tournament and a ping pong club that invites all-comers to pick up a paddle.

Tsui said he is especially looking forward to a series of giant wall projections of vintage Chinatown images by renowned Vancouver streetscape photographer Fred Herzog on 5 July.  “There’s something deep and historical about this area and we want the market to celebrate that. We’re not trying to take everything apart and make it all new. But we do want to make this market a cultural hub for everyone.”

The Chinatown Night Market runs Friday to Sunday from 6 pm to 11 pm until 8 September.

John Lee is the Vancouver Localite for BBC Travel

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