Enter the Dragon’s Lair: Part 3 – Halloween in China

I am sure that over the years much has changed in China when Halloween comes swooping in. Unfortunately I believe it is most likely not for the good. Western celebrations, if we count Halloween as a celebration, do tend to be carried out to a level of craziness I have not seen at home. The following is the story of why I will never offer to do anything for the day unless I am either paid exceedingly well or have helpers chained to me to do my bidding – preferably both.

My daughter likes Halloween so I did a bit of decorating

The day was October 31, 2001, Xin Cun, Guangdong, China. Halloween 🎃. I have a vague memory of a white pumpkin, or possibly it was green. The following are from the crypt archives. Cue the spooky music – I think I played Monster Bash first. Sadly, no pictures were taken. I hope everyone has a marvellously crazy Halloween! Time to read the Monkey’s Paw again.

It was indeed a Monster Bash!  500 students is a lot. 
We set up three stations with apples hanging from
poles to have apple bobbing which meant everyone was sitting in
a large three deep circle.   I put candles at each station, we had some “scary” music, turned out the lights and told a scary story.  This meant reading by candlelight. To this day I am surprised there was not a fire!After each sentence, read slowly and with what I hope was a relatively spooky voice, another teacher translated. Like the mists of October much most likely went over their heads but the translations had enough of the creepiness that students listened.  
I walked around the room – a good size auditorium- and would approach a student to
emphasize things. My two younger daughters wandered behind the students and
would say BOOOO! every now and then.  Great spooky effects.After that things were a bit crazy!  My junior students were the ones most interested in doing apple bobbing. My youngest would try to pick students from
different classes but they were mostly unwilling.  We had about 200 students try bobbing for apples then I handed out the remaining apples. It is no small feat to tie up a couple hundred apples!
Unfortunately none of the teachers “helping” actually helped!  This meant I had to keep telling the students to sit down before I would give them anything.  The candy was another story!!!  One of my daughters was so incensed at how rude, in her view, everyone was and lost her voice from yelling at them! One would think these kids did not get fed. I swore that if I ever do anything like that again I will insist on having more time in the one day and doing each class separately. 
I already knew that was possible after putting on a great Halloween party I with other English teachers at a different school a year or so earlier. We even had a moving, talking mummy! (We wrapped my youngest up in toilet paper, she was laid out on a table and would rise when given the cue. As each class came in separately through one door then out the other end there was no chance of warning other students. That was a major success.
Originally I was going to do things in each classroom but that would have meant two or three days of Halloween!  I had 7 classes, each 40 mins. I really didn’t want to take that long for what is supposed to be a one day activity and setting it up would have been a logistical nightmare.
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Ontario Visit: final leg & home!

Somehow our train arrived 30 minutes ahead of schedule! Ever since some tweaking of the departure timetable from Toronto it seems that Via is doing a much better job at running on time despite some delays. My aim had been to catch an afternoon ferry home, arriving early meant I should be able to be on the 10:00am.

$5.00 for two skytrain and one bus and there I was. (Weeks later I found my Compass Card that I had accused my youngest daughter of losing when I loaned it to her) Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal – my gateway to the island. Island life, even if one lives in Victoria, is interesting. Passengers purchasing tickets had to make way for two, yes two, kayaks being brought through the terminal. Such precious cargo does not go into – let alone fit – the baggage cart! A few of pondered if they had taken the kayaks to the passenger decks. My guess is they must have as they were walking through the terminal rather than from the ferry. So kayaks might be allowed on upper decks but not so pets – yet.

Tsawwassen Terminal

I was nearly home! Standing at the outside deck watching the ferry unload. Briny ocean smells, seagulls calling, the ocean breeze held the promise of island life. I love to travel but it is the island that calls to me.

On-board, blue sky, blue ocean, a single fishing boat and a float plane – I cannot think of a more iconic homecoming than that! My final extravagance (not that I had many) was to shell out $12.00 to enjoy the views, and of more importance, the quiet, from the Seawest Lounge. No talking on mobile phones. No loud talking. If watching anything use of headphones. This is a place for reflection, or a quiet space for working. Coffee, tea and some nibbles are included in the price.

Nearly there!

I walked off the ferry, exhilarated to be home as well as exhausted. Two more buses, a five minute walk, and I would be home. From the Vancouver Via Station to my front door it took about six hours where I discovered our kitten Musa was now a plump plantain! I put him on a diet.

Musa wondering if I am indeed me or a monster.

One month later I am plotting my escape!

EXPENSES: I did not have my book with me at the time of writing this; however, I did have the foresight to add up all my expenses, then all my credits a couple of weeks ago. I even took my one way flight into consideration! I could not believe that my average daily spent was a mere 10CAD! (11.00AUD; 6.85EUR; 53.50CNY; 7.55USD) Of course I would not have been able to do this if I had not stayed with family. BUT! There are so many ways to save, even on accommodation.

Ontario Visit: Fleeting Glimpses – Via Rail Days 2 – 3i

For some reason it is taking much longer to write about my train ride than the actual trip took! However, the time has given my the opportunity to reflect on some of my notes, my very few photos and my hope to do it again!

After warming up from my chilly night in the dome car with an excellent cup of coffee – my own of course – and breakfast I spent a good part of my day staring out the window, reading my book and dividing my window time between my seat, the dome car and the gathering area where people chat, play games, eat and listen to the entertainment. Summer train travel is great for the entertainment side. Usually a small audience yet so appreciative. I am always happy when the powers that be have not allowed economy class to enjoy live music and a break from the eventual monotony or train travel.

I thought I had his name – nope! However, he is from Victoria so maybe I will see his picture somewhere he will be playing when not on-board.

By the time we reached Sioux Lookout time was approaching a standstill. We were not exactly behind, just going through Northern Ontario…..and going, and going. Getting outside was becoming a palpable need for all onboard.

We have some great names for places in Canada!

My seat mate left sometime before Sioux Lookout, I would have the two seats to myself for the remainder of my trip. Small mercies! Soon enough we were in Winnipeg where I was joined one woman to explore the Forks, an area I am now quite familiar with after a few trips to -even staying at – Winnipeg in recent years. The Forks is a great place to stock up, I bought a giant chickpea roti and a vegetarian Somosa (I seemed to have been eating these lovely bundles a lot) to supplement my packed meals. There was so much I expected they would last a couple of days.

I met up with two writers I had talked with while in line in Toronto who were travelling in the sleepers after their attempt to visit me and a fellow passenger onboard had been thwarted. Thinking on our feet one handed me her only business card to take a photo of for me to look up.

Although I have no idea what the book is about beyond her marriage the title intrigues me.

Once the train left Winnipeg, with a new crew, there was a sense of truly going west. Many passengers left the train yet it still seemed quite full, enough that I was a little worried I might lose my double seat.

Hedging my chances: It comes in handy when travelling with the backpacker essentials!

As I wound my way through the muskeg, rocks and mosquito laden land – firmly seated in the AC dome car – I was once again struck by how fortunate I am to be travel in our vast land even though on a cinched tight budget.

Shades of straw with goldenrod hues peeking through green fields and manmade blue ponds turning to mud – it was not yet drought conditions. Saskatchewan fields live up to the oft used patchwork quilt. Arrow straight, stitched side roads to forever. Lovely field of sunflowers appeared outside my window seat – a perfect, silent in memory of the death of my father nine years ago, born in Saskatchewan. Sadly I missed the Perseus Meteor Shower.

Stopped long enough in Saskatoon to walk to front of train!

Vanscoy, SK. Inevitable bales of hay.
Perdue, SK. A lot of flat fields, blue sky with fluffy clouds on this trip!

Then suddenly, we were in Alberta. Red hills, undulating, rolling, held in stasis until we pass. It was a strange sensation. We crossed over what was once (still?) the longest train trestle in Canada.

Dotted with cattle.

Wainwright Via Rail Station. A little worse for wear.

Many of us were train weary by the time we finally made it to Edmonton. I was in dire need of a shower. Upon discovering we had only three hours at a relatively new side station with the closest places 3 kilometres away walking in the oncoming mosquito infested dusk. (A few of us considered taking one of the taxis buzzing around much like the mosquitoes) settled to wash my hair in one of the Ladies Room sinks. I discovered I was not the only one!

Hurray, I was still at two seats when we pulled out about 45 minutes late, way past my bedtime in any province. The doldrums of day 3 were dissipating. We were headed to Jasper with visions of mountains to greet us in the morning.

Jasper! Mountains, fresh air, pine trees, rivers,, small town feel with so much to see and do. One passenger said he was equipped to camp for two days in the mountains before hopping back on the train. Winter vs. summer – the mountains appear tame with no sign of the bone chilling snow and ice. Do not be fooled. There are bears in them hills. The fellow said he had camped in Africa where the lions roam. (I have not heard anything about a missing hiker in the area so he must have survived) My closest encounter, soup and a small loaf of day old bread at The Other Bear Claw, now a favourite stop when in Jasper. It was time to sit back to enjoy the views.

Moroccan soup chock full with vegetables and chickpeas. Bread filled with cheese, basil & tomato

Back on the rails, expectations from nature – best quotes far. Upon seeing Thunder Falls on the far side of Moose Lake one passenger quietly exclaimed to her seat mate, “That’s it? We came all this way to see a trickle?” Much later Pyramid Falls silenced them. Except they wanted the train to stop!

Thunder Falls
Pyramid Falls

We passed a tiny place called Blue River, except it’s green – ribbon of molten moss. Passengers come and go – moving vignettes into the lives of travellers. Boredom was interspersed with the glories of canyons and mountains and eavesdropping. A call for a nurse or a doctor also meant we stopped along the way. Some sort of medical emergency. A nurse practitioner from economy class stepped up and it seems a doctor from the sleeper cars was also available. One of the crew members had her radio with her that crackled the ‘patient’ was conscious. It seemed they would be sent to a hospital in Kamloops.

I finally had to order a meal. Not always easy with dietary needs! The chef went out of her way to determine if there was anything I should not eat in some of the choices before suggesting a chef’s salad with an extra egg in place of the ham. Lots of fresh vegetables, and great garlic bread.

We arrived in Kamloops as the sun was setting before I was lulled to sleep with dreams of home.

Expenses: The Other Bear Claw – lunch $9.00; onboard dinner – $11.00 (I had reluctantly thrown out the other half of my roti bought in Winnipeg. It was delicious, just too much potato and chickpeas that seemed to upset my stomach. Just as well I did not have a seat mate!

Ontario Visit: Fleeting Glimpses – Via Rail Day 1

Once again my bags were packed and I was ready, or sort of ready. I spent the evening out with my daughter, SIL & friends of theirs at the Kitchener Blues Festival https://unattendedgrandma.wordpress.com/2019/08/19/ontario-visit-winding-down-to-go-home/which meant getting back to the house later than was a good idea. However, as already noted we all had a great time. At least nearly everything was ready to just grab and go for the 5:04am bus to Toronto. Fortunately that was just a short jaunt to the stop. I had been up since 3:00am and actually fell asleep on the bus during some of the 1 1/2 hour trip before having to change buses. I also saved money when the driver only charged half the fare – I guess I look older first thing in the morning!

At Square One, no idea where that is situated other than between Kitchener and Toronto, I had enough time to grab a coffee before about another 1 1/2 hours on a bus. How to determine if a major terminal? Look for a Starbucks. I was making use of my App and already ahead by $10.00 – a great start to my morning. By the time I arrived in Toronto and made the short walk to Union Station I was ready for more coffee and breakfast. I think it was 8:30 – my train would depart at 9:50. Slightly behind schedule.

I snagged a window seat – home for four nights – I was saying a silent prayer for nobody joining me.

First in line – perhaps first choice of seats? Nope, but I did just fine. This is a popular sign for pictures!

Parry Sound – looks like a lovely place to visit. Perhaps another trip.

Capreol – a little rain was welcome. The smokers who clogged the carriage aisles to get out were not.

Kawaweogama Lake: 210km NW of Thunder Bay, (the train does not go there) still in Ontario -TB is yet another town I once lived in as a child. We had entered Day 2.

I was not lucky my first night, a woman in her 80s joined me fairly late. Not so bad except she was a smoker. I spent my first night in the chilly sky dome.

However, the glimpses out my window were magnificent. A lone falcon slowly circling; herons still as the bulrushes; lily pads wearing golden crowns; a giant stop sign nailed to a tree with no sign of human traffic; brightly coloured canoes slip sliding away; then much later, another lake a lone fisherman slowly motoring against setting sun reds. Dusk descends early, sun dappled trees darken, lakes earlier inviting, shine ominously black. Molten silver confuses. Deadheads lurk. A single blackened tree – lightening strike? Disease? Too swiftly moving forward – all is wonder.

Swaying and steady clickety clack lulled me to sleep.

Ontario Visit: ahhh, the ocean!

After four days at home I was finally feeling more like myself. Just as well as I had an early morning appointment the first Monday I was back. Which also meant I would have time to drive to a park I used to take my children to but rarely visit these days. Note: I have not forgotten my four day train ride – see above, it took four days to get back to normal – I just have to gather my notes and thoughts along with my sparse photos. It is not easy taking pictures from a moving train. Meanwhile, a quick respite at Cadboro-Gyro Park.

Perhaps Caddy, our very own Cadborosaurus was frolicking on the shores a bit too much. All polished up since my children played on her.
Or that lurking octopus may have had a hand…tentacle or two in the wanton destruction.
That giant starfish looked far too busy to have had anything to do with it.
Easy access to the beach for any and all. Of course I took off my sandals to wiggle my toes in the sand. We do not have many sandy beaches in Victoria.
Natural driftwood sculpture and driftwood architecture in the background.
Rarely does a day go by when there is not a craft on the waters nearby.
Aha! I found the modern day culprit. Perhaps they did not get the memo. Like all sand castles the powers that be smooth them away – albeit with a little help from Public Works.

Ontario Visit: winding down to go home

The afternoon I left Kingston for Kitchener was not special or sad or spectacular, but the memory of waiting for a breaking news announcement remains etched in my brain. Five of us may have missed our train despite it being late if we had waited for the news. It was not even earth shattering news. Rather, it was a harsh reminder of how horrible events grab our attention. It made me think about how fragile life is and why I should always be grateful for what I have.

Waiting at Via Rail Station, Kingston

In Kitchener I met with my daughter, we walked to her house, and had a quiet evening. My visit was already winding down. However, I did manage to ride on the new transit system, called the Ion. A rail system that runs from the far end of Waterloo to the far end of Kitchener in about 45 minutes. A smooth ride, shiny cars, still spic and span after running for about a month.

My last two days were packed full. First we had lunch at one of my daughter’s favourite coffee shops. (Too bad I forgot the name) Funky order pieces, fun tables. A great place that gets excellent coffee, vegetarians and vegans! We then met up with some of her friends to attend the Blues Festival – both nights. There were three main stages and several smaller venues. Kitchener was hopping! Opening night we managed to partake of heavenly cones at Four-All pop-up ice cream parlour. The final night the food trucks were making brisk business and the vibe was fantastic. I had a giant Turkish samosa plus rice stuffed grape leaves – nothing like dolmades – at the Queen of Shawarma. I was so impressed I convinced everyone else to go back to try something then discovered another friend, who is from Turkey, highly recommends her. As for the music, oh my! We were privileged to hear the smooth sax of Vanessa Collier as she wove her magic through the tent without missing a beat nor seeming to take a breath. She is also blessed to be a mean guitar player and an excellent blues singer. It was tough to be wrenched away but 4:00am would be early.

The lobster imprint is hilarious considering this is a vegetarian cafe!
My bags were all packed…
All I had to do was…stuff all my food into containers for the four night train ride!

I had 7 divided containers that I used to make grabbing meals easier plus breakfast and snack choices. Ice packs come in handy but foldable, on wheels, coolers they a couple of passengers had may be a purchase I will have to look into. I did not expect to have enough food for my whole trip yet needed enough to ensure I would not run into s problem with no choices I could eat as well as keep my costs down. What I packed: six boiled eggs; three small tuna cans; mini croissants; pre-cut broccoli and apples; cheese; aioli dip; yogurt; granola bars; dried apricots; two muffins; coffee cream; ground coffee. (I would purchase meals three times.)

I must have looked worn out after sleeping very poorly and getting up at 3:00 am, the bus driver gave me the senior rate. At half off I was not going to complain. Two buses later I was at Union Station. I was beginning to seriously doubt my sanity before I was even on the train. A cup of coffee helped to temporarily normalize the morning.

I was even first in line to board the train which meant I would be able to get a window seat. No guarantee I would not have a seat mate at some point. (I did, but not for several hours and only one night). We rolled out roughly ten minutes behind schedule. Once settled I had a small picnic breakfast then stared out my window. I was headed home!

EXPENSES: up to boarding the train. (I may have missed a couple of amounts as I kept track in more than one place)

Vagabond Coffee $2.75. Bleh! Even adding more cream and hot water did nothing to improve the taste. This infuriated me as a I specifically asked if the server was using the bottom of the pot after seeing her tip it. Shawarma Queen, $12.00 – enough to share but I ate it all. (Probably not a good idea for early morning travel) GO Bus, $9.75 (general fare 19.75); groceries & sundries for train $45.00 including a pair of flip flops for wearing on board. I worked out the actual meal portion to $7.00 per day. I was cutting my available cash very closely.