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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Ramdom day of thoughts and shots

My intention was to put in a couple of hours at my local food bank, go for a walk, do some reading. Basically a quiet Saturday. Seems someone forgot to let some of us know we could not add anything to the shelves because everything would be emptied to prepare for hampers. I am learning a lot about how food banks operate.

While we waited – there were at least five of us – my youngest daughter sent a text claiming starvation and poverty. She did not know I was volunteering that morning. However, it did occur to me that the plight of single, working part time, young people does seem to be on an upswing with an emphasis on part time = minimum wage. I cannot just put together a bag of food whenever I feel like it. Actually, I can never do that – volunteers may not do their shopping at the food bank even if willing to pay. We are allowed to take baked goods, sometimes dairy, and this day we were encouraged to take a bunch of bananas before they went bad.

Aha! My reply to my daughter was, “I have bananas!” She was not amused. Once I explained I was going home to make banana bread her texts had a happier note. So, I made vegan banana bread, ran to the store to buy a can of garbanzo beans to make hummus, then headed to town with a healthy lunch for my daughter plus some extras – and her laundry. I also managed to bag a bag of chips for her from the food bank because that is sometimes also allowed. My community good deed may have fallen flat but my mothering instinct had not. Although I may not have fixed her dire straits nor found a solution to world hunger I am trying. Sort of. Rather sad that food banks are necessary and so many people need two or more jobs to barely meet their rent.

I live in the third most expensive city in Canada. I do not own a home. As I headed to town I could not help but take note of a scattering of people on the side of the road holding signs asking for ‘anything’. It is getting chillier out there. I suppose poverty in Victoria is easier to deal with than the cold in Ontario or Winnipeg. When I popped into my daughter’s workplace to hand over her meal and pick up her keys – that laundry needed dropping off – there were a few tourists around and a couple of ‘unsavoury’ characters. This how too many Victorians think. I walked from her place back to town to return her keys, then back to pick up my car.

The contrasts downtown are quite noticeable. We have the gorgeous waterfront with the very expensive Empress Hotel, and the legislature buildings, as shining beacons to tourism and government. (I mean the building, not the politics within, for the latter- BC is fascinating for its politics) this day we also had two or three very quiet panhandlers sitting along the wall leading to the lower harbour front walkway. In general, I find that panhandlers are more polite here than elsewhere. One woman actually had a Corelle teacup! (Probably a coffee cup if I base it by shape) Consider this, she was sitting across from the Empress, where afternoon tea runs at a whopping 78CAD (58USD) before taxes. And tips are expected!

As I walked back to my car I was struck by how much the landscape of Victoria appears to be shifting yet remains, in many ways, entrenched in the past and very closed to anyone without a high income. Victorians are besotted with their old buildings. It is not uncommon to come across the shell, or sometimes just the facade, of a once elegant, now faded, turn of the 19th or early 20th century, building. What is the draw? Real Estate. The latest is the Customs House, not ever a grand piece of architecture. (Not to be confused with the incredibly pink Old Customs House) Ah, it sits on a prime piece of real estate, harbour views galore, the grand dame Empress to one side, the legislature on the far side of the harbour.

I get it, living downtown, in a refurbished piece of a historical architecture is pretty neat. But at what cost? Yet another slap in the face of the poor, dare I say that these days the backbone, of Victoria? Tourism is what keeps the city ticking. I doubt even the smallest suite, 320 sq. ft. will sell for under one million – where there is such a cry for affordable housing. Besides, while I also get keeping the look of Victoria is part of what draws people here, sometimes it makes no sense. If we are trying to maintain traditional views why wrap it up, or is it fill it up, with so much glass and fake brass. Besides they did not even save the whole shell. (I still cannot get over green and red lights on the legislature over Christmas)

Which brings me to two funny incidents while I was heading home. One was nearby the rose garden of the legislature, and damned if my phone battery was nearly out of power, when I saw a woman pushing a bike, start to turn onto the sidewalk I was on, then abruptly turn and head back from whence she came before veering off towards a hedge. I know there was a security guard a bit further down, so my suspicious mind made me slow down, what could she be doing? Then, to really make me wonder, she appeared to take a sign from a plastic bag and plop it over the hedge before fastening on her helmet and riding down said sidewalk – past the guard. Sans sign. Intrigued, and too far away from the guard and the item, with very little battery power to snap a photo of the receding cyclist, I decided to saunter into the rose garden for a visit. (Sometimes my brain forgets there are some extremely sketchy people in Victoria) Nothing. Was I mistaken? Nope. A white poster had been tucked behind a tree that leans into the hedge. Perhaps she did not appreciate the message? Perhaps the security guard had presented it to her? I will never know but I did manage to get a photo! I also left it there.

I headed back to my car, even managed to eke out enough phone power to buy a London Fog before heading home. One more, very sudden, stop when I saw this at the gas station! I hope there was not anyone following too closely behind me when I made the turn! I did not need gas but how could I resist? I love trains! In the words of another blogger, a perfect moment!

Enter the Dragon’s Lair: perspective from the ‘girls’

I had meant to post this for Remembrance Day – forgot about it until I was pondering writing a post recalling the perils of theft. So, I shall ponder that a bit more.

Moving lock, stock and barrel as the single parent of three girls is never easy. Choosing to move to an unknown culture is even more challenging. The most challenging task for me was educating my daughters. (For ease of writing they are D2, D3, D4 – D1 was already an adult) Pretty ridiculous considering I had made the decision to cross the ocean to be a teacher. In addition, they had to deal with major cultural shock, being gawked and pawed at, and eating ‘weird’ food. We dealt with this in a few ways, including letters home and journals for distance education.

I found this gem, written on Oct 12, 2001 to D3 from her grandmother, I believe D3 had asked for a history of my parents in their own words for a school assignment. Significant considering our arrival in China, was only 2 days before Sept 11, 2011. At the time D3 was the only one with an online component to her BC, Canada curriculum. She was 12 years old. With everything that is going on in the world these days this reminder seems important. My mother lived in England during WWll.

“War is always wrong. Bad people may do bad things, but that does not make it alright to destroy people of that country/religion or whatever.

The only way the world will be a better place is for people to love each other; to help those who are disadvantaged to have education, and better health opportunities; and a hope of some way to feed their family.

Maybe this is a bit heavy for you at your age; but I think you DO understand. The hope for the world is with young people.”

Seventeen years later can I say that D3 did understand? Absolutely. She has always had a strong sense of empathy. Her outgoing personality made it easy for her to make friends and diffuse cultural slights. Often to the chagrin of her younger sister, D4, who always struggled with being different. People loved to touch her hair, face and skin and would comment on how pretty she was. They also tended to note she was ‘fat’ – this was generally meant to mean she was healthy. This happened a lot because I believed it was important to use local transit. We would often be sharing space with chickens, fish in baskets, bushels of greens and the farmers carrying everything to the various markets. On our return home I expect we saw some of those same chickens – headed to the dinner pot after being sold.

As a result the views of China from two children in the same family were often like night and day.

Walk on the wild side

It was rather blustery out late this morning; however, it was not raining and the sun even made a marvellous appearance – I can even dare to say it was nearly warm enough to remove my jacket, until I hit the Dallas Road wind tunnel. I doubt anyone can come away from that without appearing a little on the wild side.

As we enter the darker, some say gloomier, days of autumn stormy weather will be whipping up waves, whisking away warmth and forcing people indoors. Unless they happen to live on Vancouver Island, where storm watching is a pastime. For today I only ventured as far as the turn that would take me to the absolutely best chocolate dipped ice cream in all of Greater Victoria – fortunately I recalled I had only brought my driver’s licence, no ice cream for me and a fun find down one of the streets. But first, some sails on the water and in the air.

First stop, Harrison Yacht Pond. Still very popular.

Way off in the distance there were colourful, swooping, diving, flying high, paragliders

Harrison Yacht Pond was built in 1947, mainly for model sailboats although that would eventually come under scrutiny when model boat enthusiasts wanted to weigh anchor with power boats. When ducks and geese decided to move in I expect some sailors were ready to scuttle their ships. It was nice to see a family enjoying a quiet morning remote controlled sail.

Once I realized I was not going to have ice cream I headed down a street that would take me back to my daughter’s – she is fortunate to live so close to Dallas Road. Some months ago I had run across a house with a fun yard – seems the owner changes it regularly. Such a delight to see the fun, and of course artistry, for everyone to enjoy. All done with stones. It makes people smile as they walk by and invites conversation. We need more of that.

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Churchill Manitoba: take 2

I was quietly cheering to myself the other day when I heard that the rail link from Winnipeg to Churchill MB was finally open again. The politicians were on hand to welcome the engine – except it seems they were not as the train rocked in the evening before. I found that might sum up how I expect Churchill will be once I finally make it there. Suddenly there with no fuss. I do not know why I think this.

As soon as I heard that passenger trains should be running in the spring of 2019 I started to once again do some research for a visit. I had originally planned to go in July 2017, booked a hostel and a walking tour. At the time it was thought the closure would be temporary. Eighteen months later -sold to the consortium Arctic Gateway Group in September 2018 for 117 million – officially welcomed by PM Trudeau, and it appears Canada’s northern port will be open to visitors who do not choose to fly in – the only other way to get there. Before the ink had dried a promise was made to have damaged tracks repaired and they did it! Probably self serving as the sale included the lucrative northern port and it will be necessary to have people stay there!

That fact hangs heavy for budget travellers. Will there be anywhere for solo, budget, backpacker visitors to stay? The hostel I had booked for July 2017 permanently closed just two months. I do not know accommodations close regularly in Churchill but it does appear part of the reason must be behind the rail closure; 18 months without budget visitors is a long time, closing just as polar bear ‘season’ was ramping up has the appearance of desperation. Of course this means options are practically nil for a budget traveller. I sent a message to the tour company I had originally booked a walking tour with in the hope they are still in operation and doing eco tours.

Via Rail’s website is still showing trips to Churchill are still unavailable. I will keep checking with the plan to visit some time before the end of September 2019. I should have photos by then! (Unfortunately the very few photos from the time I lived in Churchill in 1958/59 are not with me)