Ontario Visit: prepping for my epic journey home

 I am busy not being busy for once. A couple of down days for my four enforced down days on a train. I do have to figure out food, and COFFEE, to remain somewhat sane sleeping on seats that recline only a very little. It is my hope I will not have anyone sit beside me. I will be at the station quite early which means there is a chance I can at least grab a window seat unless there are a lot of young people travelling. They tend to rush ahead of everyone and spread everything out on ‘their’ territory. I am speaking from experience, not crotchety old age. Having travelled on hard seats in China I will not be thwarted from establishing my own space. Perhaps most of the passengers will be berth or cabin paying. even I can hear my inner voice asking if I am bonkers.

Back to food. The on-board choices are not great for economy besides having fairly generous hours of operation. I had played with the idea of buying pre-packaged meals from StarBucks using my AirMiles. Aha, thinking like Pooh &  using my “Very little Brain…[to] Think of Things” I came up with buying a package of ‘meal prep’ containers I had come across at Dollarama. Only $4.00 for 7. (that’s CAD) Three compartments each, lid closes well, and reusable! So far I have mini croissants, small cans of tuna, dried apricots, granola bars, small pots of yogurt (still trying to figure that out) & orange juice. Squishy ice packs. Ground coffee. I have absolutely no recollection if cream, or even milk, is available to we lowly economy class passengers.

Considering my so far rather sad selection I have had to think what else I should take along that will last for 3-4 days. Ideally I should not have to make any purchases along the way. However, we do not live in an ideal world and the train is far too often spectacularly late! There is usually a fairly long stop in Winnipeg with the station just a hop, skip and jump from the Forks where of all sorts of yummy supplies can be bought. However, I do not want to run short if there is a delay in arrival. Stops in Edmonton and Jasper might work, except the former is well into the evening and I experienced a 12 hour delay waiting for the train to arrive in Jasper one winter! From Edmonton. Which brings me back to what else to buy.

I have settled on boiling six eggs (tea eggs would be divine, sadly my daughter & SIL do not have what I need; and I am not supposed to have soy products), apples (I will pre slice those), cheese, broccoli & cauliflower – preferably already cut unless my SIL will use it up, some sort of dip. Cream. In Ontario the milk and cream come with pour spouts that have caps – hurray! I am hoping a 1/2L will be enough until I determine what is on-board. With all of that I think I should have enough, yet I still worry I have forgotten something. Of course I may become sick of tuna and eggs!

As for coffee. Of course I already have that! It came with me from home.

Enter the Dragon’s Lair: Coffee in Taiyuan

This is a clip from a post (Dec 2011) from a blog I had in 2011. goeastoldwoman.blogspot.com about my attempts to return to teaching in China after several years. Reading past posts Coffee seems to have played an important role to maintaining my sanity. (I cannot believe I let so many errors escape me.)Most likely a result of being afraid I would lose my internet connection at any moment. No photos, no fancy phone then. I was even using pay phones and a landline at times!

The following was how I finally managed to have a real cup of coffee after a couple of weeks drinking garbage instant.

Written Dec 10/11 (edited Dec 27/18)
 

UBC (also the name of a university in Vancouver, Canada so I was feeling hopeful – I had also been to UBC in other cities years before) usually has two floors, where food, coffee, tea and fancy juices are served – it is never very busy. The menu was in Chinese and English.  Of course this is where things started to become confusing.  I just wanted a cup of coffee, with milk.  Forget trying to say cream. In Taiyuan when people say they only speak a little English they mean it – hello, coffee, bye-bye – are often all I can get out of anyone.  The fact I use passable Chinese for very simple requests makes everyone assume I must be fluent.  Perhaps all foreigners here (Taiyuan) are.
First they ascertained I did want to be on the second floor.  Then I chose where I would sit.  Next, order yi bei kafei; wo yao niu nai.  One coffee; I want milk.  Except this simple request resulted in about 5 minutes of mass confusion.  Did I want cold coffee with milk?  No, I want hot coffee, and milk.  Did I want hot coffee and hot milk?  No, just a little milk.  Ah, did I want one cup of coffee and one cup of milk?  By this time I had resorted to trying to over-explain, in Chinese, when it dawned on me to be more explicit with actions rather than words.  Remember, all this was in Chinese – except for the few words of English from me when I was at a loss to explain all I wanted was a little cream to put in my coffee to stir and drink.  Then it dawned on me – I asked for a little cup of milk, but this time showed the size I meant.  Presto, the girl ran over to the counter where she kept all her spoons, tissue (they do not use napkins here) and whatnot, pulled out a creamer and presented it to me with a flourish.  Feeling triumphant I was just about to say thank you when she asked if I wanted sugar in my coffee!  An emphatic no.  When the coffee finally arrived, from the first floor, it was delivered on a tray, the cup sitting beside the saucer. Except the server seemed to be waiting for something – perhaps he was unsure to whom this one little cup of coffee should go to?  After all, everyone else had their coffees – I assume they were having coffee.  I beckoned him over, do they not know it is dangerous to get between a foreigner and her coffee?  He did not budge, just looked a little scared and helpless, maybe he did know – ah, the upstairs girl had to put the cup on the saucer and present the spoon to said saucer before taking the whole in hand and making a presentation of my coffee to me.  With another creamer.  Despite the ice cold cream hitting the very hot coffee and coming close to curdling, I used both creamers. It was a decent cup of coffee – or I was just so desperate by then I did not know better.  I am discovering that coffee in the evening is good for the soul – at least in Taiyuan it is. 

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.

Enter the Dragon’s Lair: Part 2 – We gain a cat

Email excerpt Sep 25/01: The following is a message for Crispin and other kitties in the know.

hi, my name is cotton and i am 3 months old.  i have studied english for about 4 days-[retty good arent i.i decided to let her invite me into her home.  she keeps muttering about being too old for babies.  she also says i miao too much when i want her, but i keeplosing her.

Yes, we have a kitten, three months old.  She finally figured out where her litter box is-we use sand stolen from the construction area going on within the school. She was a gift from a student of mine.  He said her mother only had the one kitten so I think she was either very spoiled or very neglected. She has finally started to purr and seems to think the mosquito nets are for her personal pleasure.This means locking her out of the bedrooms at night.

As I continue down this journey of reminiscing I love coming across these little gems. We were still in Xin Cun, still encountering all sorts of problems and still wishing, at times, we were elsewhere. We had indeed been landed with a kitty. I was of the opinion that Chinese parents told their children that foreigners love to be given pets. (It had happened before and would again) As if there was not enough on my plate already! Naturally the attack on my emotions would only work if my own children were with me. The little boy was clever, he brought the cat to school (I never did find out how he smuggled it in) and he had a Chinese teacher who spoke English translate for him. I thought they were laying it a bit thick when I was told the boy would be beaten – another ploy for sympathy I would encounter more than once – if he brought the kitten home. However, heartstrings were plucked. We had a kitten. We had also gone away for a few days so I must have been feeling magnanimous.

Cotton rarely posed for us. She was always quite skittish. I have no idea why the photo was black & white other than probably my poor translation skills in either buying film or having it processed.

Oct 3/01: P.S. Tell Crispin there is Kitty food here, about $1.00 (yes, CDN) per small can, I hope Cotton stays small!

Oct 7/01 (email to my eldest daughter): We have a cat now. Her name is Cotton. She is as much a scaredy cat as Bailey!  She refuses to go onto our balcony or even sit at the window in the living room. Her favourite new trick is to climb our mosquito nets and sleep in the top as though it is a hammock.  It is quite disconcerting to have a kitty hanging above one’s head. I have to discourage this because she is getting too heavy and will leave gaping holes in the netting-great for mosquitoes intent on nibbling at our toes!

Canadian Thanksgiving. It seems I had been very ill with probably bronchitis, this would be a problem throughout the years I lived in China, so we missed Thanksgiving Day. However, the next day we were treated to a lovely feast and given the leftovers. I said it was probably because we had a fridge. Or the fact I had three children.

Oct 9/01: So Cotton gets a fish head for dinner tonight. I hope she doesn’t complain about the soya sauce and stuff on it. Cotton is growing very fast.  She has decided she prefers cat food to fish heads or shrimp.  

Her fur was so white that capturing a candid photo was nearly impossible! She had lovely eyes. (When we gained our second cat, Mozzy, Cotton taught him the high art of grooming – he never appeared to be dirty even after missing for 21 days. That is another tale)

At the time the currency exchange was roughly 1CAD – 6CNY. Which does not sound like a lot until it is added up. Even $30.00 for cheap cat food in Canada was a lot of money! I have a vague recollection of earning no more than 5000RMB per month. If housing had not been included money would have been extremely tight. However, Cotton lifted our spirits as only a young cat can do.

Oct 18/01: Message to Crispin and all the other Kitties from Cotton

SHE keeps telling me i am too fussy because i like to have my kittypan cleaned more than once a day.  SHE does not like cleaning up after me.  AND SHE says i should not sleep on the net over their heads. i like it but SHE says i am too big. isn’t big good?

Response from Crispin: Dear Cotton; Of COURSE Big is Good.  You should tell Her that i[t] must be that the net is Too Small.

My youngest daughter and Cotton hanging out away from everyone.

Readers will discover that one of the ways my family manages to stay somewhat sane is due to how besotted we are with out kitties! These excerpts were often near the end of emails I sent bemoaning my lot in life. Usually along the lines of my children not listening, my students not listening and Administration not listening. Cotton listened, purred, and kept me company. She was with us for less than two years.

Before we discovered that Cotton was unwell Mozzy joined our family when he was barely seven weeks. Cotton was a wonderful foster mother to him.

Enter the Dragon’s Lair: My years in China Part 1 – 9/11

I moved my family to China to further my exploration of this ancient, culturally diverse, somewhat secretive, vast country called China. I was there to teach. My children were there because they had no other choice. So, join me down the bumpy, often steep, memory lane of my years as a single parent teaching English in China. I shall do my best to include excerpts from what I, my daughters, family and even friends wrote as well as my memories. I will even try to find some photos from before the days of digitally enhanced photography.

As I begin my 61st birthday – it took weeks to finally decide it is alright to write and post this – it reminds me that events of singular import to me, family, and in the news, often occur on family birthdays. Therefore, rather than write about my first foray into the Middle Kingdom with my children from 1997 to 2000 I have chosen to start at my 44th birthday. September 11, 2001. Two days after arriving back in China after a year in Canada. A date etched on the hearts of so many. And yet, September 11 is so much more than one horrific date. Just as August 6, (Hiroshima), December 7 (Pearl Harbour), and too many more dates of man’s destruction of anything different. This is my observation. I am not wishing to enter into a debate.

It seems that whenever 9/11 comes someone asks, “where were you when you heard”? We had been out celebrating my birthday and signing teaching contracts at a local restaurant. By the time we got back to the school around 8:30pm and climbed the three flights of stairs to our apartment, we were all pretty exhausted. We had only arrived in Xin Cun two days earlier and I was expected to teach the following morning. I sent my two youngest girls to bed, turned on the TV – living so close to Guangzhou we could get English language channels – to a movie we really had no interest in was playing. Until an extremely distraught Hong Kong newscaster came on. When we realized it was not a movie. I recall gasping, then sharply telling my two younger daughters to go back to bed after they heard their sister’s and my shocked voices. I have little recollection if I really slept, I can still clearly see one of the newscasters becoming more and more distressed over the course of events. He knew people who died that day.

By morning, daughters up, fed breakfast and ready to head to their new classrooms (disastrous in another way) I was frazzled and wondering if we would be told we would have to leave the country. (As events unfolded we learned of thousands of people were stranded all over the world so it seemed highly unlikely.) As I met teachers they all seemed invariably happy. It was surreal, surely the events over the news must have affected them if only peripherally. Turns out very few of them owned televisions and many would have already gone to bed. Eventually, a shrug here and there. Besides, as we from western countries tend to respond to events in other countries, it did not affect their lives.

Looking back to that birthday, and the weeks after, it seemed everyone was a little ill at ease, looking over shoulders a lot and not specifically referring to the disaster. Fortunately, although it seems I wrote very little immediately after, I must have said the right things as I was not asked to leave!

It was eerie how easily we all slipped into our daily routines. Easier to shut our eyes to the impossible. Easier to laugh ,sing, make friends. Except it was not, and we did not. A knot of anxiety was always present. Nastiness was in the air. Insults flung at us in Chinese. My children were bewildered. By November we left. To a kinder, welcoming , new city and old friends. Nanning.