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. 

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Mini Adventure: A Perfect Afternoon

I admit to stealing the title idea from another blogger, todaysperfectmoment.wordpress.com, he has such lovely insights into what could be a not so good day by finding a nugget of perfection. (Check him out – he is also a Canadian) Yesterday was a bit like hitting the mother lode. I knew I had to get away from the day. Where else but to one of the many spots to not only glimpse the ocean but be immersed in the experience.

I love Vancouver Island. I do not love how expensive it is to live here. A 45 minute drive away is French Beach. A rugged, surf crashing, mist in the air, giant driftwood strewn beach that is not your typical sandy, flip flop, run into the spray type of beach. Although there were two children, under the watchful eyes of the adults with them, who were actually in the water! My daughter said they must be true west coasters.

That is what we do when the world seems to be crashing down. When money, jobs (or lack of same), housing, age and pain become too much a trip to the ocean can wipe it all away, like the writing on the sand. Even if for only a couple of hours. I may not have solved any of the problems but I was certainly invigorated.

The cherry on top of an already perfect afternoon was a stop for coffee and a treat at Shirley Delicious. Yes, Shirley is a real place. Yes, everything is delicious. (Interesting side note, one of the owners has the same surname as the sports doctor I will be seeing later in the week). Shirley a positive sign.

The Great Locomotive Chase: Part One

How could I not use this title for my most recent trip? Unfortunately, the closest I managed to an epic trip was the two hour passenger ride from Toronto to Kingston return then an even shorter trip from TO to Kitchener. Our plans to take the train all the way to Vancouver fell through when we could not find a discounted fare – all the economy Plus fares, and plain old economy, were fully booked all the way into late August – and there did not appear to be any discounted berths. We did toy with the idea of stitching together stops to make a whole but that seemed too expensive. However, we did book a fun day on the weekend to visit the massive Farmers Market and a Great Train Robbery trip near St. Jacob’s.

Of course the most important reason for going east was for my eldest daughter’s wedding – it was a fantastic success! Having already written a short blog and including some of my photos (blog & photos not stellar quality) I am only including one here. I am in the burgundy two piece with silver shoes. Beside my SIL. I wanted a photo that showed off the lovely scalloped lace on the train of my daughter’s dress. Why mention the shoes – look at how I am angled. They were relatively comfortable but the wedges made me feel as though perilously lose to the edge of a cliff. I guess no one noticed, or thought I always stooped that much. So I am perpetually frozen in place looking like I am ten years older.

Impressive medals!

To relax and give my daughter, ‘new’ SIL and grandson some downtime my sister, another daughter, and I went to the nearby Holiday Country Manor B&B for two nights. We were exceedingly grateful they had the business sense to install AC several of their rooms just days prior to our arrival. Although they had previously informed guests they only had fans the sweltering heat would have most likely found guests either expiring or leaving in droves. (Not that there were droves) Just the wedding guests equalled five rooms booked. My group basically stayed in our rooms for most of the day after Canada Day and barely noticed the pop popping of fireworks around 10:00pm on Canada Day. We only ventured out long enough to have breakfast – buffet of basic fare, all tasty, good coffee and pleasant company. The B&B is not in the city so a vehicle is necessary.

The new owners. I believe only having purchased it three years ago, are slowly working on the much needed TLC of this 1840’s Georgian style design that has been used as a lodge, although it appears not consistently, since 1912. Even our first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald is said to have practised law out of its dining room. The tin ceilings, thick lime walls and imagined discoveries yet to be made from under or behind modernization, made this a pleasant respite.

Although I am not a fan of fish, fake or otherwise, on walls these green guys hearten back to when the Manor was a fishing lodge

All of a sudden it was Monday and time to leave Kingston. The plan was to show my sister a little bit of TO; CN Tower was at the top of her must see list, and I added the CBC building because we are staunch CBC listeners. We ended up lugging our, thank goodness, wheeled carry-on bags and smaller bags with us as there is nowhere to store luggage at Union Station. I suppose that sadly makes sense in this day and age. The heat was searingly hot so the prospect of getting inside an AC building was enticing. Except we discovered we would have about an hour long wait just to get through security at the Tower – before buying tickets. POI – ordering tickets ahead of time generally means going through a faster security line. Next time. We decided against waiting and headed to CBC where we checked out the lobby and little museum on the lower level before seeking lunch.

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Of course Grump (seriously, that was an autocorrect) Trump was in the news.

We walked about three blocks, getting left behind by my daughter she did not realize we had stopped for more photos – my sister this time. Using her phone to search for eateries my D found Canteen in the Entertainment District (she also found a Starbucks to stop at after lunch; she barely escaped a horde of students (minimum 20+ and more pouring in as we headed away) that followed her in – supposedly in search of water although it seemed they were leaving with various caffeinated drinks) Back to Canteen, I would certainly return given the opportunity. My sister chose short rib Mac & cheese – people in ON eat some strange combinations, it is not a westcoast dish. It was declared delicious. We were so hungry by this time that I neglected to take photos. My D had the Squash Pad Thai and I chose calamari tacos. Really, something for everyone, including GF/DF/V & Vegan! Impressive.

After dropping my sister off to catch the UP to the airport we bought tickets for the train, Via rather than GO, to Kitchener-Waterloo. I just love the acronyms and expect to take GO on the back as it is significantly cheaper. By the time we arrived we were very tired little teddy bears.

Temporarily crowned with the new engagement ring (a big secret until photos – no wonder my SIL is so good at his job – I only heard about it after the ‘reveal’ photos. Seems everyone there was in tears) and wedding band plus one flower from the bouquet.

Mini-Adventure: Farewell to the Blue Bridge

One of my first memorable glimpses of downtown Victoria was of the Johnson Street blue bridge. All I can assume from that was that my father chose to drive into the city from the other side so as to let my sister and I see the magic of city unfold before us. This was in 1973, we were teens moving from the north coast to a city that eventually became home, and for me, an island haven in later years. The blue bridge was not actually painted blue until 1979 yet everyone harbours memories of it always being blue! I have no recollection of it ever being given a good, solid new paint job in all the years I have lived in Victoria. (I did not move permanently to the city until 1983) I do however have a few snapshots of family and personal experiences in which the bridge did play a minor role. Yesterday was the last time to walk over the bridge, first time ever on the car lanes. That was how I started and ended my time with the bridge – heading from the other side toward the city centre.

The view from Pandora Avenue. A shift over from Johnson Street. With construction still in progress I am not sure how traffic from the Vic West will now funnel to Johnson – the most sensible route into town.

The other side is generally known as Vic West. For many years it was an area of light industry, the train tracks and the quickest route to the Esquimalt Naval Base. It was the route taken when I brought my second daughter home after she was born. (I do sometimes wonder if that recollection is not actually a figment of my imagination as it seems so out of the way from the hospital she was born at – I will keep it though). I lived on the other side, the Esquimalt side, for a couple of years. Even my parents lived there for a short time after they had sold everything, including their Fairfield home (on the proper side of thebridge) to travel for a year. My sister was married in Esquimalt, at beautiful Saxe Point Park before embarking on a ride, in an open top car to, where else, cross the blue bridge. The groom spotted the bridge operator in his little hut, made the well recognized ‘Toot, Toot’ gesture with the resulting bridgeman response of a hearty Toot Toot!

The bridge operator’s hut. The last operator, retired in the 1990’s died three weeks before the opening of the new bridge. My sister thinks he was most likely the operator who tooted the horn as her wedding car drove into town.

Yes, it was with a bit sadness we crossed over the steel grid car lanes – scary – on foot, with some traces of memories of, early on, a less than pleasant walks before the pleasant waterfront Westsong Walkway was built, then extended to meet the iconic bridge. However, growing cities, and their neighbouring urban towns (there are nine municipalities that are townships under the postal umbrella of Victoria – perhaps addressing a letter to Langford or Oak Bay would arrive with the postal code) tend to outgrow their infrastructure. Bridges are no exception. Old Blue as some Victorians seemed to be calling it, was already elderly by the time the 2009 decision to replace her was made.

A quick look at her history, as early as 1911 the B.C. provincial government saw a need for a permanent connection to the busy industrial areas of Victoria and Vic West that would allow for land and water traffic. However, despite talks between the province, the City of Victoria, E&N Railway and the Electric Streetcar Company to share the cost an agreement, unsurprisingly, was not made. It was 1920, after a referendum, that the city took on the financial load and massive task to build the middle the much needed raised (lifting) bridge. 27% over budget at $918,000 the bridge opened in 1924. It was time, at 94 years, to let her retire with a grand introduction of her replacement standing erect at her side, and a fond farewell, rather than tearing her down with little fanfare. The public was invited to attend, to share a picnic on the steel grid (I was happy to just walk across), memories and dreams of the future as we streamed across the new, sleek bridge.

There were two sections to the bridge, one for cars to pass, another for the train. The track section with its counterweight was removed earlier.

The differences brought to mind how much fashion has changed over nearly 100 years. The blue bridge was all girders, heavy cement – dinosaur head appearance – counterweights, and in 1979, painted blue. She was out of her element aesthetically and functionally. Cosmetic surgery and a slap of paint would only give her maybe another 30 – 40 years. Therefore, a staggering 105 million expense (original budget was pegged at $40 million)for a seismically sound, three lane, two bike lanes to last at least 100 years, remains difficult for voters to swallow, but the deed is done and I, for one, appreciate the aesthetics of the bridge. I also live in one of the outer municipalities so my taxes will not be affected.

It was nostalgia that brought us, and hundreds of others, to walk to the span that crosses from the gentrified city side to the gentrified other side. The new bridge, that does not meet with Johnson Street – perhaps waiting for a new name – not only spans the two areas, it unites them. The landscape is changing, as with so many cities, will continue to change, we can only hope the changes are as easy to accept as the new view of this bridge provides.

Speech from the Mayor of Victoria from the other side of this antique fire truck. We then watched, smattering of clapping, as the bridge was lowered.

The Janion, built in 1891, abandoned for 35 years prior to 2013, refurbished and extended into micro units sits adjacent to the bridges. I nearly bought the third floor recessed space that connects the old & new until I read there was no guarantee I would actually have a decent view from the straight on windows. Made it easier to travel without a mortgage!

Of course, my mini-adventures are not complete without walking too far for too long and having lunch. We had originally planned to choose our lunch at one of the four food trucks, having decided carrying our meal was not going to happen. Unfortunately none of the trucks served anything my daughter could eat, they all appeared to have menus heavy on the burger/bun/chips choices. although we would all have enjoyed the one coffee truck – Discovery Coffee serves very good coffee – we decided to check out, as suggested by Mayor Lisa Helps during the opening ceremony, to partake of one of the local businesses that had been so patient during the four years of construction. I had hoped to visit Cafe Mexico, closed in 2015 after a major fire and reopened in 2017. 2 – 1 decision against my vote means I will go another time. We finally ended up at Willie’s Cafe & Bakery, then still just a coffee shop and bakery when I last visited, and when we still had the train arriving in Victoria. (Last train was in 2011)

I was unaware this eatery had expanded to become a popular breakfast/lunch spot, of course it was quite busy with bridge attendees. We did not have long to wait to be seated – right next to a roaring fire in what was once solely an outdoor summer patio. None of us sat next to fire. If it had been turned down we might have felt a bit of a chill despite the space being now fully enclosed. Service was spotty. Menus were handed out, our server hovered to answer questions and give suggestions, and took our coffee orders. Which arrived fairly quickly – unlike our water. My meal choice could not be made, at least I was informed before the order was put in, so I finally settled on the soup of the day – sweet potato with bacon and a slice of sourdough toast. My daughter chose a salmon omelette, no feta and no toast – thinking it would be only slice I said to get it as my order might not be enough for me. My sister had a waffle with maple cream icing. Everything sounded yummy.

Everything was not yummy. We waited over a half hour for our meals, and my soup was luke warm. It took far too long for a server to come around for me to complain, have the offending soup taken away to be warmed up, and not offer any real apology. The toast was good, I ate far too much of it. My sister declared the maple syrup was fake – yuck! However, my daughter enjoyed her omelette, her aunt and I left only on piece of her toast behind. The coffee was good. Always had been, as had the bakery. Did the owners bite off more than they can chew? Doubtful, breakfast is s big business in Victoria. Too bad the bakery seems to have nearly been set aside. It is unlikely I will ever return, no need to with so many other places and no early train to catch.

After all that toast I was happy we had made the decision to walk to town and back, although I had slowed down by the time we headed back after wearing my knee brace for so long. By the time we said our goodbyes we had walked 12kms. I still had one more stop, renew my insurance. Along with everyone else taking advantage of the long weekend. Happy Easter!

Sheringham Point Lighthouse

Sixty kilometres from the British Columbia Legislative buildings is the Sheringham Point Lighthouse, in Shirley BC. From where I live in Langford it is roughly a 45 minute drive that goes through Sooke and Otter Point before reaching Sheringham Point Road, anchored on either side by the red, Shirley Community Hall and Shirley Delicious. Although only a few minutes drive down the narrow, windy road to the first Regional parking lot a sense of the wild begins to calm anyone in need of a break.

People in Shirley know who the visitors are. I had barely pulled into the small parking area when another driver motioned for me to roll down my passenger window – had I mistakenly entered private property despite the signs clearly indicating a path marking the entrance to the Lighthouse? Not at all, he wanted to inform us there was another parking lot closer to the Lighthouse! We thanked him, indicated we were planning to walk the trail, and headed out. Anytime I go on on a hike into the woods I try to be somewhat prepared. Particularly this early in March.

Sturdy footwear, layered clothes – hat, gloves, a small bag to carry water and a snack. I also have a whistle on my keychain to scare off any grumpy bears or hungry cougars. I also look at a map to determine the type of trail: easy, moderate, difficult. Based on the ‘easy’ I had read I chose to leave my stick at home, in my car. I also do not go on hikes alone in an isolated area. I was with my sister. The trail was closer to being moderate than easy with its rises and falls that were covered in soft, springy moss, leaves, and mud in some areas. Considering I have been wearing my knee brace for hikes from now on I will take my stick.

There are two routes to the lighthouse, we chose the approximately 1.1 km, direct trail. Sure enough, there is another parking lot at the top of the gated entrance to the Lighthouse. The area is locked between 9:00am to 5:00pm, a precaution against vandalism and thrill seekers meeting an early death. The cliffs are steep and unforgiving. The vista is breathtaking. Peeping through the trees we came upon the first glimpses of the lighthouse jutting 20 metres up from the sheer rock. Every time I am lucky enough enough to visit a new place with a lighthouse I am awed by how these simple structures could withstand the fury of the ocean and warn sailors to steer clear. As we approached the cement steps and path to the structure I was stopped by the heaving sound of waves crashing on rocks – and this was a relatively mild day for wind. Trees and shrubs are windswept back, as though combed into a pompadour. Daffodils carpeted small areas, a sunny welcome in unforgiving territory if a wrong step is taken.

A bee was also enjoying the lovely, slightly stunted, sunny daffodils

Sheringham was built in 1912, (one of 12 to serve the area after many shipwrecks). Automated in 1988, declared surplus in 2010, the lighthouse was declared a heritage site in 2015, giving the Lighthouse Society (est. 2004) the green light to begin restorations in 2016. The land and the lighthouse are now protected as a community park, free to all visitors. After we managed to pull away from the enthralling view, the breaking water against the rocks and shore, the many shades of blue to grey of sky and sea we slowly made our way back to the relative quiet of the trail with thoughts of lunch beginning to form.

My goal was to introduce my sister to the craziness of Shirley Delicious. A wonderful, quirky restaurant that serves fabulous, delicious food, and great Fernwood coffee. I had warned that the place is very popular and usually extremely busy – we arrived before noon. Indeed it was hopping. The owner was flipping paper coffee cups, playing with the music and acknowledging everyone with a quick hello, quip, or handing over coffee – all with a smile behind his South African accent. I do not get out there often, and am always bouyed when I do. I had one of their focaccia sandwiches (they were all only $9.00) each has a silly name, of course I cannot recall what mine was, all that really mattered was that first bite. Warm, soft, perfectly seasoned focaccia bread filled with turkey, cranberry sauce, although I am not a fan of cranberry sauce I was intrigued by the combination with the light touch of chutney and brie plus fresh greens. Heaven. Except for the tomato slices. I hate tomatoes. These are eat with both hands sandwiches. Right away we knew we would need boxes to pack away at least half. Recyclable of course.

Now we know where the dragons are.

The air was too damp to sit outside – an absolute delight, and necessary if planning to stay to eat, during warmer weather. Take a walk along the paths, look down and around. There is much to delight the eye before or after your meal. A mini-Sunday adventure. I was home after only four hours. My body and soul were full.