A Last Hurrah? Memories & Plans

Today would have been my mother’s 83rd birthday. I am working on my trip to Churchill, MB with the plan to leave Toronto on June 30th, my father’s birthday. If all goes well I will arrive in Winnipeg, where my father’s only surviving sibling lives (my aunt – the eldest) on July 1st. Then to Churchill where I will spend one full day, July 5th, my sister’s birthday. She was born in Churchill, I believe we left when she was still an infant – perhaps it was before the next snowfall.

Not that any of this is important; I just found it interesting, and then some moments to reflect on all that has happened in the last five plus years. More if I include when my father died in 2010. We are so often surrounded by memories of birthdays, the continued passing of time. Which brought me up short, why am I even planning this trip? The polar bears will most likely not be around. There will probably be black flies, accommodation seems ridiculously pricey even for two stars. Yet, despite the railway having closed for 18 months due to a washout I was ecstatic I could once again take the train to Churchill.

Then, I recently found I am feeling less excited. The cancellation in 2017 turned all my plans upside down. It feels like a task rather than an adventure. I am hopeful that as everything comes together I will be excited. Even if it means staying one night in Winnipeg. At least it might be fun with arriving on Canada Day. Of course, one major factor is finances. I could afford the trip two years ago. Times change, bills still need to be paid, and not enough is coming in.

I am seeking inspiration. Yes, Churchill is expensive, it is in the far north of Ontario and only accessible by train or plane. That is part of the adventure. It is not exactly safe to wander about outside the town. Polar bears cannot be trusted to not suddenly decide to visit. Interesting note, car doors are left unlocked in the event anyone is caught out when a polar bear is nearby. However, I hear the place has gone downhill over the years. What will I do? I do have a half or full day tour, not polar bear chasing, tentatively booked and I will be trying to find out where we lived. I want a photo.

There it is, that spark that drives me. Going home because it is interesting. There is a personal history as well as the history of the country. All the planning, all the bits of paper, pencil shavings (very old school), emails and telephone class are all part of the adventure. Granted, the coat is still an issue. Perhaps my last great travel hurrah?

Advertisements

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: 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.

Homeward Bound: a day in Toronto plus

A weird water fountain but easy to find. (We were not looking for it)

My daughter from Kitchener joined to spend a few hours in Toronto before she had to return home by GO train and GO Bus. We packed in as much as we could without becoming too exhausted. First stop was our hostel where we dropped our bags and paid for our beds. It was time to explore – after a late breakfast. Hostels are great for providing suggestions for where to eat and things to do. Le Petit Dejeuner 191 King St. E) was highly recommended. To our mutual delight they were right! A funky 1950s look with eclectic decor, a massive espresso machine, somewhat grubby and worn menus and a friendly welcome, I was sure we would each find something to satiate our hunger. I am particularly fussy about how my eggs are cooked so never order fried eggs and rarely – as in probably over 35 years or so – order poached eggs. However, I found I could not resist this item: Toast Champignon – A halved bagel topped with sauteed mushrooms, herbs, onions and bacon. Served with potato rosti and apple slaw. Oh my goodness, fabulous even if the poached egg was too soft for my taste.

After breakfast we checked out St. Lawrence Market, very impressive. I expect one could easily spend a week’s salary doing grocery shopping there. Meat and fish counters, all sorts of seasonal vegetables and fruit, an extensive display of exotic rice, tea, coffee, breads, and pastries are some of what I recall. We managed to just look – good thing we went after breakfast. We came across a play park being constructed that looked like it will be a lot of fun for when children and parents need a break and perhaps a picnic.

Despite not making it to some of the places on our list, not enough time and unsure of distance, we kept busy. First, a visit Toronto’s first post office (260 Adelaide St. E.) where we each tried our hand at writing using quill pen and inkwell in the reading room. Various letters, artefacts, photos and information about the history of the building and Toronto (originally York) were interesting as well as providing us with 40 minutes out of the heat! The front room once again serves as a post office (originally 1834-1839) after several decades in various uses before a fire in 1978. The Post Office and Reading Room are replicas of the 1830s.

Replica postal boxes: William Lyon Mackenzie King (Canada’s 10th PM) collected his mail here. No idea which box # was his. (All my PO photos came out cloudy)

I love stumbling across events such as summer music in churches or parks. We had passed St. James Cathedral a couple of times before I stopped to take some photos and saw the notice for Music at Midday. Dr. Giles Bryant – guest organist. He certainly has a heady CV! In 1979 Dr. Bryant was the organist and Master of the choristers at the Cathedral. He was at the door greeting some of those who wandered in as well as giving hearty hugs to, from what I overheard, former parishioners/friends he had not seen in decades.

The single toll of the bell rang out 1:00pm. Five pieces by Healey Willan were on the programme; the first Fantasia on Ad Coenam Agni’ (1906) followed by ‘Slane’Prelude for Organ (1967) which may explain why the latter was so subdued. Although I love music, including the organ, I am not at all familiar with composers or pieces. Organs are the original surround sound. Clarion ups and downs like hills and valleys. The first piece was too heavy on clatters for me until the magnificent bass booming behind me. Smattering of applause indicated other audience members were also unsure of how to respond. Although most likely technically far more difficult to play quiet, gentle pieces the heat turned the listening into a soporific torture. We left just as the third piece was finishing. I found it interesting to later read that was Scherzo (Five Pieces), it did not sound too playful to me.

I wanted to check if there any last minute tickets available for this production – next time

We continued to wend our way past historic buildings, parks and dizzying glass towers before it was time to walk back to Union Station to see my daughter board the GO and a final farewell. We headed back to the hostel to check in, find our beds and hide from the sun before venturing out again. This time to Eaton Centre. This is where everyone goes if they want to be out and about without getting scorched or frozen depending on the season. There may be a gym on one of the floors although there is no need for one – just walk up and down the corridors in a quest for elevators and escalators. Lots of ramps and stairs give a little more oomph to the workout. We found lunch on the bottom floor – we both chose beef and chicken shawarma. I was rather surprised when it came with rice and potatoes, also slaw of some sort. Or was that breakfast? I was rapidly beginning to fade yet glad to walk off some of my lunch before calling it a day.

HI Toronto is an extremely popular, busy hostel. Trivia, chocolate & whisky sour. Don’t forget the caffeine kick at 6:02pm – new pot of coffee made for me despite it being past the time for the free cup and two, count them, hotdogs. I ate one bun but both dogs. Did I even sleep? I should explain. A bed in a four bed dorm, mixed, will set you back $54.00 per person plus tax. This includes breakfast. But wait, just in case breakfast is not your thing dinner (wraps after 7:00) or even lunch (no idea what that might have been) can be chosen so long as it is under $15.00. Except Tuesdays are free dinner – that is where the hotdogs came in. Chicken or vegan – this place has nearly everything covered. Too bad there was not any relish. The free coffee (or tea, pop, maybe juice) was on the receipt – one only.

By the time I was ready to call it a night a Trivia game was about to start. Anyone could play using a mobile device. Mine were at the reception lounge and I was not really interested. I thought it would be recent trivia. However. With my daughter helping I found the App and signed in. Also with her help I did rather well, even coming on top for the last game despite it being all about Friends. My daughter said blank blank money in student loads and she has a useless degree and an encyclopedic memory of Friends. The organizer of the game had to find me though – I was still upstairs. I got a chocolate bar, and she gave my daughter a bar coupon. Which was exchanged for a ‘real’ whisky sour – I would not know the difference. Before the music started, live music most nights, open mic that night, I finally headed to bed.

My last morning in ON I was up with the birds despite not having slept well. Hostel dorms, and beds, do not make it easy for a good night and even less so when someone arrives at 4:00am, then their devices start to ping several times before 6:00am! As mentioned, Breakfast is included in the cost of the bed which is great except for having to wait until 7:30. It makes me wonder just how much sightseeing young backpackers pack into a day. In desperate need of coffee I asked where I could find the nearest Starbucks. At the corner. It is not that I am a huge fan of SB, I was trying to not spend anything which meant using rewards points – yay for my daughter who put her card on my phone!

Crossing the street I saw a man sitting in his wheelchair asking a young woman for something. As I approached, and while waiting for the next light, he asked me if I could buy him a coffee. I honestly said I have no cash. He said he did not want cash, just coffee then asked me if I as buying coffee for myself so I said yes. He asked how – rather impertinent but I responded anyway along with the side comment it was all I had. To which he said he understood being house poor. Of course I had to laugh, then I said no house but definitely poor! I crossed the street with the intention of possibly getting him that cup of coffee. Until I saw him accosting drivers on the street, using his wheelchair as a chariot flying full tilt. He did not get his coffee. However,he did unwittingly provide me with some early morning entertainment. I joined my daughter at the hostel where we each had a hearty Backpacker breakfast. Guess what, nearly all backpackers take the best of the free.

Rundown to home. UP to the airport. Then the inter-terminal train. Breezed through security. Flight delayed. Ate leftover toast, bought more coffee and some yogurt. Ate that. Finally departed about 55 minutes late. Very worried we would miss our connecting flight. Hurray for carry on bags and a great computer system. We arrived at the gate with a scant minute to spare before our next flight was to depart. Someone came on board, called our names and a narrow, Moses like parting of a path was made down the only aisle for us to follow. Our luggage was tagged and checked free of charge as we scurried to our seats. Fantastic views of the Rockies! Somehow the 65 minute flight from Calgary to Vancouver arrived ten minutes or so early! We grabbed our checked bags, raced for the Skytrain (yet another train) then the bus to the ferry terminal. Our first glimpse of the ocean in three weeks and all the tension of the wedding, intense heat, humidity, and all the rushing just melted away. My daughter asked, “Why would we want to move?” Why indeed – yet, we might.

Mini Adventure: Transformation

After being deterred from visiting the Hatley Park Gardens due to the rather hefty fee I was pleased to discover that Father’s Day was slated for free entry. Gardens only, the castle was closed to the public. All we had to pay for was parking, $3.00 for three hours seemed like plenty and it was. I ended up passing along my parking receipt to another visitor. My friendly good deed for the day.

I stand by my beliefs that entry was free due to all the film paraphernalia and areas close to the castle, as well as some garden sections were closed off. My astute daughter took a quick look at the recently added embellishments hanging from the castle and flowers tucked into bushes before stating this was the setting for the Disney TV film Descendants. She was even able to provide some background information about the show. I had no idea she still harboured interest in the film industry. Look closely at one of the banners to see the Beast. The blue flowers in the bushes and front garden are all fake. According to my daughter blue flowers are the go to choice for the movies! (We do get blue hydrangea) The castle itself, and it is a real castle, depicts the school where the children of well known fairy tale characters attend. Ergo, Descendants. The fact the whole space was – since the 1940s -and remains, a university is a fun fact. The history is interesting, more can be found at http://hatleypark.ca/

Unfortunately the Italian Garden was closed. Most likely the most appropriate section for filming outdoor scenes: walled in, formal and a lovely loggia and pergola make this a romantic or eerie setting depending on lighting and the imagination. I can see Belle hanging over the balustrade dreaming of home; or the prince from Sleeping Beauty grabbing a low hanging wisteria to pull himself over a low sandstone railing to discover the castle glimpsed was not a vision.

There are benches dedicated to individuals for visitors to have a pleasant rest or to drink in the fragrances and feast the eyes. One couple commented on the filming, they said the helpful security person told them the set was for the Big Sleep. When I expressed doubt, it being a well known Bogart & Bacall movie and that this is a Disney film they were adamant. I mentioned this to my daughter who laughed before she told me many film settings have a false title to prevent crowds from descending on the setting. She did say, however, it may be the title of the latest installation – so I looked it up and indeed that is the case. Even at 60 I am learning things.

who needs fake flowers when nature provides beauties like these!

The castle had not been our focus so we were not too disappointed, I had already been inside on a few occasions many years ago. We headed to the rose garden, an enclosed space to keep foraging deer from decimating the rose bushes, a delicacy for them. Although beginning to look a little worse for wear as we approach the final days of spring the bushes and vines had enough colour and fragrance – without overwhelming allergies my daughter has – to encourage guests to linger before leaving through the rose handle gate at the far end into the fruit bearing garden. We found apple and pear trees roped along the fences, beginning to plump up, yet again having missed the full glory of flowering. This bounty does not go to waste, all the fruit is donated to food banks. I guess students are not considered in desperate enough need for fresh fruit in mid-September. (Student loans tend to last at least to mid-October)

We returned through the rose garden, remembering to carefully close the door behind us, to head to the Bog Garden and Japanese Garden. My daughter was not about to miss a Bog Garden! For some reason I was expecting something more along the line of a peat bog, but this was far more interesting for how clear it was. The underwater flora was just as interesting as the variety floating atop the water. Swift dragonflies and smaller insects did not always outrace the small birds skimming above, slight splashes indicated a successful catch and meal. These were some very happy birds. In addition to the splashes there were tiny bubbles rising from the depths – although we tried to figure out what caused these we really had no idea. We could see to the bottom, we could not see any living creatures. I was intrigued by the thin green spines rising from the water, they appeared to be horsetails. Upon closer inspection we were convinced they were, albeit much thinner, and not at all spread out as ones along banks of ditches.

No idea what this giant leafy plant is – it looks dangerous!

As with most of the plants in the various gardens the Japanese Garden was no longer as full of flowers as it would have been even two weeks earlier. However, it is still rather magical with its three hump curved bridge to a pavilion sitting on the manmade lake. The quiet, trees, slight breeze and water had me wishing I still lived in the little cottage at Grouches Lair (of course the name enthralled me) I rented for several months now nearly ten years ago. How fortunate we are to live so nearby such lovely gardens and wilderness.

Despite missing the rhododendrons in full bloom, the cherry blossoms and wisteria the gardens still remain welcoming. Perhaps the giant, ancient Douglas Firs providing natural shade, and soft ground for laying down a picnic blanket, the rugged appearing paths that are actually easy to traverse, and the mountains in the far distance beyond the ocean are enough. It was a pleasant, easy afternoon wander.

All it needs is a Prince, or these days a princess, to scale the walls