Family Lines

stories for you

Author: Lea (page 1 of 20)

Our beagle girl

Me, Ali and Kola in the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia, 2009.

Me, Ali and Kola in the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia, 2009.

When we spotted two beagles on the side of the dusty Nova Scotia road, we thought they had escaped from someone’s cottage. When we saw them a couple days later, we knew they were strays. It would be a couple of weeks before the dogs were captured and given a home with my parents. That was 14 years ago and this past Friday, we said goodbye to the brown and white member of our family.

Ali McBeagle Storry was just six months old when we found her, along with her mommy. I brought mom, Madeleine, to live with me in Sackville, N.B. Ali stayed with my parents and went from a skinny little frightened girl to a mostly-confident lady in a couple of years. Madeleine died several years ago after being hit by a car. Ali was a connection to my own beagle, as long as I had her, I also had my dog.

For a small dog, Ali’s bark was enormous. It was deep and powerful and if you were standing on the other side of the door from her, you’d think she was a Great Dane. Her bark was worse than her bite. I don’t think she ever growled, let alone bit at anyone or anything. She even let Tomas, her cat-nephew, bat her around the ears from time-to-time.

Waiting for steak crumbs, Aug. 2017.

Waiting for steak crumbs, Aug. 2017.

Despite being in a loving home, with lots of food, a comfy bed right beside a warm woodstove,  pats and belly rubs, Ali never got over the abuse she must have suffered as a puppy. She didn’t like men at first and was wary about my dad (he eventually became one of her favourite people). She hated going outside in case she never got back inside. She never missed an opportunity to eat. (That’s almost all dogs, though.)

She loved going for walks. We’d walk in all seasons to the lake, to the bridge over the canal, to the pond. In winter, she wore fancy sweaters or jackets over her own shiny coat. In summer, no matter how hot it was, she never ever wanted to go in the water to cool down. In August, I was in Nova Scotia. The last night there, Ali and I sauntered up the long driveway and got a couple of metres up the dirt road until she wanted to turn around. That’s when I knew it was the last time I would see her at home.

Chillaxing by the warm woodstove.

Chillaxing by the warm woodstove.

Before I left, I gave her lots of kisses and belly rubs and told her I loved her. My family will all miss Ali, also known as Micky, Micky B, Baby Girl, Beagles, Beagies, Old Lady Baby and many more nicknames, Just because she’s a dog doesn’t mean the loss doesn’t hurt us any less. She was part of the fabric of our lives for many years.

It’s going to be hard to go home and not have her greeting me at the door, barking so loudly it hurts my ears. It’ll be hard talking to my parents on the phone and not hearing the clack of Ali’s nails on the hardwood floor or the roar of a snore erupting intermittently from the tiny girl sleeping by the stove. My parents have an empty house but our hearts are filled with love and memories of our beagle girl.

Reptile recall

Four rings resembling snakes.Did you ever go through a phase as a young teenager, then look back, and ask, “Why did I do that?” Well, my snake jewelry is a product of one of those times. Why did I like reptile rings so much?

I don’t know. I must have had a reason when I was 13 but it has slithered away now. The rings on the picture on the left are only a few pieces of my large-scale collection. I also have earrings and at one time, a golden snake belt. It had red fake-stone “ruby” eyes and its mouth clipped on to its tail. It was awesome. (I found it at Frenchy’s – a second-hand clothing franchise in the Maritimes.) I gave the belt away but I wish I still had it.

I came across the snake stuff after unpacking some boxes that had been sent from my childhood home in Nova Scotia, to my new home in Edmonton. I laughed out loud when I saw the rings coiled in a handcrafted wooden box my dad made for me. The snakes have been hibernating for over 20 years and awoke many memories. I remember how I got each piece: one I bought at the Olde Curiosity Shoppe in Port Williams (the store no longer exists). Another – a Christmas gift from my family. (My parents indulged my reptile fascination.)

I was only charmed by the snakes for a short period. Snakes shed their skin when they grow. I shed my rings.  What do you remember leaving behind?

Surfing NS

Surf boards on the beach.

Ready to hit the waves!

I love surfing. It’s amazing. I am amazingly bad at it. However, that doesn’t stop me from heading out on the water. At the end of last month, my middle sister and I took a day to carve the waves in Nova Scotia. I was home from Alberta on vacation and my sister was home after a year of working in Iraq for Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

We made the two hour drive from the Annapolis Valley to Martinique Beach Provincial Park, where I had surfed about 10 years ago. It’s a nice and relatively isolated spit of sand west of Halifax. When my sister and I arrived at the beach, the expanse of Atlantic Ocean looked like a city parking lot – concrete grey. There were flecks of white froth as a strong wind churned the sea into rolling waves. Perfect for hanging ten.

Paddling out into the Atlantic.

Paddling out into the Atlantic.

Grey and white clouds matched the Atlantic. The month of August was almost up and the weather decided to be more like autumn. The beach was almost deserted when my sister and I put on our wetsuits. We picked up our boards and put our bare feet into the water. I shivered but it wasn’t because of the cool temperature of the water. I couldn’t wait to hit the waves.

While my sister had recently spent a few weeks surfing big waves in Sri Lanka, I hadn’t been in awhile. A long while. I waded deeper into the ocean with my board on my hip. Strong gusts tried to lift it away from me and set it on the water. The swell was around 2 ft. – easy for a back-to-beginner like me. I put my board in the water and started to paddle out to sea.

My sister catching a wave.

My sister catching a wave.

Smash! Salt water slammed me in the face. Smash! It happened again. But I loved it. I didn’t mind being hit by the ocean. I kept going. Moving farther from shore. I looked at the swell gliding towards me and I tried to gauge the wave. Should I go for it?

I turned my board around to face the shore. I paddled as fast as I could. I felt the crest of the wave start lifting me. I jumped up on the board. Then…

I’m falling into the dark green cave. I’m plummeting towards the bottom of the Atlantic. My body goes limp as the ocean sends me spinning along the sand. During the briny chaos, I cover my head with my arms as I’m pushed into the silt. I don’t know where my board is and don’t want to be whacked in the face. The Atlantic doesn’t care about my watery confusion and keeps me upside down. I’m suspended in the drink with no way of knowing which way is up and which way is down. I can’t breathe.

So I kick. Kick again. Kick at the water until it loosens its grip on me. I kick. Kick. Kick until I exchange smothering saltiness with clear air. I float on the skin of the Atlantic and heave oxygen into my lungs, replacing what I had lost.

Heading back to the surf shop. Kannon Beach.

Heading back to the surf shop. Kannon Beach.

What a rush.

I stand up, looking for my sister. There she is, riding a wave. Relaxed and poised. Until she too bails. We laugh and paddle out together. Waves smash us in the face and seagulls hovering over us laugh at our surfing abilities. Despite this, we don’t stop. We surf until our hands are red and our lips are blue from cold. That day, even though I didn’t catch many waves, I got to hang with my sister and catch up with her.

Swimming again

Mist rises in the cold air at the Queen Elizabeth outdoor pool.

Mist rises in the cold air at the Queen Elizabeth outdoor pool.

I used to be a competitive swimmer for Ryerson University. Swimming is great exercise and the water always feels like home to me. It’s because no matter where I am, pool water never changes. It’s always wet in South Korea, The Gambia, Fort Smith and Calgary. Since I just moved to Edmonton, I thought I’d head to something familiar in this unfamiliar place.

I decided to go to an outdoor pool. Even though it hasn’t been that warm here, the pool remained open up until yesterday. I walked to the pool in the cold rain and cursed myself for not wearing mittens (it really was that cold) or bringing a tuque for the stroll home. I started hemming and hawing about continuing.

“It’s raining and it’s cold,” I said to myself, “why are you doing this to yourself?”

Really, there was no argument. I knew why I was going. I wanted some exercise and I wanted to do something regular – routine, in a day that had started differently from the last seven years in Calgary. I wanted to focus on my breathing and stroke count and seeing if I could beat my 100 freestyle (four laps of a 25 metre pool) time from last month. I didn’t want to think about unpacking and what went where and what didn’t fit there. I wanted a break from new spaces and spots and streets with strange numbers.

Despite the icy rain, the gate to the pool was wide open. As I walked onto the deck, the chlorine struck my nostrils. I took a deep breath in. Ahhhh! (I liked it.) That strong chemical smell of the water never changes either. The wisps of fog swimming over the pool didn’t make it look inviting. I shivered in the mist and then picked up a flutter board.

I headed to the edge of the pool. There was someone in the lane already splashing up and down the 25 metres. I jumped in beside him and said hello when he surfaced for air at the end of the lane.

“Hi,” he said before disappearing under a wave.

I pulled on my googles. The water was warm on my skin. Not at all cold, like the air around me. I pushed off the wall and struck out for the other side. Something I’ve done over and over again in a few different places.

Firsts and forgets

Dr. Conley and I in Halifax.I love seeing people’s “first day of school” photos (especially those of my niece and nephew). While I was home in Nova Scotia last week, Acadia University students were moving into residence, some for the first time.

It has been more than 20 years since I was a student at Acadia, set on changing the world. I was going to be a foreign correspondent who would fly herself (in her own plane) to troubled regions and report the news. I would spread the word about terrible atrocities and make the world understand that it needed to help right away. I would force people to wake up and start caring. Yep, that was my plan.

I was reminded of these naïve aspirations a couple of weeks ago while visiting a professor / mentor in Halifax. Dr. Marshall Conley is a globetrotting human rights expert whom I first met when I was in his introductory political science class at Acadia. He also spearheaded a youth international internship program that paired volunteers under 30 with human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as well as governments. In 1998, I was one of Dr. Conley’s interns.

After finishing my degree at Acadia and then the journalism program at Ryerson University in Toronto, I was sent to the African Centre for Democracy and Human Right Studies in The Gambia as a publications officer. During my recent trip back to Nova Scotia, Dr. Conley (I still can’t call him by his first name even though we’ve been friends for years) invited my husband and I to his lovely home for lunch. When we arrived, I saw he had set out a photograph of the 16 interns he had sent around the world the year I went to The Gambia.

I blinked at the picture of young adults lined up in two rows. I had always thought that I would never forget the people in my intern cohort but here I was, blanking. While I remembered their faces, I couldn’t remember many of their names. It worried me. If I let these fine details escape from my brain, how many other things am I forgetting?

Dr. Conley came over and once he said who each person was, a light bulb went on inside my head.

“Oh, yes,” my brain said. “I remember now.”

I do remember. I remember tidbits about each person too. I remember where they all went, one to Estonia, one to Paris, two to Bangladesh, two to The Gambia (one was me), etc. I remember the excitement we all had when we were about to take off to exotic and strange locations. I remember the nervousness of heading into the unknown. I also remember trying to find a mosquito net in Halifax long before Mountain Equipment Co-op was a thing. I remember booking my flight that took me from Nova Scotia, to Iceland, to London and then to Africa. (Björk was on my plane from Reykjavik to London. She wore a white butcher’s apron as a dress and flip-flops with socks. The whole ensemble looked uncomfortable.)

Miriama from theAfrican Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies.

Miriama from theAfrican Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies.

I remember thinking that this internship would lay the foundation for my career as a foreign correspondent. In Gambia, I would get experience in human rights, NGOs, politics and policy and be introduced to new ideas and ways of life. With all these tools and insight, I would jump to an exciting and fulfilling journalism career.

I did learn a lot about human rights and statecraft and met all sorts of people from all walks of life in The Gambia. I also learned how to barter (my roommate was better, though), how to find my way through sandy streets and that unripe mangos make a tasty mango crisp. All these lessons and moments added up to a truly life-changing experience. I was on my way to making my goal a reality.

Then the real world got in the way.

When I returned home from my many months aboard, I needed a job. I got one in Calgary working as a news writer for a television station. I didn’t like working in TV and three years later, I left to be a pilot. Flying my own plane was the second piece to my world reporting aspirations. However, 9/11 happened and people were afraid to fly and the demand for pilots dropped. I did get my private licence but didn’t go on any further. I got a job at Mount Allison University and somewhere throughout the years, my dreams of being the flying foreign correspondent drifted away like clouds I flew through in my Cessna.

I'm flying a Cessna over Acadia University.

I’m flying a Cessna over Acadia University.

Last week while looking at the picture of the interns, I realized I hadn’t thought about my first life goal in a long, long time. It wasn’t that I had forgotten about it, I just needed a reminder about that “first.” But that’s why it was a first, because life isn’t linear and lots of other goals came after it. I’d still like to say thanks to Dr. Conley for giving me a step up on my way to changing the world. Because we all have in some way. While attending a pan-African human rights conference in Gambia, someone said, “’If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito in the room.” (That quote has also been attributed to the Dalai Lama but I heard it attributed to an African proverb.) It’s true. We’re all making a difference.

Breaking up with Calgary

Nose Hill Park on a frosty March day.

Nose Hill Park on a frosty March day.

Dear Calgary,

It’s not you, it’s me. You’ve probably heard that before but it’s true. I’m not breaking up with you today because I want to, it’s because I have to. After living in Cowtown a total of eleven years, it’s time to move on. We’ll always have our memories.

When I first landed here in 1999, you were a bonafide city but you had doubts about yourself. Your skyscrapers weren’t Toronto height but you were growing. Downtown was dead on nights and weekends and Eau Claire Market was brimming with shops and shoppers. The mountains were farther away because the city limits didn’t stretch as far. There were independent cafes and no Starbucks and Tim Hortons were rare. A handful of diners managed the brunch crowd. You were friendly yet feisty.

I left you three years later. It was definitely you then. I wanted to experience other places and sights and sounds. So I went and did interesting and new things. (Some not so interesting.) Then you called me back in 2010 and I’m glad you did.

Returning to Calgary wasn’t hard. Friends I had made here earlier and kept in touch with were incredibly encouraging and supportive. I came back for work and a job that was strictly contract. It went week-to-week and I never knew when it was going to end. That’s when our relationship wavered. I felt you weren’t committed to me. Also, you had changed.

Your ego was larger than I remembered. You were loud with your streets full of large and roaring vehicles. Nine times out of ten, I was yelled at by drivers when I went for a walk or a bicycle ride. Downtown was humming with people and Eau Claire Market wasn’t. Chain cafes were everywhere. Your skyscrapers touched the clouds and the mountains were even closer as houses spread and spread and spread and the city limits moved with them, taking over former pastures.

However, in the last few years, you’ve mellowed and I’ve seen your true personality break through during the

All day I kept seeing hearts around Calgary - on the sidewalk, in Starbucks...

All day I kept seeing hearts around Calgary – on the sidewalk, in Starbucks…

rough times. Calgarians of all shapes and sizes and ages joined hands and helped their neighbours after the 2013 flood. I was one of those who put on rubber gloves and rubber boots and dug into the mud to rescue photographs and silver cutlery. I met my husband through you and together we have wonderful friends, born and bred Calgarians and others from across Canada and around the world. I’m upset about leaving them. I’m upset about leaving you too, Calgary, but I know you’ll understand. It’s part of your nature, your boom and bust attitude. You’ve seen bad times and good and been my home during both.

When I visit, I’ll remember my life here with you was woven with cold mornings and warm afternoons, cowboy hats and boots, lemon yellow autumn leaves, the rush of the Bow under the Centre Street Bridge and your people, friends of mine and foes of the bicycle. Thanks, Calgary. I’ll always love you.

Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence

Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence.

Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence. The site is a former fort named Lei Yue Mun.

The Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence is fascinating. Despite what the British said when they arrived in Hong Kong many years ago, the island is not just a pile of uninhabited rocks. There’s a lot of history here. Hong Kong has been settled for 30,000 years and ruled by many dynasties and fought over many times.

One of the harbour views from the Museum of Coastal Defence.

One of the harbour views from the Museum of Coastal Defence.

A former fort (Lei Yue Mun), the Museum of Coastal Defence is perched high up a hill. From the top, there’s a great view of Victoria Harbour. (We took an elevator to the top, we didn’t walk.) Lei Yue Mun used to refer to a narrow harbour channel.

64-pounder RML (Rifle, Muzzle Loading) gun.

64-pounder RML (Rifle, Muzzle Loading) gun.

Walking off the elevator and onto a paved path, the first thing we came across was a 64-pounder RML (Rifle, Muzzle Loading) gun. It’s a piece of British artillery and fired a 64-pound projectile. It was first put into service in the British Colonies in 1864.

Rammer, worm and sponge.

Rammer, worm and sponge.

We stopped in the Central Battery: Underground Magazine on our way towards the museum building. Ammunition for a 64-pounder RML gun was stored in here. Now the display is the rammer, worm and sponge used to fire the gun. The rammer pushed a cloth cartridge and shell down the barrel. The worm removed debris after the gun was fired and the sponge extinguished any smouldering pieces of cloth so the gun was ready to be reloaded.

25–Pounder Mark II Field gun.

25–Pounder Mark II Field gun.

25–Pounder Mark II Field gun: one of the most famous pieces of Second World War artillery. The gun was used in mid-1940s. The gun and its ammunition trailer could be hooked to a vehicle and moved easily.

Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence storyboards.

Once in the museum, there are exhibit rooms of various periods. In each gallery, the history of the battles that went on during that time is told via artifacts, drawings, photos, video and storyboards.

inside of Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence.

inside of Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence.

As a coastal city, Hong Kong has had its share of fights: from the Ming Dynasty, through the First and Second Opium Wars, to the Battle of Hong Kong during the Second World War. Lei Yue Mun Fort was built by the British in 1887 and became an important battlefield in 1941.

Gold brocade Qing armour.

Gold brocade Qing armour

Gold brocade Qing armour. The armour was made with gold thread, layers of cotton padding  and gilded studs. Qing Dynasty was in place from 1644–1842.

Bow but I forgot to take the photo of the arrow.

Bow but I forgot to take the photo of the arrow.

Early rifle.

Early rifle.

Another view of Victoria Harbour from Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence.

Another view of Victoria Harbour from Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence.

Opium Wars

Britain wanted China’s tea, silk and porcelain in the eighteen and nineteenth centuries. China wasn’t interested in trading with Britain because it had nothing China wanted. But opium was a form of payment that the two decided would work. (China used it medicinally for stress then.) So opium was brought to Hong Kong from India (British-occupied Bengal) by the Brits for exchange. However, there became a surplus of opium and it became a problem. In 1821, the Qing government banned it and started the First Opium War between the Qing Dynasty and the British.

The Treaty of Nanjing ended the First Opium War. The treaty leaned heavily in favour of the British and China ceded Hong Kong. Britain later asked for China to renegotiate the treaty, legalizing the opium trade (among other things). That started some conflict.

The Chinese government seized a ship (The Arrow) flying the British flag and took it down. This happened near Canton on the mainland. That caused a lot of trouble and the U.S. got involved. Around the same time, France teamed up with Britain and together they attacked Canton (now Guangzhou) on the mainland. Russia joined the conflict as a British ally in the Second Opium War from 1856 to 1860.  Part of the Convention of Beijing ending the conflict included a perpetual lease over the Kowloon Peninsula for Britain.

Seized opium records.

Seized opium records.

Memorial records tallying how much opium was destroyed in 1839 by Commissioner Lin Zexu – about 1.2 million kilograms. Lin wrote Queen Victoria asking her to stop the opium trade. His message never reached her but it was published in the Times of London.

Opium trade wares:

Opium trade wares: 1. Pipe, 2. porcelain dispensers, 4. a ladle used in the preparation of opium.(Number 2 is a lamp.)

Kowloon Walled City.

Kowloon Walled City was demolished in the 1990s and now is a park. The Walled City started out as a salt outpost in the Song Dynasty (960–1279). Then it became part of fortifications against the British in 1847, followed by being handed over to the Brits in 1912 and then occupied by the Imperial Japanese forces in the Second World War. The Japanese army took parts of the wall down. After Japan left, the city became a haven for drugs and crime up until 1994.

 

Life of a British solider in the late 19th century. He shares a room with 30 men, hasn’t been home for years and it’s freaking hot and humid. He has to make his bed every day.

The Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence was once the site of Lei Yue Mun, a fort.

The Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence was once the site of Lei Yue Mun, a fort.

December 8-25, 1941 Battle for Hong Kong. Lei Yue Mun is the site of fierce fighting involving British Hong Kong troops as well as Canadian, British and Indian units against the Japanese Imperial Army. Japan was the aggressor and attacked Hong Kong without declaring war against the British Empire. Fighting took part all over Hong Kong, including Wong Nai Chung Gap

Captain Howard Bush, Winnipeg Grenadiers, quoted in Brereton Greenhous’ “C” Force to Hong Kong: A Canadian Catastrophe (1997), published by Dundurn Press – “The position was being fired upon from all sides. It might be compared with the lower part of a bowl, the enemy looking down and occupying the rim. The main road running through the position was cluttered for hundreds of feet each way with abandoned trucks and cars. The Japanese were using mortars and hand grenades quite heavily.”

Japan Imperial Army uniform.

Japan Imperial Army uniform.

The Imperial Japanese army struck on December 8, 1941 a few hours before the attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. Japan started in Hong Kong with the shelling Kai Tak Airfield, razing it.

Japan Imperial Army uniform.

Japan Imperial Army uniform.

After 18 days of intense fighting, the order came from Britain to surrender. On the afternoon of Christmas Day 1941, Hong Kong surrendered to Japan.

From the memoirs of Tsui. Soon after the battle finished, Tsui would join the British Army Aid Group, smuggling supplies, information and personnel between occupied Hong Kong and Free China – “On Christmas Eve, I went to the Cathedral for midnight Mass. It was well attended. After Mass, I returned to my sister’s house at Mosque Street. Soon thereafter, rumours came our way through the bamboo wireless to the effect that the then Governor, Sir Mark Young, was about to broadcast a Surrender. I did not believe it at first, and I was not sure whether it was true or false. We noticed that the artillery bombardment seemed to have thinned down if not actually stopped. We went to bed quite peacefully that night. When we woke up early next morning, we heard a lot of noise. It was the noise of people. Yes hundreds of people […] looted the houses of the rich and the famous up at the Peak area or in the Upper Levels of May Road, or Conduit Road and above.”

Click here for more stories of people who lived through the surrender of Hong Kong to the Imperial Japanese army.

Japanese military officers at the Kowloon Docks Headquarters in 1942.

Japanese military officers at the Kowloon Docks Headquarters in 1942.

Japanese military officers at the Kowloon Docks Headquarters in 1942. Around 1,975 Canadian troops were sent to Hong Kong to help defend it. Their efforts were valiant but they surrendered to the Japanese Imperial Army. Seizing Hong Kong was the first major World War Two victory for Japan.

Prisoners of War (POWs).

Prisoners of War (POWs)

Prisoners of War (POWs)

Two Canadian battalions, the Royal Rifles and Winnipeg Grenadiers, were among the soldiers taken prisoner by the Japanese Imperial Army. Japan never ratified the 1929 Geneva Convention. The Convention laid out guidelines for POW treatment. Hong Kong POWs “lived” in horrendous conditions and were treated terribly.

Sketch of the Stanley Internment Camp.

Sketch of the Stanley Internment Camp by J. E. Richardson. Japan apologized to Canadian Veterans in 2011. However, some didn’t accept it.

POW notebook.

POW notebook. Around 9,000 POW were interned in camps around Hong Kong.

A letter from Jaroslav Krofta to a loved one.

A letter from Jaroslav Krofta to a loved one, 1944. He tells her he doesn’t need any clothing and glad to hear she’s ok.

Take care, you are the only one I have.

Sources:

http://hk.coastaldefence.museum/ and http://blogs.bu.edu/guidedhistory/moderneurope/tao-he/

 

Where is Winnipeg?

Wong Nai Chung Reservoir Park.

Wong Nai Chung Reservoir Park

While visiting Hong Kong in May, my friend told me about a plaque near the start of a hiking trail that commemorated a Second World War soldier from Winnipeg. She suggested I go see it and so I took a taxi to the Wong Nai Chung Reservoir Park path. However, I couldn’t find the sign when I started out. What I did find were crumbling pieces left over from when Japanese forces overran Hong Kong’s defences. They were part of the Canadian soldier’s story.

“Take the trail with the wooden gate,” said my friend Digger. She had given me a map, too, showing the route I was supposed to take. When I got to the path via the taxi, I saw a wooden gate and a trail sign. So I went through it and started my trek.

The air was about 25 degrees and the humidity was high but I didn’t find it too bad. I was in the shade of the trees and there was a slight breeze. The path wound around water pipes tucked near a berm and there were men working on the reservoir every few metres. They stopped what they were doing to let me continue my jaunt.

There was a sign up ahead and I stopped at it.

“This must be the Winnipeg mention?” I thought to myself.

Indeed, the plaque said the Winnipeg Grenadiers were part of a larger force defending the valley. I had found the sign!

I walked on through air tinged with the scent of dead leaves and damp earth. It didn’t smell bad to me; it’s like an interesting spice. I followed the pipes as far as I could until I got to a fork in the road. There were three ways to go and no signs — and my map had none of the features I had encountered.

“Okay, I’ll continue straight.”

I did, until I came upon a Road Closed sign.

“Okay, I’ll turn back.”

I walked all the way back to the fork and decided I would go up the stairs. Up is always good.

On the ascent, the steep ascent, I came across two decaying structures. They weren’t sticking out of the earth or rock but out of concrete. What’s this?

Pillboxes that had been defended in the fight against Japanese forces. (Some Canadian troops were positioned in pillboxes in the area. I’m not sure if they were at these ones.) Japanese soldiers discovered these pillboxes and dropped grenades through the ventilation shaft, seriously wounding many. The Japanese eventually got control of the pillboxes but not before sustaining heavy casualties. (In fact, it was a company of Winnipeg Grenadiers that fought hard to keep its position and killed many of the enemy. So many, the Japanese forces didn’t believe they had been held off by only 50, mostly wounded, Canadians.

I was putting the pieces together. I was hiking in an area that had seen heavy fighting. These were battles I had never heard of in my time at school, and I was a history major. I kept going, following the faint trail.

Digger had said the terrain was challenging and it was. The path was overgrown and bushes were crowding in on me. I had a stick with me to clear the cobwebs away although some still managed to grab my face. The slope was straight up and I was scrambling to get to the top. The views were rewarding and I could see the harbour and the hills of Kowloon. I saw beautiful black and blue butterflies and heard enchanting bird songs. All while I was dripping in sweat.

I kept going…and popped out onto a well-manicured trail.

I had been on the wrong path the whole time. Where was I now? I asked a man hiking past that question and showed him my map. He said I should turn around and walk back. He was going that way so I tagged along.

Roland and I chatted along the route. He was retired and hikes around Hong Kong. He didn’t know where Calgary was but he knew lots of stuff about Canada.

“Do you know Osborn?” he asked. “From Winnipeg?”

“Oh, I’ve heard there’s a sign about him somewhere.”

“Here it is.”

The plaque was at the end of the trail (what would have been the head of the trail for me). The words have been worn down by the sun and heavy rains but what John Robert Osborn did will always stand out.

On Dec. 19, 1941, Company Sergeant-Major Osborn was with a company of the Winnipeg Grenadiers. They were stationed on the hillside being attacked that morning by Japanese forces. Under heavy fire and with no regard for his own life, Osborn guided Canadian soldiers to join the rest of the company.

In the afternoon, the fighting ramped up, leaving Osborn and other Canadians in the company isolated from their battalion. Japanese forces were now lobbing grenades at them and Osborn tossed them back. Then one landed out of reach. There was no way he could get to it and throw it back.

He used himself to protect the other men. He covered the grenade and was blown up with it. He died to save others.

I had heard this story of sacrifice before. It was a Heritage Minute in 2005. However, I didn’t remember the name of the man in the story. Now here I was, in Hong Kong, near the site of the heroic act, and I felt ashamed I had forgotten him.

Often, the Second World War is synonymous with Europe. To some people, the Asia war was far away. Yet, it isn’t — especially for those people who had loved ones fighting in the Pacific. I had a great-uncle who spent time as a Prisoner of War in Malaysia. One of my family friends saw photos of my Wong Nai Chung Reservoir Park hike on Instagram and asked if I had found her father’s leg. He had been a solider in Hong Kong during WWII as well.

I had been walking around Jardine’s Lookout, which has a fascinating history even before the Battle of Hong Kong. But that’s another story.

Hollywood Hong Kong

Re-tail therapy - shopcat.

Re-tail therapy – shopcat.

Looking out across Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong, I see lightening split the sky. It’s only noon but it’s as dark as a Calgary winter evening. I had hoped to be shopping right now but my friend, Digger, just texted and told me to stay in.

“Don’t go out in the storm,” she said. “Wan Chai can wait.”

I’m glad I listened to her because minutes later, the wind is easily plucking palm branches off trunks and the rain is as thick as a velvet curtain. It’s hard to see through it to the other side. Thunder is loud and shakes the floor of the apartment. I sit in front of the open patio door and watch as the storm takes over the city.

Nothing slows down in the tempest. Buses keep going. People keep walking. Vehicles splash through the new streams snaking down the street. Nothing is keeping this energetic city down. (Digger said when there is a typhoon warning, Hong Kong does stop. A tropical cyclone is comparable to a major snowstorm in Canada.)

Well, if the locals are out, I can go out too.

Digger had already taken me to Hollywood Road. Hollywood in North America connotes celebrities and movie stars. In Hong Kong, it’s a great place to find trinkets and antiques. It’s also dotted with art galleries and is home to a Man Mo Temple. The shrine is used to worship two gods, a civil/literature god and a martial god, by students. We visited the Sheung Wan area temple that was built as a place of worship in 1847. It’s now a monument and a popular tourist attraction.

After viewing the wonders of the shrine, Digger and I headed straight into the heart of Hollywood. Shops and vendors are lined up along both sides of the street. There’s so much to look at that I couldn’t stop from swivelling my head this way and that. There are pretty blue-and-white porcelain bracelets, animals intricately carved from mammoth bone, posters with Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong), the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, and other communist leaders saluting each other (to my horror), and so many other interesting bits and pieces and odds and ends of shelf life.

I didn’t buy anything the first time I went to Hollywood Road because I was waiting for Wan Chai. Wan Chai is a shopper’s paradise. It has anything and everything. It’s only a hop, skip and a bus ride away from where Digger and her husband live. My friend said I could get colourful china bowls and lovely iron dragon locks for cheap. (Well, cheaper than Hollywood Road.)

One Hong Kong dollar (HKD) is .17 to the Canadian dollar. Goods, like a decorative comb, start at 9 HKD (about $1.50 CAD). I get my cash ready for Wan Chai, got an umbrella and head out in the warm rain to the trusty Bus #15 stop. I don’t have to wait long before I’m hopping aboard and on my way to Wan Chai.

Oops.

I get off at the wrong stop and have to backtrack about ten minutes in the rain to the main shopping area. But even though the rain’s steady, it’s not cold.

I wander through the crowds, lifting up my umbrella to avoid hitting people in the face. My first stop is at the Wan Chai wet market. I had been warned about some of the smells. Digger said it could get rank at the wet market and the odours would hit me right in the face –  just like the umbrella of a passerby. However, it isn’t too bad. I’ve been other places overseas that were worse. Saying that, the air is pretty pungent, steeped in a ripe produce, ripe meat and wet spice smell, but it’s all part of the charm.

From the wet market, I head out onto the street. There are tiny shops as well as booths set up along the sidewalks. I saunter from stall to stall, looking for the best bargains and deals. There’s a lot of outlet clothing for sale from names such as Adidas and Ann Taylor. There are also a few no-name shops that have the most delightful skirts screen-printed with shimmering butterflies and flowers. However, when I stand in front of a mirror to see if a skirt fits, it’s yanked out of my hands by a shop clerk.

“No fit,” she says.

Then no buy.

I’m not really interested in clothing anyway. I’m interested in dishes. When I lived in South Korea in 1998, I used to buy delicate green ceramic bowls from women who would set up alongside a residential street. In Wan Chai in 2017, I have dreams about finding some of these beautiful treasures.

Alas, I never do — although I do find some brightly-decorated porcelain bowls and soup spoons to buy and send home as presents to my family. I start collecting a pile and add and subtract to it. There are many lovey patterns and colours and I’m finding it hard to choose. At last, I’m done. Now I have to pay up.

I had heard that I was supposed to barter in Wan Chai and I did. However, I guess I look desperate to keep my stash of pretty plates so I don’t get too much of a bargain…only ten HKD are dropped.

Strolling around in the rain, I go up and down and down and up and all around the Wan Chai market. I look at thing and touch things and buy a few things. The rain has tapered off and I decide to go downtown and try and find some beer to bring back for my husband. He’s a beer writer (on his down time) and I want to get him some local HK brew. Easier said than done.

I had googled beer stores before I left the apartment and found most places are delivery services instead of walk-in stores. I get that. HK is busy and traffic is constant and so it’s hard to jump into your car to grab a case of beer. It’s much better to have someone bring it to you. Well, I wished I had gone that route too.

I have the address of HK Brewcraft and I know (sort-of) where it is. I walk here and there and up stairs and then when I’m tired of climbing stairs, I go left and I’m in a school playground somehow. Dead end. (A lot of HK’s famous escalators were being repaired.) I continue up the stairs and then back down and over there and under that and.. is it in this apartment building?

I open the door to what I think is the small lobby of a family condo building. Hit the button for the elevator and get it. There’s the sign for the shop. Phew. I talk to the knowledgeable beer guy and get three beers for my man. Then, with my aching feet and bag filled with goodies, I go home.

A few days later, Digger and I head to Temple Market, a night market in Kowloon. I’ve been to a night market in Richmond, just outside of Vancouver, but the Temple Street Night Market is a different kind of experience. The Canadian night market is full of offerings of food while the Temple Street Night Market is full of electronics and counterfeit designer handbags: good quality counterfeits.

To get to the HK night market, Digger and I take the MTR (Mass Transit Railway – subway) to Kowloon, an area across the harbour from Hong Kong Island. (The MTR actually goes underneath Victoria Harbour.) The night market is more than purses and wallets, it’s fortune tellers and cards that when opened, show you worlds you’ve only seen in your dreams.

Don’t expect the vendors to be light and fluffy about their prices. Here, they bargain and bargain hard. I want to get six cards and Digger turns into my middle-woman. She barters with the seller to gets them down in cost. She also helps me secure a handbag. Thanks to her, I now tote a nice floral handbag all over Calgary. And it’s not a knock-off: it’s Kowloon original.

 

The pulse of Hong Kong

View of Hong Kong from Mid Levels.

View of Hong Kong from Mid Levels.

“Can you get to Vancouver on Friday?” texted my friend late Wednesday night. “I can get you to from Hong Kong from there.”

Ummm…

 

“Sure!” I said, from Calgary. One perk of being self-employed is that I can work from anywhere, any time, 70 per cent of the time.

Two days later, on Friday April 28, I started the voyage west, waaaay west. I landed Saturday night and was immediately whisked away by my long-time friend Digger and her husband, VC, to an 80s dance party. It was a lot of fun grooving to the tunes of my youth. (Am I old?) The action didn’t stop there. I was constantly on the move seeing the Hong Kong sights and eating the Hong Kong delights.

Hong Kong was incredibly different from what I had imagined it to be. I thought it would be one massive city with tall buildings everywhere, traffic honking all the time and people crowding the streets. However, it is not like that.

The city pulses and breathes along with the waves surrounding it. It’s a city of energy and is always awake. There’s a lot of steel and skyline made up of many skyscrapers that are surrounded by lush green hills. There are hiking trails and beaches and quiet spots right in the city. The weather was fantastic and a little bit humid and a little bit hot: not super moist and suffocating. My friends took me to Repulse Bay and I swam in the China Sea. The next day, we hiked the MacLehose Trail, a trail that crosses the New Territories, and played Frisbee on Tai Long Wan beach. I swam here too and kicked something large and soft under the water.

“There have been shark attacks here,” said VC and we quickly kicked to shore.

After an afternoon of surf and sun, we took a boat back to where we had left the car. I think bull riders at the Stampede get gentler rides. Let’s just say the ups were up and the downs were very hard downs. Nevertheless, it was a good way to get the sand off your towel and get a facial scrub at the same time.

From boats to buses, I took the #15 to Victoria Peak almost every day. The peak is an incredible look off over of the city and harbour from the top of Mount Austin – if the fog, humidity and smog don’t drift over the view out of the view. Before vehicles wound their way up the steep road, residents who lived at the top used sedan chairs – chairs that had poles on each side that people used to lift and carry up hill. That would be one tough hike for the porters.

Besides the bus, you can also take your own car or a taxi or the train. When you arrive at the peak, there are two malls and many places to eat and get out of the heat. I didn’t mind the warm temperatures (around 27 C) and humidity after surviving a cold and dry Calgary winter. 

The summit is great for getting the blood pumping to the legs after a long flight (although the dancing from the night before was good for that too.) The walk I did was mainly Harlech Road, a paved and flat loop that goes around the peak. Early in the morning, the path is used by runners and dogs and their walkers. Later in the morning, the path is full of tourists. (I was one of them on my first day.) The loop is about 3.5 km and took me an hour to complete.

One day, I went off the beaten path … and into the path of a wild boar. Some seniors warned me about the big pig and while I didn’t see it, I could hear it crashing through the forest. Another time, I took Plantation Road and saw some amazing houses. The peak is known for being at the top of the luxury real estate market. 

Hong Kong is renowned for its food and I sampled a lot, thanks to Digger and VC. We went to hotspots like Little Bao (bao is a steamed bun) and Ho Lee Fook (which means “good fortune for your mouth”). Both places had fresh and interesting cuisine that I had never tasted before. From Fish Tempura (fish in a bao) and Prawn Toast and Okonomiyaki – it was all spectacular. 

For a more traditional experience, we went for dim sum at Maxims. It was my first time for dim sum and it was amazing.

Maxims is in city hall and constantly full on Sundays, when we decided to go for brunch. But there’s an app that lets you get a number and wait at home instead of waiting in line. But I’ll wait in line all day for Maxims now that I know what dim sum takes like. Why haven’t I had dim sum before? I don’t know. It’s just nothing I’ve ever thought about.

Servers walk around with trolley full of mouth-watering treats. Some servers are nicer than others but the glares are part of the charm. There are hundreds of dishes to choose from and we only had about nine of them. It was filling and delicious.

Next week I’ll tell you my shopping stories. Oh goodies.

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