Family Lines

stories for you

Tag: corporate legacy writing (page 1 of 18)

A great tradition

What has zero calories, no price tag and is a great holiday tradition? Sharing stories of Christmases past.

Non-fiction fiction

This is fiction. I don't snowboard. Only ski.

This is fiction. I don’t snowboard. Only ski. Revelstoke, 2011.

Sometimes memories aren’t serious. They can be silly, too. Here’s one from my Revelstoke days in 2011.

Smushed dreams

I lean my bicycle against a snowbank outside of the Revelstoke post office. The sun is shining with all its strength, which isn’t much in B.C. in early December. It’s not too cold, but it’s not warm enough to melt anything other than some icicles hanging from the building.

Inside the post office, I stand in a long line up. We’re all waiting for something. I look at people ahead of me and invent a story for each one. The woman carrying her ski poles, maybe she’s a ski patroller. Maybe she found two people who skied off the resort and found themselves stranded in the drainage – no way out? They could have spent a freezing cold night in the snow but they didn’t have to – thanks to her.

Oh, my turn! I head to the counter and pay for a stamp. Then I put it on the Christmas card to my parents. I turn to go but the clerk calls out.

Revelstoke post office.

Revelstoke post office.

“Why did you do that?” she asks.

“Do what?”

“Put the stamp on sideways.”

“I don’t know,” I say, taking a step towards the door. “I didn’t mean to do it.”

I don’t mean to squish the ant crawling past my boots either. Oops.

Perhaps this ant was on its way to his or her friends. Perhaps she was at her tiny mailbox and found out some good news. Perhaps this ant was about to tell them about it.

“I’ve won that language scholarship,” she would have announced. “I’m going to Paris to live for a year.”

“You can’t speak French, Antina,” says another ant. “Formicidae are strictly English and chemical communicators.”

“Well, I speak French and I’m going to France.”

Little Antina has always dreamed of going abroad and learning to speak the romantic language better. In Grade 4, she wore a blue beret to school. All her classmates laughed at her. The wasp students especially stung.

“Hahahaha!” they sneered. “Hahaha! Antina thinks she’s French. She’s nothing but an insect.”

“Shut up!” cried Antina. “One day you will see. You will see me going to France.”

She tilted her blue beret at a jauntier angle, stuck her antennae high in the air and scuttled away.

“The nerve of those Vespoidea! Jerks.”

From then on, Antina made it her mission to excel in French . She got top marks in school all the way through and she graduated head of the class. It didn’t hurt that she lived in the Canada Post office, which is bilingual, so there were many things for her to read, translate and learn.

Mount Begbie in the distance.

Mount Begbie in the distance.

University was in the cards for Antina. She thought seriously about her career options. There were a few she was interested in. She could see herself involved in sciences: stuff like research or fieldwork. However, she didn’t like the isolation of being in a lab. How about something in social science? How about a Bachelor of Ants degree?

“Je sais! I’ll be a French teacher.”

Unfortunately, before Antina had a chance to attain higher education, her whole family was eradicated one day in July. She came home to the colony and no one was there.

She searched and searched and searched. She found her brother and father withering and dying in a corner. They told her that her mother and two sisters had first escaped the dusting of pesticides but ended up breathing in the noxious fumes when they ran inside to help the rescue.

“Antina,” sighed her dying dad. “Go to Paris. Live your dream. I love you.”

“Oh papa! One day I will. I will go to the City of Lights. I will climb the Tour Eiffel. I will mange fromage et pain et vin et beaucoup des choses. Bien sur.”

She never did. How could she? Antina was all alone now and needed to make her own way. With no money for food, how could she pay for school?

Antina took up a labour position in the post office. Her job was to travel the line of customers and pick up anything they dropped. Well, not everything, but items of value such as bagel crumbs, cookie pieces and the occasional apple core. She was vital to rebuilding the population.

The work was hard. The work was dangerous. Often during a single day, she was almost smushed. She stayed because the pay was good. To reward herself, she applied to language programs. It helped keep her dream alive, it kept her hopes up.

When she got the reply about the scholarship in the mail, she was ecstatic. Finally, finally all her aspirations, hard work and desires were coming true. Antina was off to tell her supervisor the good news. Anthea was a good friend and would share her happiness.

Unfortunately, Antina was in such high spirits she let her guard down. This one time. This one and only and last time. Because that’s when I took a step from the counter – towards the door.

If only I had put the stamp on correctly, then the clerk wouldn’t have stopped me. I would have walked past Antina. I would have walked out the door and hopped back on my bike and spun off through the piles of snow.

Au revoir, Antina.

Chipping inn

A matchbook - The only image I could find of the Colonial Inn.

The only image I could find of the Colonial Inn.

A Facebook meme went around last week asking people what restaurants they remember from childhood and if the joints are still around. I remember the usual because they were unusual in many Nova Scotia towns in the 80s. (There was no McDonald’s in New Minas in the Annapolis Valley until the mid-eighties.) The other night, another restaurant popped into my head, a place that has almost been eaten away by my brain.

The Colonial Inn was on Main Street in downtown Wolfville. It was a 10-minute walk from Wolfville Junior High, where I attended Grades 7 to 9. As a student who was bused to town every day from the countryside, I always brought my lunch: a nutritious meal prepared lovingly by my mother. However, sometimes I didn’t want my milk or apple or sandwich. Sometimes, I wanted to go to the Colonial Inn.

For two dollars, my friend Angela and I could get a hot and greasy plate of fries to share. At 14 years old, two bucks was a lot of money. It was such a treat when one of us had the cash or we each had a dollar to chip in for an oily mid-day meal. Off to downtown we went.

My parents had never specifically told me that downtown was off-limits. I was probably told to stay on the school grounds. While town students got to home for lunch, rural kids like Angela and I had nothing to do for an hour. We were allowed to eat lunch in our classrooms and then we had to go outside, rain or snow or shine. That often meant walking around Wolfville.

Wolfville is a quaint and cute university town (home of Acadia University), and the Colonial Inn wasn’t a seedy bar or a filthy diner: it was a nice brick-faced restaurant. The servers wore long mustard coloured skirts, peasant blouses and “Colonial-style” white caps. I only remember women as servers and one in particular because she used to ride the bus with me. To me, she was an adult but she would have only been at most, 18. Her name was Dora and she often brought Angela and me our one plate of fries that we split down the middle. Angela smothered her chips in ketchup while I liked mine plain.

A modern scene of downtown Wolfville.

A modern scene of downtown Wolfville.

We hoovered down our shared lunch, always aware that time was ticking away and we had to go back to class. After the last chip was gone, we’d run up the hill to school, wondering where we’d get two bucks for tomorrow’s fries.

When we moved on to Grade 10 (high school), we moved schools and communities. I didn’t go back to the Colonial Inn and one day, it wasn’t there. There was a new restaurant in its place. Angela and I had moved on too and met new friends. We’ve never lost touch though and I see her when I go home. Maybe next visit we should go get some fries.

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.

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.

 

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