We – that be I, my wife Jenny and my son Tony – spent most of August 2017 in Canada.
My account of our trip will be divided into three sections: the time we spent in the province of British Columbia, the time we spent in Winnipeg, which is in the province of Manitoba, and the time we spent in Brandon, Manitoba. [There was an annoying unplanned fourth part to our journey which I will relate to you as well.]
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The start of the journey: on the evening of July 30th, we hired a driver to take us to Shanghai Pudong Airport as our flight to Hong Kong (on Hong Kong Airlines) was to leave at 7:00 AM the next morning. We didn't stay in a hotel; we waited in the airport till we could check in at 5:00 AM. We weren't the only ones to do this. The airport was full of people and it was hard for us to find seats to while away the time.
We flew to Hong Kong so we could catch a Hong Kong Airlines flight to Vancouver. Jenny booked it this way because it was cheaper than flying directly out of Shanghai.
The flight from Hong Kong to Vancouver was an ordeal. We weren't given seats together. Two of our seats were in the center row; the other was a window seat. I took the window seat, sitting next to a Miss Li, a pretty girl, and so I felt even more constrained as I tried unsuccessfully to find a relaxing position to sit and sleep. Leaning my head against the side wall and away from Miss Li just didn't do it.
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Once in Canada, we spent five nights in British Columbia. We spent three of them in Vancouver and two in Abbotsford. The big city and the little city are about an hour's drive apart. We stayed at a the Raddison in Richmond which was near the airport and stayed with some friends in Abbotsford.
Vancouver seemed crazily up-to-date to me. It was fill of very affluent, good-looking trendies and lots of weirdos. We saw people parking their expensive sports cars on Robson and then others sleeping on sidewalks. We walked through a cloud of pot smoke twice and I had to explain to Jenny what the smell was. The second time, the pot smoker heard my explanation and went on a rant about how great BC pot was. Vancouver was also filled to the brim with Chinese.
Walking along Robson street, the trendy street in Van (I believe), we came upon a restaurant called the Holy Crab. Jenny has always loved eating crab so we went to the restaurant the next night and then the next night after that, which was the night before we caught our plane to Winnipeg. So, Jenny ate lobster there for the first time and it seemed that Jenny was in heaven.
On the way to Abbotsford, in a rented car (a Hyundai), I drove the family along "0 "avenue because our attempt to get Jenny an American visa didn't pan out. [The application had to be made online and the way the forms were set up, there was no way that a Chinese person, with a Canadian visa, could indicate that she wanted to spend a couple of days in Seattle. ] And so it was the best I could do to drive Jenny on a road running along the US border. Heading eastward, Canada was on the left and the US on the right. At that point, Jenny & Tony could at least say they have seen the United States.
Arriving in Abbotsford, I saw that the sky was like it was in China. It was gray and the horizon were tinged in a dirty brown because of the forest fires that were ravaging the province.
Driving in BC, I got to experience how it compared to driving to China. My verdict: driving in BC was annoying, like China, but in a different way. I found the BC roads to be narrower and I didn't like having to either ride the ass of the car in front of me or having my ass ridden by cars behind. My BC friends complained that there were so many idiot drivers on the roads. When I asked what was so idiotic about them, my friends told me that they were impatient and would tailgate, even at speeds of 120 km/h. [Manitobans had the same to say about the drivers on their roads.] Still, I told them, they had no idea how stupid and inconsiderate Wuxi drivers were.
Overall impression of BC. British Columbia wasn't paradise. It would be more apt to call the province British Columbine. It was too expensive. Taxes, added on at the time of purchase were so much.
Meanwhile Tony always wanting to play games on my Ipad or Macbook.
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We flew via Air Canada from Vancouver to Winnipeg. As we went to check in at the YVR, I learned that when I booked the flight online, I had gotten the order of Jenny's Chinese name wrong when I entered her information. The check-in person gave me heck for it and said that she could refuse to allow Jenny on the flight. But she then corrected the information and Jenny got her boarding pass. I very much resented the threat made by the attendant. I made a honest mistake filling out a form and I was felt to have been guilty of some sort of fraud.
Upon arrival in Winnipeg, we then had to go to the Air Canada ticketing place and get the information changed for Jenny's return flight and we got the communist, you papers aren't in order, third degree, again. They shouldn't have let Jenny on the plane to Winnipeg, said the attendant, as she corrected the information. And as she was typing in the corrected information, Jenny was thanking her, to which the attendant said "Oh it hasn't been corrected yet" before it eventually was.
Anyway, it is enough reason for me to hate the bureaucratic world we inhabit. I am just a guy trying to get home to see his mother.
Also, in the dealings with the Air Canada, the airline personnel, comments were made about having booked the flight through an online service. It was to haunt us later in the trip, this not booking with the airline directly.
In Winnipeg, we stayed at my younger brother Ron's house. My "didi" is plumber.
The three Kaulins boys: Ron, Tony & I went to the Railway Museum located in Winnipeg's CNR station. The building was quite nice and must have been quite the place back in the day when Canada's passenger rail service was a transportation option instead of the tourist thing it is now. I was impressed with the domed area of the station.
We then went to the nearby Forks tourist area. Before the place was constructed, a friend of mine and I wandered the area. It was run down. Now, it is an area of shops, restaurants and riverside walkways. Okay if you like that sort of thing, but I have seen too much of it in my modest travels around the world. Tony did say the slice of pizza he had from a Greek restaurant was nice.
Jenny, Ron, Tony & I went to Assiniboine park, the big park in Winnipeg. We sure saw a lot of non-traditional immigrants.
My Cousin's husband Pat. He has the right idea. He retired at 46 and spends his time at his paid-for Winnipeg home, reading and rereading Dickens. He has given up following the news and is happily watching the decline, for as he says despite its seeming wealth, the age is one of moribund decline
Jenny got to go a Costco for the first time. I didn't care much for the place. Though the place was big, the selection really wasn't that wide. Everything was sold in bulk.
We went to Grand Prix Amusements on the Perimeter of Winnipeg. Tony got to play mini-golf and drive bumper cars, go-karts and bumper boats.
I made some flag purchases for Tony. I bought three flag pins of the Canadian flag crossed with another country's flag. Those countries being the UK, the US of A and The PR of C As well, we bought a small American flag, a small British flag an old pre-1965 Canadian flag that had a Union Jack in the top left corner, and a fridge magnet with the Manitoba flag on it.
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We then spent about two weeks in Brandon visiting my mother, aka Tony's grandmother.
My mom, a widow, lives by herself in a house that has four bedrooms and two bathrooms. It is too bad, we couldn't switch our residences. Jenny, Tony & I live in a two bedroom, one bathroom apartment in China.
To get to Brandon from Winnipeg, we drove, in a rented 2017 Nissan Pathfinder, the #2 highway. A few years back, my brother suggested it as an alternative to the #1 highway which I had taken many, many a time and which was quickly boring me. The #2 offered the usual boring flat field scenery, but along the way I enjoyed that the skies were big and blue, the fields were lush and green, the properties had immaculately mowed lawns and the traffic was light with not a single idiot driver to annoy me. The scenery has no doubt caused many a younger person to have the honky tonk blues as the song goes. And so, one has to spend many years in China to appreciate it. [One also has to drive it in August.]
To get to Brandon from the #2, one has to go North on the #10 highway. I was struck by how quickly one enters an urban environment when approaching Brandon via the #10. The first thing one sees as one approaches Brandon is a hotel. About thirty seconds later, one sees the city's big shopping mall from which its 6,000 seat hockey arena is only a block away. This Keystone Centre arena is about two blocks from my Mom's home. This sudden entrance to an urban environment is striking to someone who has spend over then years in China where it is hard to see where a city ever ends or a town ever begins because the human habitation never stops as one goes about one's way.
We went to the Royal Canadian Artillery museum in Shilo. Tony impressed Jenny & I with his familiarity with World War Two firearms.
We then went to a Manitoba Lizard Museum that was on the way to Shilo. It was located in what I thought was a rather strange location on someone's farm property. One had to drive down a dirt road for a kilometer or so and make a turn down another dirt road. When Jenny saw it was on a private property, she thought it was a joke. When I went in, the entrance door was locked. The lady running the place ran in and I bought three tickets. Tony and Jenny were turned off by the smell of the place and ran out. I went in and explored. T&J were right to wonder about the cleanliness of he place. It was dank like an old basement. Still, the crocodiles ( or alligators?) were interesting to behold. I was amazed at their being able to be so still that so that you had to wonder if they were alive or mannequins. Embarrassingly, I had to get T&J's tickets refunded.
I took Tony to a public pool in Brandon. The adults were wearing tattoos and trying so hard to look original. I did see a girl with a haircut from the 1980s whose appearance seemed so striking. [especially when I saw her again, a day later, at Clear Lake.]
We went to Riding Mountain National Park on a Saturday. Jenny & I sat on the grass near the beach and watched Tony swim and play with sand on the beach of Clear Lake. The weather was rather odd. We were at times felt scorched by the sun, comforted by the shadow brought on by the overcast clouds, and made quizzical by the rain that had a sun shower aspect to it. A bit of this rain caused Jenny to get us to put our stuff back in our rental vehicle. We wandered around Wasagaming, the town in the park, looking at all the shops, but didn't buy anything other than a fridge magnet to add to our collection. We then drove on the #10 highway which could be driven through the park. (It's a big chunk of land, this park) We hoped to see some wild life, but other than a pelican in flight we didn't see much. We did come upon some nice lake scenes and parts of Manitoba that weren't flat. The lakes were surrounded not by walkways but forest. At one point, we drove through a spot of torrential rain and then pulled into a nice boat launch lake area where it had not rained and we got strange looks because our vehicle was drenched.
At a used book store, George Strange's Bookmart, in Brandon, I bought two books about China by Simon Leys. Something I had hoped that I would be able to do. As of this typing, I can't decide whether I will take them back to China with me. [Later, I have read them both in Brandon. Leys is very, very critical of the Chinese Communists.]
I didn't talk to many Brandonites. Truth is I don't have any friends and few acquaintances here. Il left the town in 1987, having a bad case of the honky tonk blues.
I did talk to my mother's neighbor Bruce. The one who lives on our right on Queens Avenue. (when you're facing the street. The ones on our left are immigrants from El Salvador and mother can't stand their habits. They don't look after their yard very well. They are making noise at all hours of the night. They like to do things on their front lawn instead of their backyard.) Bruce had a lot to tell me about what was going on in Brandon and in Canada, and how a lot of it wasn't very good. Trudeau II was pissing money away. Contrariwise, Bruce, who had just come back from a trip to the states, told me how he was so impressed with American's ability to do infrastructure improvements on a big scale. Back to local subjects, Bruce told me that he wasn't very impressed by the school system. Kids were not learning basic arithmetic or grammar, but more about putting on condoms and gay being okay. He informed me of a change in grade groupings. Instead of the primary, middle and high school divisions that I grew up with and are still used in China, Manitoba (the rest of Canada for all I know) now has just two divisions: K to 8 and 9 to 12. Bruce said that it has resulted in kids being exposed earlier to drugs and other bad influences.
The one Brandon acquaintance I do have is Ramon Perron who I would describe as a legend, but one whom is avoided. If I was in contact with him all the time, I would get sick of him. As it is, I will make a point of having coffee with him every time I do come to Brandon. In Old China, Ramon would be a coolie. In Canada, he is a social economic failure working part time in the military reserve in which he has never achieved high rank. Because Canada is cutting back on military expenditures such as training for part-time military, Ramon is not working this summer. He tells me he is working on cleaning his apartment.
I will qualify all I say about bad Chinese parking. On a walk from my rental vehicle to the Brandon Walmart entrance, I saw many badly parked cars. Many drivers could not park between lines. One vehicle seemed to have deliberately taken up two spaces. It seems that Westerners parked badly as well. But at least they keep lanes clear.
I had trouble parking as well. In China I am used to rubber or metal stoppers to help guide my parking. No such things in Brandon. Also, my rental vehicle, a Nissan Explorer, is bigger than our Citroen. The Explorer is tall and so the ground all around it is a big blind spot.
The Explorer doesn't have an ignition key. To start it, I simultaneously press the brake and an ignition button.
The kids are ugly here in Brandon. Not that I care for Chinese kids, but the Canadian things don't do anything for me.
Perhaps, I just hate kids.
Still, Brandon is much cleaner than Wuxi.
There are lots of dirt roads in the rural parts of Manitoba. I don't see any in Jiangsu province. Driving in MB, I feel constrained because I don't want to drive on them. I suppose they can't pave them because the brutal weather conditions would make it expensive to maintain them and the tax base is so small.
Charlottesville. Hearing about it, I almost want to quit following news. Hearing and reading the reaction, I am reluctant to record my opinion on it. As always, David Warren had the best observation. Everyone involved in the incident was rabble.
The three of us went to the Keystone Center, a six thousand seat hockey arena. It has a new corporate name: Westman Communications Group Place. We saw some Arabian Horses prancing about the dirt laid in the hockey rink. Watching the horses was a novelty for me. Seeing the Keystone Center brought back memories of curling and hockey and stick swinging incidents.
We drove to Spruce Woods Provincial Park. We went to the start of the Spirit Hills trail. Jenny did not have the proper footwear and Tony was a bit of a wimp. He didn't want to go that far on the trail.
Says Raymond Pero: "Brandon is a city of transients. They come to Brandon to escape warrants which have a radius."
I sometimes rail in my thoughts at my father for deciding to retire in Brandon. I have painful memories of living in this town. And after spending ten days here,in August, I am bored. The people I do know in Manitoba don't live here; they live in Winnipeg. Coming to Brandon is a duty and try as I might, it is hard to make the best of it.
Brandon Hills. A hidden gem, they say. It is so hidden, I couldn't find it on two attempts. The map I got from the tourism place was not very clear. The roads, around where I think the hills are, are not marked at all. It also doesn't help that the roads are gravel which I am reluctant to drive them on because I have a rental and don't want to damage it. [I had to get Ron to show how to them to it. And then I was able to give Tony the experience of walking in real woods.]
We, that be I, the rest of the K family China, went to the US border for the second time. This time, we were accompanied by my brother, Tony's uncle, Ron. Instead of Zero Avenue in BC, we went to the border south of Brandon. We took Highway 10 passing through Boissevain, one scenic valley and lots of flat farmland. We brought along a pair of binoculars and I discovered an interesting effect as I used them to look straight ahead on the road we were traveling: traffic seems to slow down. Put the Binoculars down as you have looked straight ahead and traffic speeds up.
There is no road running along the stretch of border to which we went. Instead there was a special park called the International Peace Garden. There, we took some photos at border markers, visited a Game Warden's Museum, looked at steel girders from the former World Trade Center and bought some souvenirs at a gift shop. Going to the Peace Garden allows Tony and Jenny to say that they have been to the USA. Leaving the park, we had to go through Canada Customs.
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The end of the trip was a mixture of sadness, boredom and nightmare.
It is always emotional to say bye to my Mom. She is getting old.
I make a point of stopping by my father's grave when I leave Brandon.
It is always emotional to say bye to the people you genuinely like.
And there are the regrets of not being able to see some people.
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We spent a couple days in Winnipeg before taking the plane to Vancouver. I got together with my old friend Ed Chalmers who is a police officer in Winnipeg. He is doing well. I particularly enjoyed him telling me that the police are always nailing drivers who have just come from China. One such driver couldn't believe that he would be fined for running a red light.
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I found that I had retained some Chinese pedestrian habits when I was in walking about in Canada. On a few instances, I would approach a pedestrian crossing at the same time as a car was. If the car was in a lane close to me, I would expect the car to stop and I would continue to cross the street; but if the car was in a lane on the opposite or far side of the road from me, I would become rather discombobulated because the Chinese pedestrian in me was expecting the car to continue on its way and so I would slow down or even stop when the car would instead come to a full stop. Thus the car and I would both be stopped. I would then either wave the car through or embarrassingly run quickly across the crossing to let the car continue on its merry way.
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Taking the plane involves lots of waiting coupled with anxiety about what things can go wrong like having too much weight and plane delays. Coming back all these things went wrong and more. I thought the weight limit on bags was 25 kg. Turned out it was 23 kg. So we had to unpack and shuffle things about the Winnipeg Airport. In the Winnipeg Airport, Jenny received an email about a Typhoon in Hong Kong. We were going to have to wait till we arrived in Vancouver and see what this entailed. It certainly meant delays and the question of where we were going to be stranded.
When we got to Vancouver, we were not allowed to check in because we had a connecting flight to Shanghai and they didn't want us stranded in Hong Kong. We were then told that our travel agency would have to take care of getting our flight rebooked. So, we were stranded in Vancouver and couldn't immediately deal with the travel agency because it was night on the other side of the world.
First problem was arranging accommodations. Using our phone we were able to find a hotel near the airport with a shuttle service but the bloody place was expensive.
Then Jenny had to rebook the flight which wasn't easy. For 24 hours we were on tenterhooks because it seemed that the travel agency didn't believe that we had been declined check-in by the airline. At one point, my wife suggested that we were going to have to get our return ticket refunded and book a direct flight to Shanghai which was going to cost us more money. But finally we were able to get August 25th flights to Hong Kong and then Shanghai.
The first day being a lost day, we had two full days to spend in Vancouver. We wandered around the downtown area at Canada Place and in Stanley Park. We rode the mini Stanley Park Railway and Tony got to play on the beach by the Vancouver harbor.
I saw more Vancouver weirdos. There was a guy dressed in a dog suit that Tony didn't want to give money to. I saw a fat guy wearing a suit with pants that went only as far down as his ankles. The beggars were very thankful when I gave them some change. One old man was so thankful, he wished me and "my son" a good day. But then I saw man, who must have been about my age, sitting on the pavement near the liquor store drinking a beer.
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The flight from Canada to China (Van to HK) was the usual ordeal. The only agreeable parts of it for me were being able to finish a book about Sinatra that I had bought years ago and that I had found in my Mom's house, and being constantly brushed by cute air stewardesses going up and the down by my aisle seat. (And I thought that it was quick access to the bathroom that was the main attraction of aisle seats.) The food served was horrible. I had hitherto never taken up the complaint about airline food, but now I do. Before the flight, I saw the airline person who had made our life horrible by telling us we couldn't check into the first flight we had booked to Hong Kong. I looked away as I passed him though I really wanted to give him the evil eye and a rude gesture.
At Hong Kong where we caught a flight to Shanghai, I saw no sign of damage that had been wrought by Typhoon Hato. I did discover that I had been unfriended on Facebook. (by whom I will not reveal. Keep reading my blog and you may find out one day.)
Our plane landed in Shanghai at about 9:40 PM on Saturday, August 26th. On the flight from Hong Kong to Shanghai, we were again separated; so, Jenny sat by herself and Tony & I sat together. The two of us slept the whole way back from Hong Kong and we didn't bother taking the food that had been offered on the flight.
Clearing customs in China was fairly easy.
We got back to Wuxi about 2:00 AM, having hired a driver. After some unpacking and checking our our car (it was covered in a lot of dust), I went to bed to 4:00 AM. I got up at 6:00 AM. I was at work at 9:00 AM.
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Tim Horton's is a Canadian institution and the one thing I miss about Canada when I am in China. And I am happy to say that my wife and son like it too. I couldn't give you an exact count of the different Tim Horton's locations we visited. I am certain we visited at least ten. I can say for sure that we went to Tim Horton's in the Vancouver Airport, Richmond, Vancouver city, Abbotsford, Mission, the Winnipeg Airport, Winnipeg, Brandon and Portage La Prairie. Some of these places, we went to more than one Tim Horton's, so I could say that I went to many as many as 15 Tim Horton's altogether. At Timmy's, I mostly drank coffee and ice caps, and didn't eat that many donuts. Jenny loved the bagels and the steeped tea. Tony liked the steeped tea.
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When you buy airline tickets from travel agencies or discount internet sites, the airlines treat you like you are a scalper.
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In less than 24 hours of being back in Wuxi, the rudeness of the locals got to me. It first started when I got cut off trying to drive our car out of the apartment complex. Driving only for a minute in China, I already was using my horn. I never used the horn once when driving for three weeks and over a thousand kilometers in Canada. Then I was at the Family Mart convenience store nearby our school and a couple cut in front of me after I had opened the fridge door to buy a drink. I grabbed one drink and was about to get another when they moved right in front of me. I muttered curse words under my breath.
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The topic complaints. I asked the students what complaints they had about the Internet. Half of them mentioned the Great Fire Wall and the impending ban on personal VPNs.
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Presumption. That is why I think the Chinese are like weasels when they say "sorry" after a habitual act of rudeness has been pointed out to them. Their sorries seem so presumptuous.
Am I not guilty of this sin? Of course not.
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Less is more.
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As August came to an end, the prospect of Tony returning to school (he'll be in Grade Four) is not pleasing to me. I don't look forward to the traffic at his school when I drop him off and witnessing him being tiger-mothered by Jenny. Jenny says that Tony hasn't learned anything in school. (To which I retort that we should home school him and save the expense and aggravation of having him attend school in China.)
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Driving in Wuxi after returning from Canada, I have been filled with utter road rage. So much so that Tony has asked me why I am so angry. And so I am wondering why I am in a rage too. Perhaps, reading those two books about China written by Simon Leys which depicted the utter evil of the Chicoms contributed to the rage. Perhaps, all the thank-you's, the excuse-me's, and the have-a-good-days that I experienced in Canada and the yielding of Cars to pedestrians starkly reminded me what utter rude shits Wuxi drivers and Wuxi locals are in public.
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On the second last day of August, I saw that the local police had placed some temporary signs at the intersection near Casa Kaulins. With Chinese character knowledge, the Pleco app on My Iphone, and Google Translate, I learned that the police were warning e-bikers (scooter riders you could also say) and pedestrians that they would be fined for not obeying traffic rules.
The next day, the police were out in force at the intersection stopping the e-bikers.
While something has to be done about e-bikers and their disregard of traffic rules and red lights, I shudder when I see totalitarian way in which the government goes about it.
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To live in Canada or China? For me, that is the question. But to answer it, I will avoid the question altogether. Both countries are sick in their own ways. I would really like to create a third country where the people are polite, no one tries to cut in line, every town has a Tim Horton's, liquor can be bought in grocery and corner stores, the form of government is a monarchy, people go to church and try to please God, people can survive without a car, people have minimal material desires, and the creative energies of the population are devoted to poetry, not the creation and greedy accumulation of electronic gadgets.