Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: Canada

My stories 04: Tim Hortons in Dalian

In February and March, J and I were stranded in the city of Dalian in northeastern China because Wuhan was on lockdown and we were unable to return. One day, I found out by chance that Tim Hortons opened two stores in Dalian, one of which was right next to the hotel where we were staying! Since this Canadian coffee chain entered the Chinese market (called Tim’s in China), it has successively opened stores in three cities (the other two are Shanghai and Zhengzhou, and I had already visited the first one to open in Shanghai last year). About Tim Hortons, its status in Canada is like that of Starbucks in the US – you could almost find one on every other block. The Canadians’ enthusiasm for Tim Hortons is no less than the Chinese people’s love for bubble tea. It’s not that the coffee is amazing or anything, but it is the taste of home that is irreplaceable. Grab a large dark roast double/double – mmm, such rich and familiar aroma that brought me a touch of colour and nostalgia in an unfamiliar city!

Large dark roast double/double with a Cesar chicken wrap. The wrap was mediocre but the coffee was desirable. I never had the dark roast in Canada and upon trying it for the first time in Dalian, felt that it was a bit too strong. I went back another day for a normal coffee double/double and immediately that authentic, familiar taste came back. Still, my favourite was the large steeped tea double/double, which I got during my third and final visit to the Dalian location. Unfortunately the steeped tea did not live up to my expectations 😦 Maybe Tim Hortons will come to Wuhan eventually…?

A very Canadian Chinese New Year

In February, I went back home to Canada to celebrate Chinese New Year with my family, bringing along my boyfriend (now fiancé) who was visiting for the first time. After around 16 hours of flight time, we landed in Toronto 9 months after I left, with 13 hours of time difference, halfway across the Earth, just in time to catch some freezing weather and a couple of snow storms!

Being back home means lots of quality time spent with the fam and lots of yummy food! Chinese New Year celebrations included one home-cooked meal and another out at a restaurant, but both were perfect because of the company. I especially missed my goofy sister, who is happily in love with her boyfriend. What’s worthy to note is that we actually got a photo of my dad SMILING! *GASP* Now how rare is that!

Ohh yes it was cold. The boyfriend J and I, along with the entire family, visited Niagara Falls for a few days (more on that later) and were welcomed by a winter Wonderland. J’s smile in the top photo was super forced and seemingly conveyed the expression of “I’m only smiling so we could finish taking this photo and get back in the car”. But then J decided to brave the cold and take a walk around the neighbourhood on the coldest day during the two weeks that we were in Toronto (bottom photo). DEFINITELY NOT THE BEST IDEA EVER. I mean yes I’d love to show you the area where I grew up and my elementary school and all (and we did go) but you could have picked ANY OTHER DAY…but fine. I’m the true Canadian, I could endure the cold, but can you???

One of the highlights of this trip was attending my first ever live NBA game! This was the game between the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards at the Scotiabank Arena and it happened to be Jeremy Lin’s first game after joining the Raptors! I never paid attention to basketball, but everyone who went with me did – J, my dad, my sister, and her boyfriend.

And it was so much fun! The live atmosphere was so intense and the audience was extremely energetic and hyped up (I could only imagine a Leafs game…) It was also a close game as the Raptors were behind by approximately 10 points at around mid-game, but we caught up and ultimately won 129-120! Overall this was a fantastic experience and I was glad to have shared my first-ever NBA game (it was the first for all of them as well) with the ones that I love!

Oh yes, Niagara Falls. Referring to J, my dad said, “Who visits Toronto for the first time without going to the Falls?!” Yea, I hadn’t thought of that, but after he suggested we stay overnight at Niagara, I was sold. I got to see the falls frozen AND lit up at night? Sign me up. In the end, it was less about J seeing Niagara than me taking as many photos of the falls as I could. Not only were the falls frozen, so were my hands!! It was cold AND windy, the worst combination, but I couldn’t resist taking some long-exposure shots, this being my favourite one. Such a majestic view, and only we would be foolish to stick around for long as there was almost no one else out that night, compared to the always-jammed-packed tourist areas during the summertime. Worth it? A million times yes!

And this was yet another phenomenal view – barren, skeletal branches of trees along the cliff the next morning. There was a short stretch right by the large Horseshoe Falls where the trees seemed like they had been stripped of life, and as the car passed by I had to say, “Stop! I need to get off a take some photos!” In fact, it was raining that morning, and the raindrops got on my camera lens but serendipitously resulted in a blurry effect. I thought the photo were ruined at first but upon further inspection, I really liked the way it turned out! It was almost intentional, but not. It felt even a bit ghostly and delusional, as if I were dreaming…of running back to the warmth of the car because the rain was freezing!!!

Time to meet with some good friends and the ones I couldn’t miss every time I visit Toronto were Florence and Darwin and their daughter Elissa (my sister tagged along too). Florence was my university housemate for three years and from seeing each other every day, we now only reunite maybe once a year at most, but it’s always the most anticipated meet-up in Toronto. Love and miss you!

Because J is the most unromantic man in the universe (whom I love anyway), I decided to at least try to be a bit romantic and get him something for Valentine’s Day – a cute bear holding a chocolate rose. OK, I admit it, I got the bear because I thought he was too cute. What’s yours is mine anyway, no? ^_^

Finally, another group photo with the fam AND the food that we had for the home-cooked meal. There’s we go, that’s the more typical “dad expression”, which my sister says is like a bulldog. Oh, what a delicious meal and what a lovely reunion with my dearest ones on the entire planet. Chinese New Year is just an official reason to go home but now that I’m so far away from Toronto, any reason to go home is a good reason. Let’s just not mention the amount of weight that I gained from eating so much good food during those two weeks…

Vancouver in three photos

The third and final stop of my three-part trip in November 2017 was Vancouver. Here is Vancouver in three photos.

The only (relatively) rain-free day out of my three days in Vancouver was a perfect one for a stroll around Stanley Park. It seemed like I wasn’t the only one who thought so.

A gorgeous bird perched atop a tree in Stanley Park, observing passersby as they walk/run/cycle by obliviously. Hello, beauty. What’s your name?

Final glimpse of autumn foliage in a residential neighbourhood – it almost looked as if it was raining flames.

From high places: Brussels and Toronto

As I was going through my posts in the “From high places” series, I was surprised to find that I neglected several recent visits to Brussels, one of my favourite cities (if not my favourite) in Europe.

That’s OK. Brussels deserves its own post anyway.

Come to think of it, I went back to Brussels in 2015, 2016 (short stopover), and 2017 (just last week) and each time discovered a new viewpoint. My favourite, notwithstanding the slight reflection of the glass window, would have to be the one from the restaurant at the top of the Musical Instruments Museum. From here, you can see the imposing and magnificent town hall in the Grand Place, as well as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in the far distance, which I believe is the fifth largest church structure in the world (official source). Lovely buildings – I like both of them very much.

In 2016, I finally got up to the viewing platform at the top of the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and of Military History. Not as impressive as the previous view, but still quite nice.

And here’s the view on the other side of the viewing platform, facing east toward Merode station.

And last week, while visiting with my dad and sister, I discovered the garden and café on the fifth floor of the Royal Library. The view was similar to the one on top of the MiM, but I certainly wasn’t standing as high, and the view wasn’t as extensive. Regardless, the basilica still looks so grandiose, even if it was so far away.

After Brussels, I also found a photo of downtown Toronto that I took this year while visiting the University of Toronto with my sister, from the 11th (I think) floor of the OISE building. I was in a hurry because I wasn’t supposed to be in this room, and someone was entering as I was taking this photo…so I snapped and ran. Lots of reflection in the glass – oh well.

So the post wasn’t ALL about Brussels after all. Sorry, my beloved, but perhaps I love Toronto just as much.

The places I called home, part II

Part II of the “Places I Called Home” series brings us to Waterloo and Glasgow, two very different but both very important and special cities to me. Waterloo was where I spent my university years, where I struggled through my classes and somehow fluked my degree, and where I met the best friends of my life. As for Glasgow, I’ve lived and worked here for almost two years and I am still discovering new things about the city every day! (Read part I about Guangzhou and Toronto.)

Waterloo – My undergrad years

Waterloo was more chance than choice. If I hadn’t by chance watched a show on nanotechnology on TV the year prior to my entrance to university, and if Waterloo didn’t happen to offer nanotechnology engineering as a new program that very same year, I would probably have stuck to the safer choices of either neuroscience or chemical engineering. Well both of the above happened, and so Waterloo happened. I won’t bore you with details of my academic life, but the decision to leave Toronto for university would become my threshold to a vast world that I had never known was out there. Waterloo would eventually bring me to Taiwan and the US (next post) as an internship student and ultimately lead me to Europe. However, Waterloo itself was already far away enough from home that I think my destiny of moving all around the world began there.

We used to joke and say that Waterloo was “the place where dreams are broken”, but I think without Waterloo, I wouldn’t even know what a dream is. Life in Waterloo was anything but boring. There were sleepless nights of studying for and worrying about exams, followed by crazy nights of board games with housemates and random bubble tea outings. The train tracks that run from DC to downtown Waterloo that I loved to walk on, the chill of waiting for the bus outside on a freezing winter morning, the animals at Waterloo Park that I wish we had visited more often – tidbits of life like these made up the moments that defined my undergrad years. Love, indulgence, anger, disappointment, infatuation, despair, hellos, goodbyes, see you later, good luck – these were the emotions and words that marked my growing up, leaving my teenage years behind and entering the fascinating world of the 20s. It’s been 6 years since I’ve graduated from university, but it may take an eternity to forget a place as special as Waterloo.

Glasgow – Where do I even start?

By the time I came to Glasgow, I had been so used to moving that it felt like just another usual event, another ordinary day. When I was in France, almost every day I thought, “Wow, I am IN FRANCE?” And when I came to Glasgow, it was more like, “Wow – how did I end up BACK in Europe again?!” Glasgow was a stranger that welcomed me warmly…or well, most of the time not so warmly because it is SO RAINY AND WINDY. If there is a day where the sun shines, I cherish it dearly because it is indeed a rare sight – so then here, I learned to appreciate many things that I often took for granted, like the sun. Like solitude.

While all of the other “places I called home” are in the past tense, Glasgow is in the present tense and one of the few that may appear in the future tense. At least I will be here for another year. Many people have asked me, “What next?” My default answer is, “Who knows?” A question to answer a question, because the future is questionable. Would I choose to endure the perpetual rain of Glasgow and stay here indefinitely? I can’t say yes definitely because as much as I adore the lifestyle in this Scottish city, I fear that the rain will drive me crazy one day. But maybe…I’ll get used to it. For now, I have one more year to continue enjoying and exploring my current home away from home, or let’s just say, home.

In part III: the internship cities – Hsinchu, Taiwan and South Bend, USA!

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