Annie Bananie en Europe

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Tag Archives: Canada

The places I called home, part I

Throughout the course of my life, I’ve lived in different cities on different continents. “Home” is sometimes difficult to define as I’ve gotten used to a nomadic style of moving from here to there. Yet, at every stage of life, I had been fortunate enough to have a “home” to go back to so that I didn’t have to say that I was going back to “my flat” or “the residence” or “the studio”.

I had wanted to do a “Places I Called Home” series three years ago but somehow it never took off. However, over the course of a whole year, I had completed the “Places I Called Home” series on Picture Worthy, highlighting the eight cities where I’ve spent significant periods of my life. It’s about time, I thought, to share it here.

Guangzhou, China – Where I was born

Guangzhou is my hometown and my first ever home. As much as a part of me is deeply rooted in and connected to China, as much as I’m always going to be Chinese by blood, and as much as my heart always yearns for China, I can’t really call Guangzhou a real “home” anymore. So much has changed since my departure from the city when I immigrated to Canada with my parents 20 years ago – and wow, it HAS been 20 years. In fact, my childhood memories of Guangzhou are feeble and fading. Yet, a visit to China would never be complete without going back to the bustling city that gave me life.

There is a Chinese poem describing the feelings of one revisiting one’s hometown after a long period of absence, and one line translates roughly to “the closer you get to your hometown, the more apprehensive you become”. Not very poetic in English, I know – please excuse me for destroying the essence. It’s quite true, though. I’ve felt for a long time that I don’t belong in Guangzhou anymore, that I’m an outsider. The fact that I had to stand in the “foreigner” line at the airport made me a little sad, but that was what I was – a foreigner in my own hometown. That feeling is indescribable, to say the least. But I will keep going back, if you accept me, Guangzhou.

Toronto, Canada – I am Canadian!

Toronto. Ah, Toronto. I must have written about Toronto several times already on the blog. If there is a city that I can call my true home, it would be Toronto. With my immediate family there, familiar faces and familiar places, Toronto is the point of departure and the harbour of safety. They say that “home is where the heart is”, and sometimes I say to others that no matter where I am, in my heart I am always a Toronto girl…but am I?

Recently I’ve been more and more unsure about going back to Toronto after my time in Glasgow is done. I’m talking about finding a job there and living there again, and there is something about that thought that troubles me. Toronto was a home that was chosen for me. As a child, I really had no say in where I wanted to be (of course I also didn’t know any better), and Toronto became my de facto home after my parents settled there. I do appreciate their hard work over all of these years in creating a comfortable environment for my sister and me…in Toronto. However, the fact still remains that Toronto is not and never was my choice. This only became clear to me when I HAD the privilege to travel and to CHOOSE where I work and live, for which I am grateful beyond words. A whole new world was opened before my eyes and I thought…could it be that I’m not meant to stay in Toronto forever? Then, is it then a little too greedy and self-centered to want to find a place for me and leave my home behind, as if with my restless heart, I’m never satisfied where I am?

I’m sorry, Toronto. I owe you my apology a thousand times, I really do.

Well, it’s only the first post of the series and I’ve already talked about perhaps the two most important cities that I’ve lived in. Next up: Waterloo and Glasgow!

Somewhere that was only mine

The word “hometown” elicits complicated feelings in me because my true “hometown” is not a home. “Born in China and grew up in Canada” – that’s what I always tell people when they ask me where I’m “from”. While it is true that I still have extended family in my hometown Guangzhou, the place where I am most comfortable, the place where I feel the most sense of belonging, the one place I truly call home will always be Toronto.

Growing up in a city made me take the familiarity – or what I thought was familiarity – for granted. The same streets, the same buses, the same buildings – nothing ever seemed to change, except for me. It wasn’t until I went home after having spent three and a half years in Europe did I realize for the first time that I was so out of touch with my own home. Familiarity became the most unfamiliar part of my world.

During an 8-month period of idleness and unemployment, I decided to take full advantage of being in Toronto and to become a tourist in my own city, something I had wanted to experiment with for a while. It was then that a whole new Toronto began to unravel. Beyond the impression that Toronto has given the world as a booming metropolis and an urban centre, I ventured out of the heart of the city into its veins, to those little-known places that are so local and so authentic that perhaps only few are aware of them. I observed the city as it thrived, noticing the ever-changing colours of its ephemeral seasons and the sound of footsteps as people scurried through subway stations to and from their workplaces, day by day.

In the midst of it all, I fell in love with Toronto’s greenspace, almost to the point of obsession. I was fascinated to discover that there are parks, hiking trails, conservation areas scattered all around the city, and where were they but tucked behind the concrete highways and avenues? I really had to make an effort to find them, whether I had to drive to a secluded parking lot, take the bus and get off at a seemingly random stop, or just trust my instincts and follow a narrow path on the side of the road leading to an expanse of nature in the middle of nowhere. The sense of adventure was like looking for a treasure in your own basement – it’s got to be there, and the search is the most exciting part!

Pond in the middle of Moccasin Trail Park, Toronto, October 2014

Crothers Woods, David Balfour Park, Wilket Creek – these are just some of the places to consider if you’re looking for the perfect walk in Toronto, away from traffic and noise. And even Torontonians might not know about these places! Among the green areas that I had found, my favourite would have to be Moccasin Trail Park, right next to the Don Valley Parkway, one of the busiest and most important highways in Toronto. Most daily commuters on the DVP would probably have noticed large expanses of green areas on both sides of the highway, but few have ventured away from the main lanes and into the tree-covered parks and gardens. That was exactly what I set out to do.

Autumn was in full swing and it was the perfect time to see the exceptionally colourful foliage that Canada is known for. My walk into the woods of Moccasin Trail Park became a coveted date between my camera and me, a treasured one since it would be one of the last opportunities I had to capture Toronto through the lens before I left again. It brought me a supreme sense of serenity, especially since I was the only one there on that mid-October afternoon. Amidst the slow stroll on my way to the Rainbow Tunnel, I discovered an inconspicuous pond right in the middle of the woods, hidden from sight unless you went slightly off-road. I could still hear the sound of cars passing on the highway because as I had mentioned before, the park was right next to the DVP, but this place was like an urban oasis. The pond itself was a pristine mirror reflecting the beauty of the surrounding nature, one that I was surprised to find in the middle of the city. So calm, so eerily peaceful, so out-of-this world was the atmosphere that I marvelled at every colour and every sign of life. And at that moment, the park, the trails, the very spot where I captured the photo – they somehow became a special place within the city I thought I knew so well, somewhere that was only mine.

Perhaps I only felt this way because in my heart I knew I would leave Toronto again and wanted to cherish every unique secret that I found out about it. And I did leave, only to await coming back to the familiarity that would always welcome me. Perhaps the next time I walk the path of Moccasin Trail Park into my secret place, the leaves would have fallen, the pond would have dried up, and picture-perfect would have become a distant memory. Even though the park will still be there, I don’t expect to be ever able to duplicate the experience or reproduce the photo. And I won’t try, because one image is enough to remind me of the special feelings that only one moment could ever give me.

(I recently discovered a small camera that was released back in October from Light Co. It has the potential to be a good travel camera, combining 16 lenses into one about the size of a smartphone to keep it convenient without losing the quality. Check it out 😉 )

Cottage time in Barry’s Bay and Algonquin Park

October is a magical time in Toronto because the fall season brings with it the art of transforming foliage, which covers the city and surrounding areas with vibrant colours. I’ve known this for almost the past two decades, but only began to truly appreciate the beauty of Canadian autumns last year. I thought it would be the perfect time to take a trip back to Toronto during mid-October this year, right in time for the Thanksgiving long weekend, and head north to Barry’s Bay in the Algonquin Park area with my family for a short cottage trip.

In the 19 years since I’ve immigrated to Canada, I had never been to Algonquin Provincial Park, which is a 3.5-hour drive from Toronto. It might have been past the summer cottaging season, but mid-October was definitely a popular time for Canadians to enjoy a final cottage break before winter kicks in, especially in the north where the autumn foliage colours were already in bloom. I won’t include too many words for this post – the photos speak for themselves.

Aside from canoeing on Carson Lake, exploring Algonquin Park, and relaxing at the cottage in Barry’s Bay, the trip included a hike in Madawaska Valley, a beautiful surprise and a rare time when all family members hiked together (mainly because I insisted). The colours of the autumn foliage were at their best in mid-October, which was exactly why I went back to Canada and headed up north with my family. The vivid orange and red leaves are lovely complements to my even more lovely parents and sister, aren’t they 😉

That time we decided to eat hákarl

It all started a few years ago when my friend Geoff told me about hákarl for the first time. I think it began with a conversation about surströmming and continued on to include hákarl and rakfisk and all kinds of foul stuff…it’s only fair. It wasn’t until I went to Iceland in January 2014 did I remember the word hákarl, or well, more like I was reminded of it by Geoff. “Bring some back home!” was his request…if possible, of course. And it was possible. And it happened.

“What is hákarl?” you ask. Well it turns out that our Nordic friends have some very…unique taste buds. While the Swedish have fermented herring in an explosive can (that would be your surströmming) and the Norwegian have their fermented trout (rakfisk), the Icelandic people have, you guessed it, fermented shark. Oh, you want to know more? You see, the hákarl is known for its putrefied odour and distinct, foul taste. We take a shark, cut off its head and remove its guts, and bury it underground for 6 weeks or more. Afterwards, the now fermented shark is cut and hung to dry for another several months before being cut into small sugar cube-like pieces, becoming the beauty that is hákarl. Ahh, sounds appetizing, doesn’t it?

So then I went to Iceland and had the time of my life. Just as I was about to walk to the gate at the airport where I would board a plane that’d take me safely back to Toronto, I remembered that request. I didn’t want to have to face it. I had avoided hákarl all the while in Reykjavik but at that very moment I thought…what if, just what if they sell it here at the airport and what if…I could actually bring some back to Canada? That would probably please my friend Geoff, but there is no doubt that I would be coerced into trying it, an experience that I wasn’t too keen on having. What to do? What to do?

It wouldn’t hurt to ask, I thought, and so I asked a lady working at the airport whether any of the stores sold “ha-KARL”. That was how I pronounced it, which explains why the lady looked confused and took a while to understand what I meant. Apparently the word was pronounced “HOW-kerk” in Icelandic, hah! As I was getting ready for her to reply “no” and sigh a sigh of relief, lo and behold she said, “Yes, in the Icelandic specialty shop!” She promptly pointed me in the direction of the store and told me that I’d be able to find all sorts of traditional Icelandic foods there, including hákarl. Oops.

NOW I’VE DONE IT. Now that I’ve found out that they indeed did sell hákarl at the store (and I found it quite easily), there was no way I was leaving without getting a frozen container. I think there were moments of hesitation and contemplation, but then I remembered Geoff’s famous motto of “do now, regret later”, and with the attitude and the spirit of “why the heck not?” (thanks Waterloo), checked it out at the cash register. Deed done. There was no turning back.

I expressed to the cashier that I was worried about the smell leaking in the plane cabin as I would be on a 7-hour flight, and the frozen hákarl will definitely thaw during that time. I didn’t want the smell of ammonia to fill the plane causing a crisis, so I had to take every precaution I could to prevent the possibility of it happening. The cashier seemed to understand my paranoia and happily proceeded to wrap my container of frozen hákarl in five layers of plastic bags, finishing off with a very tight knot and placing it in a final bag. That would have been alright, I hoped. I asked how long the hákarl would last in the freezer and she replied in the tone of a joke, “Quite a while, but it’s rotten anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.” WELL PLAYED. Not sure if I should be worried or not.

With the shiny bag in front of me in the airport waiting area, I had a very intense inner monologue. A bit distressed with a twisted feeling of anticipation, I thought, “This thing is a ticking time bomb, probably a very smelly one. I’m hoping it doesn’t cause any trouble during my 7-hour flight. There is a garbage bin nearby. I could still do it. And I realize all of this nonsense monologue is very strange, but this is probably the only time in my life that a white plastic bag would stress me out this much. Will this even get through customs? I’ll try, or get arrested. Worst case they confiscate it. Man if I go to jail because of this…lawl.”

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Somewhere over the rainbow

Somewhere over the rainbow…the sun is hiding, perhaps. I am not kidding when I say that I haven’t seen the sun in almost three weeks. Well, it comes out once in a blue moon after the rain, but always for a very short period of time and always behind heavy, grey clouds. What I ought to say is that I have forgotten what blue sky looks like 😦 Oh Glasgow, must you do this to me?

I guess you win some and you lose some, or the other way around. If there is no rain, then who could experience and appreciate the beauty of the rainbow? Thinking of this made me realize that rainbows are one of my favourite things to photograph, though I obviously don’t have as many photos of rainbows as I would have liked since it depends a lot on timing. Still, here is a compilation of some of my favourite rainbow scenes captured throughout the past years.

I can’t stress enough my NEED to get a window seat when I travel on a plane. The only exception is when I have to make a connecting flight within a short period of time, in which case I would compromise and go for an aisle seat. Then I would miss views like this. It was raining as the plane took off from Glasgow last December, and without high expectations of seeing anything glorious, I looked outside the window, just in time to see the opposite of the expected – a semi-rainbow hanging from the sky. Perhaps then, I loved rain a little bit more, even if it were just for a split moment.

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