Monthly Archives: March 2013

A Word A Week Photo Challenge: MUSIC

How is Music associated with an athletic event?

For this week’s A Word A Week Photo Challenge in Sue’s A Word In Your Ear (http://suellewellyn2011.wordpress.com/2013/03/30/a-word-a-week-challenge-music/ ), I think about the music that is heard on the race course of the Big Sur International Marathon, which is held annually on the third weekend of April. The power of music has never been demonstrated as convincingly in a marathon event as in the Big Sur.

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First the Taiko Drummers. They are like an establishment of the race. At Mile 10, athletes are beginning to climb the hill, and we all try to catch the sounds of the drums carried down the race course (Hwy One). Suddenly, there is the low hum and it is getting louder and louder. Our hearts are lifted. We pace ourselves to the beat until the drummers are in sight.  The sound of the drums and the surf provide the motivation I need to climb the hill to get up Hurricane Point.  In fact, most of us will just stop to take a photo of them or with them before moving on. (The above photo was taken in a historical year when the Bir Sur course was altered due to the collapse of the bridge. The Taiko drummers were positioned differently.)

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At Mile 13.1, there is the legendary pianist. Michael Martinez has been playing for several years now after he succeeded from the first pianist Jonathan Lee. Imagine the pianist coming out at about 4 a.m. in the morning, while the athletes are also being bused to the start line and he keeps playing for a good six hours when the athletes pass by him and take photos with him. On cold days, he had to play with his gloves on.

The harpist at about Mile 22 likes to dress in unusual costumes. However, she is often overlooked, because she is nearer the end of the race.  Athletes are getting tired and seem more attracted to the food and drinks at the water stations nearby than the music. However, I like the sound of the harp which gives me a fresh awakening to get on with my race.

Some people like to wear an MP3 to listen to music when they are racing. However, major marathon organizers discourage this for safety reasons. I never wear any ear buds. I play my music in my mind when I am racing. Better still, I look for live music on the race. The Big Sur music is the best. Together the breath-taking scenery of the Pacific Ocean, the music is luring me back to race again.

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: LINES

Lines are very versatile, whether they are placed parallel to one another, at right angles or at different angles for that matter, for creating endless patterns and forms. “Lines” is the theme for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week. (http://www.ceephotography.com/2013/03/27/cees-fun-foto-challenge-lines/

Vertical Lines (Lines of trees; they are everywhere)

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Vertical Lines (View from the rotating restaurant of Centrepoint Tower, Sydney Australia)

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Verticle Lines (Notre Dame Basilica, Montreal)

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Horizontal Lines (Steps outside the Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne, Australia)

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Broken Lines (Courtyard for above)

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Vertical and Horizontal Lines (Another view from the rotating restaurant, Centrepoint Tower, Sydney, Australia)

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Intersecting lines, triangles (The China Bank Building, Hong Kong; Architect, I. M. Pei)

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More intersecting lines, this time rectangles (Cages at Featherdale Wildlife Park, Sydney Australia)

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Today is Good Friday, a very important date in the Christian calendar.  The most powerful symbol for Christians all over the world is formed by just two straight lines: The Holy Cross.

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This is to wish my readers a blessed weekend.

Handel’s Messiah for Holy Week at the Knox Presbyterian Church

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The Senior Choir of the Knox Presbytarian Church in Toronto presented an impressive performance of The Messiah before Christmas last year under the direction of Roger Bergs. They sang Part I of the oratorio and ended the concert with Life up your heads, O ye gates (#33) and the Hallelujah chorus (#44).

As we entered into Holy Week, my husband and I were among the audience for the Passion part of The Messiah. The church combined the concert with a worship service on Palm Sunday, thus signally in the most important week in the Christian calendar for Christians all around the world.

Last year, we arrived at the church in darkness. This time, I was better able to take a picture of the church while it is still light outside.

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We found seats nearer the front and had better acoustics and closer view of the performers. The solo vocalists selected from among the ranks of the choir members were the same as those from last Christmas, and there were only had a few changes for the guest instrumentalists. They all put forward a well co-ordinated performance. Music director Roger Bergs was on crutches, but this did not deter him from energetically moving to the lectern to introduce the music and repeatedly standing up to conduct and sitting down to play the harpsichord.

The program began with the chorus Behold the Lamb of God (Part II, #22) and ended with the Worthy is the Lamb chorus in Part III. There were read commentaries from Understanding Handel’s Messiah by Mariano Di Gangi, a former minister of the church. They excerpts enhanced the spirituality of the evening.

Chelsea Säuer-Peckham delivered a superb performance of He was despised and rejected of men (#23) with a gentle sorrow about the pains and suffering Jesus endured, but not without allowing an inner strength to shine through. I definitely preferred this interpretation to one performance I remembered in which the solo vocalist pronounced  “despised” and “rejected” with such emphasis that it was excruciating painful (pun intended) to listen to. Säuer-Peckhem’s duet with Kenzi Yango, tenor, was also beautiful. Tenor Jason Lamont gave a credible and commanding performance in the recitative He that dwelleth in heaven (#42) and aria Thou shalt break them with a rod (#43). Soprano Anna Casurella had excellent control of her range and definitely would have given a more convincing performance given better enunciation of the words. It was regrettably a more disappointing evening for baritone Patrick Twaddle in Part II, but fortunately he regained his composure in Part III.

It was a solemn evening highlighted by the singing of Jesus’s suffering and death, but we also left the church with feelings of comfort and hope from the belief in the significance of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection.

Jake’s Sunday Post: SENTIMENTAL VALUE (Kitchen Renovation -1)

Jake’s Theme this week “Sentimental Value” is exactly what I have wanted to write about.

We have lived in our house we considered home for over twenty years. The children have grown up and left. It is after months of talking, planning and looking around that my husband and I are finally launching a kitchen renovation, first ever since we have moved into this house. We are approaching this project with excitement and apprehension, and fortunately with a lot of support and advice from our friends who have been through similar endeavours. They all reassure us that it is well worth the money and the mess, though warning us of some frustration on the way.

Three days before the tradesmen came to tear down my kitchen, I had to clear out all the things on the counter top and inside the pantry. There were so many things that I had procrastinated in discarding or giving away and I had to deal with them now. Many of these items were no longer in use, but they stayed because I had space for them–just a little more clatter inside the cabinets and pantry. They were still here not because of my laziness, but more because of my clinging-on mentality, which is not uncommon either among fellow human beings I presume.

At the end of the day, and thanks to an unscrupulous guideline I set for myself, namely, “If in doubt, chuck it out”, I had one pile to store aside, one pile to go the the trash can and one pile to be given away to the thrift store. For now, I want to tell you more about what I have found inside my kitchen cabinets.

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When I pulled this copper pot out from the corner of a cabinet, I was totally amazed that I had forgotten about it all these years. This pot did not belong to me. It belonged to my mother-in-law, who sent it along together with her trunks containing some of her belongings when she came to Canada to join us 15 years ago. (My mother-in-law never intended to live in Canada. She returned to Hong Kong soon after obtaining her citizenship and visited us every year until she passed away in Hong Kong two years ago.) She left her trunks and this pot with us.

Essentially, this is a pot for braising soup in a water bath. Water and ingredients were put in the porcelain container, which then is put back to the copper container, filled with water and heated on a stove.  The plate conveniently served as the lid and was used to place the ingredients when the soup was made. I just love the little funnel for releasing the steam from the pot.

I felt very touched when I found this pot, because it had meant so much to my mother-in-law. She told me that this pot (and her trunks) had travelled with her and my husband’s family from Guangzhou, China to Hong Kong in 1949, just before the Communist government took over. My father-in-law made the decision to leave everything behind– and I truly admire him for his courage and foresight– and took a train with his family to Hong Kong to start a new life there. They wrote the first page of migration history in the family. They gave up a lot and made sacrifices to raise the family, ensuring that my husband and his siblings received good education. As I looked at the pot, I felt a lump in my throat. My husband and I had followed in the family footstep by migrating to another land mid-career. We did not look back, and frequently reminded ourselves not to count what we had lost, but to look at what we had gained. Like my in-laws, we have given our family not only freedom, but choices.

I don’t think I want to use the pot as a cooking vessel. It will sit on my mantelpiece perhaps as a symbol of the family history. My mother-in-law brought it to Canada and left it to us.  Her mission was complete in ensuring that her children and their children were given choices.

The other items I found seem to pale in comparison to this copper pot. Nevertheless, they also marked significant milestones of our family, and of the children growing up in the house. The basket did not contain a cobra inside. It was a padded basket for a Chinese teapot that I bought and shipped it to Canada when we immigrated. However, It was virtually unused, because we did not have a household that drank tea all day. Notwithstanding, it is  an endearng symbol of our journey to Canada, imbibed with sentimental value.

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I found some plastic cups and my three children had used them when they were little. I showed them the cups and they were willing to part with them, as long as I took a photograph for memory sake. As well, I found Disney souvenirs and Mario thermos which re-kindled fond memories of family vacations.

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I am surprised I have written such a long post. This is my first post on my kitchen renovation: Getting Ready. The contractor has told me that the work will take about eight weeks. I do not know if I am able to keep up with regularly blogging about it, and how long it will keep me blogging, since both blogging and renovating a kitchen are new activities in my life. I shall just wait and see.

I also want to thank Jake for posting such a timely theme for me to submit this post.

Weekly Photo Challenge: FUTURE TENSE

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My inspiration for this post came about as I was walking on Spencer Creek Trail which extended from Hamilton to Dundas in Ontario this morning. The air was still cold. The sun had risen, but it was struggling to creep through the clouds. The weather forecast predicted only a high of 3 degrees Celsius later in the day. This time last year, we were enjoying a balmy 26 degrees.  This is already March 23, two days after the Spring Equinox, and yet Spring to us here in southern Ontario is still in the Future Tense. I took out my cell phone to capture these images for the phoneography challenge.

The ice and snow are refusing to go away. Nature is playing a game with us. The melting and  re-freezing is a continuous tug-of-war in our outdoor world.

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When shall we see the colours of the flowers and the leaves and the green grass that we are craving for? I am tired of looking at only white and brown around me. Then, isn’t everything in life relative? And so is Time. When we stepped out of the trail, we walked up the hill to Grove Cemetery, where the graves reminded me of my future although they were also the symbols of some people’s past.

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We need patience waiting to see what will transpire in the future. Future to me also means Hope. There are finally signs of hope about the Spring yet to come. Turning into a residential street in Dundas, my walking buddy MW spotted the first buds on the south-facing yards. My heart leapt with joy: the crocuses, the snow drops and the tulips had burst through the ground.

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On the opposite side of the road, however, the snow relentlessly hung on.

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I am hopeful. Spring  will come; it will come soon!

A Word A Week Photo Challenge: ACTION

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Action during a running or walking race is most familiar to me. When I participate in a race, I do not have the opportunity to take pictures of athletes in action, except from their back perhaps. When I do get a chance of be on the side line as I discover from my photo archives, they happen to be races in the winter months. I have here pictures taken during the Boxing Day 10-Miler in Hamilton that I have written a blog earlier, and the Chilly Half Marathon in Burlington which is held on the first Sunday of March. 

The intensity of the action varies depending on which phase of the race the athletes are in. The two athletes above are both in the final lag of the race and finish is only 100 metres or so away. They are looking strong and making a final sprint to finish.

In the earlier phases of the race, athletes tend to bunch together to maintain a desirable pace, be they in the front pack, and the middle pack or the back. Athletes have their own strategy to complete the race depending on their goals. Just look at the intent on their faces and you can tell how focus they all are.

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Then they start to spread out.

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Since I am a power walker, I am normally at the back of the pack with the slower runners. Our form is different but no less intense when it comes to action. The gratification is that as the race goes on, the walkers can overtake the slow runners to finish at a better time.

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Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: CIRCLES and CURVES

There is an intrinsic beauty to circles and curves that I like. They also lend themselves to architectural designs throughout the ages. The most famous of those, in my opinion, is the Sydney Opera House, which essentially is a dissection of a sphere (a 3-D circle) and a re-arrangement the segments by its architect Jorn Utzon (see Footnotes below). Because of its curvature, I find it aesthetically more appealing than designs focusing on straight angles.

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Since an arc is also part of a circle, there are so many examples of arc forms, and I just love the Gothic and neo-Gothic designs.

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Moving closer to modern day designs, the spiral staircase inside the Louvre is a surprise element in the midst of sharp angles one encounter inside and outside the museum. The arcs of the glass ceiling also soften the lines of the overall architecture of the place.

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Finally, I want to add this pretty paved walk in Macau, because it blends in so seamlessly with the architecture of the  Portuguese style houses in this neighbourhood built during the time of colonization, now preserved as a cultural heritage site.

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Footnotes:

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John Utzon writes,” After three years of intensive search for the a basic geometry for the front complex I arrived in October 1967 at the spherical solution shown here. I call this the “key to my shell” because it solves all the problems of construction by opening up for mass construction, precision in manufacturing and simple erection and with this geometrical system I attain fair harmony between all the shapes in this fantastic complex.”

St. Paddy’s Day Fun: Coach and Lantern, Ancaster

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None of us is Irish, but we decide to enjoy ourselves on St. Patrick’s Day. We head out to the Coach & Lantern in Ancaster, Ontario. We arrive at a 200-year old stone building. The signs outside tell us that we are in for a treat for the taste of a British pub.

Our friends have  brought along cup cakes and chocolates to share, including the famous mint and chocolate scones from Cobs Bread in Oakville (Ontario). They make these green scones only once a year on St. Paddy’s Day. We of course order our green drinks–my husband likes his green beer and since I have given up alcohol for Lent, mine is green ginger ale.

The Coach & Lantern serves very good food. Even on a busy day like today, service is prompt and many of us order from the St. Patrick’s Day special menu, such as corn beef and cabbage, corn beef sandwich, and beef and Guinness dip.

We laugh and sing and have a lot of fun. Above all, we wear something green on us to fit the occasion and it appeals to me to think of this as a St. Paddy’s Day Masquerade.

Coach & Lantern, 384 Wilson Street East, Ancaster, Ontario

Travel Theme: GREEN

This  week the Travel Theme of Ailsa’s Blog Where’s My Backpack is Green.

http://wheresmybackpack.com/2013/03/15/travel-theme-green/

With St. Patrick’s Day just round the corner, I feel that I should look up my travel albums and find out what’s green in there. Normally I see lots of greens–trees, grass, and moss– on my hikes and walks, and so I am quite pleased to find “green” in a different setting. All these photos were taken in the Grand Aquarium of Hong Kong Ocean Park. In fact, I am pleasantly surprised that with my not so smart “point and shoot” camera, I could get these images.

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Having satisfied the “Travelling” portion of this theme, please allow me to include some “green” pictures that I do not have to travel far to take. My facetious picks (pun and all) are from the vegetable plot in my backyard.

Late, But Not Never: Liebster Award Part II

“I may be late, but not never.”

This was the promise I made when I accepted my first Liebster Award from Trophos, who wrote the insightful, academic and candid blog The Dancing Professor. By the time I had answered her questions, I had written such a long post that I decided to post my questions and the names of my nominees later. In the meantime, and much to my delight, Liz of Dot knows gave me the second Liebster Award, and a different icon! I thank them both for their kindness and this gives me good motivation to complete my task.

These are the seven (according to Trophos) blogs I would like to nominate, in alphabetical order. They are either new blogs or blogs with less than 200 followers and I think they deserve more attention. Let’s give them a round of applause:

After the Kids Leave     Sisters Karen, who lives in Ottawa and Wendy, who lives in London, England blog to each other with their hilarious sense of humour, as well as breadth of knowledge of a wide range of topics from weight control, knitting, getting rid of mice, dealing with grown up chldren, and you name it.

Cindy Bruchman  Like me, Cindy shares diverse interests and she writes interesting posts ranging from movies, books, music, outdoors and travels.

Gunlist   This is a must-read for me every time a new post comes out, because I always learn something new about the English language and how to write better. It certainly deserves a bigger readership, especially for people wanting to write better academic and professional English. 

Janet’s Notebook   Lovely posts from a suburb in southern England. Janet blogs about her pets, her hobbies and topical British events. (Let’s support Janet to get over 200 followers!)

Oriental Journey   An Italian traveller in China, learning the language, finding out about the culture, and making interesting progress.

Sequin and Cherry Blossom    A rare gem talking about Japanese culture and history from the discerning eye of a westerner with the grace and exquisiteness of the Japanese culture itself. Even though I have lived in London, England many years, I never know there is so many interesting Japanese activities going on. 

The Road Trip Hound  A beautiful blog talking a lot of Calgary, and other travel experiences. The photographs pay attention to very interesting details.

To my nominees: I hope you’ll accept this award by writing a post to answer the questions below, paste the icon(s) to your post, and also link back to my post. Please nominate seven deserving bloggers by writing something to introduce them.

I have been given some very interesting soul-searching questions by Trophos. I hope mine can live up to her standards.

1.  If you were to invite five celebrities (authors, musicians, actors, world leaders, even socialites) to your home for dinner, whom would they be and why?

2.  What would you serve them for dinner? Is there any significance in the dish(es) you have chosen? (Don’t worry even if you don’t cook; design the menu and someone will cook for you.)

3.  If you had to travel to an isolated location far from civilization to live for three months without the support of the internet. Name three books that you would bring with you to read. Why?

4. You would be allowed to bring three musical compositions to listen to in #3, what would they be, and why?

5. You are writing your memoir. Show us the first paragraph of your first chapter.

6. Do you have a favourite computer game?

7. What do you use to take pictures for your blog? Tell us a story behind it.

Now that my duties are discharge, I can say, “It is better late than never,” and I can sit back and enjoy the entries of my nominees. Blog on!

Jake’s Sunday Post: ARRANGEMENT

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This is an item on display at the Museum of Modern Arts in Sydney, Australia and I think it is appropriate that I use it for the Introduction of this post on “Arrangement”.

I have just discovered Jake’s Sunday Post and his theme “Arrangement” for this week. I associate the visual product of an arrangement (granting that one can interpret the concept from the perspective of a musical arrangement or even marital arrangement)  to be putting something in a desired order to make it look attractive, or neat, or to produce a certain dramatic effect.

What is better than an arrangement of food on a plate? I sometimes admire the arrangement so much that I hesitate eating the food. How about this presentation of quail eggs and watercress, and the Chinese birthday buns…there are more buns hidden inside the big buns!

Quail Eggs and Watercress

Chinese Birthday Buns

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I like the arrangement of shiny metal cones to form a street decoration for Christmas in Hong Kong, and how it contrast with the dull and irregular buildings in the background.

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Finally, I have selected the dramatic effect of the arrangement of water sprouts on the stage production of The House of Dancing Water, the world’s largest water show, performed in the City of Dreams in Macau, China.

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A BYOB Book Club: In One Person, John Irving

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If you think that you have to “bring your own bottle” to this book club, sorry, you are off the mark! This was the catchy title of the book club hosted by the Burlington (Ontario) Central Public Library. Essentially this is to say that they do not provide the book, and to attend the book club, you have to at least have read the book and if possible, bring a copy along.

This was the first time I attended a public book club. I signed up simply because I came across the notice soon after I had read John Irving’s In One Person and felt interested in hearing what other people had to say about it. The library seemed well-prepared on their part. They had available for downloading a list of the rules and a dozen or so questions for attendants to ponder ahead of time.

I also invited my friend AK, who had never been to a book club, along. It turned out there were only six people present, plus a librarian who led the discussion. The atmosphere was friendly and open, and everybody got a chance to speak out on the issues. The librarian commented that attendance to this book club was not high, compared to a few that were held in the evening in a pub. I wondered whether this was a reflection of the preference for the time or for the venue.

We went around the group to talk about our overall impression. One member had read many John Irving’s books and noted the similarity with his previous work The World According to Garp (1982) in which a boy grew up with a single mother in the absence of a father figure. My friend opined that she actually gave up after the third chapter, because it was not her genre–she loved mystery and crime stories—-and that the topic was outside of her imagination and interest. I found myself feeling divided throughout the book. It was a gripping book emotionally, but when I put on my analytic hat, I frequently questioned how much the message that the book conveyed about gender orientation running in the family would stand up to scientific scrutiny. A reader who was a student in gender studies agreed. One reader found the book emotionally intriguing and she liked particularly the author’s treatment of how Billy and his family members talked to each other, and what they said suggested the affection they had for one another.

We seemed able to identity several salient themes in the book to examine more closely. At the same time, the majority of us wanted a glossary in the book to explain the sexual behaviour of the LGBT (gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and trans-sexual) and the transvestite communities, and more medical details about the transsexuals.

The story is about Billy’s journey in discovering his sexual identity. He has grown up in a family which seems loving and tolerant enough, and yet he is left to himself to feel like a misfit regarding who he is and why he has all those strange feelings about the opposite sex and his same-sex friends. One of his wakening episodes is his friend Elaine’s bra, to be followed by more sexual experiences in his years abroad. There is tension throughout, because his family apparently knows about the secret of Ms Frost, and yet Billy is being left totally out of it. Richard (his mother’s boyfriend, hence an outsider of his family) takes Billy to the library, and just imagine the irony embedded in his remark, “I just want to read about me.” (Isn’t John Irving a clever writer?) So comes Ms Frost to give him the book. Essentially Ms Frost gives Billy the key to his gender identity.  It is also another outsider, his friend Gerry’s father, who tells Billy that he is a “double whammy”.

So what is the role of Billy’s family in the story (Library Book Club Question #8)? It seems that his mother and his sister are not directly instrumental to Billy’s journey. The family unit is a vehicle to explain Billy’s sexual orientation and therefore gives Billy meaning in identifying himself after the realization that he is bi-sexual; but to the readers, an excuse or reason for who Billy is, depending how one looks at it.

Miss Frost asks, “Goodness me, what makes a man?”  What makes a man or a woman in the book (Library Book Club Question #1)? Billy’s story and those of Ms Frost and the other characters lead to the answer “You are what you think you are”. Yet there is a tragic component in all these characters to be what they are. We read throughout the book how the characters in the book face being ostracized, or suffer from AIDS and death. To the title In One Person, John Irving’s choice of epigraph is from William Shakespeare’s Richard II, “Thus play I in one person many people, And none contented” (Library Book Club Question #4), It is a suggestion how unhappy the characters are, fighting between whom they think or want themselves to be, and trying to fit into society’s expectations.

The theme of play or playing a certain role on stage runs throughout the book. (Book Club Question #9). The characters seem more at ease when they assume a role on stage than being who they are in real life. Is life, particularly the lives of people with a different gender orientation playing the roles of multiple persons in one person? They must be rather lost as to what they are. That they are performing the roles in Shakespeare’s and Ibsen’s plays further echoes the line “life is a stage”.

We attempted to imagine what it would be like for Billy to grow up in a small town in the United States in the 1950’s. It would be a tight community in which everybody knew everybody, and there was no secret to hide. This heightens the tension in the development of the story.

Thus confusion between what is masculine and what is feminine is brought about by the sport wrestling, which is conventionally perceived as a masculine game. It is also a tactile game with body contact that may attract individuals such as Ms Frost and Kittredge. John Irving uses wrestling, a sport he knows very well, to illustrate the contradiction between belief and reality.

A novel of sexual orientation and extreme behaviour cannot steer away from writing about sex (Book Club Question #10). John Irving handles the subject matter brilliantly. Our group agreed about his openness but did not accuse him of poor taste. We may not agree with the morality of the novelty, but his treatment of sex was well written. In fact, Irving is so clever in his craft that he becomes persuasive. He arouses the readers’ sympathy towards his characters even when they look upon GLBT issues in our society differently.

A few book club questions (#14, 15 and 16) ask if the reader is  shocked and what is disturbing about the book, and how it contributes to society’s ongoing debates about sexuality, gender and identity. Some of us find it confusing, some feel uncomfortable, and my friend AK does not enjoy the subject matter. While we can approach the book as fiction, we are disturbed by the morality it represents. Why can’t Ms Frost leave Billy alone? Why the seduction of Billy? When they first met, Billy was only seventeen.  In One Person is undoubtedly a controversial novel, and it is going to play an important part in society’s ongoing debate about gender and sexual orientation and identity. John Irving has an agenda, and his personal agenda is fulfilled in arousing sympathy among the readership irrespective whether they endorse the behaviour of the characters. The caveat, however, is whether the implicit message that individuals are born with or inherit certain gender orientation is the reason or just an scientifically unproven excuse.

Our discussion went on for one and a half hours. There were still topics we could not cover, such as the AIDS era and other characters in the book, such as Tom Atkins, Kittredge, Elaine, etc. Immense interest was shown in our discussion, whether we had enjoyed reading the book or not.

Related Site: The Burlington Public Library Book Club Guide

A Taste of Burlington: Red Canoe Bistro

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Restaurants in the City of Burlington offer A Taste of Burlington as their version of Winterlicious, which is a food festival  held in January to early February in Toronto. This winter event for Burlington runs from February 17 to March 10 this year. The restaurants selected by the Burlington Board of Tourism offer a prix fixe menu for lunch and dinner. No chain restaurants are included. Over the years, I have tasted some very fine food in this food festival. Red Canoe Bistro was our pick this evening for me and my family. We were offered an 8:00 p.m. reservation when I called. When we arrived, the other patrons also appeared to have just arrived, as they were still studying the menu, or being offered their drinks. Red Canoe exuded a cozy and warm atmosphere. There were about ten tables. Decor was simple yet appropriate for a bistro-style restaurant–photographs in black frames and colourful jars of preserves lined the wall behind the benches.

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Three waitresses were working behind the bar and they looked busy. Someone came to offer us water, but she did not notice that we did not have the right menu and when she brought the menu, she did not bring a wine list. Finally we ordered. There were three choices for each category of the three-course dinner, and we managed to select most of them among us to maximize the tasting.  While we were waiting for the food, we nibbled away the bread dipped in olive oil.

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For the starter, the choices were: Ontario venison chili with Ontario beans, Roast Ontario winter vegetables and spinach salad, and Ontario carrot and celeriac soup with roast cauliflower and tarragon emulsion.

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I liked my soup. It had the right texture and beautiful soup base. My husband and my son also found the venison nicely done, and not tough.

I was the only person who selected fish for the main course. It was Ontario bass with lobster and red lentil pilaf. The others all opted for the braised Ontario lamb shank. To go  with the majority, we chose an Australia Shiraz, which was my favourite and always safe to fall back on. Everybody liked the shank. I felt the portion of my fish was a bit small, but otherwise, it as a delightful dish, especially the lobster and the flavourful pilaf.

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For dessert, I chose the dark chocolate almond cake with soy yogurt, my husband selected the sweet ham pie and my daughter, an ice cream lover, went for maple apple strudel with maple walnut ice-cream. We all found the dessert a healthy treat with a sweetness that is not overwhelming.

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It was a lovely meal in taste and in choice of ingredients, for the menu was designed to feature Ontario produce and meat.  The only disappointment was the slow service, which could be condoned by the full house if not by the ample time we enjoyed for our family conversation. However, when it was really time to go since one of us had to catch an early flight the following day, we were waiting from being patiently to impatiently for the bill, while the waitresses were chatting behind the bar. I ado hope that the service will be improved when I return to the restaurant when it is not during a Taste of Burlington.

Red Canoe Bistro, 388 John Street, Burlington, Ontario.

Red Canoe Bistro on Urbanspoon

From Soya Sauce Chicken to Bi-Cultural Upbringing

My daughter wanted to learn how to make soya sauce chicken. I had been waiting for this moment, because I wanted to pass onto her the family recipe my mother had shared with me. I knew that our younger generation would not appreciate it if something were offered directly to them. If they asked, it meant that they had the motivation to learn.

The soya sauce chicken recipe was special to me, because it came from my grandmother’s kitchen and my daughter was interested in hearing more about it. My grandmother did not have to cook when she was growing up in a big family in Hong Kong. There was a cook to take care of the meals. After she got married, she did not have to cook either. She had ten children with my grandfather and they had a cook to do all the cooking for the big family. My mother was allowed to sneak into the kitchen once in a while and she learned the recipe from the cook.

I showed my daughter how to first marinade the whole chicken (inside and outside) with some Chinese cooking wine and light soya sauce. I “butterflied” the chicken by removing the backbone. This actually was my modification to ensure that the chicken would cook evenly and thoroughly in my saucepan. (The traditional method was to use a huge Wok, and ladle hot soya sauce mixture–see below–until the chicken is cooked. It could take a long time.)  The ingredients for the sauce are: 4 Tbsp dark soya sauce, 2 Tbsp light soya sauce, 1 -2 sticks of brown sugar, 3 scallions, 3 pieces of ginger, and 3/4 cup of water. I placed the chicken in the saucepan, covered it and cooked under low to medium heat and turning the chicken over a few times until no juice ran out by slitting the thigh.

My daughter and I really enjoyed our time together. For me, I loved chatting with her the family vignettes.  For her, she realized for the first time that the soya sauce chicken that was one of her favourite dishes at home had to use brown sugar sticks. She even said that she had much to learn about Chinese cooking, and that was true.

My children came to Canada at a very young age, and while they were exposed to Cantonese (the southern dialect that we spoke) at home, they grew up in a Canadian environment in school and with their friends. My husband and I tried to impart what we felt important in the Chinese culture to them, from speaking Cantonese at home, sending them to Chinese school, telling them Chinese myths and legends, bringing them to Chinese restaurants, and when they were older, I bought them a few Chinese classics in English translation, including the Western Journey (aka The Story of the Monkey King), which I considered to be the Chinese version of Odyssey, and an oriental representation of the search for the Holy Grail.

The question is : How bi-cultural are they?

I look at myself. Except for lessons in school and watching television when it became available, my environment was entirely Chinese.  I received a Sino-Anglo education when I grew up in Hong Kong. We were given British arithmetic textbooks for our mathematics class in Grade 5, which meant learning pound, shilling and pence beside the decimal system of the local currency. (What relevance? You may ask. The answer: Colonial education.) However, this education seemed to prepare me well for my further education and training in England. I also lived there long enough to be able to discuss such trivialities as  English (afternoon) Tea  is different from High Tea.

Still, how bi-cultural am I?

The crux is: When it comes to a matter of value, what system do we adopt? I had a solid foundation of Chinese values before I left home and those long years abroad also enabled me to adopt and understand the western, in general terms, value system. The main difference between Chinese and western culture is the emphasis on family in the former and the individual in the latter, and this becomes accentuated when conflict occurs in daily life. One good example, I returned to Hong Kong to work. On one occasion, I opted to attend my friend’s wedding party instead of going to my grandmother’s birthday party. Even though I promised to visit Grandma to wish her happy birthday before I headed out to the wedding, my parents thought that I should only go to congratulate my friends at the church before I joined the family birthday party. (Thanks to my argument that Grandma would have many more birthdays and the wedding was the one and only one occasion, I won the battle.) However, there were other instances when my Chinese values would prevail.

My children, understandably, are less Chinese than I. In fact, they belong to a new breed of bi-cultural individuals, known as “banana boys” or “banana girls” (yellow in their skin and white in their heart). They speak both languages and know some food and customs, but they do not think Chinese. They can relate to the characters portrayed in Terry Woo’s novel Banana Boys (1999), which has given us many candid discussion on bi-cultural socialization. I have witnessed all these years in Canada conflict between parents and children among immigrants families. The conflict is not just generation gap. It is the juxtaposition and conflict between cultures, and more deep-rooted value systems the two generations have internalized, or fail to internalize. I still follow Evelyn Lau’s books and poetry, ever since I read her heart-wrenching story Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid (1989). She was still a teenager then when she published her book.

There are identity issues for a person born into one culture and grew up in another. Unless the person is able to integrate and internalize, continuous tension between the cultures often lead to a sense of alienation and marginalization. I have deliberately put away my social scientist hat, for I want to speak as a parent about our needs to be sensitive to what our children think and feel.   I can only hope that in the open, multi-cultural society we live in, experience will bring forth understanding, then acceptance and celebration.