Monthly Archives: May 2013

Leslie Shimotakahara Reads “The Reading List”

I1-IMG_1248 heard about Leslie Shimotakahara through six-degree connections, bought and read her book The Reading List: Literature, Love and Back Again, A Memoir. In each chapter of her memoir, she relates herself to the character of a book, as she describes her struggle with her career and her relationships with friends and family members. She has included Thoreau, Wharton and Joyce as well as Faulkner, Woolf and Hemingway in her thirteen chapters. Ondaatje and Atwood also make it into her list, among others. I have also found out from her blog under the same title “The Reading List” that she has many insightful reflections weaved into the over sixty book titles she has posted on her blog.  When I heard that she would be reading from her work in Hamilton, Ontario, I went out, because I wanted to meet her and ask her to autograph  my book.

The reading was organized by Litlive and held at the Homegrown Cafe in Hamilton, Ontario. The venue was situated in the re-vitalized downtown area of the city, where artists and writers had moved to in recent years. It offered a casual but cosy setting for this reading event with about thirty people among the audience to listen to the works of six writers of poetry and prose.


My interest in meeting Leslie Shimotakahara stems not from the fact that I know a member of her extended family who has told me about the book in the first place. It is more because I am fascinated by her talent. Her writing has demonstrated scholarship and style. I admire her courage and frankness in revealing herself and her family in a memoir, though generally memoirs are written by people much older than she is. Her themes are multi-faceted and she has knitted them together seamlessly in her book.

I can relate to her feelings about academia, having come from academia myself. It would1-DSC02296 indeed be difficult if your goals and inclinations are not there to play the role according to the rules of the game, no matter how interested your are in the subject matter and the topic you are conducting research on. Now that I have met Leslie Shimo (guess it is all right to shorten her name like her great grandfather, Kozo, was referred to in her book). I can also identify with her disadvantage of having a young-looking oriental face. It would be tough to be a professor, a bona fida professor she was, in a small east coast town where the parochial outlook predisposed her students to take her at face value (ah, what a pun).  I wish I could tell her that I had been asked if I were a teaching assistant  by an overseas visitor I met for the first time in a faculty social after I had been a full member on faculty for some years.

Part of the revelation in the book was the Shimotakahara family history during the period of internment of the Japanese in Vancouver during the Second World War, and it was spearheaded by her father who tried to extract as much information as he could from her grandmother before she died. Her family saga could be representative of the hardship of many a Japanese families during those difficulty times. I cannot but marvel at Leslie Shimo’s artistry in blending her personal story against the backdrop of the past and present unrest in her family and in the world. The tension was palpable and she handles it with such ease.

She read an excerpt from the first chapter of her book. There she 1-IMG_1249was, back home to decide on her next move after leaving the ivory tower and after fulfilling her father’s aspiration for her –although it might not be hers– to obtain a doctorate and to become a professor. I am daughter as well as a mother. When I read that part of the book and listened to Shimo read, I  kept wondering: Is this an immigrant psyche, or an oriental psyche? I have to resort to Jung for an explanation of our collective consciousness.

Critics and publicity blurbs describe Shimo as “a recovering academic”. As I watched her friendly smile and how composed and graceful she was on stage, Leslie Shimotakahara was already “a recovered academic”, in my opinion. I congratulate her on winning the Canada Council for the Arts Canada-Japanese Literary Award.  I wish her well in her new relationship and I look forward to reading her next book.

Architectural Splendour of a Hindu Temple in Toronto

I had the rare opportunity of visiting the BAPS Shri Swaminaragan Mandir in Toronto with a friend from India.


Situated on an expansive ground off the highway was this white marble building with the most intricate carvings on its pillars and domes. It was hard to believe that I could see such architectural splendour of a Hindu Temple without setting foot on India!

We were greeted by a very enthusiastic guide, who told us that he was a volunteer and did the presentation for us as a service to the community. We learned that just as there were different denominations in Christianity, there were also different branches of Hinduism. BAPS is the organization promoting spirituality of the individual with prayers and promoting harmony among individuals. The design and the construction of the temple were the efforts of innumerable volunteers. Marble was imported from Italy, limestone from Turkey and sandstone from India. True to the Vedic architectural tradition, there was not a single steel structure to support the building, nor a single nail to secure the joints.

After we had removed our shoes, we were shown into a big hall with ornamental wooden pillars and ceiling. Photography was forbidden inside the building, but the website of the temple had some pictures to offer. We went on a Sunday and the place was alive with activities.  In another hall, worshipers were watching a video of a religious gathering taped earlier in the day in India.

The guide took us upstairs to the main worship area. Before entering he told us to close our eyes, jokingly saying that he was expecting a “wow” reaction from us. Indeed, when we opened our eyes, the beauty and serenity of this great hall took our breath away. Wow!

(Photo from BAPS Shri Swaminaragan Mandir website)

The splendour of this hall was beyond belief. The lighting changed colours continuously projecting an ethereal sense of mystery and awe. At the far end on both sides of the room were shrines revering the many Hindu deities and early spiritual leaders of the religion. They were dressed in ornate clothing that were changed three times a day, following their “meals”.

There was a museum that we could not visit because we were running out of time, but it would be an excellent reason to revisit the temple on another occasion.

Weekly Photo Challenge: IN THE BACKGROUND

The view in the background of the  Eiffel Tower is what I intend to capture and it seems fit for this week’s photo challenge.


The beaches on the eastern coast of Australia seem to stand out more in the background of the tropical trees.



Dominating in the background of the busy traffic on Bloor Street, Toronto is the Crystal wing of the Royal Ontario Museum.


Real Thailand Restaurant Re-visited


I have not eaten out in the area near Bloor Street and Spadina Avenue in downtown Toronto as much as I used to in recent years. The other night, although we were in a hurry, my husband and I felt we should dine at the Real Thailand Restaurant, one of our favourites,  to relive some flavours we missed. I did not notice any difference in the decor when I walked inside. There was an open dining area, and ethnic Thai decorations.


We ordered Green Curry Chicken (Kang Kheaw Wan Kai) and Stir Fry Asparagus with Shitake Mushrooms in a chili garlic sauce (Pan Nomai Sod) to go with white rice. We told the waitress that we had to leave by a certain time, and service was prompt.  The meal was delicious. I liked the green curry because even with coconut milk as an ingredient, it did not taste too sweet. The taste of the asparagus and mushrooms was an interesting combination.

I really wanted to stay longer and order my favourite Thai dessert, the sticky rice. However, we had to go and I had to promise myself that I should return before too long. Their Pad Thai used to be my staple at lunch time. Their shrimps and duck dishes were also top on my dinner selections.

The Real Thailand Restaurant is known to all the locals, from students and staff of the University of Toronto, workers downtown near the Bloor and Spadina area and residents in the neighbourhood. Prices are affordable and services friendly. If you have never been there, it is definitely worth a try, and you will probably keep returning to it.

Real Thailand Restaurant, 350 Bloor Street West, Toronto, Ontario.

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Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: SPRING (River and Ruin Hike)


Everything I saw on my hike on the River and Ruin Trail in the Lowville Park area in Halton Region, Ontario was a representation of Spring. I am therefore integrating this as my submission to Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: SPRING. The moment we set out on our hike from the carpark, Spring was tangible. Photography could only capture what one could see. The green of the grass and the leaves is a Spring green, which looked so promising after the rain from the night before.  I could hear Spring from the birds’ singing and chirping, and the rustling of the wind, I could feel Spring from the cool, refreshing breeze, and I could smell Spring in the air. The flowering trees were starting to bloom and the open fields were covered with dandelions, bright yellow contrasting with bright new green.

P 1-IMG_1287 Other vegetation, from the fern to the May apple (with its bud hiding underneath the leaves), the trilliums to the marsh daisies are out. I saw the Bracket Fungi for the first time.

We also spotted the Garlic Mustard, an unwanted foreign specie because they would edge out the other plants.

We took the River and Ruin Side Trail, crossed a bridge to join the Bruce Trail Main Trail. We hiked to Kilbride, took a lunch break and hiked back, using a different arm of the side trail to see the ruin. The water level was high and we had Bronte Creek to our right for half of the hike. The ruin appeared as a surprise among the trees. It was the relics was a big farmhouse.



We had to use our imagination to think back two hundred years ago when this part was farmland and the residents were using out hiking trail to go to their general store in Lowville. What kind of bridge did they have back then?

Kitchen Renovation (5): The Long Wait, and Suddenly…

The dry wall team did not turn up the day after the electricians had left. They did not turn up the next day, nor the following day. I call the supervisor. He told me the dry wall people were finishing a big job, and he was hoping that they could come by and start working in my kitchen soon. He sounded reassuring when he told me that dry wall workers usually carry several jobs at one time, because when the plaster was drying in one place, they could go over to another place to do some work there.

In spite of my optimism,  they never turned up at my place. I had an entire week without any workman in my house. I tried to carry on my life as usual. I went to work, did minimal grocery shopping since I had to plan carefully what to cook in my makeshift kitchen and we ate out more.

The inspector from the city also did not come, but it was a relief to know that he did not need to come because they were over-booked and could only manage one in three of the sites. They apparently knew the work of the electrician and my contractor,  and skipped us. That was good news. According to the schedule given to me by the contractor, they had allowed two weeks for the dry wall work. Ten days had elapsed.

When I returned home from work on the eleventh day, I walked into a dusty hallway and the stinging smell of plaster. I started to sneeze but I was more relieved to see that work had finally resumed. The dry wall team had given me the walls and the new ceiling of my kitchen! These people only spent three days in my house and completed their work. These were dusty and sneezy days, but the job was back on track again.

The tile people followed suit. They first did a good job reinforcing the floor boards by punching nails on it. In came the wire sheets and they did a patient job lining the floor before putting on the ceramic tiles. It was another three-day work because when they got the corners and the side of the room, the tiles had to be measured and precisely cut. It was fun watching them, as they placed the tiles as working on a jig-saw puzzle. Another chapter of my kitchen renovation saga completed.

Sporting Life 10K: Racing with 27,000 Athletes on Yonge Street


About a year ago, I wrote my first blog post with a picture taken by my walking coach Lee Scott at the start line of the Sporting Life 10K race. This year, on May 12, 2013, I was standing behind the same start line with the banner over me. I was among the 27,000 participants getting ready to race down Yonge Street to raise funds for Camp Oochigeas, a camp in Muskoka for children with cancer.

The cold air that snapped back in mid-Spring did not chill the enthusiasm of the participants most of whom were dressed appropriately to come out early in the morning, warm enough to stand around waiting and yet not to get overheated when they were well into the race. There was a mix of short sleeves and long sleeves, plus of course, the cut-out garbage bags, which would be discarded along the way.

Athletes started to arrive around 7 a,m. They either huddled under the  scaffolding of buildings or went into the Sporting Life shop or a Starbucks nearby to stay warm. By 7:45 a.m. everybody lined up at the corral to which each person was assigned based on expected finishing time.  I was a walker and so I waited in the Orange corral. The gun went off at 8 a.m. for the first wave of elite runners and those who intended to finish under 48 minutes (Red and Yellow corrals) to be followed by the Blue, Green, Purple and Orange waves, the last of which waited until 8:40 a.m.

An awesome sight appeared in front of me as I power walked down Yonge Street. It was a sea of people on the busiest and longest street in Toronto.1-IMG_1226

We started from between Eglinton and Lawrence, headed south and then turned west at Richmond. All the streets were closed to traffic. The sense of ownership of the roads without  cars was unspeakable. At the club district, we turned south along Peters Street, which looked asleep in the morning hours. We went west again on Front Street, then south on Bathhurst and the Finish Line was on Fort York Blvd. just west of Bathurst. We had live bands entertaining us at each kilometre mark.

After crossing the Finish Line, we were gathered at Coronation Park, where volunteers handed us the medal, and where refreshments were waiting. This year, Nike gave each participant a sticker that they could put on the Nike Wall, and Nike would donate $1 for each sticker, up to the amount of $10,000. This year, Sporting Life aimed to raise 2.4 million dollars for the Camp. The Sporting Life 10K now reigns as the second largest running race in Canada and the race with the largest charitable donations.

Hiking in Bronte in the Spring

After my recent icy and treacherous Spring hike, I decided to join an easier hike closer to the city by the Lake Ontario. We met at Corontation Park in Oakville and hike east towards Bronte.


Our path followed the shore of Lake Ontario, passed through a quiet residential street and we went along Bronte Harbourfront. There are always interesting sightings on our hike, and for this morning,  two waterbirds have built their nest within the docking area.

After hiking along Lakeshore Road westbound, we turned north into Shell Park. It was still early spring and the flower beds were still bare. However, we saw a gorgeous sea of blue and it turned out the psilias were already in bloom!


We got excited again when we spotted budding trilliums.


The meandering trails in Shell Park took us through some plots leased out by the City to residents who wanted to grow their own vegetable gardens, and we saw some people already out to prepare the ground. There was an unusual object that we did not know what it was used for except that it had something to do with the pipeline for the gas to be sent to the Petro Canada Plant further down. We were essentially walking over the pipeline.

We made a turn towards Bronte Creek. The water level was high. When the Bronte Harbour came in sight again, it was almost close to returning to Coroation Park.  After all, It was an easy hike of 14 Km over flat terrain.

Weekly Photo Challenge: PATTERNS


This is that pattern of a carpet that I have taken a photograph of on a visit to a carpet factory in Kusadasi, a seaport in Turkey. All the carpets were handmade and I was told that the young women employed by the company not only made the carpets during the day, they also had to make a carpet which would be part of their dowry when they got married in their spare time. Needless to say, the bigger the carpet and the more intricate the pattern are coveted by future in-laws.

1-DSC00635 (2)

Here are a few more of my favourites:




Jakes’s Sunday Post: ATTRACTION

Jake is back and for his Sunday Post Challenge, and he asks for a tourist attraction that draws people there. I have selected Uluru (formerly known the Ayers Rock), not only because it is an icon in the Australian landscape, but also it is such an attraction that many a tourist has to go out of the way in the travel itinerary in order to see it, and this means spending an extra three days in the region to make the trip worthwhile. Getting to Uluru requires flying and travelling by bus if one departs from any major city in Australia. Although you are watching the same rock, the price of the tour varies depending on whether you want a glass of champagne in hand with a selection of canapes, or a cup of coffee or tea with nuts and chips.

I am presenting here Uluru at dawn, early morning, midday and at sunset.





Book Club Review: Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card

The youngest member of our book club has chosen this book for us, because she wants to challenge us to read a book that is not in our usual genre, and yet this book is a classic, and has won both the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award, both coveted awards in science fiction. Furthermore, The Ender’s Game has been made into a movie and will be shown later in the year. What’s better than bringing a group of women who are the age of her aunts and mother up-to-date by reading The Ender’s Game? 

We all read the edition with an Introduction by the author written in 1991, six years after the book was published, and we all like it. Our only reservation is how difficult it is to visualize the games that Ender and his school mates are playing.  We remember the time back in the 70’s and early 80’s when computer games only meant Pong (although other games were developed but not widely distributed) and a little later Atari’s Space Invaders. Obviously Orson Scott Card is describing much more sophisticated “games” than those of his time and they are more like the games people are playing today.

We are more familiar with Peter and Val asking their father for his account number to post online using pseudonyms and pretending to be adults. Isn’t it amazing that the author has written about chatroom and blogging when the did not exist forty years ago?

The plot of the book is straightforward. Ender Wiggins, a young boy of six, is selected to join Battle School and later promoted to Command School to be trained to fight the Buggers, some insectoid enemies from space. He leaves his parents, his older brother and sister, who are also gifted but considered unsuitable for the purpose and he is mentored by the person who won the last war against the Buggers to win the ultimate battle.

We discuss the “power” theme of the book. The book is all about Power: from parents being forced to reproduce to fulfill the purpose of the state, to children being removed from their parents, to the winning of “games” which allowed the young people to move up the ranks. When I read the book, I feel I am reading something like Animal Farm or 1984. Then there is Peter, Ender’s brother, who thirsts for power, his sister Valentine, who knows that power also means being influential and Ender, who although peace-loving, becomes the powerful conqueror in the Battle. We are taken by the irony the Ender somehow has to struggle with his conscience that he has killed his school mates and the Buggers, whereas Peter becomes known as the peace maker on Earth.  We can only take comfort in that although lacking parental love (and we wonder whether his parents are holding back from loving him knowing that one day he will be taken away from them), Ender is nurtured by Val and by General Graff–tough love–in a way.

“He’s not a killer. He just wins…thoroughly.” However, the winning is deceived in the form of a game, unknown to Ender. On the one hand, we question the morality of deception–Ender, who does not want to kill, is deceived into playing a game in which to win means killing. One person mentions that she has come across a report on  Prince Harry commenting on his pilot training, the simulation aspect of which is shooting objects on a computer screen to destroy them. Isn’t that what Ender is doing? On the other hand, we also question whether the innocent killer is really innocent, but we did not have time to delve into a discussion on the philosophy of the act and the intent.

It is brought up that Card is a devout Mormon and this sparks the discussion on the implication of his religious practice on his writing. We are speculating, but does calling the enemies “Buggers” implies homophobia or a disrespectful attitude? Another interesting observation is that some Mormon communities are known to send their young male members away to live in a community very much like Ender and his friends. The people in command are all male. This has got us speculating again.

Then someone observes that in the movie, Viola Davis plays the role of General Alexander. Our conversation drifts to the cast and the anticipation of watching the games that Ender plays on the movie screen.

At the end of the book, Ender travels with Valentine, and he finds the cocoon of the Bugger Queen, which he carries with him until he finds a place for it to hatch. He also writes in the name of Speaker of the Dead. One thing is sure, many of us are going to read the sequels of The Ender’s Game.

A Blast with Burgers at The Works


The Works Gourmet Burger Bistro opened in Burlington, Ontario last November. It has been quite the buzz of town since then. My husband and I arrived there at 6 p.m. and there were already a line-up there with about 20 people inside and outside combined.


Fortunately, it was only a twenty-minute wait and on the positive side, we were more hungry and ready to enjoy our meal.

This was no ordinary burger place. When we finally sat down, we were given a menu which instructed us how to order our burgers in five steps. Step 1 was easy; we had to decided on the pattie. My husband chose beef and since I was in an adventurous mood, I picked elk. The second step appeared overwhelming. There were about 80 toppings grouped under six categories with names such as Born To Be Wild, World Tour, Veg Out, Carnivore’s Corner, etc.  I picked Dead Ringer from Top 10 Burgerhead Faves. The description of the ingredients said brisket, jack cheese, smokey BBQ sauce and onion rings, but I still could not understand the name. My husband chose Jamaica Jerk, which contained fiery Jamican jerk spices, sweet green chilies, Montery jack and ripe tomatoes. I was already tired after reading through the list. My thought: It’s too much brain work to order a burger.

Fortunately, the next step was easy, I chose my whole wheat bun out of three choices. For sides (Step 4), I ordered a salad and my husband ordered fried sweet potatoes to split and share between us. There was Step 5, called Add On, but since we had already decided to have an onion ring tower for starter, we did not bother with more menu reading.

We had time to look around the decor while waiting for our food.  There was an industrial feel to the place, The main wall had an artist impression of the Burlington Lift Bridge, It fit in with my conceptualization and I like this choice to represent the City of Burlington. There  were metal works for decor and pipes for partition. Waiters wore t-shirt with the restaurants logo in front and their motto at the back.

Our water was served in a 16-oz measuring cup. The friend onion tower ushered our burgers served on tin trays.

The fried onion rings came with a spicy mayo dip and a beach house dip. The onion rings were the best I had tasted for a long time. The burgers were tasty although the patties were on the thin side. It was a filling and satisfying burger meal.

The Works Burger Bistro, 443 Brant Street, Burlington, Ontario.

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