Category Archives: Culture

Ai Weiwei, What is he up to?

I recently came across some media coverage on Ai Weiwei. The world family and politically controversail sculptor has move to live in Cambridge in England after living in Germany for the last few years. He is also setting up a business to share his sculptures with buyers to be re-assembled in one’s home. This is consistent with his signature style to shock and to make one ponder his intent.

This brings to mind his exhibition in Toronto entitled “According to What?” some years ago. The impact of his home imprisonment in China was still fresh in his consciousness. And with China in the news these days with the CO-vid19 virus spreading from Wuhan to all over China, and  globally with no end in sight, the image of his crabs is an apt parady. There is a Chinese saying, that if one spills a basket of crabs, they’ll crawl everywhere–a situation hard to contain and control. This is what it is:

Ai Weiwei has been described as provocative, political and controversial.  The exhibition of his art on a world tour and at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) originated from Japan. The curator went to his home in China where he was on house arrest to discuss the presentation. I went to the exhibition with an open-mind, albeit wonderfully how I would feel afterwards.

Ai Weiwei’s Snake meandered on the ceiling of the entrance hall.

I entered a corridor with photographs of the changing landscape of China on display. The next corridor had television screens showing a myriad of clips ranging from Ai Weiwei working on his art forms, making faces (which I guess was also his artistic expression), and his arrest by the Chinese officials. There was a write-up on the incidence and pictures of brain scan showing the brain injuries Ai had sustained from the blow of the head by his officials, and for which Ai had to undergo brain surgery.

On the opposite wall, two marble sculptures, one representing surveillance camera outside his house and the helmet worm by the rescue crew at the Szechwan earthquake paved the way for more messages from the artist.

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His works reflect his ideas about free expression and right to protest, and at the same time, his artistic brilliance shine in his astuteness in the use of lines, forms and geometry.

One passed by a life-size sculpture of Ai Weiwei himself as one left the exhibition deeply moved by the power of this giant in the artistic world.

I am wondering now if Ai Weiwei will create a sculpture with face masks in response to the Wuhan corona virus when the masks are back in supply. This may even be a piece he can shipped to his patrons’ homes to be re-assembled.

Thursday Special: Vodou

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This was an exhibition that was new to me at the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. The warning that part of the exhibition might cause discomfort or surprise spurred my curiosity to take a look. As it turned out, it was a thought-provoking and educational display on the origin, history and the practice of Vodou.

Vodou came to the New World from West Africa and took root in Haiti blending with local religious beliefs. The first group of exhibits were artifacts inspired by Vodou. On display was a Vodou shrine in the size of a small closet where Vodou could be practiced at home.

A wall was dedicated to the time-line of Vodou in Haiti, where colonizers who were Catholics denounced Vodou as superstition and considered it to be evil and barbaric. This drove Vodouists into clandestine practice and they formed their secret societies.

A central belief in Vodou is the interconnection of the spiritual world after death and the world we live in. This is achieved through Lwa, which are special spirits also manifesting the presence of the Great Met (the Vodou god). Lwa can appear in many shapes and forms. This one is an example:

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Vodouists communicates more easily with Lwa and when they do, they enter into a state commonly known as “possession”. The vodouists do not suffer and they return to their own selves afterwards.

On display were drums and artifacts used in special ceremonies and a video played the dancing, chanting and trance-like condition of vodouists to the rhythm of drums.

The exhibits looked more menacing towards the end of the exhibition, as they represented the darkness of persecution by the colonists and the struggle by vodouists for freedom and independence . Vodou also became synonymous with the fight against slavery at the time.

Haiti became independent in 1804 and Vodou was officially recognized in Haiti in 2003.

One of the goals of the exhibition was to dispel the notion that Vodou was associated with curses and the popular image of a Vodou doll that people poke with needles. In this exhibition, I saw a lot of parallel between Vodou and many other indigenous folk beliefs all over the world. Believers were persecuted in the name of religion by colonizers or invaders in human history. It is unfortunate that political domination is linked hand in hand with the attempt to eradicate the collective meanings of a culture that has become the subordinate. Would it not be a better world if we were more tolerant of differences?

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For more Thursday Specials this week, please visit Paul’s blog Lost in Translation.jupiter-widget_text

Thursday Special: Serendipity (A New Tea House in Burlington)

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The quotation of Henry James on a chalk board greets me and my friend when we enter Serendipity Tea House in Burlington, Ontario. It helps to dispel our frustration after driving around the block twice before we can locate this place.

My friend and I make the impromptu decision to have afternoon tea. We have heard about a new tea house and decide to look for it. Just as it is named, Serendipity Tea House is our serendipitous find. I want to make this post my Thursday Special (hosted by Paula) for this week.

We feel quite comfortable in this small café with clean white table cloth and fine table settings.

The lunch crowd has left and we have a quiet time before other customers for afternoon tea arrive. The menu offers many choices for tea, and a lot in the fashionable category like green tea, white tea, herbal and caffeine free. I am a traditionalist, and so I only have English Breakfast Tea, Darjeeling and Earl Grey to choose from. My friend and I both settle for Darjeeling.

We also order the Classic Tea. It was a gorgeous presentation of sandwiches, scones, cakes and pastries.  The cucumber sandwich is a real delight. The scones are warm and served with clotted cream.

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My friend and I chat over our tea for almost two hours. There is classical music in the background, the genre I like.  We feel we have our privacy even with other customers around in this quaint tea house. I had afternoon tea which was very enjoyable in a bigger hotel earlier this year; yet if I had to make a choice, I would come back to Serendipity.

POSTSCRIPT:  Serendipity Tea House has an entrance address: 477 John Street, Burlington, Ontario which is different from their postal address.

Serendipity Tea House on Urbanspoon

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Supercrawl 2013

Hamilton, Ontario is a city undergoing rejuvenation and transformation. While I have blogged about the legacy from the past–the Lift Bridge and the Hamilton Farmer’s Market–I find it refreshing to read a young person’s perspective of the city and its events.

Bea's Bites

A couple weeks ago, I went to Supercrawl in Hamilton, a city about an hour away from Toronto.  Supercrawl was a two-day festival over Friday and Saturday, celebrating music, art, and culture. While I had heard about the emerging art scene in Hamilton, this was my first time experiencing it, and I was excited to explore Hamilton!

Each year, Supercrawl gets bigger and I can definitely see why. The biggest draw to Supercrawl for me initially is the music line-up. This year they had some big bands such as Passion Pit, Yo La Tengo and Said the Whale. But I fell in love with so much more.

Supercrawl took place along a blocked off James Street North, so there was no need to worry about cars except for one crossing. We spotted interesting art in strange places.

SupercrawlA functional merry go round made out of scrap metal.

Supercrawl-003Sculptures made out of…

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A Kurelek Connection in Saskatoon

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William Kurelek was born in Alberta Canada to Ukrainian parents and his grandparents came to Edmonton in 1924 in the second wave of Ukrainian immigration. Kurelek was a prolific painter in spite of his short life. He was renowned for depicting the life of early settlers, particularly Ukrainian pioneers in his paintings. Several members of the board of directors of the Ukrainian Museum in Saskatoon met Kurelek to commission him to paint a collection to celebrate Canada’s Centennial. Kurelek spent about three years between 1964 and 1967 and produced 20 paintings focussing on the life of the pioneer Ukrainian women. He was working in his studio in Toronto at that time. Unfortunately, the Ukrainian Women’s Association of Canada did not have enough funds for all the paintings, and only paid Kurelek for twelve of them, now on display in the Special Collection Gallery behind the brass door, which were the original front doors of the museum in the Ukrainian Museum in Saskatoon.
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This is undoubtedly a precious collection that I have not come across before in publications on Kurelek’s art. Six smaller paintings in glass frames recorded the daily chores of the pioneer women–serving a meal, painting pysanka (Easter egg), engaging laundry, daily prayer, embroidery, and helping a child to read. Each painting tells a story and one is naturally drawn towards the facial expressions of the figures in an attempt to guess what is on their mind or what they are saying.

Six larger paintings are about community life, such going to church, farming, an outdoor picnic and dance. This painting is unique in that it shows a meeting of the Association of Ukrainian Women in session.

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I like this one with aurelius borealis in the night sky with mother and daughter returning with their supplies.

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The community party with exudes gaiety and festivities is more well-known  and a little boy, likely Kurelek himself, has climbed up the tree to watch the activities and scenes like this are based on the painter’s recollection of his childhood in the prairies.

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This collection is painted in oil on panel. The details and the fineness of the stroke are the work of a great master. One has to be face to face with the painting to appreciate the talent of Kurelek.

The Gallery also presents a documentary made in 1983 on Kurelek. There is  sub-titles if you do not know Ukrainian.

Ukrainian Museum of Canada, 910 Spadina Crescent East, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Tracing the History of Ukrainian Immigration in Saskatoon

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I lived near the Royal University Hospital on the eastern side of town during my recent visit to Saskatoon. Located across the South Saskatchewan River on the west bank is the Ukrainian Museum of Canada. The museum is governed by a board of directors under the authority of the Ukrainian Women’s Association, which was instrumental in establishing the museum in 1936, and for its move to the present location in 1979. The museum has been collecting artifacts from across Canada to preserve the Ukrainian heritage in this country .

The museum has three exhibit areas. The Main Gallery has a permanent exhibition on the history of Ukrainian immigration to Canada, the Special Collection Gallery is dedicated to the paintings of William Kurelek, and a  Feature Gallery displaying the other collections of the museum, which otherwise are stored in the basement,  on a periodic basis.

The Main Gallery features articles collected primarily from the first wave of immigration of the Ukrainians to Canada. The exhibits tell the story of how hardship in Ukraine around 1890 -1913, combined with the promotion of immigration from Canada motivated many Ukrainians to leave their homes and travelled to Winnipeg, Edmonton and Saskatoon. The Canadian government gave each family 160 acres of land–a homestead–for the value of only $10 with the only condition that the immigrants must farm the land. There are immigration documents, land deeds, birth certificates and baptism papers on display. Household artifacts–farming implements, spindle and loom–and a large collection of costumes and accessories from western Ukraine are among the exhibits. The embroidery is complicated and delicate. There were an entire cabinet of pysanky (Ukrainian painted Easter eggs) and detailed explanations on the symbolism of the colours and how a pysanka is made.

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The first wave of immigration was halted by the First World War. When it resumed, the second wave continued up to the Second World War, and the third wave took place in the 1950’s. The last two waves were not as massive an exodus, because there was no incentive from the Canadian government. After Ukraine became an independent state in 1981, immigration continued at a steady pace.

The collection is well presented and educational. At the end of my tour, I develop a deep respect for the Ukrainian women in the pioneer days for their hard work in maintaining the household and daily routine while the men were occupied in farming and mining. Their influence has carried on into the present day with the establishment of this museum and their effort to secure a special collection of William Kurelek’s paintings. More on this when I write about the Kurelek collection.

Ukranian Museum of Canada, 910 Spadina Crescent E., Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

The Perfect Kichen: Perfect Cantonese Dining

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I live in the suburb and this means that every time my husband and I want to dine out in a Chinese restaurant, we have to drive about half an hour to get to somewhere we can find authentic Chinese food. I do not mean to belittle the local restaurants serving Chinese food in the ever-so-popular buffet style with primarily Chinese dishes and Japanese sushi. In fact, I go to them occasionally for an indulgence to sample many dishes in one seating.

I have been to the Perfect Kitchen in Mississauga, Ontario more than once. They serve a Cantonese menu and also have dim sum at lunchtime. Their food fits my definition of authentic Cantonese cuisine, and the price is reasonable. For three people that evening, we ordered two meats and a vegetarian hot pot. The stir fry beef was sizzling hot when it was served, and the sweet and sour spare ribs lived up to the standard of being one of my favourites on the menu. The mixed vegetables dish was the best.  There were baby bok choy, broccoli, spinach, carrots and  Chinese mushroom braised with vermicelli. All went well with a bowl of fluffy rice.

The Perfect Kitchen, Unit 1, 2075 Ridgeway Drive, Mississauga, Ontario.

Vierdaagse: A Four-Day Evening Walk, Dutch Style

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The location was Dundas Valley Conservation Park in Dundas, Ontario. The time was the second week of June 2013. This was my first Vierdaagse (meaning a four-day event in Dutch), which was into its 23rd year organized by the Dutch community in our region. It has been a tradition in Holland to have a four-day walking challenge in mid-July every year in Nijmegen. It started in 1908 with a goal to promote sports and exercises. Depending on age groups, people walk 30, 40 or 50 Km each day over four  consecutive days. The Canadian 4-day evening walk event is more a symbolic version with a choice of a long (10 Km) and a short (5 Km) walk every day. Participants came out on four evenings to do the walk.

There was a sea of orange (the Dutch national colour) at the start line. When the bugle (allegedly the horn from a Dutch canal boat) sounded, walkers headed out on their respective routes. I walked the long distance on Day 1 and Day 3, and the short distance on Day 2 and 4. The longer route took us into the forest of Dundas Valley, which was shaded. The route was marked by orange ribbons tied on the branches of the trees. The short route was along the Rail Trail, from the Trail Centre to Sanctuary Park and return, and it was flat and straight. The weather was not the most co-operative, especially on the first day, but it did not seem to dampen the enthusiasm of the people who had come out, many bringing children with them.

There were sightings of deer every evening, but I was only lucky enough to capture one of them on my iPhone on the last evening. Due to the rain, the fungi were rampant on the trail and many people stopped to take a picture of this big one growing on a tree trunk.

Back in the centre, there was a stall selling Dutch treats, such as pooffertjes–tiny pancakes brushed with butter and sprinkled with icing sugar– and croquettes. I tasted the pooffertjes for the first time. Yes, there was a “poof” sensation when I put it in my mouth!

At the end of the fourth evening, I was awarded my badge and a souvenir. Printed on it was “1” signifying that it was my first walk. Looking around, there were people who have done over ten years and one person with “19” on his badge. I’ll try to be back next year!

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Exotic Indian Cuisine: Home-style Indian Cooking in Toronto

Exotic Logo My Indian friend and my walking buddies were discussing the difference between home-cooked food and restaurant-cooked food on one of our regular walks and she said that her favourite restaurant in Toronto could do exactly what she did in traditional home cooking. I like Indian food a lot, and it was only logical that she offered to take some of us for a try. Exotic Indian Cuisine is located in a quiet plaza in north Toronto. My friend knows the chef-owner Kishor well, and one of the treats for us is a visit to the kitchen to see how naan bread is made. The dough is tossed to the side of an open charcoal oven. The bread is removed when it is ready with a metal hook. 1-DSC02278 For appetizers, we have chosen chicken pekora, which is meaty and moist, and the vegetarian pekora, which is tasty, although I do not like the doughy texture. They are served sizzling on a hot plate. We also have a kachori (pigeon peas in whole wheat pastry), which is an interesting change from samosa. We have papadom dipped in various sauces.

We have so many dishes for main courses that I cannot remember all of them 1-DSC02280 The Dhaba chicken is described as “just like the taste of street stalls” in the menu and it is delicious. I also like the deep-fried okra, and cashew nut curry and the butter chicken. There is rice and naan to soak up the tasty sauces. We all agree that some of the dishes are not found in the menu of other Indian restaurants, and the style and taste too, attested by our Indian friend, is home-style. I always give extra points to Indian restaurant which serve kulfi , and Exotic Indian Cuisine does. I indulge in my pistachio kulfi. There is also the rose flavour ice cream to sample. I stick by my pistachio kulfi. There is something about spicy food in that I would crave for it after a while. Exotic Indian Cuisine will be high on my list when I have my next craving.

Exotic Indian Cuisine is situated at: 1850 Albion Road, Toronto, ON.  

”Exotic

Travel Theme PEACEFUL: The Interactive Garden of Walt Rickli

The Travel Theme of Ailsa’s Where is my Backpack this week is Peaceful. This photo shows the setting in which I have discovered a peaceful surrounding for a quiet walk to engage in my own meditation.

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I am talking about the Interactive Garden of Walk Rickli, nestled in the serene grounds near Bronte Creek in Lowville Park, Burlington Ontario. Walt Rickli has made his name as a stone sculptor-philosopher, who has integrated into his art the beauty of nature and reflections in the mind. While I pace along the garden path, each sculpture invites me to pause, look and think. Many pieces on display have running water, the sound of which entices me to walk over, and I discover the stillness of the stone contrasting with the movement of the water. Many a visitor will find the ‘ohm’ moment here.

This is one of my favourite pieces.

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The exhibits are rotated during the year. I find on this day several sculptures depicting the native Inuit theme. I leave them to your interpretation.

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.

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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.

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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.

Real Thailand Restaurant Re-visited

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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.

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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.

Real Thailand on Urbanspoon

Weekly Photo Challenge: PATTERNS

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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.

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Here are a few more of my favourites:

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Weekly Photo Challenge: CULTURE

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Tucked away in the town of Yuan Long in the New Territories in Hong Kong is this eatery famous for its Chiu Chow fish balls and vermicelli. It is constantly full, and the people sitting together may not even know one another, because it is the common practice to share a table. You sit down as directed, order and eat. Then you pay at the front and leave, but you’ll be content. It was the diametric contrast to a high end Chiu Chow restaurant I have tried, but just as satisfying.

I was there in winter and I had the most delicious bowl of piping hot mixed fish balls and beef balls vermicelli on that trip.