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chinese new year in manchester

Amid bucketloads of rain and gusty winds, we took a trip to Manchester on Sunday to check out their Chinese New Year celebrations. Lucas was refereeing a volleyball game at the university, so it was just Ares, Raspberry and I braving the weather in Chinatown. We could’ve stayed in Liverpool, but we did that last year and honestly, despite Wikipedia saying that the city is has the oldest Chinese community in Europe, its Chinatown has little more than Chinese restaurants that open late in the day and is just plain disappointing. After that experience, I was determined to head to Manchester for Chinese New Year this year so that’s precisely what we did (even though I contemplated staying home because of the weather). Raspberry has never experienced a proper Chinese New Year with all its red-packet, tasty-treats, visiting-family-and-friends festivities and while I can’t offer her that at this time, I thought it would be interesting for her to at least have a glimpse of some of the other festivities surrounding the new year.

The train to Manchester was ridiculously busy, with standing room only because they only had half the number of carriages as they normally would. I thought the train might end up being a little like those in Tokyo. A girl very kindly offered Ares and I her seat but Raspberry and Lucas stood for most of the journey. Raspberry, being Raspberry, kept complaining that she wished people would get off and she could get a seat. Needless to say, it was quite embarrassing. Lucas got off at Oxford Road while we went to Piccadilly, so we could go to Fred Aldous to get Raspberry’s birthday photobooth portraits done first.

I’d initially thought about heading back to the station to pick up the free shuttle bus to Chinatown but somehow we ended up walking there instead. Chinatown was really busy even though it was raining. I’d hate to think how much busier it would’ve been if it wasn’t that wet. It was hard to navigate through the crowd and nearly impossible to see anything that was happening. I think there was either a dragon or lion dance (surprisingly, not a very loud one) going on in the square, but we couldn’t make our way through the crowds to see and given my short stature and with Ares strapped to me, I couldn’t hoist Raspberry up to see anyway.

Somewhat frustrated by our inability to see or do anything, we ducked into the Manchester Art Gallery to get warm. We had our lunch in a hallway, where Ares didn’t seem all that interested in another baby who kept smiling at him. Unlike Ares, the baby was walking and was likely older than him, but Ares seemed absolutely enormous next to her. The gallery was running a chopstick-decorating workshop (read: wrap strips of stickers around disposable wooden chopsticks), so Raspberry did that while Ares tipped over bowls of stickers and I chatted with an older lady volunteering there. She said babies (Ares, specifically) have inscrutable faces and she was determined to get a smile out of him. The whole time we were there, he didn’t oblige. The room we were in partly overlooked a street where the Chinese New Year parade was happening and standing on a huge tub by the large windows with other kids, Raspberry was lucky enough to see the dragon go by. I’ve seen it before so it didn’t bother me that I couldn’t see very much. I pointed the dragon out to Ares, but I don’t think he could really tell what I was showing him or he really didn’t care.

There were events running at two other locations besides Chinatown, so we went to see what else was happening there. At Albert Square, there were tents selling various Chinese trinkets. Raspberry had the opportunity to write a new year wish in exchange for a fortune cookie and red packet containing a chocolate coin (incidentally, she wrote, “I wish my wish will come true”). I offered to write her Chinese name on it for her and for the first time, I learnt what her name sounds like in Cantonese. There was little else that was interesting, so armed with my map, we headed over to St Ann’s Square where I knew there was at least a craft workshop that Raspberry would like. As I tried to find my bearings, two older Caucasian guys who’d just crossed the street came over and one of them asked if I needed help with directions… except that he asked in Mandarin. I was caught off-guard but told him I was impressed with what he said as I figured out what he meant. For the record, he was able to point me the right way.

I’d been under the impression that there was more happening at St Ann’s Square, but it was even quieter. I guess we’d missed all the activity. Raspberry did some firework origami run by a girl with an interesting accent wearing a shimmery gold skirt and yellow shoes. Raspberry gave up quite quickly when it didn’t work out for her so I had to encourage her to keep trying. Her inability to persevere really frustrates and annoys me; I don’t know where she gets it as neither Lucas nor I are that way. Sigh.

I was waiting for Lucas to text me when he was done but there was still no word from him so for a while, we were at a loss for things to do. We walked for a little bit and came upon the Royal Exchange Theatre and were lured in on the promise of a craft store and a warm, dry place to hang out for a bit. We’d never ventured to this part of the city centre before and had never been into the theatre. The space used to be a trading hall in Victorian times and looks resplendent, with colourful lights contrasting Corinthian columns. It was nice and quiet and Ares was glad to get out of the carrier to stretch his legs. We all had a clementine each and while I was feeding Ares his, he accidentally lost his balance and tumbled off the bench, bumping his head. Of course, a security guard just had to notice him at the exact moment he fell and came over to see if Ares was all right. Having still not heard from Lucas, we wandered around the space briefly until we were told by the aforementioned security guard that the building was closing. I’d initially thought he was being all judge-y when Ares fell (yes, in my two second interaction with him) but he turned out to be quite nice, telling me how he’s worked there eleven years and the building still astounds him. Anyway, we got to see a bit of the space (an exhibition on crafts based on cartography!) but we didn’t fully get to explore the Royal Exchange so another visit there in the future is definitely in order.

Unsure of what else we could do (given that it was past 5pm on a Sunday evening), I suggested we head back to Chinatown in search of some Thai durian cake. We’d picked some up at a Chinese supermarket there way back in September 2013 but haven’t located any in Liverpool. Since then, I’ve repeatedly told Raspberry that the next time we were in Manchester’s Chinatown that we’d pick some up.

The first grocery store didn’t yield any durian cake. In fact, when asked, the cashier looked at me like I was crazy and for a split-second, a look of disgust crossed her face as the words “durian in a tube” spilled out of my mouth. The store did, however, have the exact laksa spice that’s been impossible to find in Liverpool for the past few months, so I excitedly cleaned out their shelf (I’m not as crazy as I might sound. I only bought seven packets). I tried to find the same store we went to back in 2013 but was convinced it’d moved and had been replaced by a gambling place. We went to another supermarket and after trawling the aisles with little luck, I asked a guy cutting shallots at the counter and got overly-excited when he knew exactly what I was talking about. I picked up three tubes and at her request, promised one of them could exclusively be Raspberry’s.

The cashier spoke to Raspberry, who was munching on a rice cake, in Cantonese, asking her if it was sweet. I had to translate for her as she has no knowledge of the language. I was actually surprised by how often people spoke to Raspberry in Chinese. The guy at the table where she wrote her wish spoke to her in Cantonese and Mandarin and when I said she couldn’t understand either, he switched to English. Perhaps the assumption is that she knows either since she’s with me and I’m very noticeably Asian. Although, it irks me that some Caucasians speak to me in Chinese (like the guy who helped me with directions). When I was at Marks and Spencer the day before, a lady giving out milkshake samples unexpectedly wished me “gong hei fat choy” and I just smiled and said thanks. It’s not like I really celebrate Chinese New Year, so argh to that and to white people attempting to speak to me in Chinese.

Anyway. As we were leaving Chinatown to head to Oxford Road station to meet Lucas, I heard all these mini-explosions. I knew exactly what they were, as I used to play with these when I was a kid. There were so many kids with them that I actually stopped a couple with two kids to ask them where they got them. The woman pointed me toward one of the supermarkets, but I suspected someone must’ve been giving them out for so many kids to have that simultaneously. I thought it’d be fun for Raspberry to play with and since we had time to spare, we briefly headed back to Chinatown to try to locate the supermarket that supposedly had these little fireworks. Except that since I’m terrible with directions, I couldn’t exactly find my way (even though I was convinced I knew where I was going) and with only a little bit of time to meet Lucas, I gave up and promised Raspberry we’d try to find them the next time around. Interestingly, it was at this time that I came across that supermarket that I thought had moved. It was just a block directly opposite where I thought it was. Oops.

I can’t believe that with all the times we’ve been to Manchester that we’ve really only been to their Chinatown twice. I really must change that as not only is their Chinatown miles better than the non-entity that is Chinatown here, but their grocery stores have much more too (next time, I’m going to try to locate the individually-packaged seaweed that I used to munch on all the time growing up). Chinese New Year there wasn’t anything like what I had growing up, but I suspect that unless we’re actually in Asia and around Chinese family and friends, it’ll be hard to replicate that experience. Having never actually experinced Chinese New Year beyond seeing a lion dance and hearing firecrackers go off last year, Raspberry said she enjoyed the day though. Lucas and I gave her a red packet for the first time ever (two days late!) so I think that might’ve helped too. Maybe we’ll head back to Manchester again for Chinese New Year next year, or maybe not. Whatever it is, I’ll like to try to swing it so we have at least a bit of a different experience next year.

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uncut hair

the dog book

Ares reads a copy of Sandra Boynton’s Doggies from 1984. He seems to like dogs, or the idea of them, possibly because this is currently my desktop background. I wonder he’d have an affinity toward cats the same way Raspberry does if Avy were still around. I guess we’ll never know.

sunshine, lebanese food, warhol and hot chocolate!

Friday was a good day. The sun was shining, it actually felt warm (by winter standards), and we all went out together for the first time in forever (I honestly don’t recall the last time we were out together for something leisurely. It’s been that long).

Lucas is on the hunt for new black-hooped earrings, so we browsed around Grand Central and Bold Street with little luck. The initial plan was to have lunch at Botan (apparently voted the best place for kebabs outside London) but it was closed when we went by, so plan B was to go to Bakchich for Lebanese street food instead, after quickly nursing Ares at FACT. I was a little hesitant about going to Bakchich, as the last time we ate there, I broke out in a nasty case of hives that lasted four very itchy days. I suspected it was something in the lamb shawarma that I reacted to, as that was the first time I’d had it (previously, I’d always gone with chicken). The waitress was incredibly nice and offered to find out what ingredients might be in the lamb but her blanket term of “some spices” didn’t exactly help. Oh well. I played it safe and went with the chicken again. Ares had some clementine while we waited for our food to arrive, and loudly demanded each piece every time he’d swallowed the previous one. The lady sitting at the next table seemed amused.

We headed over to the Tate after to see the Andy Warhol exhibition on its third last day. I don’t usually pay for exhibitions but it’s Andy Warhol! It was Lucas’ and my second time seeing an exhibition of his, the first being at the AGO back in 2006 (we went to the gallery late, hung out at Sam the Record Man, watching Charlie Chaplin in their shoeshining chairs, and then caught the midnight bus to Ottawa, where we were scouting for apartments all weekend). Raspberry was most excited about seeing Warhol’s iconic banana, but I think she enjoyed the exhibition as a whole. She seemed unfocused, running from one work to another and then back to me, urging me to come over and see something really cool. There was a darkened room with music and films projected onto the walls and Ares had a good time crawling around in there. Every time I offered to pick him up, he’d crawl backward away from me with a cheeky smile on his face (this is his new parlour trick). I felt bad dragging him away from it eventually, but seriously, I’m not spending the whole time in a makeshift disco. He was wiggly thereafter and while I usually put him on the floor in galleries, it was too busy for him to crawl around. It was a great exhibition. I think I most enjoyed seeing Warhol’s graphic design work, particularly his blotted line drawings. We spent a little time in the Art Dock after, building towers with foam blocks to knock over or in Ares’ case, to chew, much to our chagrin. It didn’t take much to convince Raspberry to leave the Art Dock once we said we were going to get hot chocolate in the cafe. She was especially excited as we each got one this time, rather than sharing, as we normally do. I’d promised Raspberry she could get a Warhol banana postcard, so we did, in addition to several others (they had an end-of-exhibition sale so lots of items were half-off). Postcards are my typical exhibition souvenir. We left as the gallery was shutting its doors and the sun was just setting, ending one of the best days I’ve had in a while.

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lost and found

I dropped my mittens this afternoon. A pair of colorful, knitted convertible mittens I got on clearance at Gap Kids for 49¢ about ten years ago. I’ve been wearing them religiously for the past few years, ever since my stripey mittens (possibly also bought at the same time as my knitted ones) sprung a little hole. I also bought a cute, very comfortable pair of pink undies with strawberries on the front at that sale… but I digress.

Frantically, I retraced my steps, all the way back to the three grocery stores, to the library where I dropped off a book, to the museum’s locker, running all the way because I didn’t want someone else to pick them up and go home with them. You can drop one mitten and be more or less assured that no one will want to take it, but when you drop a pair, all bets are off. They’re practically screaming for a new owner, a new pair of hands to keep warm.

“I’m looking for my mittens? Have you seen them or has anyone turned them in? No? Oh… thank you then.”

Weaving in and out of the mid-afternoon crowd of middle-aged Scousers and slow-walking university students, I was surprised I didn’t get a stitch because god knows I haven’t run in an eternity.

As I turned up empty at each location, I kept hoping that maybe they were at the bottom of my backpack or in the front mesh compartment all along, hiding behind Raspberry’s mittens, and that my panic and running out of the door had been premature. “They’re kids’ mittens, so maybe they’re too small for most adults, so they’ll let them be,” I prayed.

More than once, I thought I was certifiably insane to be running all over to find these 49¢ mittens, especially when I have at least six other pairs of mittens at home (oh, you didn’t know? I have a mitten problem). “I could start those awesome grey fox mittens from Urban Outfitters. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise,” I thought.

Finally, as I was waiting to cross the last major intersection before home, I spotted them! Pink and blue and brown spots smack in the middle of the busy road. Cautiously and elatedly, I darted out into the street to retrieve them, lest they be run over even more than they already had been. The left mitten, now slightly grey and black and flatter, has noticeably been run over by several cars, but the right one seems to have mostly escaped its partner’s fate. I must’ve looked mighty crazy, standing on the corner with cars whizzing by, smiling widely to myself as I caressed my found mittens. Who cares, and who knows why I failed to see them when I initially ran across the street? It doesn’t matter. I found my mittens.

The first time we went to the locks.

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northern quarter

This was Manchester almost a week ago. Lucas refereed a volleyball game in Salford and we browsed to the Northern Quarter, in all its independent store glory. It was a strange, aimless trip for us (a first), as we normally have a museum or gallery to go to but this time, nada. Just a neighbourhood with lots of shops to explore.

A bead store, charity shops, lots of vintage clothing stores, surprise street art, cool objects in cool stores. Lots of things I’d love to have but really don’t need. Raspberry’s in a materialistic “I want this. Can you get me this?” stage and it’s starting to wear thin. Note to self — stop window shopping.

The Manchester Craft and Design Centre was quiet because it was Sunday, a far cry from how busy it was the last time I was there on my own in October 2013. But we got to browse some open studios and chat with a couple of artists, including a ceramic artist got Raspberry’s opinion about some bowls he had on display, and the paintings of his studio-mate. I wasn’t that interested in the art although Raspberry was, and I had to keep reminding myself that we needn’t rush and things often go better at a child’s pace.

We spent way too much time in a shop selling tons of awesome kitschy stuff, where Raspberry marvelled and manipulated everything she could. I surreptitiously nursed Ares in the cafe and he tried to snoop in stranger’s bag of shopping. Raspberry sent a series of 1950s tin toys across the floor while I painstakingly tapped out a couple of texts to Lucas to figure out where we were going to meet.

There was the requisite photobooth picture at Fred Aldous, because it’s a must every time we go. Lucas didn’t want to be included, so it was the three of us squished into the black-and-white photobooth. Ares was more interested in the fact that I fed coins into the machine than the blinding flash going off every few seconds, so our pictures didn’t turn out quite how I expected, with him looking away and me trying to get him to look into the lens. Oh well, it was fun anyway.

I was relieved to head home soon after that, as it’d just been an okay trip. I don’t think any of us had really been feeling it and Raspberry was having the kind of day that involved too much adult yelling. Our next trip to Manchester — definitely soon — will be to a museum and I’m certain it’ll turn out a lot better than us wandering around from shop to shop.

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Spring in Cootes Paradise

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Rideau Canal, Winter 2007
The first and only time I’ve ice-skated

Baby Raspberry types in the middle of the McMaster campus in spring 2009

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christmas in nottingham (V)

One last post about our last day in Nottingham last week.

There were so many delicious-sounding recipes in this cookbook. Mushroom curry? The mushroom fiend in me says, “hell yes!”

Neo had cereal. And then Raspberry decided she wanted some too.

“Oh, hurry up and take a picture of my dress!” said a faux-exasperated Aurelie.
She has the best dress ever. I need a dress like this in my life.

Raspberry and Loolapop played Labyrinth. Raspberry was getting a bit snippy. I think it was due to an accumulated lack of sleep.
Loolapop gave Raspberry a tiny teapot and teacup. She accidentally left it behind.

Lucas and Aurelie went out to de-ice the car and clear a path so Aurelie could back out of the driveway. Ares and I watched from the window upstairs before he got bored. When they were done, Aurelie came inside to tell me there was a good picture to be taken, with the snow and ice and blue sky. I popped outside, sans coat, but couldn’t capture what I considered a worthy picture.

Aurelie dropped the boys off at her dad’s and after she returned, we drove into the city centre, parking five floors down in a massive underground parking garage six floors deep. Looking out, you can see what looks like a cliff. I wanted to look at the view and take a picture looking up but circumstances dictated otherwise. We cut through Victoria Centre, a mall rife with post-Christmas shoppers and leftover Christmas decorations. By Santa’s grotto, there were these huge balls with the body of a penguin and an elf (I think) painted onto them. You could climb in, stick your head and arms out and look positively ridiculous. Of course, the girls had to try it for themselves, both of them squished in the enormous ball, providing limbs for the other.

After a quick stop at Wilko, Aurelie took us to Tarn Thai for lunch. It’s been ages since I’ve had Thai food and the restaurant did not disappoint. Raspberry didn’t really touch her baby corn and bamboo shoot meal, which we got to go. Lucas and I alternated hanging out with a very wiggly Ares while the other ate. There were two ponds in the entrance, one with orangey fish and the other with small black ones, and Ares seemed mildly intrigued by them.

I wanted to show Aurelie some cool independent stores I’d visited when I was last in Nottingham but I couldn’t get my bearings straight so that idea went out the window quite quickly. We stopped at Jugglers, where Aurelie got some birthday presents for Neo, and headed back to the car, as we had to make it to the station to catch our train. As we exited the mall, Ares suddenly got very agitated and howled — tears and all — the entire car trip to the station. I thought he might’ve pooped (he gets very upset whenever he does) but he seemed all right once we dashed out of the car and to our train with twelve minutes to spare. As it turned out, he hadn’t pooped at all (although he did within minutes of us returning home). Maybe he’d just been feeling warm, strapped in the carrier, in his pig suit.

It was bright and sunny when we boarded the train but it darkened quickly as the sun began to set. As we pulled out of Nottingham, I realized that we’ve been to the train station a grand total of four times now, and we still haven’t seen the canal right by it in broad daylight.

The train home was insanely busy, probably with everyone returning home after the holidays. We had reserved seating but the slips they normally put out to indicate the reservations weren’t there, so everyone sat wherever they wanted. Our reserved seats were taken when we boarded, so we picked three other seats, and it was quiet enough that we had the luxury of seat-jumping (crucial when travelling with restless kids). However, it was all shortlived as everyone had to play a stressful, grumpy version of musical chairs when tons of people got on at Chesterfield and they all really wanted to sit in their reserved seats. It was such a head-shaking clusterfuck (why didn’t the conductor just put up the reserved seats slips?!). We did end up in our proper seats after much kerfuffle. Ares slept and Raspberry read, and Lucas and I breathed sighs of relief that we were on our way home.

It’s been a week since we were there and I can safely say we’ve all recuperated from the excitement of being with Aurelie and company over Christmas. Time to start planning our next trip!

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