RoostrTalz

Free Book Giveaway

ebook
Here’s what you can win. The book only (not the props)!

This Sunday, September 18th, I will be giving away TWO FREE copies of my most recent memoir, An English Teacher in Mexico.

For your chance to win, all you have to do is ask me a question or two. That’s right! I will be in the hotseat ALL DAY to answer your questions, starting at 11:00am MDT. If you are not yet a member of the fabulous Facebook group, We Love Memoirs, who are promoting this Spotlight Sunday event, be sure to join today so you can participate. You’ll be glad you did.

Helping the Children of Ukraine

You’ve all been watching the news. You know what’s happening. You know children in Ukraine are suffering. There is no need for me to repeat this information. What you may not know is what you can do to help. Here is one small way that you can.

Nashi, which means “Our Children”, is a Canadian charity that seeks to educate people about human trafficking. The organization has a safehouse for at-risk young girls in Ukraine, however all the girls have been temporarily evacuated to Poland due to the war in Ukraine. Starting from today and until further notice, I am contributing 100% of my royalties from my memoir, A Squatter in London, to this volunteer-run organization. That includes the e-book as well as the paperback version. Buy the book. Tell your friends. Share this post.

Despite references to my Ukrainian heritage and culture, the main theme of my book, A Squatter in London is not about Ukraine or Ukrainian children. However, if you are interested in reading about my travel experiences to then-Soviet Ukraine in 1982, I have contributed a chapter entitled Meeting My Grandmother to another author’s book. If you enjoy non-fiction, in particular autobiographies and memoirs, pick up a copy of Wish You Were Here. The book is an anthology of 20 different travel stories, expertly-curated by Alyson Sheldrake.

Looking for Love in Hong Kong

They say there’s no fool like an old fool. That was certainly my case, at least when it pertained to the quest for love. At thirty-four, I wasn’t that old. But as a single mom with a young child, I yearned to share my busy and challenging world with a life partner.

I met Richard at a New Year’s Eve party hosted by a friend. He was handsome; he was charming. He was a lawyer. And you know what they say about lawyers. That fact alone should have been my first red flag. But I suppose you could say I was colour blind. Or something.

Upon realizing that I lived practically next door to the party host, Richard suggested we leave early and go to my place instead. So, we did. While getting better acquainted, Richard expressed an interest in continuing our relationship and asked me to keep in touch.

“I leave for Hong Kong in a couple of days. I have some business dealings there, but I fly back here quite often.”

I thought perhaps I would never hear from him again, but shortly afterwards, I receive a New Year’s Eve card from his place of business. New Year celebrations are a big deal in Hong Kong, apparently even more so than Christmas is here. But I’m more focused on the lovely handwritten note inside the card, and my head is in the clouds. Still, I need to know more about his character.

A woman from work has the same family name as Richard. I’m curious if she knows him. And if so, what can she tell me about him?

“Do you know Richard Walker?” I ask.

“What’s he done now?” is her swift retort.

Second red flag. That red flag flutters in my face, but I shove it aside.

“Oh, I met him at a New Year’s Eve party. He has the same last name as you and I was just wondering if you are related.”

Her stance softens and she explains that they are indeed second cousins who grew up in the same town.

“But he has a bad reputation. I would stay far away from him.”

My undoubtably naïve takeaway following this conversation is that a family disagreement caused that type of reaction from her and has nothing whatsoever to do with me. And I continue to look forward to more letters and possible visits from my knight in shining armour.

Richard’s return visit to Canada comes with presents for me as well as my son. He gifts me with a gold watch. Real gold or custom jewelry? I’m not sure, but it’s a unique design and I love it. My son, meanwhile, is presented with a hacky sack along with a demonstration of how the game works.

The frequency of letters and flights back to Canada slow down after this heady visit. Richard says he’s not big on letter-writing. I’m missing him terribly, but here I am at work, browsing through a business magazine when suddenly a glossy, full-page ad pops out at me. Hong Kong. 4 days, 5 nights reads the header. The price is right, so I immediately book my flight.

The tour package includes transportation from the airport to my hotel. On that commuter bus I meet Louise, a friendly, outgoing woman from the US. She gives me the name of her hotel and offers me an invitation.

“If you want to do something while you’re here, just give me a call. I’m travelling with my mother-in-law. I feel a little guilty asking you because she paid for my flight. But she’s not that mobile. All she wants to do when traveling is sit inside her room, drinking and watching TV.”

The morning after my arrival, I call Richard at work.

“How may I direct your call?” asks the receptionist.

“May I speak with Richard Walker?”

“What’s it in regards to?”

“It’s personal.”

Thankfully, she puts me through. I’d be in a big kettle of fish if she hadn’t. Richard says he is very busy and will meet me after work but has some advice for me.

“Go out and enjoy yourself! But whatever you do, don’t eat the street food.”

Hong Kong is busy. Wall-to-wall people in the streets, this is no place for claustrophobics. I follow up on Richard’s recommendation to take the tram to Victoria Peak. Here, one can view the madness from a distance. And what a view. At 552 metres, Victoria Peak is the highest hill on Hong Kong Island. From here, I’m presented with a bird’s eye view of Victoria Harbour and the Central business district. I easily pick out the Far East Finance Centre building where Richard works. It is, after all, the only gold structure in a sea of grey. After a brief stroll through the gardens, some souvenir purchases, and a money clip gift for Richard, I board the bus for outdoor shopping at the popular Stanley Market.

An Asian friend offered me some shopping advice before I left Canada.

“Watch out for pickpockets, they love to share your money with you,” she laughed. “And remember, unlike in Canada, the price on the sales tag is never the final price. They want you to barter.”

Good advice because I walk away with a beautiful fuchsia business/cocktail dress for next to nothing. After my successful shopping trip, I head back to my hotel for the much-anticipated reunion. Richard arrives at the hotel by bus.

“No one drives here. The only cars you see are taxis and the occasional Mercedes. But public transit is readily available and very efficient.”

With that, we hop on the Star Ferry which runs regularly between Hong Kong Island and the mainland.

“To familiarize you with the ferry system. Everyone uses the Star Ferry at some point. That includes the office workers,” he says, pointing to a Chinese businessman. White shirt soaked with perspiration, he had just removed his suit jacket and tossed it over his shoulder. “There’s two main parts to the mainland, Tsim Sha Tsui and Kowloon,” he continues. “The mainland is less touristy, more ‘old Hong Kong’ but has many unique shops. Hong Kong is actually known as a shopping mecca. Most visitors come here to buy custom-tailored suits at reasonable prices. What brings you here?”

Really?! What brings me here?

“Uh. I wanted to see you and found a good package deal to Hong Kong in a magazine.”

He’s strangely silent to my response. But at dinner, he’s more transparent about what brought him to this part of the world.

“I was offered a job as an English law instructor here at the Polytechnic university. Unfortunately, administration and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on some issues, and I was fired.”

Counting the red flags yet, dear reader?

Richard goes on to explain that at this point, he has picked up some Cantonese, expanded his personal network and wants to remain in Hong Kong. So, he has partnered with a local billionaire, and they started their own business. The year is 1986. In eleven short years, a hundred-year agreement with Britain ends when the British colony will be ceded back to China. And the citizens of Hong Kong are concerned how that will impact them. The wealthy ones, those who can afford to do so, are leaving Hong Kong in droves. And businesses such as Richard’s are in high demand. His Chinese partner is the realtor, searching for relocation properties in countries such as Canada and the US, while he looks after the legal paperwork.

“I’ll talk to my partner tomorrow. Maybe I can get us onboard his private yacht.”

Ooh! A private yacht. Sounds exciting. But in the meantime, Richard is excited to show me the nighttime view from his apartment.

“What you saw from Victoria Peak, I can see from the rooftop at my place. It’s especially magical at night, what with all the twinkling of city lights. The university paid my rent, so now I’m looking for a new place to live. May as well enjoy the view while I can.”

Despite being perched on the mountainside of an obviously upscale neighbourhood, the apartment block doesn’t strike me as being particularly attractive. Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s a boring gray concrete structure, with dark and narrow hallways. Then we step inside his unit, and we’re suddenly transported into another dimension.

Richard and his roommate share this 3-bedroom apartment, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of room to avoid each other. There is. While he’s giving me the grand tour, we pass by an open doorway where two women are sitting on the floor. This gives me pause, but he straightaway explains their presence.

“Filipino maids. There’s no work for them in the Philippines, so they come to apartments like this one, hoping that rich foreign businessmen will hire them. I really don’t need a maid, but I felt sorry for the girl who approached me, so I hired her. But now that she’s got a job and a place to stay, I see she brought family here illegally. That type of thing happens quite often around here.”

The night view from the rooftop is indeed stunning. Picture postcard perfect. But my sense of contentment in my surroundings is about to change. As we snuggle on the sofa with a glass of wine in hand, Richard hits me with a bombshell.

“I’m open to showing you around Hong Kong when I’m off work, but we can’t be romantically involved. I have a Chinese girlfriend and she wouldn’t approve.”

I’m completely blindsided. Now your cool reception and lack of letter-writing is starting to make sense, Richard. So, you weren’t pining for me, at all. Devastated, I blurt out that I just want to go home.

“Don’t be silly. You only have three more days before your flight leaves. Get out and enjoy yourself. And wear shorts when you go out. It’s hot and humid out there.”

I try to pull myself together. Well, to be more accurate, I check out the mini bar in my hotel room and proceed to drown my sorrows. Next day, I pull myself together.

As for the shorts thing? Bad advice. If you want Chinese men to ogle you when you’re wearing shorts, then by all means do it. But from this day forward, I will only wear skirts or dresses just like the Chinese women.

After browsing through a tourist attractions brochure, I think the floating village sounds most interesting, so it’s the first place I visit. Situated on the south side of Hong Kong island, the Aberdeen fishing village is jam packed with boats, populated with fisher families just going about their daily routines. This environment is so unique that I feel like I’ve entered another country just now.  Our motorized sampan takes us to within inches of these boat people, and I feel somewhat voyeuristic, gazing into their private homes. A larger supply boat, a floating store so to speak, passes us on its way to provide provisions to any interested parties. Our sampan driver uses the opportunity to inform us that these are mostly permanent homes surrounding us and that these families rarely, if ever, set foot on terra firma.

The other thing that’s not on terra firma here is the Jumbo floating restaurant. Jumbo being a very appropriate name for this seafood restaurant. It’s ginormous. With an exceptionally ornate exterior. Hmm. Maybe Richard will take me there for dinner. And, speaking of dinner, my stomach is growling. I think I’ll see what Kowloon on the mainland has to offer.

Walking on the streets of Kowloon takes one to yet a different dimension of this fascinating British colony. It appears to be laundry day today. What makes me say that? The dozens upon dozens of bamboo poles stretched out apartment windows, attached to which is laundry fluttering while drying in the breeze. It’s quite the sight. As an artist engaged in advertising, I’m also enthralled with all this Chinese signage. Suddenly a logo I recognize pops out from the plethora of Chinese signs. It’s a McDonald’s! I’m surprised. I’m intrigued. But I pass it by. I’m not here for western fast-food. Nor am I so much as glancing at any street food vendors after hearing about a cholera outbreak on the news.  My search for an authentic yet cheap Chinese restaurant continues, but I’m not having much luck. In the end, I opt to head back to the hotel for lunch.

I really want to talk to Richard but am hesitant to call his office. What if the receptionist is his Chinese girlfriend? He doesn’t call me either, that is, until evening.

“A friend and I are at a disco. Why don’t you take in some nightlife and come join us?”

Richard gives me the name and address of the disco and tells me to take a taxi there.

“And don’t worry. The taxi drivers are familiar with this place.”

So, I take a taxi. As the taxi speeds away from the drop-off location, I wonder where the hell I am. This looks like a residential neighbourhood. A dark residential neighbourhood crammed with concrete houses and deserted streets. I wander up and down these lonely streets seeking what even remotely looks like a disco and find nothing. Given my surroundings, there’s no hope in hell that I’ll even be able to find a taxi to return me to my hotel. I panic and start to cry. But eventually a young couple who appear to be dressed for a night out show up on the street and head downstairs into a building. I decide to follow them. Turns out, this is the disco place.

“What took you so long to get here?” asks Richard.

Wiping away my tears, I explain what happened. Then after I’ve calmed down, I tell him about my visit to the Aberdeen fishing village and hint at having dinner at the Jumbo restaurant.

“Oh, it’s an excellent restaurant. I’ve had several business meetings there. If you’re a fan of seafood, you should check it out. But be aware that it’s very expensive.”

His cool reception makes me reflect on tonight’s invitation to the disco. Contrary to my unfounded belief and wanton desire, it appears Richard has no intention of getting back together. The girlfriend was probably told that he was working late at the office so he could have some time alone with his work buddies. I’m resigned to the fact that we are not likely to rekindle our relationship any time soon. Now, what to do for the next two days?

I decide it’s time to give Louise, the woman from the US whom I met on the airport commuter bus, a call. As it happens, she is delighted I called and yes, she is keen to get out of her hotel to do some sightseeing in Hong Kong.

“I would love to see the Sung Dynasty Village. It’s a re-creation of an ancient Chinese village. What do you think?”

I think that’s a great idea and off we go to Kowloon to explore. Built in 1979, this tourist attraction recreates a village dating back to the Sung dynasty (960 – 1279 AD). We enter the main gate to observe a completely foreign world. Everywhere around us performers dressed in period costumes, re-enact life as it was many centuries ago. We see Chinese dancers, a kung fu demonstration, and a traditional Chinese wedding procession, which includes the matchmaker. There’s even a monkey in an opera mask, performing for us. Now to be clear,  Chinese opera does not have the same meaning here as it does in Canada. The monkey is not singing any high notes; rather the mask is used in live theatre to represent a performer’s human emotions. We also enter a nobleman’s home, a temple, a restaurant, and several shops. In one of these shops, I’m compelled to purchase a Chinese puppet…and an opera mask.

Early Sunday morning I ask hotel staff if there are any churches nearby that have worship services in English. There’s an Alliance church that does, but it’s far away. So, they arrange for an English-speaking taxi driver to take me there.

Getting here was fine. Leaving is another matter. I’ve no idea how to get back to my hotel. The pastor is busy greeting parishioners, so I don’t want to bother him. So, here I am again, walking the streets of Hong Kong. Lost. At least it’s daytime. Eventually I’m successful in flagging down a taxi and climb in. Without uttering a word, the taxi driver starts driving. Where is he taking me?

After a few minutes, he asks me something in Chinese. Assuming he is asking my destination, I respond by telling him the name of my hotel. But he does not seem to understand me. So, I ask him to take me to Ocean Terminal instead. I can easily find my way to the hotel from there.

Ocean Terminal is a huge shopping centre facing Victoria harbour and very popular with tourists. Surely he will understand my request to go there. He doesn’t. And we keep driving! We go through a toll gate. I don’t recall a toll gate on the way here. Where is he taking me? After what seems an eternity, he puts me through to his dispatcher and asks me to repeat my destination. That seems to have worked because here we are.

The services at the Ocean Terminal shopping mall are unbelievable. While sipping on a complimentary pop, I have my eyes examined. Three hours later, my fashionable yet inexpensive new glasses are ready for pickup.

While waiting for the glasses, I went to the Spice Market restaurant for lunch. This restaurant overlooks Victoria harbour and the Central business district where Richard works, and I reflect on my hapless journey here to Hong Kong. You could say I was looking for love in all the wrong places. There was no kibitzing on a private yacht, but at least I got to travel to an amazing part of the world that I may not have otherwise chosen.

At the Sung Dynasty Village – still smiling, sort of.

Looking for Love in Hong Kong

They say there’s no fool like an old fool. That was certainly my case, at least when it pertained to the quest for love. At thirty-four, I wasn’t that old. But as a single mom with a young child, I yearned to share my busy and challenging world with a life partner.

I met Richard at a New Year’s Eve party hosted by a friend. He was handsome; he was charming. He was a lawyer. And you know what they say about lawyers. That fact alone should have been my first red flag. But I suppose you could say I was colour blind. Or something.

Upon realizing that I lived practically next door to the party host, Richard suggested we leave early and go to my place instead. So, we did. While getting better acquainted, Richard expressed an interest in continuing our relationship and asked me to keep in touch.

“I leave for Hong Kong in a couple of days. I have some business dealings there, but I fly back here quite often.”

I thought perhaps I would never hear from him again, but shortly afterwards, I receive a New Year’s Eve card from his place of business. New Year celebrations are a big deal in Hong Kong, apparently even more so than Christmas is here. But I’m more focused on the lovely handwritten note inside the card, and my head is in the clouds. Still, I need to know more about his character.

A woman from work has the same family name as Richard. I’m curious if she knows him. And if so, what can she tell me about him?

“Do you know Richard Walker?” I ask.

“What’s he done now?” is her swift retort.

Second red flag. That red flag flutters in my face, but I shove it aside.

“Oh, I met him at a New Year’s Eve party. He has the same last name as you and I was just wondering if you are related.”

Her stance softens and she explains that they are indeed second cousins who grew up in the same town.

“But he has a bad reputation. I would stay far away from him.”

My undoubtably naïve takeaway following this conversation is that a family disagreement caused that type of reaction from her and has nothing whatsoever to do with me. And I continue to look forward to more letters and possible visits from my knight in shining armour.

Richard’s return visit to Canada comes with presents for me as well as my son. He gifts me with a gold watch. Real gold or custom jewelry? I’m not sure, but it’s a unique design and I love it. My son, meanwhile, is presented with a hacky sack along with a demonstration of how the game works.

The frequency of letters and flights back to Canada slow down after this heady visit. Richard says he’s not big on letter-writing. I’m missing him terribly, but here I am at work, browsing through a business magazine when suddenly a glossy, full-page ad pops out at me. Hong Kong. 4 days, 5 nights reads the header. The price is right, so I immediately book my flight.

The tour package includes transportation from the airport to my hotel. On that commuter bus I meet Louise, a friendly, outgoing woman from the US. She gives me the name of her hotel and offers me an invitation.

“If you want to do something while you’re here, just give me a call. I’m travelling with my mother-in-law. I feel a little guilty asking you because she paid for my flight. But she’s not that mobile. All she wants to do when traveling is sit inside her room, drinking and watching TV.”

The morning after my arrival, I call Richard at work.

“How may I direct your call?” asks the receptionist.

“May I speak with Richard Walker?”

“What’s it in regards to?”

“It’s personal.”

Thankfully, she puts me through. I’d be in a big kettle of fish if she hadn’t. Richard says he is very busy and will meet me after work but has some advice for me.

“Go out and enjoy yourself! But whatever you do, don’t eat the street food.”

Hong Kong is busy. Wall-to-wall people in the streets, this is no place for claustrophobics. I follow up on Richard’s recommendation to take the tram to Victoria Peak. Here, one can view the madness from a distance. And what a view. At 552 metres, Victoria Peak is the highest hill on Hong Kong Island. From here, I’m presented with a bird’s eye view of Victoria Harbour and the Central business district. I easily pick out the Far East Finance Centre building where Richard works. It is, after all, the only gold structure in a sea of grey. After a brief stroll through the gardens, some souvenir purchases, and a money clip gift for Richard, I board the bus for outdoor shopping at the popular Stanley Market.

An Asian friend offered me some shopping advice before I left Canada.

“Watch out for pickpockets, they love to share your money with you,” she laughed. “And remember, unlike in Canada, the price on the sales tag is never the final price. They want you to barter.”

Good advice because I walk away with a beautiful fuchsia business/cocktail dress for next to nothing. After my successful shopping trip, I head back to my hotel for the much-anticipated reunion. Richard arrives at the hotel by bus.

“No one drives here. The only cars you see are taxis and the occasional Mercedes. But public transit is readily available and very efficient.”

With that, we hop on the Star Ferry which runs regularly between Hong Kong Island and the mainland.

“To familiarize you with the ferry system. Everyone uses the Star Ferry at some point. That includes the office workers,” he says, pointing to a Chinese businessman. White shirt soaked with perspiration, he had just removed his suit jacket and tossed it over his shoulder. “There’s two main parts to the mainland, Tsim Sha Tsui and Kowloon,” he continues. “The mainland is less touristy, more ‘old Hong Kong’ but has many unique shops. Hong Kong is actually known as a shopping mecca. Most visitors come here to buy custom-tailored suits at reasonable prices. What brings you here?”

Really?! What brings me here?

“Uh. I wanted to see you and found a good package deal to Hong Kong in a magazine.”

He’s strangely silent to my response. But at dinner, he’s more transparent about what brought him to this part of the world.

“I was offered a job as an English law instructor here at the Polytechnic university. Unfortunately, administration and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on some issues, and I was fired.”

Counting the red flags yet, dear reader?

Richard goes on to explain that at this point, he has picked up some Cantonese, expanded his personal network and wants to remain in Hong Kong. So, he has partnered with a local billionaire, and they started their own business. The year is 1986. In eleven short years, a hundred-year agreement with Britain ends when the British colony will be ceded back to China. And the citizens of Hong Kong are concerned how that will impact them. The wealthy ones, those who can afford to do so, are leaving Hong Kong in droves. And businesses such as Richard’s are in high demand. His Chinese partner is the realtor, searching for relocation properties in countries such as Canada and the US, while he looks after the legal paperwork.

“I’ll talk to my partner tomorrow. Maybe I can get us onboard his private yacht.”

Ooh! A private yacht. Sounds exciting. But in the meantime, Richard is excited to show me the nighttime view from his apartment.

“What you saw from Victoria Peak, I can see from the rooftop at my place. It’s especially magical at night, what with all the twinkling of city lights. The university paid my rent, so now I’m looking for a new place to live. May as well enjoy the view while I can.”

Despite being perched on the mountainside of an obviously upscale neighbourhood, the apartment block doesn’t strike me as being particularly attractive. Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s a boring gray concrete structure, with dark and narrow hallways. Then we step inside his unit, and we’re suddenly transported into another dimension.

Richard and his roommate share this 3-bedroom apartment, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of room to avoid each other. There is. While he’s giving me the grand tour, we pass by an open doorway where two women are sitting on the floor. This gives me pause, but he straightaway explains their presence.

“Filipino maids. There’s no work for them in the Philippines, so they come to apartments like this one, hoping that rich foreign businessmen will hire them. I really don’t need a maid, but I felt sorry for the girl who approached me, so I hired her. But now that she’s got a job and a place to stay, I see she brought family here illegally. That type of thing happens quite often around here.”

The night view from the rooftop is indeed stunning. Picture postcard perfect. But my sense of contentment in my surroundings is about to change. As we snuggle on the sofa with a glass of wine in hand, Richard hits me with a bombshell.

“I’m open to showing you around Hong Kong when I’m off work, but we can’t be romantically involved. I have a Chinese girlfriend and she wouldn’t approve.”

I’m completely blindsided. Now your cool reception and lack of letter-writing is starting to make sense, Richard. So, you weren’t pining for me, at all. Devastated, I blurt out that I just want to go home.

“Don’t be silly. You only have three more days before your flight leaves. Get out and enjoy yourself. And wear shorts when you go out. It’s hot and humid out there.”

I try to pull myself together. Well, to be more accurate, I check out the mini bar in my hotel room and proceed to drown my sorrows. Next day, I pull myself together.

As for the shorts thing? Bad advice. If you want Chinese men to ogle you when you’re wearing shorts, then by all means do it. But from this day forward, I will only wear skirts or dresses just like the Chinese women.

After browsing through a tourist attractions brochure, I think the floating village sounds most interesting, so it’s the first place I visit. Situated on the south side of Hong Kong island, the Aberdeen fishing village is jam packed with boats, populated with fisher families just going about their daily routines. This environment is so unique that I feel like I’ve entered another country just now.  Our motorized sampan takes us to within inches of these boat people, and I feel somewhat voyeuristic, gazing into their private homes. A larger supply boat, a floating store so to speak, passes us on its way to provide provisions to any interested parties. Our sampan driver uses the opportunity to inform us that these are mostly permanent homes surrounding us and that these families rarely, if ever, set foot on terra firma.

The other thing that’s not on terra firma here is the Jumbo floating restaurant. Jumbo being a very appropriate name for this seafood restaurant. It’s ginormous. With an exceptionally ornate exterior. Hmm. Maybe Richard will take me there for dinner. And, speaking of dinner, my stomach is growling. I think I’ll see what Kowloon on the mainland has to offer.

Walking on the streets of Kowloon takes one to yet a different dimension of this fascinating British colony. It appears to be laundry day today. What makes me say that? The dozens upon dozens of bamboo poles stretched out apartment windows, attached to which is laundry fluttering while drying in the breeze. It’s quite the sight. As an artist engaged in advertising, I’m also enthralled with all this Chinese signage. Suddenly a logo I recognize pops out from the plethora of Chinese signs. It’s a McDonald’s! I’m surprised. I’m intrigued. But I pass it by. I’m not here for western fast-food. Nor am I so much as glancing at any street food vendors after hearing about a cholera outbreak on the news.  My search for an authentic yet cheap Chinese restaurant continues, but I’m not having much luck. In the end, I opt to head back to the hotel for lunch.

I really want to talk to Richard but am hesitant to call his office. What if the receptionist is his Chinese girlfriend? He doesn’t call me either, that is, until evening.

“A friend and I are at a disco. Why don’t you take in some nightlife and come join us?”

Richard gives me the name and address of the disco and tells me to take a taxi there.

“And don’t worry. The taxi drivers are familiar with this place.”

So, I take a taxi. As the taxi speeds away from the drop-off location, I wonder where the hell I am. This looks like a residential neighbourhood. A dark residential neighbourhood crammed with concrete houses and deserted streets. I wander up and down these lonely streets seeking what even remotely looks like a disco and find nothing. Given my surroundings, there’s no hope in hell that I’ll even be able to find a taxi to return me to my hotel. I panic and start to cry. But eventually a young couple who appear to be dressed for a night out show up on the street and head downstairs into a building. I decide to follow them. Turns out, this is the disco place.

“What took you so long to get here?” asks Richard.

Wiping away my tears, I explain what happened. Then after I’ve calmed down, I tell him about my visit to the Aberdeen fishing village and hint at having dinner at the Jumbo restaurant.

“Oh, it’s an excellent restaurant. I’ve had several business meetings there. If you’re a fan of seafood, you should check it out. But be aware that it’s very expensive.”

His cool reception makes me reflect on tonight’s invitation to the disco. Contrary to my unfounded belief and wanton desire, it appears Richard has no intention of getting back together. The girlfriend was probably told that he was working late at the office so he could have some time alone with his work buddies. I’m resigned to the fact that we are not likely to rekindle our relationship any time soon. Now, what to do for the next two days?

I decide it’s time to give Louise, the woman from the US whom I met on the airport commuter bus, a call. As it happens, she is delighted I called and yes, she is keen to get out of her hotel to do some sightseeing in Hong Kong.

“I would love to see the Sung Dynasty Village. It’s a re-creation of an ancient Chinese village. What do you think?”

I think that’s a great idea and off we go to Kowloon to explore. Built in 1979, this tourist attraction recreates a village dating back to the Sung dynasty (960 – 1279 AD). We enter the main gate to observe a completely foreign world. Everywhere around us performers dressed in period costumes, re-enact life as it was many centuries ago. We see Chinese dancers, a kung fu demonstration, and a traditional Chinese wedding procession, which includes the matchmaker. There’s even a monkey in an opera mask, performing for us. Now to be clear,  Chinese opera does not have the same meaning here as it does in Canada. The monkey is not singing any high notes; rather the mask is used in live theatre to represent a performer’s human emotions. We also enter a nobleman’s home, a temple, a restaurant, and several shops. In one of these shops, I’m compelled to purchase a Chinese puppet…and an opera mask.

Early Sunday morning I ask hotel staff if there are any churches nearby that have worship services in English. There’s an Alliance church that does, but it’s far away. So, they arrange for an English-speaking taxi driver to take me there.

Getting here was fine. Leaving is another matter. I’ve no idea how to get back to my hotel. The pastor is busy greeting parishioners, so I don’t want to bother him. So, here I am again, walking the streets of Hong Kong. Lost. At least it’s daytime. Eventually I’m successful in flagging down a taxi and climb in. Without uttering a word, the taxi driver starts driving. Where is he taking me?

After a few minutes, he asks me something in Chinese. Assuming he is asking my destination, I respond by telling him the name of my hotel. But he does not seem to understand me. So, I ask him to take me to Ocean Terminal instead. I can easily find my way to the hotel from there.

Ocean Terminal is a huge shopping centre facing Victoria harbour and very popular with tourists. Surely he will understand my request to go there. He doesn’t. And we keep driving! We go through a toll gate. I don’t recall a toll gate on the way here. Where is he taking me? After what seems an eternity, he puts me through to his dispatcher and asks me to repeat my destination. That seems to have worked because here we are.

The services at the Ocean Terminal shopping mall are unbelievable. While sipping on a complimentary pop, I have my eyes examined. Three hours later, my fashionable yet inexpensive new glasses are ready for pickup.

While waiting for the glasses, I went to the Spice Market restaurant for lunch. This restaurant overlooks Victoria harbour and the Central business district where Richard works, and I reflect on my hapless journey here to Hong Kong. You could say I was looking for love in all the wrong places. There was no kibitzing on a private yacht, but at least I got to travel to an amazing part of the world that I may not have otherwise chosen.

At the Sung Dynasty Village – still smiling, sort of.

Pick a Pic. Win a Book.

I have a dilemma. And I would really like your help. I was photographed recently and have a number of really fabulous photos to choose from, but I can’t decide which one to use.

The photo will be used in my soon-to-be-published memoir as well as in my social media accounts.

Select the one you like best (A, B, C or D) and win a digital version of An English Teacher in Mexico. The lucky winner will be chosen by random draw.

You Can’t Go Home Again

Going Home Road Trip

To borrow a phrase from novelist Thomas Wolfe, you can’t go home again. Not that I didn’t try. After some sixteen months of being cooped up in a 2-bedroom rental house in Calgary, Canada, I was itching for a road-trip. And my childhood home, a farm three miles west and one mile north of the village of Yellow Creek, Saskatchewan was calling my name.

True, my residence in Calgary is my current home. But, despite living in many different buildings, in different provinces and in different countries, this quarter section of land is forever etched in my mind as home.

It all starts with a telephone conversation with my oldest brother, George. He, like many others, was using his down-time during a global pandemic sorting through some of our mother’s things and was becoming quite nostalgic.

“This has been on my bucket list for some time. I want to visit our farm in Yellow Creek.”

“I have an idea. Why don’t I come down to Edmonton and we can drive there together? I would appreciate company on that long drive. Anyway, it will be an excellent way to reminisce and catch up on what’s happening in our lives.”

I tell my son about our plan.

“I want to go, too! Haven’t been to that place since I was a kid, and I wouldn’t know how to find it by myself.”

I considered giving him the following directions: “Go 3 miles west of Yellow Creek on the 44 Trail, past Gryba’s elevator. When you get to the Catholic cemetery, make a right turn onto the gravel road past Semeniuk’s place. Watch for Dull’s house on your left. It’s directly across the road from the Papishes. Go around Papish’s slough. When you see the alfalfa field on your left, you’re nearly there. Look for the poplar bluff. When you get to the bottom of the hill, you will see the driveway to the yard. The house will be at the top of the hill. If you reach the road to Crystal Springs, you’ve gone too far.”

But sadly, I know many of those landmarks are now gone. So, arrangements are made for when everyone is able visit the farm together. The date is set, the beer is bought, the gas tank full, and George and I start our road-trip to Saskatoon where we will be staying at my other brother’s place. Of course, we stop at Stawnichy’s store along the way. This business in Mundare, Alberta makes the best garlic sausage in the world, bar none. And there’s nothing that makes prairie folk of Ukrainian descent happier than a ring of garlic sausage.

George has many more memories on the Alberta side than I do and regales me with shenanigans of his baseball playing days as we pass ballparks, or where ballparks used to be along the way.

I don’t know if it’s his age, a small bladder, a regression into his childhood or a trigger to ball-playing days, but soon he needs to make a pit stop. And we’re on the highway in the middle of Nowhere, Saskatchewan. We’re scanning both sides of the highway, looking for a suitable place to pull over and stop the car. Presently, the perfect location presents itself. It’s a turn-off from the highway, sheltered on both sides of the road by dense brush. Unlike me, George is near-sighted and doesn’t immediately see that crudely hand-written sign in front of us.

“Quick, turn the car around! We need to get out of here!”

“What? What? It’s the perfect spot.”

“No, it’s not! Can’t you see that sign?”

Against my better judgement, he pulls the car up closer to the sign to read it. The sign reads, “This is not a piss stop so stay the f***off this property.”

Well, now he takes it seriously. He’s not keen on getting a butt full of buckshot from an angry landowner. We drive on.

A few days later, my son and family arrive in Saskatoon, and we set off to the village of Yellow Creek. Well, it’s no longer a village but a hamlet. So many buildings are gone. As we drive down the main street, called Railway Avenue, we are struck by the irony of the name. The railway tracks have long since been removed. As has the train station itself, the grain elevators, the grocery stores, the pool hall, the hardware stores and both cafés. Gone. All gone. George points to an empty lot.

“The movie theatre was right over there,” he says. “I remember going to many movies there,” he adds nostalgically.

“Yes, the billboard advertising upcoming movies was here, across the street,” I comment. “And the John Deere dealership was on this corner.”

“That’s right! And a friend of mine lived in one of those houses just up the hill. Wasn’t there a service station somewhere, too?”

“There were actually two that I recall. One was near here where Bill had his Cockshutt dealership. Darlene lives in Bill and Anne’s place now. Let’s knock on her door and say hello.”

Across from Darlene’s is another empty lot where the Catholic church once stood. A dog runs around in circles in the enclosure, barking at us. He’s probably just excited to see visitors. Darlene’s not home so we continue the tour. The Orthodox church is still standing, and just as we’re discussing whether it’s still in service, a woman on a riding lawnmower circles in front of the church. It’s Darlene!

“We went to your house and knocked on your door,” I say, “but you didn’t answer.”

She laughs. My son and family, who have been following George and me, get out of their vehicle now and we all catch up on the local gossip.

“Are you going to the street dance tonight?” Darlene asks. “Live band. Only $20.”

“Ah, that’s what was going on in front the hotel,” says my son. “We saw them setting up.”

So, there appears to be some activity here after all. But now everyone is getting hungry. Time to find a place for a picnic. I suggest the schoolyard.

We circle my old school which has been repurposed as, among other things, a coffee shop and a fire hall. We clamour out of our vehicles in front of Rosie’s Coffee Shoppe. In front of us is what appears to be a post office and a newspaper stand. George grabs a copy of the local paper, but there’s no coffee for us. Rose is closed for the day; she only serves coffee in the mornings. Just as my grandson scans a cairn in front of the school looking for our family name, a wicked gust of wind blows dust in our faces. It’s been very hot and dry here this summer. We seek shelter at the opposite end of the school, but this location is not much better. Now we, like the Berenstain bears, are searching for the perfect picnic spot.

Hmm. Let’s try behind the old community hall. At any rate, the children and some of the adults need to use the toilet at this point and there are plenty of bushes there. Let’s hope there aren’t any angry farmers with no trespassing signs. Nope, no signs. We’re good.

This potential picnic spot is not much better than the school grounds. It’s still windy here. Besides, it’s just too close to the outdoor biffy.

“Why don’t we go to the churchyard?” suggests my clever daughter-in-law.

The churchyard it is. Freshly mown grass and sheltered by a caragana hedge. The perfect picnic spot. My brother and I are reliving a fond childhood memory. Whenever we would go to the big cities of Prince Albert or Melfort for shopping, dental appointments, or a country fair, our father would stop into a grocery store to buy sliced white bread, a ring of garlic sausage and some Orange Crush pop. Then we would pull over on some country road, break off a piece of sausage, roll it up in the bread and wash it all down with the pop. This is the picnic lunch that is duplicated in the Yellow Creek churchyard.

“What do you think of baba’s lunch?” I ask my grandchildren.

“It’s AWESOME!” says the 3-year-old.

He’s not so enthusiastic when we finally reach the old homestead. The house is not visible from the grid road; it’s somewhere there in the bushes. George runs on ahead, searching for the path.

“These monstrous caragana bushes are brutal,” says my brother. “There’s no way we’ll get through to the house! I’m going to try to access it from the other side.”

Actually, this is not a direct quote. His language is much more colourful than that, but there might be children reading this.

I, on the other hand, search for a gap in the caraganas and soon discover one that should be in line with the location of the house. I part the bush to allow my 6-year-old grandson to go ahead of me. He’s all wide-eyed and looking forward to this adventure. Not so much the younger one.

“I don’t want to go on an adventure,” he wails.

But if his big brother is willing to tackle this jungle, so will he. The rest of the family, except for George, follow. The older grandson and I spot the house at the same time.

“George. GEORGE. Over here!” we all call out.

No answer.

“GEORGE. We found the house!”

Several minutes later my brother, arm bleeding from fighting overgrown brush, surfaces around the back of the house.

“Where were you?” we ask.

“I tried to find the other path to the house. The one where you don’t need to go through those caragana trees.”

“One time. Just once you should listen to your baby sister,” I admonish him. “I found it right away.”

All of us then proceed to explore what’s left of the house. The most recent addition to the house has collapsed but the kitchen windows are all still intact. And the interior paint job still a vibrant blue. Not bad for a building erected over 65 years ago and uninhabited for the past 50. Except perhaps for the wild animals who found this treasure in which to shelter from the elements.

Meanwhile, the 6-year-old is on another type of treasure hunt.

“Look what I found! A hockey stick.”

“With tape still on the blade!” adds my son.

We wind up our trip down memory lane by driving north to the end of the grid road and turning left to the village of Crystal Springs. More farmland devoid of buildings and trees greets us along the way. Except, that is, for our next-door neighbour’s land to the north of us. When that couple retired and moved into town, they sold the land to the government to be used as a game preserve. Their log cabin is still somewhere there in the bush, no doubt, but would be even harder to find than our own house.

We make the loop back onto the 44 Trail towards Yellow Creek with me complaining all the way.

“We really should have taken your SUV to drive on these country roads,” I say to my brother George.

“What’s the problem? You’re a country girl. You should be used to this.”

“A country girl without a car. So, no. I’m not used to driving on grid roads.”

“What the hell is a grid road, anyway?”

“Gravel.”

“Why don’t you just say ‘gravel’?”

The paved highway back to Saskatoon leaves plenty of time for reflection. For my son, the trip was one of nostalgia, remembering when he last visited here as a child and imagining his mother growing up on this land. For me, who had visited here a mere three years ago, it was also nostalgic, and I enjoyed the wide-open prairie views. But my brother George, on the other hand, found the whole trip rather depressing. It’s been over 20 years when he last visited, and he just wanted things to be the same as they were.

They say you can’t go back home again, but like it reads on the cairn in the old schoolyard, “Friendship and fond memories will always remain”.

Every Bookmark Tells a Story

Behind every bookmark is a fascinating story. The bookmark pictured here is no exception. Far from it.

Nestled in the rugged Sierra Norte de Puebla mountainous region of Mexico lies the remote village of San Pablito. The Otomis, forced out by other indigenous groups, migrated to this area as early as 800 AD. Aztecs conquered the area in the late 15th century, but the Otomis managed to maintain much of their culture and traditions.

Initially siding with the Spanish to oust the Aztecs during the Spanish Conquest, the Otomis later rebelled against Spanish rule. Because of the isolation and lack of mineral resources, not many Spanish chose to live here. Plus, enforcing Spanish law in this harsh terrain was difficult. As a result, the Otomis continued their culture and traditions in this part of Old Mexico and do so to this very day.

A tradition of high importance to this and other indigenous groups is the spiritual practise of amate paper making. This handmade paper was considered neutral until shamans used it in religious paper cutting ceremonies. The shaman cut various images into the paper while acting as an intermediary between humans and their gods. Each cut of paper was believed to be increasingly powerful while shamans attempted to communicate with their deities. Banned by the Spanish because the practise was believed to encourage witchcraft, San Pablito, due to its remote location, managed to evade detection when making amate paper.

The process of creating amate paper is in itself fascinating. Bark from wild fig (xalama), nettle (jonote) or mulberry (moral) tree is stripped and boiled in a mixture of water, lime, and ash. All the bark must be removed and cooled several times to avoid over-softening. The bark is then rinsed to remove all residue and meticulously separated in fibrous strands. These strips are sometimes bleached or dyed at this stage. Then the strands are carefully arranged in rectangular shapes on wood boards and pounded down with specially designed volcanic rock. When the correct thickness is achieved, the rectangular pieces are left to dry.

Nowadays, amate paper is not restricted for use by shamans. The process has become commercialized, bringing much needed employment into this small community. Sheets of paper are sent to Nahua artisans for painting, then sold in various markets. The bookmark pictured above was purchased at one such local market in the nearby town of Pahuatlán, where locals dress in traditional clothing on Sundays and walk through the streets in their bare feet.

You can read about my visit to this part of Old Mexico as well as other out of the way places in my upcoming book, An English Teacher in Mexico. Just don’t forget to bookmark this site!

Woman in San Pablito creates amate paper. Photo placed on amate paper book.

Take some TIME OUT Sunday.

Hey folks! What are you doing this Sunday? I know what I’ll be doing. This Sunday, March 21, 2021, I will be available ALL DAY for an online chat on the friendliest group on Facebook, WeLoveMemoirs. Why don’t you take some time out and join me in some scintillating conversation?

Time travel with me to 1970s London. If you read my memoir, A Squatter in London but want to know more about my adventures, here’s your chance. Are you wondering what everyday life was like as a squatter? Are you a child of the 70s and want to reminisce about the good ole days? Do you have questions about the writing process? And is David Bowie somehow part of the story?

Here’s your chance to put me on the hotseat. You may ask me anything you like. But if you love to read memoirs and are not a member of the fabulous, most friendliest group on Facebook, We love Memoirs, you’re out of luck. Just kidding. Here’s the link to join the chat.

Bookmark the date: Sunday, March 21, 2021. Get your questions ready and join the conversation. Make your Sunday a Fun Day! I look forward to hearing from you!

St. Patrick’s Day is in May

Given the current climate of event closures due to COVID-19, I thought I’d re-post this.

Ireland celebrates St. Patrick’s Day in May.

“Bollocks!” you say.

“It’s true,” I insist. “I was there.”

You see, in March of 2001, Ireland experienced its first outbreak of foot and mouth disease since 1941. And Ireland quickly set up measures to control the spread of this disease. As a result, many tourist attractions and outdoor festivals were closed, including the popular St. Patrick’s Day parade.

But my friend Chris and I felt that that spring was a perfect time to re-visit the Emerald Isle. Tourism to the UK and Ireland was down due to tourists being wary of exposure to the dreaded foot-and-mouth. That meant flights were bound to be much cheaper and there would be far fewer tourists getting in our way to view the same attractions. We were right on both counts.

We packed in as much as we could into our trip to Ireland, from strolling the south strand in Skerries, Co. Dublin to kissing the Blarney Stone in Co. Cork. From listening to traditional Irish music whilst imbibing Guinness in the sleepy but picturesque fishing town of Kinsale to exploring Cashel Rock in Co. Tipperary. We went from admiring centuries-old Celtic crosses to scratching our heads at Irish road signs attached haphazardly to a post with directions written only in Gaelic!

Although we weren’t anywhere near Dublin, I suggested to Chris that we back-track to the city to catch the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Chris is reluctant to do so as we were well on our way to Galway on the opposite coast at this point.

“It’s just a parade,” says she.

“We have to go!” I plead. “What are the odds of us being in Ireland to see a St. Patrick’s Day parade ever again?

I’m able to convince her at length, and we catch the next train to the east coast. The train station in Dublin is about a 20-minute walk to the parade route. We still have plenty of time before the parade starts so we stop at the real Guinness Brewery gift shop, which just happens to be along the way, to purchase some souvenirs.

May 19 and 20, 2001 is dubbed the St. Patrick’s Day Festival and festivities have already begun. There is music. And there are street performers. And there are Elvis impersonators everywhere. But when the actual parade starts, we are pleasantly surprised. This is no ordinary parade. Sure, there are horses, a few floats and marching bands including one from New York that got to participate in two St. Patrick Day Parades in the same year but on different continents! But, for the most part, this parade is more like the Mardi Gras Carnival. Stilt walkers. Colourful, colourful costumes. And even elaborate, precision-engineered, human-controlled “pedestrian floats”.

When the parade ends, I’m anxious to partake in some pub grub and to raise a glass of Guinness to this amazing day. Chris, not so much. Not that she has anything against this activity, but she is worried that we might miss the last train leaving Dublin. If we do, our plans to explore the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula are in danger of being delayed or even terminated.

“You know how long it takes to get to the train station from here and we’re already familiar with the route,” I remind her. “We have plenty of time.”

But she will not be swayed.

“OK. You go,” I tell her. “But I’m going to find me a pub.” Darkey Kelly’s sounds like a good choice and I squeeze past the revelers to order my pub food and Guinness. Lively traditional tunes fill the air, and everyone is in a celebratory mood including two couples who are pub-hopping.

“This is so much better,” says one of the women. “We were just at the Temple Bar and you can’t even move there.”

Wow. And I thought this place was packed! I eat my pub grub, drink my stout and visit with my new friends while listening to traditional Irish music. I imagine heaven to be just like this.

Two hours later, I arrive at the train station to find Chris patiently sitting on a bench waiting for boarding call. I think the past two hours might have been slightly more enjoyable for me than they were for her. Just a hunch.

This was one incredible human-powered “float”!

The Crushing 1-Star Review

Recently someone left a 1-star ranking for my book and it’s affected me more than I care to admit. It was not even a proper review, just 1-star, with no explanation given whatsoever.

To continue writing or give it up altogether? That is the question many authors face. One day, someone who probably never should have picked up your years of blood, sweat and tears in the form of a published book, glibly awards you a 1-star rating. But the next, someone who has actually read and enjoyed said book, leaves a glowing 5-star review, explaining exactly what it was that kept them turning the pages.

Such is the life of a writer. A pendulum swinging back and forth – to write or not to write? A yo-yo of emotions, going up only to come crashing down. We have spent many hours (and in some cases, years!) perfecting our craft. We have pored over the manuscript, self-edited, wrote and re-wrote our manuscript, agonized over the perfect cover, and did our best to market our product.

Depending on our skill set, we probably hired professionals to assist us with formatting, editing, proofreading, cover design and marketing.

Some of us writers sent out dozens of manuscripts to traditional publishers, only to be rejected time and time again. We wrote query letter after query letter hoping an agent would represent us. Others took a deep breath and went the self-publishing route.

Why? Because we love what we do! We are storytellers and we want to share our stories with you, the reader. Our reward is your enjoyment of our craft. OK, making a few dollars in sales is nice too! So when our reward is a stinky 1-star carelessly posted somewhere out there in cyberspace for millions to see, it greatly impacts us in a negative way.

I’ll end this rant by saying, if you read any of my work and enjoyed it, consider leaving a review. Even one or two sentences makes a BIG difference. If, however, you didn’t, send me a private message and tell me what I could have done better.

Go here to read some lovely reviews from the UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Squatter-London-Irene-Pylypec-ebook/dp/B07CHYNCQ1