One of the school introduction events was a Peking duck dinner at a local duck restaurant. This was a pleasant surprise for me (as I’d been hoping to do it eventually), and we all went out since it was exceedingly family-friendly, and enjoyed ourselves with colleagues & lots of tasty  food. This was kind of a combination banquet-plus-duck meal; you traditionally (at least, as I understand it) would not have duck plus something like this as it’s just so.much.food. Our table did not even polish off half the dishes.

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Not the least of this were these cold moulded carp(?)  which came out at the start of the meal. They were a plain custard sort of thing.

The food either had amazing form and presentation like the above, or a very traditional sort of look:

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This was beef, with onions and potato, served in a big bowl. It was tasty.

Food continued – at least twelve dishes, which included but were not limited to:

  • kung pao chicken (gongbaojiding)
  • curry chicken ding
  • slices of starch of some sort cut and stacked like a game of Jenga, drizzled with strawberry jam(!)
  • cold spicy Sichuan chicken
  • meatballs with hoisin dipping sauce
  • the custard fish
  • the beef & potato dish above
  • a spicy shrimp dish
  • corn and veggies
  • braised tofu with sauce
  • fried rice
  • a whole fish, fried and covered in a sweet sauce (garlic and bean?)
  • The Duck.

Oh, the duck.

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Clockwise from back: the starch-sticks with jam, spicy Sichuan chicken, gongbaojiding, and the Peking duck.

Some people have commented that there are other, better duck restaurants in the area; this was pretty good, but I’d love to see what else is in the area to find out what’s better than this!

Peking duck is traditionally served with super-thin wheat pancakes, rather like roti or crepes or tortillas; you put hoisin or a fermented black bean paste on the pancake (or you can dip the duck in it), and then put in a few slices of some ‘filler’, such as sliced scallions, cucumber, yams, or – in this peculiar case, Pop Rocks (yes, seriously, our ’90’s childhood food… it’s the pink stuff in the dish in the above picture!). It also seems to often be carved at the table for each order, but I think with six tables, we would have been sore-pressed to have that happen: I doubt there were 6 folks who could have carved simultaneously!

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Lay a few of the pieces of duck atop the filler (each piece with a small bit of crisp duck skin), then wrap up the little duck-burrito neatly, and eat. And enjoy.

And eat, and eat, and eat.

A big meal comes to an end, in China, with a batch of fresh fruit – and that was watermelon. Asha polished off three slices on her own, before being carried home on my shoulders/Adam’s shoulders, and passing out, replete.

We followed shortly after.

There’s conversation with some friends about going to the Forbidden City & Tiananmen Square sometime in the next month – I want to go before October holidays! – and apparently, there’s a great roast duck place around there, too…

Bright and early last Monday morning, Adam and I (and the kids) hopped in a bus to be driven to a hospital about an hour away in order to undergo the medical examinations needed for our resident permits.

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We got there around 9:30 or a bit past, and it was all done by 11!

The traffic, while quiet compared to the incessant honking of a road in India, was comparable to someplace like Toronto in terms of loudness… but with the jam-packed roads you would expect of a city with around 24 million in the metro area. An hour turned into 2 and then nearly 2.5 until we arrived at the hospital, where we hopped off and then went and stood in a queue. As we’d left at 7:30, by the time we got inside and all started to get lined up, we realised that it was probably best to schedule this for later morning or early afternoon to avoid the rush-hour traffic.

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What it looked like after all the queueing had been done. Clearly it’s best to come around lunch!

The physical examinations are required as part of the residential permit application process, and can be required for successfully receiving a visa for China as well. We had all the requisite things performed in India before we left, as did many of Adam’s colleagues. This turned out to have been great, because when we arrived, some people found out that all of their paperwork was sufficient and didn’t need to be re-checked; some people found that they needed one or two portions re-done.

That was the case for Adam and I, so we each had to go to Room 104 and Room 201 for blood draws and lung ultrasounds (for TB). Some people had to have other things done; it all depended on what was deemed acceptable or not by the person handling the registration. I imagine if you’d had none of the tests done (or needed to re-do them all) and needed to go to each room, it would have been even more time-consuming. As it was – after registration, we received slips stating what rooms we had to go to, and then we went to the rooms, handed over our paperwork, and were either gooped up in gel or stabbed with a needle. Only one thing is done in each room, so you can go room to room to room as needed and in whatever order you want to.

For anyone who may need a physical to come to China, if you can arrange to do it in your home country before you depart, I’d strongly suggest it since it will allow for less time in the medical facility when you arrive. That said, if your employer/school says to do it when you arrive – you can get it done, but it will take a fair bit of time to go through all the steps.

What We Miss About India

We left India just before monsoon, and it’s now raging full-force in Uttarakhand and Mussoorie. I’ve seen pictures from friends & acquaintances about the landslides, the leeches and the rain. One of my favourite pictures from a year or so ago is from a (now former) colleague who snapped a shot of the same location two hours apart: the top of the image is a view over the Doon Valley, and the bottom half… well, you wait for a moment, expecting the rest of the image to load.

What We Miss

  • Our friends.
  • Our ayah. (Who happens to be a friend, but deserves a line of her own!)
  • The scenery. We like living in a city for sure – but we miss those Mussoorie mountains.
  • The commute. There’s something to be said for a mandatory 2km walk, no matter how pretty the campus we’re on (and whoa, is it pretty).
  • The presence of native English speakers. Even in our short time here, we have realised that – even though there are a lot of people who have studied English, the number of people who speak it is an entirely different matter.

 

What We Don’t Miss…

  • The wilder wildlife – rhesus, scorpions, hand-sized spiders, you know.
  • The intricate bureaucracy. China has some – but not to the extent/depth/insanity that India does.
  • The disorganization in various things that is often excused as “India just being India”, “it’s just India, that’s how it is” – when it’s actually laziness, or an excuse to avoid doing something (or doing it well).
  • The horns. For all the traffic in Beijing (it took us 2.5 hours go to a distance estimated to take 1!), it’s remarkably quiet and polite – queueing nicely, staying in lanes, etc. Most of the time. But definitely, definitely a lot quieter!

The First 48

We have made it! Alive, unpacking, and settling in slowly.

Fidlers snuck in on us and made some inroads at making our flat a home: photos in a frame for us, some flowers, some popcorn snacks and chocolate, peanut butter and honey and spices and the IKEA crib assembled for Rohan, and tea and coffee pots! There is nothing better than arriving somewhere and having friends-that-are-family there, ready, to help you with whatever you need. Adam and I are so, so happy to be back with them,  and the new experiences Beijing has to offer.

We had a loooong Thursday that turned into a Friday, but we were met by people at the airport and got all our baggage and ourselves into cars and to the school, where we were shown to our flat and unloaded so we could unpack. Dinner was arranged (pizza!) and then I went out to one of the more upscale grocery stores on a school-arranged bus, and picked up some necessities. I had a moment of decision fatigue -after only 2 hours of sleep in 26 – and staring at shelves full of Things, especially Things I Didn’t Know I Had To Decide Between – and tried my hardest to pick whatever was on our right-away list that wouldn’t break the bank (and had the fewest choices to pick between).

 

The best part about Friday was having Fidlers come over from about 6:30 til 9pm. Also, showers. But I think Fidlers.

Saturday was a few sessions of settling in paperwork (e.g. internet, TV, SIM cards) and interviewing ayis. We are picked one for part-time to try for a month, 刘 ayi; she’ll do 4 hours/day including errands, shopping, some cleaning & some cooking & handling Rohan. Which will give me time to do some work for classes, and then I can wrangle him from noon onwards. Adam went to Auchan and did some shopping. We also had a hutong tour; a hutong is a traditional local neighbourhood in Beijing. A series of alleyways with walled houses (each with a private courtyard inside), any given unit could be actual residences OR could be restaurants, shops, what-have-you. Our area, Hegezhuang, is expected to become rather like the 798 district (398, I think?); they are doing a slow but steady remodeling, which includes rebuilding some of the old homes and rebuilding them in traditional style.

 

Sunday we went with Ashlea & Owen to IKEA, and then a mall across the street with Carrefour (a French grocery chain) that occupied virtually two entire floors… think your local big grocery store (or the food section of a Super Walmart) across two floors in a mall. It was… epic. Everyone came back to our place and we assembled furniture and made a hasty fried rice dinner (yum!) and then, after sending the Fidlers home, all promptly passed out.

Where We Stand

Paperwork is currently winging its way from Beijing to Toronto, and will hopefully be received either later today or tomorrow, allowing for Adam to go in no later than Wednesday to the visa organisation in Toronto and file for his visa. If bureaucracy is with us, he’ll pick it up Friday, scan it, e-mail the visa to me and I’ll go into DC on Monday to file for the visas for the kids & I.

We’ve gone from Toronto to Maryland and Adam has gone back again – and will come back down once more to pick us up, and then we’ll all drive back up to Toronto for (hopefully) an August 13 departure. That means – all our finger crossed – in two weeks, we’ll be in Beijing. (Sorry, A&O&J – brunch will need to be delayed a week!🙂 )

We have had a good run this summer – a blog post to follow on that, amongst other topics – but… there you have it: where we are, now.

Yarns Untangled

This shop in Kensington Market is where Lettuce Knit used to be, and features a lot of Canadian indie dyers. Under new ownership it has a significantly different selection than it did previously, though is a solid shop with a good amount of variety and an incredibly convivial atmosphere. Like The Knit Cafe, you won’t find a large selection of workhorse yarns, but the focus on Canadian dyers means it’s a definite stop to spot, especially if you’re looking for a unique skein as a souvenir, a gift, or for a project.

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The staff is cheerful and friendly and knowledgeable, but they are very definitively focused on carrying a variety of Canadian dyers rather than carrying a large variety overall (as you can see by the pictures); I found their distinct focus more helpful than some of the other shops with limited selection, simply because their niche is clear, whereas others are often trying to be “local yarn store with all your needs” and not succeeding as well as could be wished.

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I’ll take ALL the Mineville Project yarn on those shelves, please!

 

Ewe Knits

DSCN4060A few years back I visited this shop while it was in another location, and now it’s found a new and more spacious home on Bloor, between Ossington and Christie stations. They have a mixed selection – a variety of brands, including one of the larger selections of workhorse yarns and luxury yarns (such as Shalimar and Madelinetosh). This store is not entirely a yarn store, however, and offers a large number of sewing supplies as well, from thread to the amazingly large selection of fabric. This shop has had some of the most responsive staff I’ve dealt with.

Some things were getting shifted around while we were in, but these two quick photos can give you a taste for the size of the store. The fabric section is in the back left of the photo, which is the back right of the shop itself.

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More on yarn can be found in Part I.

Since I have to do this, every time we’re back…

Yarn stores have popped up and disappeared over the years while we’ve been here-and-gone, and this trip we stopped at several.

The Knit Cafe

This little shop is on Roncesvalles on the far west end of Queen; you can hop a street car and cruise from one end of Queen to the other, getting off at all the yarn stores along the way, and start or end here. It’s a little shop – and I mean little – with an equally small selection. They make up for that small selection in having yarns I haven’t seen anywhere else in the GTA, like Brooklyn Tweed Shelter; they also offer a large number of classes (both knit and crochet). If you’re just checking out yarn stores, it’s absolutely worth popping in for, but if you’re after a workhorse yarn like Cascade or a large selection, this would not be a stop for you. They had only a few laceweight options (Freia ombre/gradient-dyes in about 8 different colourways and some Madelinetosh Prairie in 4 colourways), a handful of sock choices (mostly Koigu PPM, I think) and focused on the Brooklyn Tweed Shelter and had some other worsteds, as well as some CoBaSi and linen yarns. The staff were helpful and engaging, and while I’m not certain I’ll be back, my only complaint is the stock level (and variety).

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This is almost all of their stock. There’s a hanging display on the opposite side of the shop with some Koigu and Freia Handpaint, but… really all of it could fit on those shelves. Up in back you can see someone getting a knitting lesson.

Knit-o-Matic

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This yarn shop is on Bathurst just south of St. Clair, and offers a large selection of yarns in both sheer quantity as well as brands. They offered a limited selection of Quince & Co. as well as some local dyers (Mineville Project) and a variety of Madelinetosh, Malabrigo and Manos del Uruguay. They also had a bird (an African parrot) which was A’s favourite part of it all. Stopping here is worthwhile to check out the variety they have; I was excited to see the variety of tools they have for knit as well as crochet.

The staff was nice if a bit standoffish to start; the person helping was inclined to sit and do her own thing until we started putting yarns on the counter to purchase that cost over the $20 mark. She did pull out some kids’ things for A to play with, which was nice; I’m not sure if she was just extremely busy or what. We did end up purchasing a few skeins, and potentially would have purchased more but were on a time limit.

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Keep an eye out for Part II!

 

A long-time friend from a MUSH swung out to Toronto to see another member of the MUSH and myself. While I’ve never been a big beer drinker for a few reasons, he really wanted to check out a local Toronto brewery, Bellwoods Brewery. Adam & I went along, got to learn a fair bit about beer, and had a great time.

Bellwoods Brewery is on Ossington and Argyle, a microbrewery with a handful of delicious things on tap and bottled – more of the former than the latter, much to my dismay (I wanted to go home with some Jelly King or Jelly King Apricot). It was a very busy Sunday and we had to wait awhile for a table, and the tables (old picnic tables in many cases, done in a hipster-esque repaint) were often being split between parties of various sizes.

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Back row: Cat Lady; Middle L-R: Farmhouse Classic, Jelly King Apricot, Jelly King, Roman Candle; Front: water.

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L-R: King Richard’s Bitter (Indie Ale House), Witchshark (Bellwoods), Heritage Funk (a cider by West Aven.

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The beer list the day we were in.

 

I loved going with someone who could teach me about what I was tasting, what was there… this friend is to beer what my father-in-law is to wine. He could taste a beer and name the type of hops in it! He got a bottle (no mean feat, that) of a beer called “Skeleton Key”, which is an imperial stout aged (or whatever it is they do) in rum barrels. You could taste the rum in it – it wasn’t just “hey, we poured it in & poured it out” but had a definite kick to it. Sadly, I didn’t get a picture of it.

The second place I visited with another friend was Halo Brewery, near The Junction. It was much smaller and quieter, but I think I’d argue somewhat more family-friendly as well: while I was there with no kids in tow, at least three other couples came through with small babies. It had a greater distribution across demographics, and that could have to do with the generally more affordable beers on tap/available, or the neighbourhood, or day/time, or… any number of things.

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White Knight, a weisse IPA; behind it is Magic Missle, which is a dry-hopped pale ale.

Halo had six beers available while we were there (mostly all gaming/geek themed – yay!) and I tried all but one of them – I wasn’t sure I could handle six tasters, the last one being an 8% ABV, after so long not drinking. They were nice, and I think my favourite was Wit or Without, a Wit beer (which I learned is the identifier for Belgian Wheat Ales, and they are almsot always spiced and a fair bit fruitier). My second favourite was a saison with rosehips, Tokyo Rose. I have also learned through drinking a can of a local Toronto brew that I am not a lager fan, at all. And that probably helps explain why I have always said “I hate beer”… virtually everything I’ve ever tried has been lagers.

I really appreciated the fact that the employee on hand took the time to tell me things about the beers on tap rather than just let me go wild – he explained what the differences were, what people often said, and notable things about them so I could make a better decision on what to order/try. Another thing I really liked was that the taster glasses came in a nice little holder with chalkboard-painted corners, and they got labelled with which beer was in it, which corresponded to the numbers on their board.

So – in the world of beer – I’m still pretty uneducated, but it’s getting better…!

A Setback

So, we got all our paperwork ready. We did some backflips to try to get things ready so we’d be able to file the first week of July, if not the last week of June, to get Adam’s visa for China. We get to Canada, and realise “Oh, hey. His passport has 2 blank pages in it. Basically he’d have enough to get into China, then would need a new passport. We should get a new one.” So he hurries and scurries and gets a new passport, and the paperwork is mailed from China to Canada while the passport is being processed. It’s a guess: which will come first – the passport or the paperwork?

Adam goes in on the 6th to his appointment, and is summarily told “The paperwork has your old passport number on it. We don’t care that you still have the cancelled passport; the risk is that you’ll get in country and they won’t put the sticker in your passport for your work visa. Subsequently we’ll not accept this.”

We tell the team at Harrow helping us out. We are then informed the entire process has to now be started from scratch – including an extra week in which Adam’s old paperwork has to be cancelled!

Getting out to China on our booked tickets may only happen by the skin of our teeth – but we’re going to try our hardest!

What Should We Do More Of?

So – this is mostly my baby, since Adam has little time to devote to blogging. And I want to do more with it.

What would you like to see more of? Should I do more posts about where we’re traveling and what we’re doing? Family updates, even if it’s “same-old, same-old”? A photo a day from wherever we are, whatever we’re doing? What life will be like in Beijing? Raising third-culture kids/challenges in parenting overseas? Other stuff?

Tell me in the comments (here preferably or Facebook if needed) and that way I can look at what the responses are, and can see how I can make those changes happen.

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