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.
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.
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.
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.
A 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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…!
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!
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.
Six years – or nearly – since we arrived. And now, we are gone again. A lot has happened.
This is one of the first pictures I snapped, in our view from King’s Chambers where we were told to not unpack – we’d be getting moved quickly.
Which they were, in mid-December, and in one of the first of the many impressive carried-by-coolies experiences we’ve had. From King’s Chambers to South Hill Annexe Lower, where we have been since – despite pushta-collapses, shrew invasions, giant spiders and the occasional scorpion coming to visit.
In the years since, we have had two children, attended numerous formal events at Woodstock, had a multitude of friends meet, get married have children… we’ve been adopted by students, too. We have seen those student-daughters graduate, and seen some of them several times after the fact. They have all gone off to university, whether in the USA or in India. One has even gone off and gotten married!
We’ve learned to be more patient in dealing with people – but we’ve also learned to put up a line or a policy and stick to it, because people will creep and crawl over that line (either deliberately or accidentally). This has meant enforcing policies with students, as well as being firm on things with friends or work-requests in the bazaar. We have learned the immensely flexible concept of Indian time, and
We have seen great wealth as well as immense poverty. We have been privileged to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama (a particular pleasure for me as a Buddhist, though not a religious one), and saddhus in Varanasi. We have travelled from the northernmost part of India (Jammu and Kashmir) down to Kanyakumari, from Rajasthan to dipping our toes in the water by Chennai (though not Kolkata). We have battled bureaucracy and won – sometimes only by the skin of our teeth! – and lived to tell the tale.
We’ll miss our friends immensely (in fact, we do miss our friends!), and we hope to return some day, one day. But now – new adventures await in China!
After packing up the house and all its accoutrements – and throwing out a lot, and giving a lot to our ayah Asa – we performed a miniature migration of reminiscence. My mother in law is a Woodstock alumna and she remembered trips to Kashmir as a child (teen) as well as Varanasi; thinking this will be her last trip to India, she wanted to go to Srinagar and to Varanasi again. We took a taxi from Mussoorie to Dehradun (including a way to the airport brand-new to Adam and I), flew Dehradun to Delhi, overnighted in Delhi, and then flew Delhi to Srinagar.
A few friends of ours have gone to Kashmir previously; because of the kids, we couldn’t do all the stuff we would normally have wanted to (but that’s the price you pay for choosing to have offspring). We stayed in a houseboat on Nigeen/Nageen lake for three nights; compared to the chaos of Dal Lake, it was a peaceful respite even if it’s further away from “everything”. We saw lots of birds, including three different types of kingfisher (pied kingfisher, blue kingfisher & white-breasted kingfisher ), Pallas fishing eagles, and night herons. We were the only group on the houseboat, which was nice – it meant we could pick our dinnertime (and with a 2.5 year old, we wanted early rather than Indian-style late) and breakfasts to suit our schedule.
The houseboats were rather different than the ones in Kerala: they were moored very firmly to the land, for one (rather than sailing), the food was prepared in a communal kitchen shared by the property, and we had to take a shikara across the lake every time we wanted to go on or come off. Asha got to like the shikara rides… most of the time, anyway. The rooms were nice; each one had a double bed plus a single, so Asha was sleeping in her own bed every night. She was excited.
Srinagar has three Mughal era gardens (bagh), and we visited them all on our first day: we started with Shalimar Bagh, went to Nishat Bagh, and then ended our morning at Cheshmashahi Bagh. We were some of the first people into Shalimar, having arrived promptly at 9am: nonetheless, there was still rubbish on the lawns and in the channels from the night before, which was quite disappointing and detracted from the experience. The scent of roses and other flowers was heavy in the air, and it was easy to see why visiting the gardens is such an enjoyable experience for locals and tourists alike: there are trees and liberal splashes of shade, and in a city where you might be scrabbling for shade and greenery, the gardens are a respite. The next gardens, Nishat, were a bit busier (due to being later in the day), and were a little more built up, including having some people inside offering dress-up experiences in Kashmiri “traditional clothes” (which… well, I find hard to believe those are traditional in any sense). Asha had a grand time running up and down stairs with our guide Farooq. The last gardens, Cheshmashahi, were much smaller and are known for water coming up from a spring. That… was about it, and some of us were rather nonplussed about it, but it was still worth rounding out the three Srinagar bagh.
One morning we had a morning shikara ride from about 7-8 and it was interesting; we could see ‘floating gardens’, which were small plantings on built-up pieces of land jutting into the water, men fishing, women gathering lotus leaves, some people dredging the lake (they take the seaweed and some of the small surface plants, dry them, and use them for animal feed) and fish and birds galore. There were also, unfortunately, already some early morning vendors trying to sell us Kashmiri nuts/jewellery/apricots/other things, which was less than enjoyable. Adam calls them “interceptor shikaras”; they also show up at the back of the houseboat. Adam and I joked we wanted to write a sign in Urdu that said “no solicitation, no photos” (the latter due to the two blonde kids present).
We had an afternoon/evening ride on Dal Lake; the lake is amazingly busy compared to Nigeen. If you want to be right in the centre of everything, then it’s where to be; if you want quiet, Nigeen is it. There are evidently over 1,500 houseboats on Dal, versus around 500 on Nigeen.
There was an overnight outing from Srinagar to Pahalgam; we did about 30kph the entire way there. We all commented on the large number of soldiers present on the route (particularly the stretch of road from Srinagar to the turnoff to Jammu). We asked Farooq about it, and he said that it was the standard number of military officers/standard presence; I had been curious since our travel was the first day of Ramazan. We arrived in Pahalgam in the early afternoon (about 1pm) and I can absolutely see why it is so coveted by India, and why its people struggle with the current situation. We saw buildings that had clearly been hit by gunfire (and worse)… tragically, it was a building which was formerly a centre for Kashmiri innovation/development. Talk about depressing, as well as more than just a little symbolic: something which could set Kashmir apart, give voice to its youth, its clever and its determined people – a shot-up beast on the side of the road, a reminder that aazadi is not acceptable in this day and age. While on this trip I’ve been reading a fairly dense book called Territory of Desire: Representing the Valley of Kashmir and it discusses how Kashmir is presented in Indian media by Indians versus Kashmiris (among other things). We drove through a town, c, and it was just another blip on the map – and the book tells me it was once an ancient seat of Sanskrit learning, and is now the place where a massacre took place.
While we were in Pahalgam, there was a lovely thunderstorm… which rather effectively quashed any plans to really explore. Combined with the fact that our guide & driver could not actually drive us around – we’d have to hire locals for that – and the trip was a little frustrating but enjoyable. Asha and I were up at dawn and walked around the property we were at; nice, quiet, and surprisingly cool (temperature-wise!).
That said, I know we would love to come back when the kids are older to do some of the exploration that their current ages make prohibitive (Leh/Ladakh, going up to some of the lakes near the LOC with China and India), if the region is sufficiently stable – in whatever form that may take.
- Territory of Desire: Representing the Valley of Kashmir, Ananya Jahanara Kabir
- Kashmir: The Case for Freedom, Arundhati Roy, Pankaj Mishra, Hilal Bhatt, Angan P. Chatterji & Tariq Ali
- Haider (film), dir. Vishal Bhardwaj