The holiday more than a year in the planning finally became a reality. The main inspiration for it was a family reunion with an Auntie and uncles who lived in different parts of the province Ontario in Canada, the siblings of my mother who had passed away on 2 January 1994 in Gold Coast, Australia. Dad, my two sisters and I decided to make a holiday of it as well, visiting New York, Montreal and Vancouver on the same trip. To make an even bigger holiday of it, I decided to also go to Colombia before meeting up with Dad and sisters in New York, thereby fulfilling a promise to visit Natalia in her hometown of Bogota. I had never visited South America before and was excited to do so.
Perhaps it is with age, weariness, my burned-out already anxious state due to a harrowing phase of work, that reading the Australian Government’s travel advisory for Colombia a few days before flying there, racked up my anxiety and kept me alert to personal safety. But it was a beautiful trip with time spent catching up with old classmates, sampling food mysterious to my palate and custom, shopping (I had been looking for accessory rings and delighted to find gold and emerald ones in Cartagena), visiting the wonderful Botero art museum, Gold Museum, National Museum and incredible cathedral carved out of a salt mine, and a weekend in tropical climate Cartagena with Luz and Natalia. It was a time of recuperation as well as I managed to catch up on sleep, recover from jet lag and adapt to the high altitude of Bogota, which helped prepare for the intense frenzy that New York would inevitably deliver.
I was so excited to be in New York with my Dad and sisters, an extreme concentration of attractive sights, sounds and tastes – the scope of which could only be skimmed across at speed in the four days that we had. I loved getting to the top of the Rockefeller to see the sunset, walking through Central Park, visiting the MoMA, seeing Matilda on Broadway, and eating at Russ and Daughters and the pastrami sandwich and salmon bagel from Katz’s Deli after we happened to stumble upon the famed eatery. Dad repeatedly expressed horror at the prices and 15% tipping and kept urging us to eat a bowl of noodles in Chinatown instead, which we actually did on three occasions – though splurging about USD250 on a steak meal. It was exhausting due to the mileage we covered by foot each day, even more so for Dad, Fi and Tam as they were suffering from jetlag, but exhilarating nonetheless. At the end of our entire trip, when reflecting on our favourite city, I was surprised to hear Dad say it was New York (it was for me too, but Montreal for Tam).
Then onto Toronto and London in Ontario, where the pace of life dramatically slowed down. The week we spent with Uncle Thomas, Auntie Ann, Uncle Chong and Uncle Kit, and their families was pretty special. After not having seen each other for about three decades, and actually only meeting Uncles Thomas and Chong for the first time, it felt like rediscovering long lost relatives. I guess that is what it was. I loved hearing their stories about mum, how she was brave, adventurous (travelling to Australia from Hong Kong as a single woman with her friends, in the 1970s) and a high-achiever (she didn’t want to stay as a factory worker and went to night school to learn Japanese in order to change jobs and travel). And we found out more about the story of mum’s descendants and siblings, how our great-grandfather had first travelled to Canada to work to send money back to his family in Hong Kong. He opened a laundromat in Ontario, and later in life travelled back to Hong Kong where he passed away peacefully while resting in a park. Auntie said he wasn’t able to adapt again to the heat. Our uncles and aunties said they had often wondered over the years how we had turned out after mum passed away, and were glad to see us doing well in life and so happy together. Dad and us three sisters were also happy just to be together as it happens so rarely, once every 1 or 2 years. It was unusually warm for that time of year in Ontario, and so we managed to catch the final days of Autumn where the leaves had changed their colours but only started to fall from the trees. We saw Niagara Falls, did factory outlet shopping, got spoilt with home-cooked banquets and re-discovered the joy of playing Chinese marbles together with just-met cousins.
While Dad moved on to Windsor to spend some time with friends, the three of us girls took the train to Montreal, where it was colder but nonetheless beautiful. We didn’t like the smoked meat at Reuben’s nor so much the famous bagels from St Viateur and Fairmont (not a fan of the sweet tinge that comes from the honey infusion), but the coffee at the Humble Lion (we search for good coffee everywhere we go), poutine at the Arts Café (near the Laurier metro station) and lunch at Olive + Gourmand were really great. And despite the road construction being done throughout many parts of the city, and the closure of many of the exhibitions at the Museum of Fine Arts, walking around the city was still a marvellous delight. I have also never seen Sylvia that impressed with anything as when we were in the Basilica de Notre Dame, the interior of which is truly stunning. If we could ever attend a musical event at that cathedral, given the amazing organ featuring over 7000 pipes, she reckons we definitely should.
The last leg of the trip before heading home was a 5.5 hour flight from Montreal to Vancouver, which I thought necessary to visit Elizabeth and experience the widely-complimented city. Indeed the food (Dad said the dim sum at Neptune Seafood in Richmond was the best he had, and Tam doubted the dumplings at restaurants recommended on the official Dumpling Trail could be much better) and coffee (loved the flat white at Greenhorn Espresso) culture is impressive. And it is for sure a beautiful city, framed by mountains and sea, but the extent of homelessness was a surprise and walking down East Hastings Street, where several people who are sleeping rough, do sex work, or use drugs congregate, was a shocking and surreal experience. That it was sandwiched between the apparent prosperity on display in Gastown and to a lesser extent, Chinatown, added to the confusion. It was disorienting also because Vancouver is often placed amongst the world’s top-ranked cities for having the highest standards of living. It brought up questions about policy and poverty that I will need to look more into.
A constant theme throughout this trip was the US presidential election, given the timing. I am glad we visited New York before the outcome and in Canada by the time the results were announced. But the most important themes were family, love and God’s grace. Life could turn out in so many different ways and it is because at crucial moments we each were able to accept and forgive one another, and to choose love, that we can be grateful and appreciate so much the time together. God is good.
14 November 2016