Monthly Archives: December 2013
From Santa Claus From Santa Claus
Mystery solved! Where do letters to Santa Claus go?
Have you ever wondered where letters to Santa Claus go? I can tell you. They go to Indiana. Santa Claus, Indiana. And Santa writes back.
Each year the Santa Claus Museum & Village and a group of local volunteers called “Santa’s Elves” answer letters sent from children all around the world. They make sure each child receives a reply from Santa Claus; in 2012 over 14,000 letters were answered. As long as they have a return address on them, the good people of Santa Claus, Indiana do everything they can to answers these letters, continuing a tradition that goes back as far as 1914.
One volunteer, Lisa, told me that some letters make them laugh; others make them cry. But they answer every one. What makes them even more special is that they get a special postmark from the Santa Claus, Indiana post office. This makes me wish I’d sent…
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Give A Book Lover A Little Something Extra
Is Santa bringing an e-reader to someone who loves young adult books? Add to their excitement by downloading a copy of GUITAR HERO on sale at the Kindle Store today until Dec. 23 for only 99 cents. It’s just a little something extra that will help them enjoy the holiday. Click here to read a review. DOWNLOAD IT NOW from Amazon.
Hotcakes and Hiccups
I recently had a conversation with one of my co-workers that could only happen in a place like Montreal where we constantly switch back and forth in French and English at work. While I can work in French, I don’t have an extensive daily vocabulary. The same can be said of my co-worker who is French and can work in English. We often help each other out, asking about grammar and the correct way to say something. Our desks are side by side with a divider in between, so while we can’t see each other, we can talk to each other.
Now the key words in this conversation are “hoquet” which is French for hiccup and the word “hotcakes.” If you say “hotcakes” with a heavy French accent, guess what it sounds like?
Our conversation went like this:
Co-worker: I have hoquet.
Me: You had hotcakes?
Co-worker: Is that how you say it in English?
Me: Yes. Hotcakes?
Co-worker: Oh, that is interesting. I have hoquet.
Me: It’s the same as pancakes.
Me: Hotcakes is another way to say pancakes.
Co-worker: I think that is not what I mean. I have hoquet.
Me: You had hotcakes for lunch?
Co-worker: No. Hoquet. (She hiccups loudly)
Me: You have hiccups!
Co-worker: What? Hoquet? It is the same?
Me: No, hiccups. H-i-c-c-u-p. How do you spell it in French?
Me (puzzled): So hotcakes gave you hiccups?
Maybe it wasn’t just the language. We had a good laugh. 🙂
Have you ever had a conversation like this?
Sharing the Joy of Reading
Is Santa bringing an e-reader for a young book lover? How about giving them a little something extra? From December 17th to 23rd, my young adult novel, GUITAR HERO, will be on sale for only 99 cents at the Kindle Store. Click here to read a review on Amazon.
Mark your calendar. Add to their joy by downloading a copy of GUITAR HERO.
An Old-Fashioned Chinese-Canadian Christmas
Well, I’m officially in holiday mode. I’ve got a wreath on my door, my Christmas tree is up, (all 12 inches) and I’ve started shopping for gifts (so far I bought two for me and zero for anyone else).
But what really makes it feel like Christmas is watching Christmas movies on TV: White Christmas, Elf, Christmas Vacation, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas are a few. My absolute favourite is A Christmas Story. Did you know that it was filmed in Canada? That last scene in the Chinese restaurant is classic. It’s not only a movie classic, it’s a classic Chinese-Canadian Christmas because when I was a kid, I spent every Christmas Day in my family’s restaurant.
The winters of my childhood practically guaranteed a white Christmas. I buckled on my brown rubber boots with a fake white fur trim sometime in November when flakes started to fall and by mid-December accumulated enough for snowball fights at recess. It was in elementary school where, being the only Chinese in the entire school, I learned about the meaning of Christmas. I already knew about Santa Claus, but I had suspicions about whether he really existed because whenever I asked for a toy, my parents asked how much it cost and I was pretty sure Santa wasn’t concerned about money.
In 1962, my father bought out his partners and became the sole owner of Lee’s Garden, a Chinese-Canadian restaurant on Park Avenue in Montreal. With my mother managing the kitchen and my dad out front with the customers, the restaurant opened early in the morning until the wee morning hours the next day. Neither rain, nor sleet nor snow nor hail could keep the restaurant closed. Customers could always count on a hot bowl of won ton soup, egg rolls with plum sauce, a platter of almond ding, Cantonese chow mein or any other Chinese-Canadian dish 365 days a year.
Preparations for Christmas began in September when my father placed his order for calendars with a printer in Hong Kong. In November, Canada Post delivered boxes of wall calendars featuring pretty Chinese woman wearing “teong sam,” the short-sleeved, tight fitting, satin dresses with the mandarin collar. Then on December 1st, calendars were rolled-up and slipped inside every bag of take-out, to thank customers for their business during the past year and to wish them the best in the new one. Like Santa pouring over the naughty and nice list, a list was dutifully kept of every family who received a calendar to ensure there wasn’t any duplication.
When the time came to put up the tree, my father bought the biggest one he could find at the neighbourhood tree seller for five dollars. He and my brother grappled with a tree that seemed determined not to come inside. When they finally made it through the front door, it took the help of the waiter plus a cook or two to get it upright and to screw it into the metal stand. Breathless from exertion, everyone stepped back to admire the tree.
My dad would always say, “Looks good,” even if one side had a bare spot that would have to be turned to the wall. The tree had a special place in the corner, in the little waiting area beside the front entrance. The tree would be at least as tall as the doorway with plenty of room between the tree top and the high ceiling for the star.
First order of business was to water the tree. Then, dusty boxes filled with decorations were brought upstairs from storage. My dad connected strings of lights into extension cords that would make a modern day fire official cringe. We crossed our fingers praying that none of the bulbs were burnt out or else someone would have the tedious job of checking them one by one. Cheers mingled with sighs of relief when the lights glowed. As we decorated the tree with garland, glass ornaments, tinsel and a foil star from Woolworth’s, statues of the three Buddhas of health, wealth and happiness smiled at us from their perch on the shelf above the counter.
On Christmas Eve, my father typed up the Christmas special my mother had planned. Like the other daily specials it included won ton soup, egg rolls, chicken fried rice and a choice from two other dishes. Dessert was either red or green Jell-O with a dollop of whipped cream. That was the Christmas touch.
My dad prepared the menu for the daily specials like this: he rolled two small sheets of paper with a piece of carbon paper in the middle into the old Underwood typewriter. Using two fingers, he typed out the Christmas special without making a single mistake. Then he’d get the jelly pan with the thick layer of gelatine from the refrigerator. The carbon copy of the daily special was carefully placed face down onto the gelatine. Then he gently rubbed his fingers over the entire sheet of paper several times. When he peeled the paper off, a mirror image of the daily special was left on the gelatine. Then he placed a blank rectangular sheet of paper over the exact same spot using the side of the pan to keep it straight and again gently rubbed his fingers back and forth over the entire sheet of paper. This time, when he peeled the paper from the gelatine, he had a perfect carbon copy of the Christmas special. He continued rubbing sheets of paper on the gelatine until he had printed enough copies for all the menus. Then, he cleaned the gelatine with water and put it back into the refrigerator, ready to be used the next day.
Christmas morning, the restaurant opened at ten instead of eight, affording my parents a bit of time with my brother, my sister and me to open presents at home. The smell of fresh coffee brewing greeted customers along with smiles and a cheerful “Melly Clistmas.” By noon, there was a steady stream of customers. The Christmas special was a popular choice.
At six in the evening, the doors were locked and a sign “Closed for Christmas party” was taped onto the glass door. Customers still finishing their meal were offered a free glass of wine or a shot of whiskey. As they slowly filtered out into the cold snowy night, our guests filtered in.
There were two or three men, friends of my parents, and the waiters and cooks who had the day off. Occasionally, someone new was invited, an acquaintance who didn’t have any place to go. All of these men had left parents, wives and children behind in China while they tried to build a life in Gold Mountain. One or two, like my father, were head tax payers and unlike my father were not successful in bringing wives and children to Canada after the end of the Second World War. My mother arrived in 1950 after being separated from my father for almost a decade. Our guests didn’t speak about their families and nobody asked, not wanting to remind them of any bad memories of either World War II or the Japanese invasion of China and the suffering that was inflicted on both sides of the ocean. These men, “Bachelors,” as they were known in the community, were happy to be in Canada, in Montreal, in our restaurant, warm and with the promise of a good home-cooked meal. We were the family they would know for many Christmases.
My dad welcomed his guests with a warm handshake and my uncle stood behind him, offering them a shot of Johnny Walker whisky to take off the winter chill. There were even bigger smiles later on when my dad handed out Christmas bonuses to the staff.
The waiters removed the low partition between two sets of booths that ran down the middle of the restaurant, enough to seat twenty-five. I helped set the tables with chopsticks and golden rice bowls decorated with a fiery dragon. When my mother announced that supper was ready, everyone settled into the booths in good humour, urging someone else to take what might be the best or the most comfortable place. Bird’s nest soup, Cantonese lobster, and seafood stir-fry filled the tables, but my favourite dish which we only ate at Christmas was what my father once jokingly told me was “Chinese turkey.” It’s a rectangular pan layered with chicken and shrimp and a thin layer of crispy chicken skin on top, War Siu Guy. My mother laboured over it for hours and it was heavenly. With the first part of the ten course meal on the tables, someone would always call for a toast. The adults raised glasses of whisky mixed with seven-up, and we kids raised our soft drinks, to toast the end of another year and happiness, health and wealth in the new one.
What are your favourite childhood memories of the holiday season?
And I would like to thank…
This blog post is long overdue. Kim@Tranquil Dreams, nominated me for The Versatile Blogger Award early in November. Read her post here. Her praise means a lot as I could not have started this blog without her mentorship. Thank you, Kim!
Finally! I’m an award winning writer! 😀
Writing this blog has opened up a whole new world for me. I’ve discovered interesting bloggers around the world and have explored more in my own city in search of blog topics. It’s educational, interesting, fascinating, and addictive, but most of all, FUN!
So, in accepting this award, there are some rules I have to follow:
– Display the Award on your Blog.
– Announce your win with a post and thank the Blogger who nominated you.
– Present 15 deserving Bloggers with the Award.
– Link your nominees in the post and let them know of their nomination with a comment
– Post 7 interesting things about yourself.
That last rule is a little difficult. Even though I’m a writer, I never know what to say about myself. Writing bios is agonizing, so to come up with seven interesting things about myself…well…that’s part of the reason why this blog is late. But, Kim has provided me with some questions to answer so that makes it alot easier. Here goes:
1) What makes you happiest?
Connecting with friends.
2) Do you love the Oceans or Mountains more?
Either one as it means I’m on VACATION!
3) What has been a special moment in 2013?
Launching my first young adult novel “Guitar Hero”.
4) What’s your favourite quote?
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them” Maya Angelou
5) Do you stay up till midnight on New Year?
6) What was your favourite class when still at school?
7) Do you like to do Crafts, Drawing or Painting?
Actually, sewing. When I was in high school, I sewed some of my clothes.
And now, the bloggers to who I would like to give The Versatile Blogger Award. You may not notice me much as I just like to read and browse through all the terrific posts, and I’m more of a clicking “like” person than a “comment” person. But I do enjoy your posts and appreciate the work and creativity that goes into writing them, so thank you for that. The list is in no particular order:
The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say “Shhh”
Hey From Japan – Notes on Moving, Emily Cannell
The Writing on the Wall: Ordering a Chinese Meal
With the holidays approaching, there’s going to be alot of getting together with friends over brunch, lunch and supper. So, I thought I’d post an article I wrote about ordering a meal in a Chinese restaurant that was published in the Oh Canada! column in the October 2002 issue of Canadian Living magazine.
Bon appétit! Or should I say Chin Chin!
* * *
When my father was alive, we celebrated holidays and birthdays with family dinners in Chinatown. Combined with my older brother’s and sister’s families, we would commandeer the largest table at our favourite restaurant.
While we buried our heads in the menus, my father would sit back, cross his arms and seem to stare off into outer space. When the waiter arrived, we would shout out our favourite dishes by their numbers on the menu.
When it was my dad’s turn, he would ask about dishes that weren’t on the menu. The waiter would brief him on the delicate flavouring of duck tongue, fried intestines and stewed tripe. Any mention of bitter melon fermented with black beans would make my father’s mouth water. “But they would never eat it,” he would mourn with a nod in our direction, and sadly order something for us with beef, pork or chicken. After scribbling characters onto his notepad, the waiter would shuffle off to the kitchen. My dad would turn to us with a sigh of dismay, and say, “You don’t know how to eat!”
According to him, the best dishes were not printed on the stain-speckled plastic menus the waiter tossed onto the table; they were written on the white, pink or red sheets of paper that adorn the walls of many restaurants in Chinatown. Black brush strokes list delectable dishes that are unfamiliar to the North American palate. Being Canadian-born, I always felt that ordering a meal off the wall required special skills to crack the secret code – like Indiana Jones reading hieroglyphs. If only I had made it past Grade 1 in Chinese school.
When the waiter returned with part of our order carefully balanced along the length of one arm, my dad would lament the predictability of his Canadian-born children and grandchildren. Cantonese chow mein and lemon chicken were mainstays at our every meal. Oh, we enjoyed traditional dishes, such as Eight Enhancement Soup, chicken boiled in soy sauce and Cantonese lobster, but it was the writing on the wall that separated immigrant from Canadian-born Chinese.
“What is it?” I would ask when an unrecognizable dish found a spot on the crowded lazy Susan in the centre of our table.
“Oh, good stuff,” my dad would say, glowing in anticipation of eating his choice dish. “Nothing you like.”
I would eye it suspiciously and sniff its aroma. I would interrogate my father and the waiter on the ingredients. My dad would grunt his displeasure at my behaviour. Was this really just about the food, or had I missed the cultural boat by ordering from the wrong menu?
My Canadian-born Chinese friends also back away from the wall when we dine together. And if the waiter reads the specials off the wall in Cantonese or whatever is his native dialect that ultimately brings up another embarrassing point: we can’t understand Chinese either.
“Can’t read and can’t speak?” a waiter once exclaimed, echoing our parents’ disappointment. “Lemon chicken!” he sang out in heavily accented English as we slowly sank under the table in embarrassment.
My father passed away several years ago, and, though our families still gather for special dinners, the ones in Chinatown are less frequent. On those rare occasions, it’s my brother who – with the waiter’s help – ventures to order off the wall.
When an unfamiliar dish arrives, I still look at it with suspicion. But you know what? I really like lemon chicken.