July 2012

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The dining room at Shanghai River Restaurant in Richmond. Photos by David Lansing.

Maybe you remember that the night I arrived in Vancouver, the first thing I did was go to the Shanghai River Restaurant where I met The Girl in the Purple Stilettos (Mijune Pak) and sampled their shrimp dumplings. I said I’d be back and last night I returned. Sadly, Mijune couldn’t join me as she had other plans.

Two things about Shanghai River: It’s always crowded and the vast majority of diners come in large groups. Like eight or ten people—or more. So if you go as just a couple, it may take awhile to get seated. And if you go alone, like I did, you’re going to end up in one of the two booths they’ve squeezed into the back next to the fish tanks.

Oh, well. What are you going to do?

Winston Lai

My waiter, Winston Lai, with his Justin Bieber haircut.

My waiter, Winston, looked like a Chinese version of Justin Bieber. Very boyish and sweet looking with that wave of hair falling across his face. And it was dyed kind of a rusty color, which seems to be very trendy with Asians right now. I think of it as a Tokyo look but I don’t really know where it came from.

I didn’t want to mess with the menu. I told Winston I wanted him to bring me whatever he thought was really good and I should try. This seemed to paralyze Winston for a moment. I don’t think waiters at Shanghai River are used to people coming in and telling them to bring them whatever they think is good.

So Winston says maybe I should start with the steamed pork buns which, he explained aren’t really like steamed pork buns—more like Shanghai soup dumplings, xiao long bao. “They explode in your mouth,” he said.

That sounded perfect. And he was right; there were eight of them and I wolved them down in minutes while sucking on a cold Tsingtao.

For my next dish, Winston was a bit perplexed. He said the best soup on the menu was the steamed chicken soup with wontons, “But the smallest order is for like six people and probably has a whole chicken in it.”

That sounded a bit much. So he opted for the sweet and sour soup. Which sounds kind of ordinary, but this was anything but. This was one of those dishes you’d never make at home, mostly because it would take you a week to do it. You could tell that just from tasting the broth, which was so rich that it could probably sustain an invading army marching across Siberia in winter.

Sweet & sour soup, Shanghai River Restaurant

Sweet & sour soup at Shanghai River Restaurant.

Get past the broth and there was shredded chicken, circles of green onions, small plump shrimp, shredded pork, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and chiles. I mean, I could have just had a bowl of this soup and a Tsingtao and I would have been very, very happy.

But you don’t come to Shanghai River and just eat soup. So next there were the Szechuan-style prawns—plump, juicy, and tasting of the sea. Also spicy, which I like.

“What do you think?” asked Winston.

I told him I thought I needed another Tsingtao. While he poured it, he told me that his family is from Hong Kong and he came here when he was eight, but “my English isn’t very good because I hang around too much with just Chinese people.”

I told him his English was fine. And the dishes he’d brought me were superb. And they were.
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Sikh at Lulu Island Winery

A Sikh pruning vines at Lulu Island Winery in Richmond. Photo by David Lansing.

Look at this photo. Where are we?

We’re at a winery in Richmond, British Columbia. And out in the vineyard are half a dozen Sikhs pruning grape vines. I told you on Saturday that Laura and I had gone down Richmond’s “Highway to Heaven” where, before we stopped in at a Buddhist Temple, we saw, all side by side, a mosque and a synagogue and several temples, including a Sikh one.

Well, evidently the Sikhs head down the highway to work at Lulu Island Winery. I love that! Although I’m not sure if there’s a bit of a conflict there since Sikhs aren’t supposed to use alcohol or drugs. But maybe it’s okay to help make the alcohol—just as long as you don’t sample it. If there are any Sikhs out there reading this please let me know because, frankly, I’m kind of clueless about Sikhs. All I really know about them is that they wear turbans, aren’t supposed to cut their hair, and they make love to Juliette Binoche (at least in The English Patient).

I should know more. Particularly since there are over 30 million Sikhs world-wide and they’re the fifth-largest organized religion in the world (and one of the most steadily growing—Wikipedia).

Anyway, Laura and I were touring the Lulu Island Winery with Polly and I saw these Sikhs out in the vineyard and I just had to ask her about them. She says they only hire Sikhs to work the vines. “They are very hard workers. I mean, it’s hot out there. I wouldn’t last 30 minutes. But they work out in the vineyard all day long and never complain. They’re amazing.”

So now I know one more thing about them: They’re good workers.

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The bodhisattva Avalokitesvara trying to teach me patience and compassion. God knows I need it. Photo by David Lansing.

There was another Buddha at Richmond’s International Buddhist Temple that I liked a lot better than the Laughing Buddha: Avalokitesvara.

Actually, Avalokitesvara isn’t a Buddha; he’s a bodhisattva. According to Wikipedia, a bodhisattva is “anyone who, motivated by great compassion, has generated bodhicitta, which is a spontaneous wish to attain Buddahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.”

What they’re trying to say is that a bodhisattva is someone who shows you the way to spiritual enlightenment but doesn’t go through the door themselves. Remember that old Steely Dan song: “Bodhisattva would you take me by the hand/Can you show me/The shine of your Japan/The sparkle of your China/Can you show me/Bodhisattva.”

Probably the most popular bodhisattva is Avalokitesvara, which means something like “the Lord who looks down on the world.” That’s because he’s keeping an eye on everyone. Actually, lots of eyes. He’s said to have 10,000 hands and 10,000 eyes in each hand, the better to see you with, my dear.

A Buddhist website says that in Tibet, he is said to be a reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. That’s interesting. “Avalokitesvara teaches us patience as well as compassion. He has withheld his own Buddahood until he has helped every sentient being on earth achieve nirvana.”

I like that idea. Which is maybe why I spent a lot of time on Saturday hanging out Avalokitesvara.

Evidently August 6 is “Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva Enlightenment Day” here at the temple. Lots of chanting going on. Maybe I should come back. If you wonder what chanting to Avalokitesvara might sound like, check out this YouTube video.

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A cruise on the Seine

Cruise on the Seine in Paris

Photo by Katie Botkin.

A Letter from Katie Botkin in France:

In Paris, I’m attending Localization World, which is basically concerned with how to make money in other languages, or at least other cultures. Part of the backstage production involves how to get attendees from the conference venue to our cruise for dinner. We’re paying nearly 100 euros for this dinner cruise on Le Paquebot, supposedly the biggest ship on the Seine, so we’re expecting good service.

There are busses all arranged, and I go down and find them outside the Palais des Congres without too much trouble. So far, so good. I jump in. It’s egregiously hot inside, and the Italian man across from me starts to complain. I run to the front of the bus and ask the driver to turn the air on. He obliges, and we’re off.

We pass the Arc de Triomphe, and make our way to the Eiffel tower. We descend to a small quay and the driver stops. Everyone gets out. Unfortunately, where there should be a luxurious dinner boat, there is nothing. Everyone stands around waiting for something to happen. I go off to the nearest boat to see if maybe they’ve forgotten to put out the welcome sign for us, but it’s locked. By the time I get back, someone has figured out that we’re on the wrong quay. The bus driver is attempting to explain this in English, but it isn’t working very well. I step in, and he switches to French, pointing down to where the boat is actually waiting. I can’t go there easily in a bus, he tells me, but it’s a three-minute walk, just on the other side of the Parisian miniature of the Statue of Liberty.

So I lead the crowd to the boat, where there’s a whole committee standing with plastered-on smiles and a strained look in their eye. We’re the first bus to make it to the destination, which is not a promising sign.

We wait for awhile, and others trickle in, some on foot, some by way of the busses. Apparently, their busses got lost as well, but the drivers were able to work it out to close proximity. Soon, there is only one bus missing. Someone checks Twitter. There’s a tweet from a passenger: the bus has gotten stopped by the police because the driver was talking on his cell phone trying to work out where exactly the quay was. At this point, a group of passengers decided to take matters into their own hands, got off the bus in the middle of traffic, and started walking. In the wrong direction.

Chastised by the police, but duly notified of where to go, the last bus driver escorts his remaining passengers to the boat. They get out. The welcome committee waits for the last twenty people or so, nervously checking the time. The boat is almost two hours behind schedule. It starts to rain. Ten more minutes, they say. We’re only waiting ten more minutes.

The last twenty appear down the alleyway, dressed for dinner in their heels and ruffles. They approach, clop-clop-clop, and march down the gangplank, plunk-plunk-plunk. They are hungry, as is everyone else, but dinner hasn’t been served yet, because the boat hasn’t left.

When it is served, it’s a bit sparse, although it’s tasty. We float past Notre Dame, we float under the Pont Neuf, we have prolonged views of the glittering Eiffel tower. I decide that the price of entry must have been for the experience. Paris by night isn’t bad, even in the rain.

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The Joker Buddha

Maitreya, the Laughing Buddha, at the Kuan Yin Buddhist Temple in Richmond. Photo by David Lansing.

Laura and I pass by stands selling fresh berries and corn and other produce and then all of a sudden in the middle of this farmland there’s a Sunni mosque and then a temple for Sikhs followed by a Krishna center, Jewish synagogue, and several churches. We are on the Highway to Heaven, on our way to the Kuan Yin Temple, one of the most authentic Chinese Buddhist temples in North America.

We walk through the temple’s classical gardens where lotus flowers float in a jade-colored pond surrounded by elegant bonsai trees, all meant to recreate Deer Park where the Buddha Sakyamuni delivered the first sermon to his five disciples thousands of years ago.

And there in a courtyard shaded by fragrant cedar trees is my old friend the Laughing Buddha. Except this Laughing Buddha, unlike the one I wrote about on Tuesday that I saw in the Ten Fu tea shop in the Aberdeen Centre, is a little creepy looking. His white face and lipsticked lips make him look like Heath Ledger’s The Joker from the second Batman movie. Which is too bad. Because the Laughing Buddha is supposed to be a good guy. They say that he will be reborn after the degeneration of times and will succeed Gautama Buddha and help people realize their goodness and compassion. But I don’t know. I’m not feeling that way about this particular Joker Buddha.

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