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Maybe he pedaled all the way from China

November 9, 2014

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Thursday morning (November 6) there was a pedicab parked on the north side of the 1400 block of West Broadway Avenue.That’s a marked taxi stand but I didn’t see the pedicab picking up passengers.

Actually, sitting in my window seat in the McDonald’s restaurant across the street, the only thing I could see at first was a largish flag of the People’s Republic of China waving bright red above the morning rush hour traffic.

Except for the Chinese visa centre one block east, you don’t see that flag so much on West Broadway.

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When the traffic cleared I could see a pedicab. Not a cheap western knockoff but an honest-to-goodness Chinese original, complete with an awning and sides covered in what looked like nylon-coated canvas scavenged from the 2008 Beijing Olympics. And it looked to be the property of an actual white-bearded Chinese elder.

Ni hao do you do!

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I actually has a chance to speak with the owner of the pedicab later on in the evening.

He was still loitering in the 1400 block of West Broadway but somewhere in the course of 12 hours he had moved to a spot on the southeastern corner, in the parking lot of the mini strip mall at the intersection with Hemlock Street.

I could see how he had carefully packed the passenger seating area of the pedicab full with large nylon bags. And I was impressed how the pedicab’s awning kept both he and his stuff perfectly dry in what was, by that time, very steady rain.

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As for the man himself, he was very genial and as we shook hands he proved to have quite the grip for an old fellow — but just on my hand. He had no better grip on English than I do on Chinese. So beyond the friendly merriment I could see in his eyes and his healthy handshake, I couldn’t tell you anything about what he was doing there; whether he was:

  • An eccentric tourist.
  • An eccentric homeless person.
  • an eccentric new resident.
  • Or some other kind of eccentric on the Vancouver leg of a global charity jaunt.

My lack of fluency in any language besides English means I miss out on lots of great stories. like the one that explains why the Fairview neighbourhood was briefly host to a gentleman living out of a pedicab.

I say “briefly” because I haven’t seen him since.

My ancestors must be so proud

I’m half Chinese by birth but you wouldn’t know it to look at me or talk to me.

My parents separated when I was two years old and in the Solomonic wisdom of 1963 the “white” child went with the white parent (in my case that was the father).

I have (or had) a older brother somewhere, who I know looks Chinese. Guess which parent he went with.

I grew up enjoying regular contact with the tiny Chinese community of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I almost think that they doted on me.

When I went to the Red Dragon restaurant I was served real Chinese food rather than westernized fare such as “chow mein” — though the restaurant’s owner would gift me with a giant bag of fortune cookies on my way out (sugar has no nationality).

I spent a good bit of time in my early teens accompanying my father on his visits to cramped wooden rooming houses full of older Chinese men and the undefinable smells that accompany old Chinese men living out their twilight years in wooden rooming houses.

These men were all friends and/or former associates from my father’s younger, wilder days. Based on the stories my father told me, I was respectfully wary of these men and always stayed still and quiet. None of them spoke much in the way of English but my father could speak Chinese. Each visit ended with the men giving me packages of preserved candied fruit from mainland China.

My early teens were also a time I remember, when my uncle “Fred” tried to teach me to speak Chinese. But it was an exercise in futility. His English wasn’t any better than my willingness to be taught. I often responded petulantly by putting ketchup on my rice (I didn’t particularly like it but he hated the sight).

And I remember a few years where some special occasions had my father working all day to prepare actual feasts: rock salt cod; bean cake made from scratch using big rectangular tins-worth of salty, brown, glistening soy bean goop; all manner of great dishes.

That man could cook when he wanted to. I should probably appreciate him for that fact if nothing else.

So I’m not Chinese but I am Chinese. I have no actual grasp of any form of spoken or written Chinese but there’s a particular coastal dialect of Mandarin that catches my uncomprehending attention like a dimly-remembered song of childhood.

And along with any other Chinesian inculcation in what I am pleased to refer to as my upbringing, I will never lose my belief in the utter rightness of Chinese cuisine, as filtered through a Canadian Prairie sensibility.

When couldn’t I go for some steamed bok choi with Chinese pork sausage on a bed of long-grained rice along with some firm bean curd? Not to mention some boiled potato and perogies. Mmm! Click the images to enlarge them.

2 Comments
  1. Another great post! What were the circumstances leading you to live in Vancouver?

    • I moved here in 1980 at age 17. I wanted very much to get away from Saskatoon. It was a well-meaning, narrow-minded town of white folk. I had bad things I wanted to put behind me, having grown up as a ward of the government due to the character of my father. My upbringing was not dissimilar to being raised by wolves (the latter probably providing better family values).

      I chose Vancouver over Toronto because of Vancouver’s vibrant punk scene –I’d done a year or so of university radio and was serious about music. But art was my passion. I already had been doing bits of paid professional work for some years including a few awful editorial cartoons for the Star Phoenix.

      With nothing but $7 dollars and fierce desire I hitchhiked to Vancouver and — as luck would have it — was hired two weeks after I arrived as the Westender’s first illustrator.

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