Saturday, October 20, 2012

Chatting with strangers

While doing my groceries shopping today, 2 strangers chatted with me. Strangers sometimes chat with each other in Metro Vancouver (more often than in Singapore) and it is considered normal and polite social interactions. E.g. While waiting for the bus, while seated next to each other on public transport, while waiting at a supermarket check-out queue, while hunting for bargains at a sale. That's why I find Canadians (of all ethnicity) friendly and sociable in general.

The first was a lady (customer) who saw me examining bowls on sale at a supermarket. She walked next to me, smiled, picked up a bowl and then put it down. Then she remarked to me that the bowl's too heavy. I replied that (the weight due to) the thickness of the bowl is to keep the food warm. She explained that it (i.e. the weight of the bowl) is ok for young people like me (ahem, I probably looked young to her) but the bowls are too heavy for the elderly.
The stranger spoke in Cantonese, looked Chinese and possibly in her 50's or 60's. Then it occurred to me that the Chinese traditionally hold the rice bowl to their lips to scoop/shove small rolls/bites of rice into their mouths with chopsticks. Thus, the weight of the bowls mattered to the elderly Chinese lady. 
Anyway, the stranger remarked further that she uses Corelle bowls. I agreed that those are light indeed, and easy-to-use (i.e. dishwater safe) and beautiful too; however they cost more -- several times more. [“Corelle 碗又轻,又好用,又靓;但咳贵咯!贵几倍。”] Thereafter the lady replied that, "Yes, they cost more. But it is light enough for the elderly to use." I smiled and agreed with her. I have learned something new -- it is important to consider how your target users use the dinnerware and cutlery when making a purchase. Fortunately for me, given my budget and my (rather youthful) target users, I can buy the cheap CAD1 bowls.

TCM ingredients distributor outlet 
opposite Richmond Real Canadian Superstore.
Wide range of products, good price, quality stock.

The second was also a lady (customer) who saw me browsing through the tea section of a Traditional Chinese Medicinal (TCM) ingredients distributor outlet. She also looks Chinese, possibly in her 50's and spoke to me in Cantonese. She was there to compare prices for a "5 flowers tea". She picked up a packet, checked the price, put it down and then remarked to me "Wow, the prices rise so fast. Anyway, there is a sale at the other shop (nearby)." I just smiled and told her that I don't know about the prices since it's my first time at that shop.

Then the lady walked over to the chrysanthemum tea, picked up a packet and told me, “我同你讲,呢个最直得买。裹边个店卖十个几。嘘!莫呸老板知道,呒咳他又起价。” ["I tell you what. This is the most worth buying. The other shop is selling it for CAD10+. Sssshh, don't let the shop owner know or they'll raise the prices."] It was only CAD7.80 at the shop we're at. Then she added, "It's good quality too!" She took a whiff of the smell and then offered it to me, “你闻一下。” ["You try smelling it."] I took a whiff of the smell -- yes, it was indeed fragrant. Then she proceed to explain to me how to re-pack and store the chrysanthemum so that it would last a longer period, which she claimed she learned from the shop owner. She explained that the big packets are compressed and often contained moisture, and thus easily turned mouldy before it is used up. The suggested method is to spread out the compressed chrysanthemum on a large piece of paper (e.g. newspaper) and let it air dry for while. Then repack them into sealable plastic bags (e.g. Ziploc bags) and store in the re-fridgerator shelf.

Big clumps of chrysanthemum tea

Spread out the chrysanthemum flowers
to allow the trapped moisture to evaporate

Then the stranger mentioned some ways to combine the chrysanthemum with other tea ingredients depending on the nature/state of my health. [Sorry, I cannot recall much of it.] I remarked that she seemed to know a lot about the herbs. She explained that she learned from experience. She stated that she was previously diagnosed with a terminal illness, and that at one stage, her pain was so bad that she needed injections that cost tens of thousands of dollars. [I don't know how true her story is, maybe she opted for treatment that is not covered under the province's approved medication list.] Anyway, her husband and herself were about to give up, but decided to give the TCM (traditional chinese medicine) approach a try. I remarked that it is great that it worked for her. She stated, “噻佐二几万银。” ["Used about CAD20+K."] I replied, “噻佐二几万银揭番条命都直得噶。” ["Spend about CAD20+K to regain one's life is still worth it."] She smiled and agreed. Then she joked that looking at me, dressed so "thickly"* that my health is possibly worse than hers despite my "youth". [“嘞供年轻,麽窘供多裳。可能嘞键康总比我差。”] I laughed and agreed. [*Note: I was prepared to be out until nightfall, and thus I wore my padded coat on my shoulders despite the nice afternoon weather because I was too lazy to carry it around. But then, I agree that my health is possibly worse than hers, given her somewhat radiant looks.]

Just before she left, the stranger shared another recipe -- combine handfuls of broad beans [扁豆], red beans [小红豆] and barley [薏米] and boil into a nutritious and delicious snack. Then she added, “今日的扁豆某靓,莫买!” ["Today's broad beans aren't good-looking, don't buy!"] And thus, I learned yet more new stuff from yet another stranger today.


This morning, I had brunch with PN. We met as strangers chatting at a police station in Singapore. She is now one of my close, caring and reliable friends in Canada.

In the evening I went out for dinner with my friend HC. HC migrated from Hong Kong to Vancouver in her teens and she has been here for around 40 years now. As we chat, I learned more about the Canadian norms and her observations of her fellow Canadians. It is amazing that we were strangers too, just over 2 years ago when she responded to my email questions about a room-to-let.

p.s. Please excuse my poor Cantonese typing -- I have not figured out how to get the proper Cantonese words using my keyboard yet.


  1. Yes, miss nurse you are definitely on the right track. A good Cantonese woman should have at least a dozen soup recipes ready to satisfy her man. Unfortunately these days, such sentiments are no longer fashionable. These sort of statements where "A good Cantonese woman..." forms the prologue is often viewed as passé and even smacks of MCPness. 

    Do you see how the world seems to delight in gutting out the significant and replacing it with something plastic and kitsch. Wonder no more why these days the whole idea of cooking is alien to most women - they even derive a sense of pride for leaving the cooking to someone else. Cooking these days is as vogue as wearing Doris Day flared skirts. Modern women prides herself with the power of emancipation and the anti-thesis of this notion is the act of cooking - cooking conjures up images of male dominance where the female is relegated to the secondary role of supporting the breadwinner. 

    But I don't see it that way at all. I see this entire act of a woman searching for just the right ingredients to create a perfect bowl of soup to warm the cockles of her man's heart as a very tender and beautiful thing. A microcosm of love in action.

    One day Miss Nurse if you really want to know whether a man knows how to appreciate a good thing and to love you from A to Z - all you really have to do is to serve him your killer bowl of soup. 

    The truth will be revealed there and then. Only be solemnly forewarned. Alas modern man is no longer equipped to seek this sliver of heaven out. You can even say these days, modern man is so open minded his brains is probably spilling out - he's so into projecting the image of the new age man that there is really no distinction between the role of a man or the  woman any longer - to modern man the idea of gender has morphed into syntax, it is a punctuation and has therefore ceased to be a word in the true sense of the word. To paraphrase the idea of womanhood has been successfully assassinated by those who adhere to the idea that anything goes these days - and should we fail to understand, it's kooky Tao. Then the default position, is that we are to be blamed for being parochial and insular. Perhaps even bovine in failing to appreciated the nuances in society. you see how a bowl of soup that is thoughtfully brewed by a woman or a man contains within it, the entire repository of what it means to be a woman. Her care in the selection of what goes into this bowl of heaven - her diligence and attention to detail. These things are very beautiful to me.

    Darkness 2012

    1. Hi Darkness,

      Thanks for visiting and sharing your views.

      IMHO, between a couple (whether heterosexual or homosexual), safety, shelter, food, hygiene are basic needs to be met. I am one of those modern gender-neutral folks who does not care who (i.e. which gender) does what, as long as together, the couple meets their needs. In my view, unless the couple does not mind eating out and/or ordering-in for every single meal (and can afford to do so), it is a matter of practicality that one or both of them is/are able and willing to cook. I believe that if a person really loves his/her partner, he/she will do/learn whatever needed to meet the needs of couplehood. So yeah, I don't believe in statements starting with "A good Cantonese woman..." Indeed, I would change it to a gender-neutral "A good partner..."

      > if you really want to know whether a man knows how to appreciate a good thing and to love you from A to Z - all you really have to do is to serve him your killer bowl of soup.

      Or a killer bowl of whatever. I have done it before for SMS. It wasn't fantastic cooking as it was done at his kitchen in France, while he was at work. A French kitchen does not have the typical ingredients needed for Chinese cooking, nor do the typical French supermarkets. Still, SMS finished the food despite struggling with the spicy flavours (he was mopping his forehead and face with each spoonful) and still thanked/complimented me. That was when I knew SMS truly loved me back then. But too bad, the miles apart, time-zone differences, the long work-hours (for me), breakdown in communications, mismatch in expectations (that weren't communicated until late in the game) snowballed into broken trust and a relationship turned sour.

      The movie "Eat Drink Man Woman" [饮食男女] portrayed this lovebird behaviour very well when the elderly chef father ate up everything in the (supposedly bland) lunchbox prepared by his lover for her school-going daughter.

      Anyway taking one's time to cook with love is quite therapeutic. As the movie trailer above blurped, "if you can't cope, you can always cook." And as I've mentioned above, it does not always have to be the woman cooking for the man. The reverse can also happen. I have seen this in some couples that I know -- all I can see is the love between the couple to do whatever it takes to make the relationship work.

      As for the recipes, I am lucky to be born Cantonese. We grew up drinking soups -- and we were finicky children who refused to eat our rice if there was no soup. My family is poor/lower-middle class, so we would eat up whatever ingredients that is chewable in the soup, so that little goes to waste. As a result, I learn the ingredients mainly through eating. That is why I prefer to shop in those places where the items are laid out for us to choose, because I would often recognize the ingredients but do not know their names. Anyway, for a period during our mid-teen years, my sister and I were thrown into the deep-end suddenly, and found ourselves cooking dinner (including daily soup) for the entire family. From our experience, it seems that "learning soup recipes through eating the ingredients" approach worked.

      I may post some of my recipes here on the blog. My French friends have been asking for them since they quite liked some of the stuff I've cooked for them.

      Cheers, WD.