There’s a little plaza on my way to the dentist. I’ve driven past it three or four times a year for the past two decades. Used to be a pretty ordinary place, easy to miss—generic grocery, dry cleaner, bank, doughnut shop, LCBO (this was when outlets didn’t actually display booze; instead, they had pens chained to the counters and you had to order your Blue Nun by scribbling a code onto a slip of paper which you’d then hand to a dusty grey gentleman who would shuffle into the back room disapprovingly to fetch it for you).
Eventually it was all replaced with an Asian grocery and various shops—I didn’t know what kind of shops because I never went there again.
Not until yesterday.
I was half an hour early for a dental appointment. Normally early means reading time. I drove past the plaza as usual. A block later I turned around, drove back, pulled in under a sign that said Chinese Halal Restaurant.
I’ve been reading Kathleen Winter’s blog, where she’s doing a new thing every day—might be she’s wearing red tights in public, or buying orange lipstick, or leaving the room to crotchet a necklace when company gets dull—and I’m loving this stuff. Makes me want to do my own new daily thing but I realize it’s a commitment. Got to be in the right head space. And I’m not. My thing this year is not focussing on the new but getting rid of the old.
Thing is, newness is creeping into my life nonetheless. Partly, no doubt, because of the not so subliminal messages of my daily Cachaca and Green Cheroot fix, and partly because with every bit of ‘old’ I toss, I’m actually making room for something new. It’s like I’m working on a different end of the same stick.
Old new. Ying yang.
The plaza, as it turned out, was like any plaza except the signs were in Chinese and the cantaloupe was dragon fruit. A Chinatown vibe but less frenetic. Compact. Easier to park.
And it was new. Which equalled fun.
I bought okra chips and New Year’s clementines with the stems and leaves still on—the regulars were pulling them off because they’re sold by the pound, but too pretty for this tourist to remove. I also got birthday cards in Chinese characters and one mystery card. The woman at the store couldn’t tell me what it said… Not birthday, not new year, not thank you, not party… Anniversary?… Not anniversary, not sadness…Wedding?… Not wedding… And little red paper money bags to tuck inside. I loved how, at the checkout the cashier chatted merrily in (Cantonese?) with every customer then when I got there she rang in my stuff and said You want a bag? (I love how, unlike travelling in, say, Europe, where you might be taken for a local, I’m relaxed in Asian cultures, knowing I won’t have to figure out how to explain that I don’t speak the language, that being a tall white blue-eyed Caucasion is enough of a clue.) I watched some old guys happily arguing at a table in front of a tea shop and just as I was leaving I caught the eye of a woman pacing outside the BBQ pork place that didn’t open til 11 a.m. Her expression such hungry anticipation I’ve already made a mental note to go back—after 11—sometime soon.