9 Notes on Re-Entering Canada After Quite a Long Time Away

I have evaded jet lag! I have traveled four hundred bazillion light years from Shanghai to Vancouver to Vancouver Island, crossed the International Date Line, stayed up for 34 hours continuously during my journey and initial arrival, and seem to have righted my circadian rhythms unceremoniously and efficiently.  I was in Vancouver over the weekend and now I’m in lovely, quiet Victoria, holed up in my parents’ house. For those of you unfamiliar with my personal geography, I’m here:

This lovely map was brought to you by the lovely folks at rivercorp.ca

It’s been a year and a half since my last journey home. That one was for a month in mid-winter, dark and cold and hermitty.  I hadn’t been home in summer since 2004. Living a de-centralized lifestyle can do that to a person. It’s good to be back. Let me tell you about it.

  1. Out at the Pudong International Airport in the far reaches of Shanghai, I had a long queue for the check-in. Ahead of me was a plethora of young Chinese tourists trying to rearrange their over sized, over weight suitcases so they could be checked in. What made these suitcases so marvelously plump and weighty? Why, the half-dozen ten kilo bags of rice they’d packed. When flying to Vancouver, one must make sure that one won’t starve to death. I thought about clearing my throat and tapping them on the shoulder and attempting to explain in mangled Chinese that, well, you can buy rice in Vancouver but decided against it. They would find out soon enough.
  2. On the flight I was in the 4-seat middle row, in an aisle seat next to an empty seat and a mother and son traveling together. The mother had packed a huge cooler bag full of Tupperware containers filled with whole, unpeeled shrimp, which she ate like popcorn throughout the flight (like popcorn that has eyes and pokey little legs and exoskeleton that you spit out into a paper cup every twenty seconds or so and then hand to the flight attendant when filled to just above the brim). Midway through the flight, during the movie, she hauled out a bag of wet chicken feet and ate them like Twizzlers (like Twizzlers that you bite off at the knuckle then chew for a while before spitting the bone and skin out into another paper cup which is passed on to the flight attendant when full). Her son spent most of the eleven or so hours puking into his barf bag as she ate her shrimp and toes.
  3. On the airplane television screens, they played an odd mishmash of astronomy documentaries (yay! quasars!), pseudo-astronomy investigations into UFO sighting over Arizona in 1997, and an E! thing on The Black Swan which reminded me that without the interruption of commercials, a lot of programs are really just a series of repeated obvious statements which are then repeated again an then summarized before moving on to the next set of obvious statements. I think in the whole 20-odd minute program only about a dozen sentences were uttered.
  4. In Vancouver, I was met at the airport by my best friend from Turkey, who had emigrated to Canada last summer with her Sudanese partner. Her life has been very similar to mine- lots of travel and expattery and non-linear pathways- until now. Now she’s trying to figure out how to live a settled life in Vancouver and the culture shock that has come with it. She’s American but has never lived in America as an adult, just as I’ve never lived in Canada as an adult. It’s a very alien feeling trying to settle in at age 36. She had errands to run over the weekend, so I ignored my jet lag and tagged along as she drove around Vancouver, going to big box super stores and DIY warehouses. We parked in vast, crowded parking lots, we dodged huge shopping carts, we shook our heads in bewilderment at the sight of the aisles and aisles of Stuff. You want twenty different kinds of salt? You want a hundred kinds of sugared cereal? You want a kilo of cold cuts? You want five bags of chips for a buck? Ok. My head felt like it was going to explode. I missed my street in Shanghai with the doomed chickens and flopping fish and greens laid out on the sidewalk. I missed my jian bing/hardware lady.  I missed shops the size of a small SUV.
  5. In the Rona DIY warehouse, I bought her a donut to comfort her and we strolled the aisles full of fifty sizes of nail and twenty sizes of hammer and thirty sizes of casters while her partner went off in search of whatever it was he needed to fix his food cart (he has a very good kofte/donair cart that is parked on the corner of Granville and Robson st– do go. The donair is marinated in Jamaican jerk seasonings and the kofte is Sudanese style). As we walked down the kilometer of nails, her thought process was something like this: nothing here functions on its own. Everything here needs more things and you use these to make something else or to fix something else or to embiggen something else– but everything there depended on needing more things. What if… what if you decided that none of these things were necessary to begin with? What if everyone suddenly realized that, in the grand scheme of things, we really don’t need any of these things? Would the universe implode?
  6. I met Nomadic Chick and she plied me with congee at midnight. I think this helped me to avoid jet lag.
  7. After only three full days here, I already feel calmer, saner, healthier. My hair doesn’t look like I rinse it in acid rain now. The internet is unblocked and I can read freely. I feel quiet and balanced.  It’s good to be home. I have a feeling that this wouldn’t last if I actually decided to stay here. Visiting is like a retreat. Living here makes me tired and annoyed and complacent.
  8. Public washrooms have hot water! And toilet paper! Which you can flush!
  9. I can understand what people are saying, without any effort. This is good because I can ask questions, answer questions, comment, express myself without sounding like a stilted idiot. I’ve found myself asking shop assistants long, convoluted questions, just because I can. This easy comprehension is also bad, however, because I now remember that most of what I can hear is just noise and chatter and inanities. I actually prefer being able to tune out the mindless small talk.

Being home with my parents means I am also confronted with my past, which I don’t tend to carry with me when I live abroad. Let me show you, in chronological order, some of these things.


I had to hunt and fish for my dinner! Raised by wild salmon, taught by elk!

Yes, my childhood was straight out of, say, Call of the Wild

Early 1990s ephemera and detritus, as it were: clearing out drawers and cupboards

Count the hair styles and colours. A decade of ID cards in Europe and Canada and Turkey

This would be me, aged barely 20, after a late night in Galway, Eire

Lola Kedi, age 2 months, back in my old Istanbul flat in 2005

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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog’s title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.