My few weeks of hiatus from the Pond led me to the bustling city of Toronto. Just the second weekend of September there were over 80 events planned across the city: festivals, concerts, food fares, cultural celebrations… In the downtown core, road closures, frenzy and chaos. The main attraction with international focus of course is the Toronto International Film Festival. Since this is the first in person TIFF after two years of Covid measures, I chose to avoid the huge gatherings and stay closer to nature, far from the madding crowd… I’ll have to wait to watch the selections hopefully later in the year.
Then came the sad news of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, 70 years on the throne, the longest reigning British monarch and the longest female sovereign in history. Politics aside, being born and raised during my formative years in the former British colony of Hong Kong, I much appreciate the freedom to grow up in an environment where East meets West, unlike what Kipling had surmised.
I studied both classical Chinese as well as English literature in school, donning a uniform in cheongsam (do google it if you’re not sure what it is) but wore bell bottom pants when out; grew up watching numerous kung fu movies while following closely all James Bond flicks; savoured home cooked Chinese meals as well as those from international sources; yes, and love the fusion of Hong Kong style western cuisine, street foods and snacks. A prime example is Hong Kong style milk tea with condensed milk, best to pair with a pineapple bun with a piece of ice cold butter in the middle, oh, and egg tarts.
Looking back, it was a period when I was free to explore different world views and thinking. I still remember following a classmate to a secondhand bookstore in an obscure alley after school, looking up books on psychology and philosophy; or one time, catching another classmate secretly reading her own book held under her desk during class. When I asked her later out of curiosity what she was reading, no, it wasn’t a comic book or a teen magazine, but Somerset Maugham’s short stories. That was my intro to the wonderful writer.
My nanny loved Chinese operas. She was a versatile, middle age woman who lived in our home and acted almost as my substitute mother. She read Dream of the Red Chamber at night before she slept, daytime too busy for her. I grew up reading Chinese translations of world literature for children and some Enid Blyton, while also saved up enough pocket money to buy my Mad Magazine. I learned to play the piano and listened to The Beatles and The Monkees. The first LP album in our home was My Fair Lady.
What do all these memories have to do with the Queen? For me, it was a period of growing up experiencing both East and West in a British colony that didn’t require its citizens to sing “God Save the Queen,” or demand The Union Jack be hoisted in schools. I’d enjoyed the freedom to explore despite a rigid home environment. If I were to write a memoir some day, it would likely be in the theme of a growing up where East meets West, where the fusion of the two is exciting and appealing, and where opportunities are plentiful, and I was free to live life in an interesting, borderless fusion of cultures.
So, it was the end of an era when the Queen passed. Now the world seems to have grown polarized, tempers flare when people of opposite views confront, and where the ominous observation by Kipling is becoming all the more acute as autocracy begins to prevail.
As I was wandering the lakeshore in Toronto, I caught sight of some lively monarch butterflies. It was a pleasant surprise, as I wasn’t expecting seeing them in such an urban environ. From one Monarch to another, may these monarchs be free and lively as they migrate thousands of miles south, following the instinct endowed by their Creator’s design.
From one Monarch to another:
13 thoughts on “Try to remember the kind of September…”
What fun! The white flower looks like white boneset; it’s a flower that butterflies adore. The purple is butterfly bush — what a nice coincidence. I think it’s easy to understand how that one got its name.
The thing about Monarchs (or any butterfly, for that matter) is that they go where the flowers are. There’s been quite a movement in Houston and its suburbs to plant more flowers that are native, and attractive to pollinators. I suspect the same thing is happening in Toronto — to your benefit!
I enjoyed your reflections on your childhood and youth, too. Growing up in Iowa in the 1950s provided some similar experiences. Many of the people my parents grew up with, and that I encountered in my grandparents small town, were quite a mix: Italian, Czech, Irish, Welsh, Swedish, and Norwegian. Most of the older folks were immigrants who arrived in the late 1800s or early 1900s, and their kids grew up in homes where native tongues were spoken and cultural customs were maintained. Whenever the adults didn’t want us kids to know what they were talking about, they’d switch languages: darn!
Lovely, Arti, but politics, peoples’ policies are always a part of life.
On another note, I do wish that you would remove the cover of The Lost Daughter. The picture on the cover is so very unnecessary and is degrading of children.
God bless, C-Marie
What a beautiful and thoughtful post. I loved hearing about your childhood, the cultures That pineapple bun and the tarts looked so delicious. I’m interested in the fusion of the two cooking cultures. And I loved hearing of your encounter in the bookstore. Your nanny sounds like an interesting woman and being exposed to the things she knew about as well as family and school life has no doubt shaped you into a remarkable and curious individual. I think we are shaped by our pasts, modified by our presents (whenever they are) and still have much to learn from our futures. You seem to be doing it all.
I’ll be interested to hear more about Toronto and the festival offerings too. I’m sorry you didn’t get to see as much of the Queen’s memorials on television as you would have liked (but they’re all online in this day and age!) She was a remarkable woman and it was interesting hearing about your relationship. Take care and happy weekend!
Always a reflection and deep blog. Thank you for sharing. What a classy and graceful Queen. I shall miss her.
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An achingly beautiful post! Thanks for sharing.
Yes, tea with condensed milk paired with egg tart sounds heavenly, but an ice cold butter sandwich? That’s instant laxative!
It’s interesting you mention your encounter with the monarch butterflies.
Yesterday was the 2nd anniversary of an old friend’s passing. I paid a visit to her gravesite and talked to her about fun old times, when out of nowhere a monarch butterfly landed on my arm and lingered for a minute or so then flew away…
Looking forward to your next post, Arti, and someday, your memoir of growing up in colonial Hong Kong.
Thanks for your kind ripples. A Monarch butterfly landing on your arm at the graveside… that’s magical. And a memoir some day? That’s magical too. 🙂
Thank you for sharing your memories Arti, I very much enjoyed reading them! Did you not see any films at the TIFF then?
I stayed away from the crowds this time, the first in-person TIFF where all Covid measures were dropped. But will definitely watch the winner of the People’s Choice Awards when it hits theatres or streaming: Steven Spielberg’s autobiographical The Fabelmans, as well as the 2nd and 3rd place winners, Sarah Polley’s Women Talking, and the Knives Out sequel Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. Watch for them later this year, Stefanie.
A Knives Out sequel? Ooooh. I will put all three on my watch list! And I hope next year you will be able to join the crowds!
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Arti, it was really delightful reading about your interesting childhood in Hong Kong. East intertwining with West and multiculturalism at its best. My daughter, Tara, lived in Hong Kong for two years and loved her time there.
Now I understand better the amazing childhood that created you and your wide world view and your kind blessed heart. Btw, My daughter loved the egg tarts too and the tropical climate. Which brings me to the question— how did you finally adjust to the Canadian winters? When did you move to Canada? I know you love the beauty and nature of the landscape on the pond, and the ecosystems are quite different 😉 — I’m curious.
Plus, I Can’t wait to hear more about TIFF (recently, I saw “3000 Years of Solitude” and loved it!)
Thanks for your generous words, Heather. I came to Canada with my family while still a teenager. Now I’ve spent many more years here than my childhood homeland. How to adjust to the frigid winter? (BTW, summer is very warm here, and spring and fall are beautiful) Well, as with many other things like school, making friends, dealing with adjustments and challenges, I just had to face it head on and do it. I must say though, it was much easier for me as a teenager than my middle age parents… they were exemplary in their adjustments and my hats off to them. I’m glad to know your daughter had enjoyed her stay in HK and loved egg tarts too. 🙂
This time I was in Toronto for family visit, didn’t have the chance to attend TIFF. Mainly though I wanted to avoid the huge crowds in this first in-person TIFF with all Covid measures dropped. Maybe next year. However, I’ll be watching closely the People’s Choice winners (getting Oscar buzz already), and that’s Steven Spielberg’s autobiographical movie The Fabelmans with Michelle Williams, as well as the 2nd and 3rd place winners, Sarah Polley’s Women Talking and the Knives Out sequel. I hope I’ll get the chance to watch them during the awards season this fall. Do check them out.
Arti, I really enjoyed learning more about you and your life experiences. You have enjoyed rich cultural experiences. It was a once in a lifetime experience to be in England during the mourning period for the human Monarch. Beautiful photos of the fluttering variety!
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A memorable UK trip for u indeed.