Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Can-tastic vacation

Miss V has lived with us since 2007, and in all that time Captain Midnight and I have never once taken her to Canada. (Appalling, no? It's not that far of a trip, but for various reasons the opportunity never seemed to present itself.)

Well, the school district gave V a long weekend off for mid-winter break, and since she's had her passport for some time we had no good reason not to go. So off we drove toward the nearest border crossing to enjoy a few days in Vancouver.

The dollar-to-loonie exchange rate, though not as favorable to Americans as it once was, is still pretty good -- as of this writing, one U.S. dollar is worth about $1.25 Canadian -- and Miss V is always looking for a good bargain, so the moment we were settled in our hotel, she made a beeline for the nearest Dollarama. Much squeeing ensued, especially when she discovered all the craft supplies they had available.

Me, I just got a giggle out of the Thrills gum slogan.
In fact, if I had to pick a theme for this particular trip, it would be "bargain hunting." The next morning, after an excellent breakfast at the Red Wagon Diner, Miss V and I scoured what felt like every dollar store, loonie-twonie store, secondhand shop and discount mart in a very wide radius around Vancouver. Captain Midnight, who has nearly infinite patience, tolerantly endured all this shopping (although he briefly showed signs of losing his will to live when we entered a fabric store. I said nearly infinite patience). We also found a pocket-sized specialty store that sold nothing but buttons, and an antique/curio store called Salmagundi West (in the pointiest end of a flatiron building) filled with everything from sock aliens to mammy dolls.

And, of course, we had to take V to Granville Island. We didn't make many purchases or even see everything there was to see -- it was cold and wet, and someone had forgotten to bring along a windbreaker -- but we managed to take her to a few art studios, drag her into a couple of stationery stores (ah, Paper-Ya, how I love you!) and introduce her to the joys of poutine.

I call this one "A Girl and Her Uncle." By then she'd borrowed my coat because she was freezing to death.
But we still hadn't visited the destination V yearned for most of all: the massive two-story Daiso store in a Richmond mall. That was soon remedied.

Most Daiso stores in the USA are relatively small, packed with all manner of household goodies. This place was like one of ours, but ON STEROIDS, and it had a much wider variety of items, including some... interesting... toys.

Captain Midnight spied this one first. His comment: "Nore than Eats the Mye!"
Other contenders for the Odd Toy Award included this series of weirdly rotund plushies:

Bigger Tigger...
...Pig-Iron Man...
...and Hello Fatty.
Meanwhile Miss V was shoppin' it up in the crafting section of the store. Her method of shopping is complex, and takes at least two passes: first she runs around the store grabbing everything that takes her fancy, then she pauses to reflect on her choices, and finally she puts half to three-quarters of it back where she found it. Consequently it took quite a while for us to get out of there, enough that by the time we were finally done it was getting well into the dinner hour and we were famished. Fortunately, we were in Richmond, which has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to Asian food. I was in the mood to try some xiao long bao (soup dumplings) from a local emporium of deliciousness. Unfortunately we were in no mood to rack up roaming charges on our phones, and I'd forgotten to write down the address of the restaurant we'd planned to visit.

After about half an hour of hapless meandering, we got the idea to pull over and ask for directions. V went into a Dollar Tree (well, of course she did) and while she couldn't find proper directions for the restaurant where we intended to go, she did get a very warm dining recommendation from a fellow bargain shopper who had seen V in the Daiso earlier. This recommendation led us to Chen's Shanghai Kitchen, a little dive in a strip mall with high native factor and a whole lotta deliciousness. And yes, they did have xiao long bao, although we all ran into trouble when we tried to retrieve them from the steamer intact. Once we were filled with dumplings, long beans, sticky rice and general contentment, we retreated for the night to our hotel.

The courtyard of our fancy digs. Beauty, eh.
The next day we had nothing in particular planned, so we roamed free. We ended up finding the restaurant we hadn't been able to find before (Shanghai River) and feasted there for lunch, enjoying what was easily the best Shanghai-style beef soup I've ever tasted and more xiao long bao (because yum). After another brief trip to Daiso, V and I stopped into a Real Canadian Superstore to get... Real Canadian Stuff, I suppose. Superstore is best described as Canada's answer to Wal-Mart -- lots of generics, lots of President's Choice store-brand stuff, lots of low prices. We stocked up on ludicrous gobs of Canadian chocolate (because YUM), several bags of potato chips (Canadians have a much wider variety of chip flavors than we do, for some reason), a few sodas, and the Big Mistake of this trip... a small bag of longans.

See, Captain Midnight has a real fondness for longans, which he developed during his brief time in Singapore, and when I saw fresh longans at Superstore I thought, "Woohoo! SuperSCORE!" Except Captain Midnight was our designated driver, so his hands weren't free to eat the longans I'd brought him, and I didn't think to switch places with him, and our next stop was the border... and when the U.S. border agent asked the fatal question, "Are you transporting any fruit?" we made the mistake of answering honestly. As we soon discovered, longans from Vietnam are perfectly acceptable to sell and consume in Canada, but not in the USA. Not only did the Agriculture agent seize our longans, but it also triggered a full search of our car for other potential contraband. Did I mention this all went down on Friday the 13th? At least we knew enough about the vagaries of U.S. law to scarf down all our Kinder eggs before we reached the border.

Sadly divested of our longans but otherwise content with our adventures, we proceeded home, where the Roxy-cat expressed her pleasure at seeing us again by freaking out and lolloping wildly around the house for several hours. The chocolate is already gone, and the chips have been broken into, but Miss V should have lasting memories of her trip as long as the Dollarama disco ball continues to hang from a hook in her ceiling. She's already planning another trip (or as she puts it, another shopping spree).

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