Naomi called 25 minutes before pick-up time, suggesting that she might be running a few minutes late, but then quickly confirmed that she would be on time and asked us to wait outside the hotel. Naomi was my classmate in HKU, but we lost contact soon after graduation until maybe 10 years ago when another classmate who was also called John, but who had much better organizing capacities, prepared a list of our class so that we could email each other. Our class began rather small, with fewer than 30, but names fell off the list over the year, so that we now have only 22 on the list spread out in Canada, USA, Australia and of course in Hong Kong, which I think is not too bad after all. We had a reunion end of March, or exactly a week before I set off on this trip. There were 15 of us round the table, including five spouse and four classmates from abroad. The reunion before this last one took place about two years ago when Su met most of my classmates for the first time, including Naomi.
Su and I met Naomi in Vancouver last year before we went to Whistler. We also met her husband Sam for the first time. Sam was driving. They picked us up, same time same place, together with another classmate Chiu. Presently, Sam drove us to a shopping mall to buy some bread. This unique experience had stayed with us for a year, so that we naturally expected a repeat itinerary this morning and had so prepared ourselves by skipping breakfast. Alas, Sam has certainly moved on and was about to take us somewhere else when I cried out for my morning coffee and noodle soup. Sam was most accommodating; and by the time he dropped us off at the hotel, he had taken us to so many places and shown us so many sights that we now have an even better and more positive opinion of the city than we had started with.
We learnt that Naomi met Sam in Vancouver, rather accidentally. Sam had a rather unique career: he was paid to drink on the job, being one of the six to seven professional beer tasters of a leading beer manufacturer in the world. They have both retired now and would spend time together playing ping pong, among other things, which is a reason why we need to meet on this trip. Naomi had asked me to bring them 12 dozens of ping pong balls of the professional kind, which I did. Apparently, these balls are not easy to get and cost a lot more in Canada.
We were joined by Alfred Ma, Chiu’s husband, for lunch. Stephen could not come because his wife had not been well. After lunch, the Ma’s left and Sam assumed to be our private tour guide. It began to rain, sometimes rather hard; and we had planned to do a short car tour. Sam first took us to Shaughnessy which is an almost entirely residential neighbourhood in Vancouver in a relatively central locale with very low population. He was driving very slowly so that we can appreciate the scenery in the rain and the pleasant and exquisite environ of the neighbourhood. There were blossoming trees lining every street and around all houses which were invariably stand alone and monstrously huge, each with unique façade and architectural designs. This was the area where my friend’s house was and in which the family stayed for a week some 20 years ago.
At the risk of getting our cameras wet, we asked to be let out of the car so that we could take pictures; and we took many, at junctions and street corners and we posed before the houses we liked as if we were would be owners, for quite a few of them were being put up for sale. For me, it was indeed a journey back in time, and I almost thought that I recognized my friend’s house.
It was a quiet and peaceful neighbourhood indeed. Traffic was low to non-existent; and the only people we met were construction workers outside a few recently sold properties.
Out of Shaughnessy, Sam took us to see a few other expensive looking neighbourhoods before taking us to the University of British Columbia (UBC) campus, or around it to be precise. We drove past a few museums, including the Museum of Anthropology, and UBC residences which overlooked the nudists’ beaches. Sam was careful to show us where beach goers would change to their birthday suits before they joined other bathers.
Leaving UBC, Sam drove us to the Spanish Banks from where one could see the English Bay. These beaches would be heavily patronized in the summer months, with families and beach volleyball players and others, but it being a rainy day and the wrong season, there was hardly anyone on sight.
Sam took us to a few tourist spots and invited us to take pictures before some signature statues, including a silver crab, but he did not elaborate on either the sculptor or the sculpture, except telling us that it franked the entrance of yet another museum, the Museum of Music.
On our way back to the hotel, I recall that Gus had driven me to the Spanish Banks and past the UBC Campus last year on a cold and windy day. The day before, during our walk in Stanley Park, Gus had urged us to visit Queen Elizabeth Park and UBC; and to eat at a Japanese restaurant on Main Street and 16th Street. Well, Sam had taken us to all of them and we had taken many pictures at the QE Park before lunch, albeit all in the rain.
Talking of taking pictures in the rain, Su and I have since recognized that one can achieve extraordinary results under such conditions by virtue of the special softer and invariably more even light source, which would otherwise not be available on a clear day when pictures would be taken under direct and bright sunlight. On that optimistic note, I would sign off for our second day. It was raining very hard now and the reception guys said that it was going to be like that for the next seven days.
Tomorrow morning, I would try to visit the Catholic Church three or four blocks down the Road; and I hope it won’t rain so hard then. Let us pray.