Favorite doors of Shanghai

During my trip to Shanghai, I was able to find a lot of inspiration from the gardens, the architecture, and the overall sights and sounds of the city. Most of all, I found many wonderful doors!

Students, friends, and colleagues know I have a bit of a door obsession. I photograph them, write about them, and collect door knockers. I even have a trunk that is made out of an old door.

Here are some of my favorite doors and details that I was able to find during my recent trip to storied and exotic city of Shanghai. These come from Old Shanghai, Ancient Town in Qibao and the French Confession . . . or, otherwise, just here and there throughout the city.














old shanghai - gremlin door handle.JPG


Exploring Québec ~ Day 4


Day 4 was actually the final day of my time in Québec City. Since it was a truncated day, with part of it spent getting to the airport and flying home (which actually also turned out to be a better part of the night—but such are the risks that go with trying to make flight connections across a giant country such as Canada), Marcie and I did not do a great deal, other than visit the Museum of Civilization, have a final lunch, and then wander the old streets one last time.

The Museum of Civilization is in the lower old town, but in a very modern building. The main exhibit chronicles the history of the province and is brimming with all sorts of interesting relics from the past. I highly recommend it.

Well, one thing we learned about this place is that people are extremely convivial, full of love, and very proud of their beautiful cities. And well they should be! Even wandering through the time-worn streets of Québec City one last time, Marcie and I discovered many lovely doors and details.

How did we miss these previously? I’m not sure! But here are some of the final things we noticed.











Well, my next adventure, will be sticking my nose into my sketchbooks and laptop to work on the actual “writing” phase of my writing projects—and to teach some creative writing courses. One involves the theme of family history . . . but that’s a post for another time. In the meantime, I’m fuelled up with inspiration and ready to spring into a fall of creativity!

Exploring Québec City ~ Day 3

We woke up on the morning of our third day in Québec City feeling very sore, our legs reminding us of the amount of trekking we did yesterday. According to Marcie’s app, over 26,000 steps! So we decided to have a casual day.

Marcie spent the morning exploring the shops on Rue Saint-Jean, while I stayed in the hotel room, at the window seat, doing some writing. I had a goal to finish a particular chapter of one of my books before the end of this trip. The scene I’m working on is set in an old museum, a sort of cabinet of wonders, so this whole trip to Old Canada has been very helpful and invigorating. I’m not sure if I’m actually going to be able to complete this chapter before I’m back in Vancouver, but I’ve outlined the whole scene and now—ha, ha—just have to write it. Well, maybe I’ll complete the chapter on the flight home and that will give me some sort of sense of accomplishment. I tend to be a slow writer anyway, and am not one of those who forces myself to achieve a certain word count each day or week. It’s just not the way I create.

In any case, after Marcie returned from shopping, we headed out to the provincial parliament building and registered for the free tour. We had 45 minutes to spare, so we wandered around the neighbourhood, which we had some familiarity with from the previous day. We came across an old church on Grande Allée East that was for sale and discussed whether we would ever consider buying in it and living in it. We thought the turret at the top would make for a neat studio—but it would be one laborious walk each morning!


It was actually sad to the church in a dilapidated state. Tall weeds were sprouting from the sidewalks and many of the windows were boarded up.


Of course, the cost for renovating and up keeping such a building would be exuberant and, of course, we don’t have the money for such a venture. So we left behind our whimsical moment and took our tour at the parliament building.

Like so many of the provincial parliamentary buildings in Canada, it is a beautiful structure—and a little better maintained than the old church up the street!






The 45-minute tour was excellent and we enjoyed the beautiful stained glass windows and magnificent chambers. Many of our fellow tourists were Canadian, so the guide made sure to keep testing us on Canadian history. (I feel like I did pretty well.)

After the tour, we decided we needed a leisurely lunch and headed back towards our church and enjoyed a couple of hours at Le 3 Brasseurs, which is a chain I was first introduced to in Montréal. I encourage Marcie to try the flammekueche, which I had tried previously, while I had poutine. Because, you know. You can never have enough poutine.



Well, of course you cane have way too much poutine. I certainly have while I’ve been in this province, but, hey, I convinced myself that I deserved my poutine indulgence after walking 26,000 steps the previous day before. I’m not sure how we convinced ourselves that we also deserved a refreshing pitcher of sangria. We just did.

Well it was Monday, and that was the last day of the long holiday weekend in Canada, and we certainly noticed a difference in the city as we walked around through the afternoon and night. The streets were sedate, and we had many of them to ourselves! We enjoyed the frantic hustle bustle of the weekend, but now we were privileged enough to enjoy a more romantic experience of the city on a warm summer night. In particular, we enjoyed all the stunning lighting of the buildings, both modern and old.






As is always the case, I’ll end with a few doors and details that I espied during the day. My particular prize is the lion doorknob! I’m pretty sure this a portal to Narnia—but I posted it at the bottom of the photos, just so you don’t shun the others!






Exploring Montréal ~ Day 3


Day 3 in this city was my last full day, so I decided to try and make the most of it by swooping in on anything I might have missed.

I began by visiting the Marguerite-Bourgeoys museum at the Notre-Dame de Bon-Secours chapel. We had paused here during my ghost tour, so I thought it would be worth it to come back and explore the inside of the chapel. Once I found my way around the construction (I’ll repeat, Montréal seems to be currently under siege by every construction company in eastern Canada) and through the door, I learned that there was both a crypt and an upper balcony to explore, so decided to pay the fee and explore.

I was not disappointed!  The museum is focused on the life of Marguerite Bourgeoys, a famous daughter of the city. She founded the first uncloistered religious community in the Catholic church and was instrumental in educating girls, the Amerindians, and the poor in New France.

I won’t say too much about the life and times of Marguerite Bourgeoys—you can read up about her! But I will post this picture of, which is her “true” likeness:


The portrait was painted immediately after her death in 1700. The picture was painted over, and so there was a contentious time in the early 19th century when people argued over the authenticity of the likeness. Eventually, the painting was painstakingly restored and the true likeness revealed.

My two favourite parts of the museum were the top and the bottom (this is always the case with me when I visit old churches). In the crypt below the chapel, you can see the early foundations of the original chapel, which was destroyed by fire in 1754. Photos were not permitted in the crypt, but I could take them from the top, where I stood by the angels and the belfry and gazed at the Saint Lawrence.




After a quick lunch, I carried on to a second museum, which was at Pointe-À-Callière. This is the “birthplace” of Montréal, for it is the site of the original fort. Actually, many different buildings stood at this point. Now it is the museum, which looks like this:


The exhibit is mainly underground. After watching a very good multimedia show detailing the history of the city, I descended into the exhibit and wandered the early cobblestone streets. This is an authentic archaeological dig, so the floors are uneven and all the stone foundations and accompanying fixtures you see are the originals.



I saw remnants of the old sewer system, the ancient fort wall, and even the exhumed graveyard.





It was very neat to explore the foundations down there while the modern city bustled above, unawares.I like to spend a lot of time on world-building in my books, so this experience was very inspirational, helping me to imagine how a city and a culture evolves.

The exhibit featured a lot of relics from the past. My favourites, by far, were an old key and elephant escutcheon.



I confess that I did desire to possess them. So it was probably a good thing they were behind glass and under . . . er, lock and key.

At the end of the exhibit, I climbed the stairs and explored a temporary show that the museum was hosting: “Des Chevaux et des Hommes” (Horses and Men). This exhibit features some 250 objects on loan from the Émile Hermès Collection in France. The grand finale was a GORGEOUS life-size sculpture of a pegasus by Christian Renonciat. The detailing was incredible, especially in the wings.


After this exhibit, I wandered around Old Montréal some more, taking in Rue McGill and Rue Saint-Jacques. I visited the Bank of Montréal headquarters. Founded in 1817, it is the oldest bank in Canada.



Everything inside was quite luxurious, include the front door and the ceiling . . .




There is a small museum inside that is worth visiting. You can learn about the history of Canada’s first bank and also see some old equipment, such as a telegraph machine, a cheque writer, and a heavy-looking “pencil pointer” (sharpener).

A kind local told me to check out the Aldred Edifice, which is an art nouveau-style building located on Place d’Armes, near the bank. She advised me to go through the door and check out the elevators. So I did!

edificealrded - entrance.jpg




Right next to the Aldred Edifice is the brick NY Life Insurance building—otherwise known as Canada’s first skyscraper, with all of eight floors. It looks dwarfed these days, but it still is a pretty building, especially with its distinctive red bricks.


The day ended with meeting up with some good friends who are also visiting Montréal from back home. Rob and Sarah are dropping off their daughter Brianna at Concordia University, so it was neat (and a little surreal) to see good friends we see often, but in a city on the other side of the country. It’s their family tradition to take a “bad” selfie, so I obliged:


We ate at a really good gluten-free restaurant called NINI Meatball House. Obviously, the speciality is different styles of meatballs. I had the buffalo chicken with blue cheese sauce, and they were divine.

This was the moment I especially wished Marcie was here! But she is on her way and will get to spend a half-day with me in Montréal before we take the train to Québec City and spend a few days there. So the trip is soon about to get “Marcified”—which means a lot more quirky and fun (because that’s how my wife rolls).

Well, as usual, I collected a few details from throughout the day: doors, sculptures, windows . . . so here they are:












Exploring Montréal ~ Day 2

After a busy day exploring Vieux-Montréal yesterday, I decided to head in the other direction today and go explore the Museum of Fine Arts.

It was a bit of a trek, but I love exploring a new city that way, so off I set up (or down?) Rue Sainte-Catherine. The main problem with walking is that you can continually be distracted, so inevitably delay arriving at your destination.

Such was the case today; many doors, gargoyles, and other whimsical details called out to me as I traipsed along. Of course, you have to be careful with gargoyles; they don’t often have anything nice to say!

The first place I paused along Rue Sainte-Catherine was St. James United Church.



I especially adored the impish poses of these little dragons:



Next, I came upon Christ Church Cathedral. It had a beautiful red door:




It was guarded by these dog-like gargoyles. They looked very earnest.


I also discovered this door, somewhere along the street. I can’t remember exactly where; it might have been at the diocese behind the church . . .


And then there is this face, and I can’t remember exactly where I caught him, either. I just remember wandering through an archway and discovering him tucked away in a corner.


Well, I eventually arrived at the fine arts museum. Like everywhere else in Montréal (or so it seems), Rue Sherbrooke, where the gallery is located, is under complete siege by construction crews. Eventually, I figured out how to navigate my way inside. My original intention was to only view the main collection, but once I was at the ticket booth, I decided to cough up for the special exhibition on Pompeii (it was only an extra $8).


I’m glad I decided to do this; it was an extensive exhibit, with many relics and artifacts recovered from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The thing that struck me the most were the moulds taken of many of those who perished in that disaster. A layer of fine ash fell on the bodies, hardening and encasing them in a porous shell. The bodies decayed and leached away over time, leaving behind perfectly preserved cavities in the rock. By pouring plaster into these holes, archaeologists were able to capture the postures of the victims. They have many of these moulds on display—you can see men, women, and children all . . . but for some reason, the one that struck me the most was of this dog caught in its last agonizing moment of life:


Seeing these moulds, really hammered home the reality of the disaster—much more so than the various animations and immersive films they showed.

After exploring the Pompeii exhibit, I continued on to other parts of the museum. I studied art history, and especially Italian Renaissance art, in university, so I eschewed the Canadian wing of the museum for the European galleries. I enjoyed the works by all the famous international artists—I saw plenty of Picassos, Monets, Gainsboroughs, and Latrecs—but afterwards I still had some energy so decided to trek down and ferret out the Canadian works.

I’m sure glad I did. In fact, this was my favourite part of the gallery, probably because my familiarity with most of these works is so lacking. I didn’t do all the floors in order, which meant that the very first painting I saw was this amusing, whimsical piece called The King’s Beavers, by Kent Monkman:


In Canada, I think we are self-conscious of having this little critter as a national symbol; we adore him, but perhaps think of him as a bit comical, especially in comparison to the intimidating bald eagle to the south of us. Perhaps it is the same with this painting; I found it to be both ridiculous and profound at once. It captures a lot about Canada, I think, speaking to the violent iniquities of colonialism, and the legacy that it has left behind. Notice that this is not simply a depiction of the harvest of beaver pelts; this is an extermination! One poor fellow has been tied to a stake and summarily dispatched execution style. Furthermore, the artist chose to anthropomorphize the beavers, showing them in human acts; a pair is caught in a moment of supplication to the heavens, while others languish in their water-bound prison. Still, others float in the clouds, presumably on their way to some sort of beaver heaven! There is also an environmental message here. Sky, water, and land are all depicted, yet we soil them with our behavior; as the human figures slay the beavers, symbol of Canada, we slay ourselves. Look to the far left, and you will see the trinity of human compulsions depicted by the blade, the money bag, and the cross.

Here are the some of the other pieces I really enjoyed (in no particular order):

The Ice Cutters, by Horatio Walker


Le Champ de Mars, by William Bremner


My Mother Talks About Cariboo, by Mattiusi Kyaituki


Shepherdess at Vallangoujard, by Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté


Eventually, I made it out of the museum, but not until mid-afternoon. I had been so entranced inside, that I had lost track of the time and realized I hadn’t eaten. So I decided to head to Schwartz’s Deli to grab a bite. If you ever mention to someone that you are going to Montréal, they will most likely respond to you by telling you that you must go to Schwartz’s Deli. In fact, I think it might be some sort of municipal law that tourists must go there. So I decided to make the fairly long detour from my route back to my hotel.

Along Rue Sherbrooke, I discovered a few more interesting details. Because of the protests from my rumbling stomach, I resisted all of them except for this blue door:



I had heard about the long line ups at Schwartz’s Deli, so there was no doubt that I had found the right place up on Saint-Laurent Boulevard when I spotted the crowd. Since I was on my own, my wait was only about ten minutes; as a “single” I could take my place at the diner’s bar. Here I got to enjoy my sandwich and watch the cooks slice and prepare the giant slabs of meat.



Yes, it was delicious . . . and I guess that’s why everyone says you have to go there.

After a few hours’ rest at my hotel, I headed back into Old Montréal to get a late dinner. I decided to go to Le 3 Brasseurs (The Three Brewers) because on the previous night the guide on my ghost tour said the building was haunted. Apparently, there was a fire in a previous age and 20 people leapt from the top-story windows to their agonizing death . . .


Nowadays, there are stories about restaurant patrons hearing people making noises from the floors above, even though those floors are now completely abandoned and empty.


I didn’t detect any ghosts during my meal, but I did enjoy my “flammekueche” which is a traditional dish from northern France. It’s a lot like pizza, but with a delicious thin crust.




Afterwards, I walked back to the hotel and admired the beautiful lighting of the historic City Hall; a pretty way to end the evening!



Exploring Montréal ~ Day 1


My wife and I love to travel and, in fact, we’re fairly convinced it’s a become a necessary foundation for our careers in the arts. It helps get us out of our routines and see the world from  different perspectives by being exposed to different cultural attitudes, languages, and situations. I’m pretty sure I’m a better author because of all my travels. And I know I’m a better educator and person.

The last three years, Marcie and I have been lucky to double-dip Europe and Asia through a combination of work and personal trips. This year is the first time since 2013 we haven’t made it to Europe, so we decided to do the next best thing: Montréal and Québec City.

There’s just one hitch!  Just a week before we were to leave for our trip, Marcie ended up booking an important acting gig for a national American commercial—and when you are two self-employed people bobbing along in the uncertain waters of the arts industry, you don’t turn down those sorts of jobs. So, Marcie will join me later in the week and we’ll make our way to Québec City together. In the meantime, I’m left to my own devices in Montréal.

I’m not the sort of person to get in much trouble; however, I will say that I’ve become used to (read: lazy) other people sorting out my travel. For personal trips, Marcie is the master planner and organizer and if I’m going abroad for work, I invariably have all sorts of people to pick me up or arrange transport. So my first big challenge was to get myself from the Pierre-Elliott Trudeau airport and into the city. It turned out to be very easy, so after a night’s good rest in a room and bed far too big for one person, I set out to explore Old Montréal.

It turned out to be a rather mercurial day, both in terms of weather and activity. I found the early part of the morning to be loud and distracting. Turns out the 375th birthday of Montréal is coming up and so they are busy refurbishing Rue Saint Paul and many other areas of the old city. That means a lot of stuff is under scaffolding (even the gates to Chinatown) and there is a lot of drilling, grinding . . . well, you get the idea. Thankfully, this died down as my way further into the core and the construction sounds were replaced by the buzz of tourists.

I had pre-booked myself a tour of the Basilique Notre-Dame in the afternoon, so first, I just wandered the old cobblestone streets, without much aim, delighting in the many details. As usual, I found a few doors to photograph! (My friends and followers know that I am a collector of doors . . . especially old doors. Who knows where they might lead? They provide great inspiration for stories.)














Eventually, I made my way to Notre-Dame and Place d’Armes, which is an old square where you can find a monument in memory of Paul de Chomedey. I confirmed my registration for the tour at the gates of Notre-Dame, then wandered around the outside to look at the architecture and explore the square in more detail.



The pigeons in particular like the fountains beneath Monsieur de Chomedey’s feet. I kept waiting for one of them to get eaten by the face. Because, in my imagination, it’s just a lure . . .





As for the tour itself, I’m glad I signed up for it. Our guide was very informative and it turned out that it was her first time leading one. (She only admitted this at the end, but you would have never guessed). Going on the tour permitted us to climb the steps and enter the upper level of the church, which afforded us a better view of the gallery.


Of course, I love the details of a place, and found a few things to capture my eye throughout the church.





Afterwards, I was pretty tuckered out (and still feeling a bit out of sorts from jet lag), so I had a quick nap back at the hotel before returning to the old city to enjoy some poutine and then go on a ghost tour.

I love going on ghost tours, especially in old cities. I’ve been to them in Prague, York, Philadelphia, and even in my home town of Vancouver. I find it’s a good way to get to know a part of a city and to learn about history from a practiced storyteller. The ghost tour in Old Montréal had us weaving through back alleys and while none of the stops were particularly specific to the stories, the stories themselves were quite good. My favourite story involved the beleaguered Marie-Josèphe Angelique, a Portuguese-born black slave who was tortured, tried, and convicted of setting fire to her owner’s home, which in turn burned much of the old city.This was in 1734 and—as our guide assured us—the ghost of Marie-Josèphe still haunts the streets.

Here’s a picture of our guide, by the way. I enjoyed her characterized approach to storytelling.


Well, that’s all for Day 1. I’m not entirely sure what Day 2 holds . . . possibly St. Catherine’s Street and the Museum of Fine Arts.

Poo-dough, doors, and other interesting adventures in Seoul

After wrapping up an event with the Canadian embassy and teaching at a creative writing camp in Korea, I had a couple of days to explore Seoul. Even though it was my nineteenth trip to the city, it is so vast that I’ve long ago learned that you won’t run out of new nooks and crannies to discover!

In addition, I was there with fellow authors Kallie George and Dan Bar-el. It was Dan’s first trip to Asia, so I had the extra fun of seeing things anew. One thing that Dan really struggled with was the heat and intense humidity! He also found the spicy food a bit challenging, which happily filled our hosts’ expectations. (As for me, I love spicy food and so am somewhat of a disappointment in that department—I can usually tolerate the spice level of anything they stick in front of me. Of course, they also serve a lot of eggs in Korea, and that’s where I run into problems. You know. Because eggs are disgusting.)

The first night back from our creative writing camp, Dan, Kallie, and I wandered the streets of Jongno-dong and Insa-dong (dong means “neighborhood”). This area is my home away from home and I know it pretty well, so it was fun to show Dan some of my regular haunts. One of the first places we went was the Story Café for mugs of iced persimmon tea (delicious!). In this café, you can doodle and write in beautifully bound traditional notebooks and leave your message behind. It kind of reminds me of sending a message in a bottle!

Insadong Stories.

Insa-dong itself is a beautiful market street full of artisans, craft stores, and all sorts of shops. Here you find the traditional snuggled in between the modern city bursting up around it.


Insa-dong is also the place to sample all sorts of treats, from the sweet to the savory. My favorite is “Poo-dough”, which is a variation on the traditional “bungeoppang”, which is a fish-shaped pastry filled with bean paste. Poo-dough is shaped like . . . well, poo, and comes in either bean or chocolate flavor.



It may seem like a strange marketing ploy, but I assure you, poo-dough is delicious and there is often a long line-up for the stall!

Afterwards, we sauntered around Jongno-dong and I showed Dan the Bosingak belfry. This is actually a photo I took the following day on my way to the local bookstore—the belfry was particularly beautiful during the quiet morning calm of a Sunday.


The following day, my friend, Joon, met us at our hotel and took us off to eat lunch at Kwang-jang market. We walked there, which meant meandering through some narrow traditional streets in Insa-dong. I found many interesting doors to add to my ever-expanding photo collection:








Kwang-jang market was a feast for the senses. I’ve been on the outskirts of this market before, as it is very close to the famous shopping district of Dongdaemun. On this day, Joon took us deep into the “hive” and we saw all sorts of interesting goods and different types of food.

These dried fish are apparently used as part of a funeral ceremony:


This is just a photo of all sorts of interesting things, including octopus tentacles and a pig’s head (it’s the reddish-brown item in the back).


This, apparently, is a good market to sample live octopus. Which I didn’t. Instead we settled on a lunch of traditional Korean pancake, called “jeon.” My favorite is “pajeon”, which is a green onion type.

That evening, we met up with one of my former creative writing students, Jane. She is currently studying English Lit at Brown University in the States, but was in Seoul for the summer. She took us through a neighborhood that I’ve never visited before: Samcheong-dong.

What a quaint and beautiful place! There are many narrow, winding pedestrian-only streets here (well, you might have to dodge a motorcycle or two) where you can explore artisan jewelry shops, have your “ugly” portrait sketched for a dollar, and get your fortune told.


With Jane at our side, both Kallie and I had our “Saju” fortune told. Saju involves providing the specifics of your birth—year, month, day, and time—and then learning about your personality and future. Apparently, I’m a “gem in winter” and, surprise, surprise, a creative and stubborn person.

After having our fortunes told, we continued exploring the neighborhood. Similar to Insa-dong, you can find many examples of traditional architecture tucked between the modern buildings and stores.

As the sun set and the temperature cooled (slightly), we took dinner on an open-are patio overlooking the elegant buildings of old and then went further up to enjoy tea on a roof-top deck.


Of course, I’m a person who always loves the small details, so I found another door and some beautiful stone reliefs during our explorations.



After this beautiful night, we trekked back to our hotel in Jongno. It was only about a half-hour walk, but the heat caught up to us by the time we reached home and I was glistening with sweat—well, that’s what happens when a gem in winter gets caught in the summer heat!

It was fun to explore some new parts of the city and visit some old favorites. Until next time, Seoul!