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The China Adventures Of Arielle Gabriel

The Canada Adventures of Arielle Gabriel

St. Boniface, Canada
10 Ways to Make Arielle Happy
Age 30
My boyfriend Chard and I have almost one month, thanks to a lull in our Vancouver work scedules, and we decide to visit his large French Canadian family in St. Boniface, Manitoba, the province that is in the middle of Canada.
His family is so different than my own.
The streets of their neighbourhood are full of mature green trees, white picket fences, screened-in porches, and an ambience of safety.   Most of the relatives actually live within walking distance of one another.
I have truly never known a larger family.  Both his mom and dad come from families of fifteen children, and in each family three babies died early.  None of these surviving children left the area of St. Boniface, the French comunity within Winnipeg, on the banks of the famous Red River Valley.
We stay in two guest bedrooms on the tiny second floor of the cosy green wood house that he grew up in, paid for in cash by his hardworking dad, a man who held three jobs to support his wife and three kids.
Though the family was once quite poor, there is plenty of love to compensate.
There is a strong feminine aspect to the family, with four or five aunts dropping by on a regular basis.  They are kind to me, one of them even offers to lend me her card.   Chard warns me, we don't talk about the Depression, it caused family fights and feuds here because the economic strife ran so high in the prairies.
Yes, Canadians have suffered from poverty as a people, and still continue to do so, a fact that never seems to touch an international audience.  The farm seizures and banking collapses hit the agrarian lands particularly hard in the Thirties.
In our elegant pale green living room, I hear stories of the marriage of Chard's parents, how embarrassed the shy young couple were, when the local villagers paraded them on their wedding day, with placards reading, Watch St. Boniface grow!  a mischievous reference to their huge famly backgrounds.
Equally interesting is the story of how the newlyweds lived on crates of tomatoes, sent from the farm of Chard's aunt, while his dad searched for urban employment.
His family is simple and loving, my family is complicated and not.  Ah, yes, I am modest, and with plenty of reason to be.
I was a sailor in Vancouver, teases his dad,  Maybe I knew your mother.  Not likely, I say, thinking of my sheltered mother growing up in Kerrisdale and at Horseshoe Bay.
The real travel joy comes from the Friday night card games.  We troop on over to a brother of his father's,  and amazingly twelve siblings and their spouses still congregrate for a lifelong family custom.  The men too help to serve the plentiful sandwiches, potato chips, nuts, vegetables trays, and coffees as this wholesome family enjoys its inexpensive way of amusing itself.
I am travelling into a difference in culture, a difference between French and English, and very respectful of how a peoples so stressed by a secondary social definition, gave joyfulness to themselves. 
How the men were pressurized in their cultures not to leave their wives, to pinch their pennies, to save for these small and pretty homes. to not waste money on booze, to toe the narrow line, and yet still to have fun.
Though I am in my own country, I am voyaging.
I notice small details: that the men of the older generation pick up, hold, and cuddle babies and young children more than Anglo men of that generation, the high-stepping vivacity and close sisterly bonds of the women, the affection and the emotional security.
We walk along the banks of the Red River Valley humming the songs we sing in coffee houses, we go downtown and visit the Winnipeg Art Gallery and go out with two of its directors, we amble along the plain streets of Winnipeg as Chard explains to me the power of nature in expressed here mostly in the sky, the sunrises and sunsets.
We will run into one of your relatives, I say, every time we leave the family home, and it is true: Every single outing, even downtown, produces a third cousin, a great-aunt, an uncle once removed, and there are no exceptions.
As a Canadian, the gleaming place we lunch, with salad Nicoise, as we spend our small winnings from a Winnipeg Lottery, fifty dollars, is not in the exotic category of travel, now are the pedestrian bowling lanes we accompany family members to, now is the all-you-can-eat pizza parlour that the aunties frequent in a gang.
This is a simple trip, restful, a journey of the heart, and yes, I learn so much.  I wonder now as I write in China, my chosen homeland, at how little I conveyed to Chard of what all these things meant, and recall my most beautiful, touching memory.
It was extremely hot, a Prairie summer, and a letter came from me in the middle of my holdiay from my mother in Vancouver.  I touched my hand to my forehead, feeling a migraine arriving, and ran up the narrow staircase to my bedroom, to lie down and rest.
I heard Chard, concerned for me, walking up the stairs, and writing at his desk in his own room.  Later when I got up I walked into his room, and saw a list of instructions to himself propped up on his dresser.
Ten ways to make Arielle happy, the list said.
Had I not commented to him on this list, my writing would be more poetic, but of course, when two people are that close, no things are left unsaid.  My frequent absences of introspective flight were noticed by his family, who understand me less well, what it was that I came out.
Both the larger and the smaller merged on this trip, to be a Canadian girl coming from a certain type of family psychology, and to see the larger landscape, the two cultures, the dynamic of my national identity.

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Lamma Island * Lantau Island * Cheung Chau Island
Hong Kong * Mui Wo * Peng Chau Island
Tung Chung * Shenzhen * Nanning * Hunan Province
Bobcaygeon * Pointe Claire * Montreal
Peterborough * Lake Sturgeon * Ontario
Vancouver * Richmond * British Columbia

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The China Adventures Of Arielle Gabriel

Bobcaygeon, Mui Wo, Lantau, Tung Chung
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