Thursday, June 21, 2007

Something In The Air

Ah, Chinatown in the summer.

For those of you who don't know, I live right next to Chinatown in downtown Toronto. I lived in the area once for a few years, moved away for two, then came back. It's a really great place to live, mostly. It's very convenient. I can walk about 20 minutes and reach almost anything - the ROM, the club district, work, the harbour, Queen Street, Little Italy, Koreatown, Yorkville, the list goes on. And except when I'm trying to sleep, living on a major streetcar route is very handy. There's always that one streetcar with the deformed wheel that, instead of gliding silently up the tracks goes "cl-clack cl-clack" as the flat spot hits the track on ever rotation of the wheel.

On the weekend I took a little walk through Chinatown after visiting my garden. There is a Tim Horton's now in Chinatown. I grew up in a small town where Tim Horton's is something of an institution. It is a little unnerving to see something that you equate to small town Ontario with Chinese writing all over it.

After grabbing my iced cappuccino, I walked home. The intersection of Spadina and Dundas is a loud one, to say the least. For as long as I have lived in Toronto, there have been four noisemaking fixtures at that intersection.

First is the old man in front of the dollar store. He claps backscratchers together and sings "Harro. Prease camban yeen. Sank you," over and over all day long. I think I've only ever walked by there once during normal business hours and not seen him. I was pretty worried but the next day I went and he was back. Phew.

Then there's the old man who plays that two stringed Chinese instrument whose name I can never remember. I think it might be called the er hu. He's got the classic Chinese long whispy beard and mustache. I used to quite enjoy listening to his music. Over the years he's gotten less and less musical. It mostly just sounds like random notes now. Interestingly, though, his clothes have gotten nice and nicer. Maybe he discovered that people would give him more money if he sounded pathetic than if he sounded good.

Across Dundas street from the er hu player is Falun Gong. Recently they have taken a much more pleasant, although no less noisy tack. There used to be weird pictures of people being tortured by the government and stuff. Now they have pictures of peace marches and things. But still noisy. Always with the noise.

And finally there is the guy with no arms who plays the keyboard. Sometimes the blind flautist plays with him. Seriously. The no arms guy wails out the melody with his stumps and the keyboard's built in drum machine and chord library take care of the rest. His tunes are usually original (and loud) and quite catchy (and loud). Did I mention loud? Anyway, this weekend for the first time I can remember, I heard him play a cover — there is something quite touching about a man with no arms playing Oh Canada for spare change in Chinatown.

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