Mr. Fang's Blog
July 14, 2011
“Feeling at home in Fredericton”
The time I arrived at Fredericton I felt at home with the city. Why? you may ask. Well, this is the first north American city where I can manage to go around without a car. So simple a reason, you may wonder. For me, however, it is not simple, 'cause I come from a country where cars are not the popular means of private transportation. You can imagine how I felt when I landed in Texas last year. Big spreading cities, huge webs of freeways, rapid traffic and, most frustrating, infrequent buses. In China, in Beijing, buses come every 3 minutes. I am glad that there are some North American cities that remain intact from the automobile culture. Toronto may be another one. A Chinese friend of mine has lived in Toronto for eight years and never cared to learn to drive. Of course, she is a bit out of the ordinary. Every time her husband wants her to learn to drive because he has been exhausted by driving her around when she needs to go to somewhere unreachable by the public transit system, she says:" Do you want me to die?"
I came to Fredericton by way of Toronto, by bus, and I like Toronto, too. It feels like a city. In Texas, cities are not like cities. Take Houston, for example. Houston's downtown is small in size and tall with office buildings. It is a place only for work, not for living, not for passing time in the leisurely way. Not for mugging even. The city spreads with houses and shopping centers and the streets are not inviting to pedestrians. So in Houston, you see cars. Cars cars everywhere, and not one is mine. Everyone is hurrying back into their metal boxes after shopping or business. You see no people walking - I mean, enjoying walking. If there is someone walking, you bet he is someone who has to walk all the time. The day after I arrived at Fredericton, I came by an abandoned bike with a broken seat. It is an old bike with only one speed and the braking is done by reversing the pedals. It is definitely not the type of bike that you can ride safely downhill. I guess that's why it was abandoned. It works well with me, though, because I do not care to push it downh ill when the slope becomes too steep. The third day I went beyond the river on my bike and soon I had toured the whole Fredericton downtown in no minutes. I visited the local book stores, went to the City Hall to get tourist information, went to Wal Mart to get my phone done and buy a telephone, went to Wal Mart again to return the phone after I bought a better one from a yard sale at half its prize and I also went to the other side of the river by way of the bridge of Hwy 2 to attend a breakfast party to make friends. I fully enjoy the freedom that this old bike has given to me, albeit it means much push ups and downs.
Fredericton appears home to me also because of its urban structure. The downtown is not merely a business center and there are no imposing high-rises. I enjoy the streets lined with small shops that offer a variety of merchandise and service. I also enjoy King's Place, where modern style shopping is done. I like the Gothic building of the old churches. In Texas, many churches are not Gothic enough. I mean they are normally one-story buildings with a symbolic Gothic thing to indicate they are churches. Here I see real churches, or at least the churches that I assume they should be. In Texas, many churches are new and suggest functional purposes. Here, the churches tell stories, stories of generations of Frederictonians who have come to worship and to meet friends. Last Sunday, I went to the United Baptist Church on York Street. I saw the most beautiful picture I have ever seen in a church in the glass window facing the entrance.
What makes me like Fredericton is the benches in the streets and on the banks of the river. They mean there is no rat-racing hurry in the town. They mean parents with their toddling kids out for a walk. They mean elderly citizens bathing in the sun. They mean a friendly invitation to those tired from walking around.
Last month is the month they had the performance of change of guards. That was the first time I saw something like that with my own eyes. I especially like the guy in kilt and playing the pipe. I wonder if there is anything that links this city with Scotland, because I also noticed a statue of Robert Burns in the street. Besides, wild imagination also associates these to the place name Nova Scotia: does it mean "New Scotland"? To tell you the truth, man, I like Scots.
I have been to the public library many times since my arrival on August 25. I was amazed to find a collection of books and magazines in Chinese in such a small city. It is all the more amazing because in the library of the university, I did not find a single book or newspapers in Chinese! The collection, it seems to me, will be perfect if some books and newspapers from mainland China are included. The library is in a good location. On the second floor, there are big windows facing St. John River, offering a pleasant view for those who read newspapers and magazines. I am a regular visitor to local public libraries wherever I go. I have been to a district branch of the Houston Public Library and a branch of the Harris County Library in north Houston. I should say in terms of library hours and facilities, this one in Fredericton is good.
I should not conclude this rambling without saying something about the Saturday farmers' market. Small as it is, if offers some fun that I miss a lot while in Houston. Before I went to Houston, I stayed in Waco, where there is a flea market near the place I lived. I frequented the place on weekends, just to savor the fun of digging into old curiosities and bargaining with vendors. The human touch is what I look for in such old-fashioned markets. Here at the Farmer's market, I find it too. Part of it, like the food stalls, reminds me of the night food markets in Beijing. The fresh vegetables and meat and home-made cookies and a lot other stuff reveals to me a picture of pastoral life. I cannot help thinking of living a farmer's life for a year. Finally, I think River St. John supplies much of its revelation of the beauty of the town. One morning I went to do Taichi on the bank of the river. Everything was still except for some early birds that walk or run along the walking path. It was a little bit dark on the river before the sun cast his full light. Already there was a boat leaving the dock, in the wake of which was a long trail of ripples. The grass smelt wet in the morning dew. What a lovely day!
Originally published in Brunswickan, UNB’s newspaper, in 1996