It was a weekly Saturday ritual. Sleepy-eyed, my family would pile into our K-car for a mandatory six-hour visit to Chinatown to shop for cheap groceries and feel like we were home again.
We would navigate each of the major streets with thoroughness - one for Chinese medicinal herbs, one for sweet buns filled with artificially-dyed BBQ pork, and another for those miscellaneous Chinese greens I always hated so much.
My parents would carry the grocery bags and barter for prices, while I held my grandmother's hand whose pace more closely matched mine. In her 70s, she would move slowly and stop frequently, distributing loonies and quarters to homeless people as she had done in India so many years ago.
As we crossed the street toward King's Noodle, we would always pass the elderly women who set-up impromptu grocery stands with milk crates and plywood at the corner of Spadina and Dundas. They sold an assortment of Chinese greens that grew in their gardens, and a rainbow of t-shirts and baseball caps emblazoned with the word 'Canada' and a bright red maple leaf smack dab in the centre.
My mother would make it a point to purchase her greens from them, "to help out the grandmothers of the street" she said. The women didn't appear to be homeless, but I would see them sitting there all day, calling out to strangers to verify the freshness of their greens and the quality of their merchandise.
As a child, I was horrified to think about where these women went at night - whether they had families that loved them, that fed them, or if they simply picked up and went to another street corner with a higher population of people at night.
Returning as an adult, the women (and now men) are younger and new, with less wrinkles and more moxie, as some vendors enjoy greater success with watches and cheap DVDs.
I stand alone on the ashen sidewalk, unable to identify which Chinese green is bitter, sweet, or tasteless and barely able to communicate in my native tongue.
Habitual obligation compels me to spend a few more minutes examining the wares, but I know that these new vendors won't have the things that I want to buy. Time, the distinctly bitter crunch of the one Chinese green that always went perfectly with a bowl of wonton soup, and the image of my grandmother strolling in the sun.