Another weekend is here and I’m happy to find that our plans are already taking us to a library I haven’t yet visited as a part of this project. The Palmerston branch has something most libraries in Toronto lack: a theatre space located in the basement. Sage will be performing there later today. The library is in a part of the city called the Annex where we lived from 2013-2015. It is an interesting mix of quiet residential streets and a vibrant street life on Bloor street. It is very close to the University of Toronto so a number of students live there bringing their own energy. Also, like much of our city, it’s in a state of transition with population density increasing. Along with it, the cost of living is skyrocketing. The region has changed quite a bit since we moved there, with many of the businesses that were there when we lived there pressured out by rising rental costs.
The library itself is a short walk from the Bathurst subway station. The area immediately around the library really highlights the contrasts of the neighbourhood. On the one side, just off to the left, is Bloor street, a busy street filled with bike, pedestrian, and car traffic and a subway going underneath. The street itself is filled with stores, restaurants, and other businesses. Wander in the other direction, though, and it becomes a quiet, residential neighbourhood.
When we arrive, Sage has to go to a dress rehearsal for the show and I wander through the library. The library is on the smaller side. When we lived in the area, I wouldn’t often browse here. I would go to other libraries like the Bloor/Gladstone branch for that. Instead, it was where we would go to pick up books we’d placed on hold through the website. So needless to say we didn’t spend a great deal of time actually in the library. That’s not the case here, though. It’s well used and loved.
I gather a few books for myself and find a space at a table to wait for Sage. The space is so busy that there are only a couple of chairs left in the entire library.
Sage eventually returns and we head out on to the street. We head west and in to a neighbourhood called Koreatown. While the area is, like most of Toronto, undergoing gentrification, I’m happy to see that many of the same shops we used to visit when we lived here in 2013 are still going strong five years later.
We start with a stop at a shop that makes Korean walnut cakes or hodo kwaja. We would go here fairly often when we lived here for a snack. I like them because while they’re a dessert, they’re not terribly sweet. The outside is similar in texture to a donut but they’re baked in moulds like waffles not fried. Inside each one is a filling with either red bean and walnut, mashed potato and walnut, or mashed potato and almond, along with a bit of sugar. They’re made using an automated manufacturing machine. It wasn’t running when we arrived, but it’s a sight to see when it is.
Meanwhile, since we left a few things have changed. There is now a separated bike lane, for example. That’s been something that has been recommended and wished for on this street for literally decades.
We also see that the former adult XXX cinema has closed and is now a climbing gym. I’m sure many won’t know of it’s former life, but as for me, I’m not sure I could get over that idea.
Next door to the climbing gym is P.A.T. Central – one of the larger Korean markets in the city. When I’ve made homemade kimchi I got most of the supplies I needed here. And if I need something prepared, I can get that there also.
Often there is someone near the door making Taiyaki – fish shaped baked sweets that are similar to the walnut cakes we had earlier. Today there’s a rather large line-up for them, though, and we pass them by. I do manage to get a photo of them making them, though.
As we walk I catch sight of another place we recently visited. Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu.
This place serves traditional “Soft Tofu Soup” – a spicy stew made with soft tofu, usually meat or seafood (or both). It’s served with rice and as is usual at a Korean restaurant, several side dishes.
The soup is brought out in a pre-heated bowl that is extremely hot. So hot, in fact, that it boils for several minutes afterward giving you time to crack your egg in to it for extra flavour.
This is one of my favourite meals in the city – particularly on a freezing, -20C day.
There are some new businesses cropping up including Nish Dish, a restaurant serving traditional Anishnawbe food.
We decide to visit a relatively new addition to this neighbourhood. The Poop Cafe, a cafe with a them of, you guessed it, poop, opened a couple of years ago after others had successfully made a go of it in South Korea. I admit that when I first heard of this place I was not confident it would last. Who would want to go to a cafe where your water is served in urinal shaped glasses, and your desserts in toilet shaped bowls.
The answer, as it turns out, is quite a few people – most of them in the 12 and under group with their parents. So many people, in fact that we take the last table. Looking around you can see that the theme extends well beyond just how the food is served. It’s everywhere. While some may prefer to sit in a bench-style booth, those looking for chairs won’t find any. You’ll need to take a seat on the toilet if you’d like to get comfortable.
We sit down and peruse the menu. After some time, however, we realize that the staff is just far too busy to help us quickly. We had to get Sage back to the library for her show. So instead, I will share a few photos from other people.
The desserts sounded pretty good on the menu as did the coffees. Sage, who had said “I am absolutely horrified by this place and am only going here because I love you.” was markedly relieved to have left before ordering.
We make our way back to the library and in to the theatre in time to get settled in for the show. The show is the 7th annual Hope and Justice Cultural Festival. This festival is organized by Hope21 – the Korean Progressive Network in Canada and this year’s theme is #MeToo #WithYou, showing their solidarity with the #MeToo movement against sexual violence and discrimination.
It starts off with music from Sujin Choi, singing and playing guitar. After that, Sage performs a story about what happened one day when she saw a woman being harassed on the subway. Thanks to our friend Marsha for recording and posting Sage’s performance at her show. Give it a watch if you’re curious to see what Sage’s performances are like.
This performance is a unique one, however. Because this event is being put on by an organization in the Korean community, there are a lot of Korean speakers there. And so, for the first time, Sage performed her show with “subtitles” behind her.
After that is a performance of traditional Korean dancing. Neither of us has seen anything like it before and it is really beautiful. We are amazed to see how well the performers synchronize their complex movements, movements of fans, and even drumming – not just to the music but to each other, without even looking at each other.
After this, a short documentary, “Will Not Change” by Seo Jin Chang is shown. Seo Jin Chang is a social activist living in South Korea. The subject of the film goes beyond misogyny and covers several other topics neither of us were aware of.
The film talks about the pervasiveness of the military discipline in art schools in South Korea. It sounds like there not only is serious hazing going on but also a ridiculous enforced hierarchy that some students are now starting to speak out against.
While I remember when the Sewol Ferry disaster happened, the unreasonable biases against the victims and the bereaved of the Sewol Ferry disaster are news for me. After this happened, there were protests by many friends and relatives of the victims and others looking for an inquest to be performed. The government responded very negatively not just with force against protesters but also negative PR, portraying the protesters as looking for more money in settlements. In the end, though, thanks in part to the persistence of the protesters, the president was impeached and the next government began in investigation.
And of course there were discussions of violence against women within Korea. Like nearly every country in the world, there is a lot of work to be done (probably all of them – I am unaware of anywhere that doesn’t need lots of work). The work needs to be not just in terms of laws but like here and other places I’ve been, the real heavy lifting needs to be done in terms of culture with men needing to step up and not only change their behaviour but demand it of their peers.
In the end, particularly when it comes to #MeToo, the film notes that there is still much to be done. At the same time I liked the overarching message that changes don’t come from outside of us. And they certainly don’t come from us being upset and posting online about it. It changes from our getting out, speaking up, and doing something about it.
All in all it is a lovely afternoon. I’m especially happy that even in my own city, in a neighbourhood I lived in for several years, I saw new things, had new experiences and learned many new things. This is exactly what this project of exploring Toronto by Library is all about.