Tracing the Ancestors, Exploring the Past

I know very little about my family’s past. I do know that my parents came to Canada in 1947 as part of the Chinese diplomatic service.  They never expected to stay permanently but history intervened and they were forced to become refugees.  Like so many other immigrants, they worked long and hard to provide a good life for their 4 children.  Unfortunately, they did not force us to speak Mandarin, they were busy and the community was small.  Regretfully, none of us grew up speaking the mother tongue. Although there was prejudice, we were somewhat sheltered by a community full of immigrants including Greeks, Italians, Latvians, Germans and even open minded multi-generational Canadians.  We grew up Canadian first, we were assimilated. This was especially true when I, the last child, rolled out of the womb.  I was never interested in my heritage, something that I regret today.

Souvenir with Name

Last year, my sister and I took a trip to China, my first time.  Over the course of 2 weeks, we saw many sites in Beijing, Xi’an, Chengdu and Shanghai.  At one tourist shop, we picked up a souvenir pamphlet that talked to the history of our name  ““.  Of course, neither of us could read it but we would get it translated.  Fast forward several months.  I asked an elderly Chinese man to translate it for me.  He politely declined but found the same document online.  That’s where it started, I spent a month obsessed by the pursuit of my family history.

My siblings had some snippets of documents that my father had written.  On one, I found crucial information: my father and grandfather’s names written in Chinese characters along with their ancestral hometown, Yixing in the province of Jiangsu.  My elderly friend provided the digital characters that allowed me to do Google searches. Not reading Chinese is an enormous handicap when you are researching your genealogy. I had to use several online translators to gain even a nugget of understanding.  Translators are literal, they cannot grasp the context of characters that have different meanings when placed in different sequences.

Yellow Emperor, Huang Di
Yixing, 200 KM west of Shanghai

What I have found is fascinating.  It also makes me proud of where I come from.  My family is old, very old. The name”任” harkens back to 2500 B.C.  Yes, that’s 2500 years before Christ.  The Yellow Emperor bestowed a Dukedom of “” upon the youngest of his 25 sons. His descendants took this surname.  The branch I come from can trace roots back to the 5th century.  This current cycle split off in the 13th century when my ancestors fled south from the invading Mongols lead by Kublai Khan.  They settled in Yixing where my father (任以宏)was born in 1912, almost 7 centuries later.

My father’s father

My father was very proud of his own father (任锡周). Born in 1873, our grandfather was awarded the title of “Juren”, a designation bestowed upon the few who successfully passed the grueling imperial exams. This was the entry to higher level positions within the public service. We know that he was a secretary in the Governor of the Province of Jiangsu’s office and for 5 years, he had a similar role in the office of the President of the Republic himself. We also know that he was honourable and patriotic. He was deeply disturbed by the corruption manifested by powerful warloads that was rampant in the government.  During the Sino-Japanese war, he refused to be bribed and as a result, he eventually lost his wealth, his health and his life shortly after this period. google-translated to English

During my search, I stumbled upon a Chinese language website that was set up in 2014 to celebrate the”” family heritage but also to find overseas members.  I sent an e-mail in English and 5 days later, I was rewarded with an e-mail from Mary in Sydney, Australia.  She gave me so much information including the digital version of the last update of the family book, a customized spreadsheet showing our lineage back to the 13th century and even poems by family members.  Unfortunately, many of these documents sit in my Dropbox, still unread.

My last name “任” means “a person doing his duty”. It is listed as the #58th most popular Chinese name with 4.2 million people sharing it.   In English, it was translated to “Jen” (although more recently, the new Pinyin translation is “Ren”).  My siblings and I have always thought that we alone had this last name, we had never ever met any other Jen’s.  But this past summer, much to my surprise, I saw someone in a Facebook group with the same last name. I sent her a private message with some information and lo and behold,  she  confirmed that her family also came from the same town.  And then we discovered that we live 1 kilometre apart!.    I have also become aware of an American writer named Gish Jen who I now follow on Facebook.  I bought her book, Tiger Writing, which was inspired by her father’s memoirs.  I’ve done a search and found other people in the US and Canada named “Jen” and “Ren”.  I have not reached out, I am not sure what I would say so maybe it is a project for the future.

Mother & Father (1946?)

The Internet has made the search for my family roots much easier.  My only regret is that I did not take the time to gather information from the master of story telling himself, my father.  He was a also scholar and a very prolific communicator until he went blind in his 80s.  Much of our immediate ancestral history died with him in 1999.  But I have to think that he is looking down upon us, happy that we are finally looking back to the past to help define who we are today.

I am a Middle-Aged Pokémon Hunter

You have to have lived under a rock to not have heard about Pokémon Go.  This is a modern reinvention of an equally successful Nintendo Gameboy game launched in North America in 1998.  Impressive numbers abound:  100 M downloads, over $200M in revenue, daily news stories from around the world and even a ban in Iran – all in a month’s time since its release.  Even I have given in to the Pokémon craze.  It has gotten this middle-aged body to start moving again.

It all started when my now 22-year old son was small, I used to advance games on his Gameboy while he slept.   Burger_King_Poké_Ball_-_closedAround 1999 or 2000, I remember scouring upper NY state for the red and white plastic Pokéballs that Burger King was giving out.   I think I ended up collecting 8 of them much to my son’s delight.  We used them to wage mock Poké battles at his Pokémon themed birthday party. Lots of excited little boys yelling “Charizard, I choooose YOOOOOUUU!  It was such fun

Many years later, Pokémon Go arrived in Canada last month on Itunes.  My son was so excited.  He convinced the entire family to download the game.  That very day, we walked around the neighbourhood catching Pokémons.   We hadn’t walked together in a long time so it turned into a fun family outing.  Admittedly, as a middle-aged woman, I was a little embarrassed bumping into other adults.  But I could tell that they felt the same.  Heads down, we’d raise our eyes momentarily to give each other a knowing but sheepish look acknowledging our juvenile desire to participate in this cultural craze.

1. Pokémon FACTS

It’s very simple.  The game is based on the original, first Pokémon game that was launched for the Nintendo Gameboy in 1998.  While similar to the original, this game is played on your mobile device using the GPS.  The main goal is to acquire 150 Pokémons and the only way to do so is to move from place to place.  There is also the ability to battle at gyms to earn Pokécoins and prestige, but this isn’t necessary to enjoy the game.

2. Key Terms

Avatar of Pokémon trainer
No middle-aged Pokémon trainer avatars available

Pokémon stands for “Pocket Monsters”.  They are creatures raised and commanded by their Trainers (you).  They are normally hatched from eggs, captured in the wild or evolved from simpler forms.  They grow and become more experienced and can evolve into more powerful Pokémon.  Currently, there are 150 unique Pokémons.

Pokéstops.  These are typically located at cultural or important landmarks like statues, plaques, buildings etc.  Pokéstops are a place to stock up on the Pokéballs that are needed to catch Pokémon.  They also are a source of healing and revive potions, Pokémon eggs and raspberries (that increase your chance at catching a Pokémon) .

Gyms are locations where “battles” take place

3. How do I get them

  • Capture wild Pokémon using Pokéballs.  Pokémon spawn and are therefore more frequently found in higher density areas.
  • Hatch them from Eggs.  So far I’ve seen 2, 5 and 10 kilometre versions.  Place the egg in an incubator and walk the required distance.  Feel like a proud mama when your baby Pokemon hatches.
  • Evolve them.  Some Pokémon have 2-3 forms.  Both Stardust and Candy are required for evolution. You get Stardust by capturing wild Pokemon or hatching eggs.  Candy is acquired by transferring duplicate Pokémons to the in-game host Professor Willow.

4. Where do I get them

I have since figured out the most efficient way to play this game is by taking the slowest method of Marian Pokedextransportation in this city,  the streetcar.  I then walk around downtown where there is a higher density of My Pokémon BagPokéstops and therefore, Pokémons.  I used to take the subway, even only for one stop. Not any more.

The Pokédex keeps track of the Pokémon you’ve seen and
caught.  But I carry up to 250 Pokémon in my “bag” and I can review duplicates and transfer and evolve them from this screen.  There is a certain sense of satisfaction seeing these two screens populate.  My kids and I (and now my husband) compare screens on a regular basis.

5. Do I Need to Spend Money

Nope, but you can  There is an in-app shop where you can buy more Pokéballs, Incense and Lures that attract more Pokémon, Lucky Eggs that increase XP amongst other things like storage upgrades. While I am not against spending a small amount of money playing games, it’s unlikely that I will do so here.

In Summary

I think this is a fun game for now.  Some of the benefits are that we play as a family, engage in some friendly competition, all while getting some much-needed exercise.  Will I continue being a middle-aged Pokémon hunter when my kids leave for university and the temperature drops? Probably not unless the gameplay evolves.  But for now, it’s a great summer past-time and I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

If you are interested in becoming a middle-aged Pokémon hunter, here are a few simple but thorough sites to walk-through.

Hoo-hah!  Good Pokémon hunting!





10 Reasons Why I’m a Cat Lady

Whiskey SantaThis is my beloved cat Whiskey.  He is a rescued cat that we adopted 18 months ago when he was still a kitten. Whiskey had a rough start to his life.  When he was 4 months, he was found almost dead by a major highway.  A kind soul took him to the local vet where my daughter was working as a co-op student.  He was unconscious, blind, with a hole in his head.  It took a couple of months, but he was coaxed back from the brink of death. He is a fighter.

We changed his name to "Whiskey"
We changed his name to “Whiskey”

And Whiskey (formerly known as Sparky) became a bit of a TV celebrity.  He was featured on “Animal House Calls”, a local cable show that highlights these sorts of miracle stories.

My daughter built a bond with Whiskey during his recovery as she was responsible for cleaning his cage and playing with him.    We had managed to stay a pet-less family for a good 20 years but she was relentless in her pursuit of his adoption.  I gave in first, my husband the “cat hater” took longer.  She won the battle.  We paid $100, changed his name to Whiskey and brought him home.

We instantly feel in love with this little guy.  I took my early retirement 5 months after he joined our family so we spend a lot of time together every day.  I have come to the conclusion that I’ve become a “cat lady”.  Here are 10 reasons why.


  1. I spent hours and hours researching cat food.  I now know what the optimal combination of protein, fat, and carbs that make up a healthy and well-balanced cat diet.  I even monitor his daily caloric intake so that he doesn’t gain weight.
  2. I have many, many “pet” names for him.  These include Bunny, Little Guy, Baby Boy, My Little Kitty as well as You Pain in the A**, Annoying Kitty, and Stupid Cat.
  3. When I talk to him, I refer to myself as “mummy” as in “Mummy says it’s time to go inside now”
  4. IMG_1169He is an indoor cat yearning to be an outdoor one.  So we compromise.  My husband devised a system where Whiskey can easily navigate the backyard (using a harness and long leash) to hunt squirrels, birds, bugs and enjoy the fresh air.  I spend at least an hour every morning (rain, snow or shine) with him ensuring he doesn’t get tangled up.

    He can tweet high scores
    He can tweet high scores
  5. I  take him on local walks.  I’ve tried to introduce him to the neighbourhood cats but that’s been a flop.  He is very territorial and seems to hate them.
  6. He has his own (albeit a discarded 1st generation) Ipad for cat games and bird videos.
  7. I only buy him cat toys on Amazon that have lots of reviews and  5-star ratings.
  8. I have taken moreIMG_1292 photos and videos of Whiskey than I have of my entire family duWhiskey cuddling Chloering the same period.  Especially of him sleeping.  We all seem to find those the cutest.  Then I send them to our family IMessage account for my husband and kids to enjoy.
  9. I give him kisses with my eyes (really)
  10. I carry him in my arms and rock him like a baby.  Or sometimes over my left shoulder like you would hold a baby to be burped.  He hates it from me but he sure loves my daughter’s cuddles.