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Four "delicious" meals and five admissions cost $105.50, she adds, handing out envelopes for us to fill with cash. Chen, who knows the tourism business, is skeptical. But when a few of us balk, Guide Cheng warns there will be nowhere else to eat nearby. And anyone who declines to visit a site will be locked out of the bus and have to wait in the cold. We all pay up.!
Saturday, Vanier, 5:30 p.m.
"Look, there's lots of restaurants," says Chen, miffed, as we debark in a parking lot in a suburb of Ottawa. We're in a strip mall, with various kinds of pizza and fast-food restaurants. But we troop dutifully into Du Barry Chinese Buffet. The place is huge and full of customers, but the only Asians besides our bus tour are the waiters.
Dong really isn't feeling well. Cheng says anyone not eating must wait outside the restaurant. I decide enough is enough. I pull up a chair for Dong and tell a waiter to get her a glass of hot water. She sits there, cradling her head, as everyone else piles their plates high with chop suey, chow mein and deep-fried cocktail hot dogs. The tourists taste everything. They avoid seconds. There is no sign of the Chinese ambassador.
Over dinner with Chen, Cui and Dong, we discuss the latter's digestive problems. I suggest All-Bran. They look blank, so I write it down on a slip of paper and tell them it should cost about $3.50 or $4. They head for the supermarket next door and return in defeat.
"It was over $30," Cui says. "We don't mind spending $10, but $30 is too much."
I bolt down the rest of my bean sprouts, head to the washroom because, you know, we're not allowed to use the one on the bus, and make it into the supermarket one minute before it closes. I find the All-Bran. Every box is marked, "$32.9." I laugh. So does the cashier. Cui doesn't think it's funny at all, but he buys a box when we assure him it's actually $3.29.
Back on the bus, Dong starts eating All-Bran. Guide Cheng puts a Jackie Chan movie, The Tuxedo, in the DVD player. During the trip, we will watch two Jackie Chan movies, a Taiwanese comedy about overweight lovers and some wordless Mr. Bean videos. We arrive around 9 p.m. at the Sheraton. Guide Cheng calls us by number and hands out keys. Our phones are blocked for outgoing calls, but my 10th-floor room has 10 fluffy pillows and a view that includes a snippet of the St. Lawrence River.
Sunday, Montreal, 6:28 a.m.
An unsolicited wake-up call, apparently arranged by the efficient Cheng, jolts me out of bed. Why we need an hour to pack our pajamas in an overnight bag eludes me. It's not like there's any breakfast. Unlike my bus mates, I didn't think to bring emergency rations. A few of them figure out how to use the coffee machine to boil water for instant noodles.
At 7:30 a.m., we load our luggage on the bus and disturb the early mass-goers at St. Joseph's Oratory. Everyone stares at the actual heart of the founder, Brother Andre, encased in red glass. One elderly Chinese man stares at the priest's life-sized wax statue. "As short as Deng Xiaoping!" he exclaims, referring to the diminutive Chinese leader.
Later, at Notre Dame Cathedral, Guide Cheng tells us to ignore the no-camera signs. We spend 15 minutes annoying a group of worshipers. At the Olympic Stadium, we stop for a minute to watch families swimming. Then Cheng hustles us through a tunnel into the Biodome, an indoor zoo and aquarium.
Four hours later, we pull into another mall for another buffet, this time in Montreal East, at the Le Buffet Chinois Mandarin. Dong is able to eat again. She digs in for the first time. She stops after a few bites. An hour later, we head for Quebec City. We have not seen Old Montreal, the Port, Mount Royal, not even Chinatown.
Sunday, Quebec City, 3 p.m.