Saturday, August 6, 2011

Cheap Field Trip the Second: Dressew & International Village Mall

Need a cheap summer project? (And I do mean cheap - under $2). How about also picking up dinner (or a snack) that's a little different from the usual?

Need a way to entertain the kiddies for pennies? Need a way to entertain yourself (which is what I do)?

Welcome to the second Green, Broke & Living in Kits recommended Vancouver day-trip!

In keeping with tradition, this day-trip is geared towards sturdy walking shoes, an adventurous spirit, and use of public transit (i.e. it's car-free . . . and also bike-free since I do not enjoy urban biking! Give me country roads or I'll walk/bus!).

Ah, Google Maps! So useful - click to enlarge!

This time though, the suggested region is a little 'rougher' than the False Creek seawall, so keep your wits about you - watch for pickpockets and sketchy situations.

Stop #1: Dressew's 25 and 59 cent fabric off-cut bins

I've mentioned Dressew before, but I'll quickly remind you in case you missed it. Dressew is a discount fabric, sewing and notions store (among other things - Halloween masks, hats and accessories like no where else in the city, typically year-round). It's on West Hastings between Homer and Hamilton (remember the 3 H's!), which isn't perhaps the most kid-friendly neighbourhood, but it's easy to get to by public transit. Dressew is close to Waterfront station (easy walking distance), and also trolley bus routes from Kits (#4 and #7) as well as the #22 Knight/MacDonald bus.

Head downstairs (although right now, by the main door, there's a stretch of tables with 59 cent fabric roll ends and cords and trimming clearance for a buck a roll!), and to the right - there are two wire bins that contains the aforementioned 59 cent roll ends, and one that has 25 cent pieces. START DIGGING!

I love this. I have yet to come up with a project for it, but I will some day!

This is a great time of year to buy Christmas fabric scraps for canning jar tops and for other crafts (i.e. cut out a Christmas tree shape or a cross and glue it to a blank card for a one-of-a-kind Christmas card). Here's a couple of 25 cent Christmas scraps I picked up on one trip:

I also grab anything I like or have a project in mind for. Usually though, it's just take what I'm attracted to and come up with something after the fact (like drawstring bags!). The best drawstring bag tutorial I've come across is here, at BunnyBum's blog.

59 cent fabric pieces, and ribbon leftover from a birthday gift.

The beauty of the drawstring bag is really its ease. It's an ideal beginner's or child's sewing project, and because of its simplicity and portability, it's a really good take-to-the-beach sort of project. With a couple of vibrantly coloured pieces, a drawstring bag can make a festive birthday gift bag. Choose more muted colours and make yourself a reusable produce bag or crochet project stash bag (much lovelier than a nasty plastic bag!).

This one is headed to Bangladesh, to a sponsored child. :)

If you don't have leftover ribbon (KEEP USED WRAPPING PAPER AND RIBBONS! THEY COME IN HANDY!), YokoYaya123 sells lovely satin ribbons for $2 a box. They get scooped up quick!

If you choose solid colours, you can put on an applique or embelm, or monogram it with felt initials, or paint it with some fabric paints (like Pebeo, which you can buy at de Serres, where small kits of which occasionally go on sale).

Uh, it stands for interferon-gamma. My dorky soccer cleat bag. :) In my defense, the whole team has 'em . . . and yeah, I made them all. Compulsive crafter, I know.

You can make a very elegant velvet shoe bag like this one on Martha Stewart's website (hint: cheap velveteen is downstairs at Dressew - go down and turn right, walk to the end by the bins and the cutting table, then right again at the back end of the fabric roll row. At least, that's where it was in late July - they do move things around, especially the yarn which can be right by the entrance on your left as you enter, or downstairs near the bargain bins and cutting tables).

For drawstrings, the possibilities are endless, and I encourage you to use what you have on-hand. If you're working with a young person, this is an excellent lesson in efficiency, frugality and creative-thinking. What do we already have that we can use, instead of buying something new? I used a Mardi Gras bead necklace and leftover gift wrap ribbon here. Shoelaces work (check the length before you start, of course!). You could also very easily braid 3 lengths of yarn (or plarn) together (same colour or different for a bolder effect). Or make some t-yarn out of an old t-shirt. The cheapest place in town to purchase cords and trims is Dressew, so far as I know. But do have a go at reusing something you already have at home - it's cheap and it's green to do it this way!

Don't limit yourself to just ribbon - I found a reuse for Mardi Gras beads!

I've also sewn wine bottle bags from 59 cent off-cuts as well. Pet toys (think: catnip and yarn scrap stuffed mice for the cats), fabric hot pads, bean bags, Barbie doll fashions and housewares, sachets, cloth-covered hangers . . . the possibilities are pretty much endless. And the joy of small projects is that a small time investment means you can complete the task and get that well-deserved rush of smugness that comes with all completed creative pursuits.

If you don't have *anything* at all for sewing purposes (i.e. no needles, no thread, no straight pins, no scissors, no nothing), get them at Dressew. I needed some white thread . . . so I bought this:

Can you read the price tag? $0.49! Sure, it's not the best quality thread in the world, but it's still better than that stuff in the complimentary hotel sewing kits (do they still make those?!). I didn't buy needles, but you can bet they're somewhere in the surprisingly-inexpensive price range, too. I even bought one of those quintessential tomato pin-cushions for $0.25 last trip!

Don't forget to browse your local thrift shop - I picked up vintage faux-pearl tipped straight pins from the one at 4th and MacDonald for pennies.

Stop #2: YokoYaya 1-2-3 @ The International Village Mall (Tinseltown)

Again, regular readers of my blog will know all about YokoYaya (and Daiso, its better known bigger sister), and why if you're on a budget, it's a very important shop to know! One major trouble with it: it's not very green very often, so do purchase considerately. Then again, you can get cheap umbrellas for $2 that are NOT made of PVC, and so a PEVA purchase is a fairly green option all things considered. As will any foodstuff you buy, read the label first!

Just down the street from Dressew is The International Village Mall, a curiously empty new mall on the border of Chinatown (right next to the Gate, actually). There's not a lot of places there I can say much about (there's a JNBY, which isn't cheap enough for my liking; there's a shoe repair place that's alright; there's a dungeons-and-dragons-variety of a game store . . . they didn't have Dutch Blitz, so I was unimpressed and disinterested). They do have a large, largely undiscovered movie theatre, though, and I believe parking in the parkade is free if you see a movie (good to know if you're driving in from out of town). It's also nearby the Stadium SkyTrain station if not. And the best part of the movie theatre are the see-through escalators that cross high over the main mall (which is great, unless you have a fear of heights in which case that won't be a highlight for you!).

Probably ecologically evil, this magnetic dry-erase 'chalk' board (and a liquid 'chalk' marker, a.k.a. creepy chemical liquid plastic ooze) is what I put my grocery list on. I take a pic of it with my phone, and voila! Off to the store. $4 for the board and the marker - kind of a neat thing!

I won't say too much about YokoYaya since I wrote about it earlier (see that post here), except to give you a list of things that I think are worthwhile/well-priced:

  • false eyelashes (huge selection, too)
  • aluminum crochet hooks ($2 each! And they're lighter weight than steel ones)
  • unlined (not flocked) rubber gloves (I hate the smell of flocked rubber gloves!)
  • small bread loaf and cake pans of all varieties (good gift size, good portion size, too!)
  • cookie cutters 
  • rice paddles and timbale moulds
  • Japanese-style cookware
  • Japanese ceramics (teacups, sake sets, bowls, etc. - some lovely pieces, $2 each!)
  • USB cable extensions and computer-related gadgets and tidies
  • writing paper (NOTE: I have yet to see recycled products or forest-friendly products here, though. Shop carefully)
  • home organization (The Daiso in Richmond has an exponentially larger selection and bigger containers, too)
  • socks (both Japanese/Ninja-Turtle style and regular Western ones - get the ones with the thicker soles)
  • laundry washing bags and lint collectors/nets
  • sink traps
  • bath salts
  • headbands (the skinny elastic type - infinitely cheaper than Shopper's or other drug stores)
  • nail polish
  • hilarious gag gifts like the portable toilet (which could also be a very handy thing in a traffic-jam, as the package suggests!)
  • ingenious gizmos like the clip-on side pocket for my fridge door to hold the little packets and things that slip out/off of the shelves, and suction-cup shower hooks that actually work
There is an amazing selection of all sorts of things, some of which are absolute steals (I mention the false eyelashes not because I use them at all regularly, but the comparative price-point is insanely less than Shopper's Drug Mart! Same as with those skinny headbands - $2 for a 5 pack, where I spent $9 on 2 at Shopper's when I was in a pinch! Ouch!).

Stop #3: T&T Supermarket

and finally, once you've killed a hour (I find it impossible to get out of there in less time!) and you're hungry, head out of the mall and across the street to the T&T Supermarket (which is right next to the Expo Line Stadium SkyTrain station if you don't live in Kits or are headed elsewhere).

Recommended inexpensive and yummy things for lunch at T&T include:
  • The dim sum counter just to the right of the main door. Har Gow is steamed shrimp dumplings (yum!), but there's all sorts of things to choose from (stuffed steam buns are also delicious). There's hot chow mein-type dishes as well. There are pictures you can point to if you can't pronounce the food item. There's also a sit-down lunch counter the immediate left of the entrance, and you can pay for your lunch items and eat in there.
  • Giant Arizona Iced Tea cans for less than a dollar (but you probably will have to use the toilet if you make it all the way through it. WARNING: International Village Mall toilets are some of the yuckiest I've come across - picture Costco or Walmart bathrooms but less freqently cleaned.)
But nevermind lunch - here's where the fun starts! If you're travelling with kids (or someone who needs simple entertainment, like myself), head straight into the produce section and pick out a weird fruit or veggie to eat later at home.

Can't get your kids to eat enough fruit? Try serving them some 'spikey dragon balls' (ha, there's a mental image!) or 'bomb fruit', known to the rest of the world as lychee (but it doesn't sound nearly as cool). You'd also have to furnish them with a small paring knife (or a steak knife would do just as well) to crack into the shell (easy to peel once you have a way in).

Lychees, if you've never tried them, taste like a cross between a cherry and a white grape (they're quite tasty, actually! A little less sweet than cherries). They have pit in the centre like a cherry as well, and apart from having to cut into the shell first, they're fun and easy to peel. They were also on sale for super cheap when I got a bag in late July (must be in season).

A Korean melon

I wanted to try something I'd never had before, so I picked up a very pretty-looking Korean melon (I've never even heard of these before). There was another shopper nearby so I asked if she'd ever had them before ('yes'), were they any good ('they're alright'), and do I need to cook it first or can I just eat it like a cantaloupe ('just cut and eat'). She was a very nice lady, but unfortunately the chances of her being there when you're shopping are likely quite small, so be prepared to buy something and then do some research on the internet when you get home!

Pretty lace-like honeycombed seed web.

I have to say, I'm not a huge fan of cantaloupe or honeydew melons (LOVE watermelon, but not fussed on the others particularly), but the Korean melon was like a harder, crunchier version of a orange-fleshed cantaloupe (and I actually prefer the crunchiness of the Koren melon to the sliminess of a cantaloupe!). It was also very pretty, too, which is why I took so many photos.

Just like cantaloupe, but crisp and crunchy!

I'm sure like the majority of fruit you find in supermarkets, the seeds are sterile, but in retrospect I rather wish I had kept a few to see if I could grow these puppies on my balcony next year - they're lovely to look at and tasty, as far as melons go.

Some of the stuff I haven't yet eaten/used up from my recent T&T trip. I'm not a big Pocky fan, but I love the gummy choco tubes (muscat grape is the best, but the mixed flavours is a safe bet!). I use the empty tubes to hold crochet hooks and pencils - a Hello Kitty gummy choco tube held all my writing implements in college years.

I never just buy produce at T&T. Not everything is a great deal (think: it's the Asian Safeway!), but there are a few things that come up even a little cheaper than they are at (New) Apple Farm Market (4th and Vine) by $0.20 - $1.00 or so.

Kung Fu Chicken Noodle (ramen noodle!) Soup - that'll kick a cold! Ha ha! The cans were "jelly drinks" which contained jelly (unsurprisingly, I suppose). It was weird but entertaining and $0.88 each.

Things worth stocking up on at T&T:
  • Thai rice-stick noodles (for pad thai, etc.)
  • Thai red curry pastes
  • Thai basil (fresh) - hard to find elsewhere
  • Fresh Kaffir Lime Leaves - have never found fresh anywhere else (frozen & dried only)
  • Asian mushrooms (i.e. enoki, black cloud fungus)
  • ramen and udon noodles
  • soya sauces and seasonings
  • frozen dim sum for another day
  • Pocky (every flavour imaginable!)
  • Gummy Choco candies in tubes! おいしい (Yummy!)
It's also the place to go to get things like Pho spice packs, wasabi powder, fish sauce, bonito flakes, and other very specific but otherwise impossible to find asian ingredients. I'm stocked up on ketjap manis and laos for the moment (Indonesian stuff, for dishes like the delicious Nasi Goreng) thanks to my Auntie Kim and Uncle Jo, but I have trouble finding them on my own (T&T might not even carry them - it's mostly Chinese, with a Japanese section, though you can find Thai and Korean items as well).

The clamshell package on the right held dim sum. I can't handle the waste from these things, so I bring them home, wash them and reuse them. So bad. The Asian community as a whole seems a bit behind on the "tread lightly on the Earth" trend. I hope this will soon change.

This is what I do with those empty dim sum containers (#6's are not recyclable in Vancouver!):

And so concludes the walking field trip of Dressew, YokoYaya and T&T! I hope you enjoyed it!

Getting home is easy - catch a #4 or #7 trolley (4th ave trolleys) or the #22 MacDonald outside of Wild Rice (Pender and Abbott, just half a block from T&T and the mall). If you don't live in Kits, hike up the stairs behind the T&T to the Stadium SkyTrain station (Expo Line). Brilliantly transit accessible, eh?

Theoretically, this could be a pretty cheap outting. For a couple of dollars you'll have enough fabric bits to sew drawstring bags out of, maybe a small toy or craft notion for $2 from YokoYaya (if you're with children, it's a great store to let them pick out "2 things" from!), and some bizarre new fruit or veggie to try at home from T&T's produce section. Excluding bus fare but estimating $6 for lunch (for one person), you could potentially spend less than $20 in an interesting and shopping-heavy afternoon. I will warn you, though - the thing about 'good deals' is that it's always tempting to buy more than you need (the "Costco Effect"!), and YokoYaya1-2-3, Dressew and T&T get me everytime. I never break the bank, though, so if you're going to go on a binge, do it here!

Bonus stops along the way:
  • A walk through Chinatown itself on a sunny day can be nice (and sketchy, so keep alert!)
  • Dinner at Wild Rice if you're dressed nicely (Wild Rice is fantastic, especially for people with food allergies! They are wonderful there! OceanWise, Green Table, local and organic ingredients, you name it. The cocktails are amazing, too - I like the rosemary-infused Victoria Gin & Tonic)
  • A visit to the Army & Navy discount store for shoes or camping gear, etc. (also a very sketchy area)
The GARLIC & ONION-FREE menu at Wild Rice! They even cater to MY bizarre allergies!

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