I found Nemo swimming in an aquarium at the Discount Dragon Aquarium in the Mississauga Chinese Community Centre. On 888 Dundas St. East, the centre marks its entrance with a towering red gate and white stone statues of foo dogs that stand guard at the base.

“I’ve been going for most of my life,” says Mary Kay Briones, a third-year psychology and English student. “It’s familiar to me since it’s one of places my family goes grocery shopping at.”

I’d been there a couple of times with my family in the past, but I’d never gone exploring on my own. Not knowing where to start, I visited the Dragon Aquarium.

I saw bubblegum-pink frogs that were each about the size of a loonie, teacup stingrays, and walking catfish, which get their name from the way they pause from swimming by floating vertically, their tails touching the ground and their whiskers wiggling in the water.

In addition to the regular Koi and goldfish found at pet and garden stores, the Discount Dragon had turtles and fish ranging from sizes smaller than a penny to bigger than a slice of pizza and prices from $1.99 to $1,900.

Across from the Dragon Aquarium is the Nine Dragon Wall. Nine dragons twist and dance on the wall, which is about the length and height of a bus, and some of them lift off the wall to gaze down from blue tile. The plaque beside the wall says that the ruling family used the dragon wall as a barrier in their gardens, and only the emperor could have nine dragons. The Nine Dragon Wall in the Mississauga Chinese Centre is the only one outside of Asia.

Throughout the centre, similar plaques inform visitors about the stories behind the different architectural features. Among these features is the covered walkway with red and gold tiles that runs around the plaza of the centre and provides a connection between stores. About 1,400 feet in length, the walkway imitates the one in Beijing’s Yee Woo Garden.

A sweet, fluffy, warm smell filled the air when I stepped onto this walkway and my nose led me along it to the Oriental Food Centre. I revelled in the smell of the fruits, including oranges, pomelos, and jackfruits at the entrance of the grocery store, accompanied by whiffs of vegetables, herbs, meat, and fish. I discovered coconut and fruit juices that other grocery stores don’t carry, as well as a plethora of snacks such as prawn crackers, Pocky (those delicious chocolate-coated biscuit sticks), and baked goods like mung bean cookies and coconut cakes.

Beside the Oriental Food Centre is the Sino Mall, which houses ethnic gift shops, a dancing-shoe store, and the food court.

In the food court, there’s a Filipino food booth that displays roasted duck, chicken, and pork in its window, a Chinese noodle booth, and a booth for sushi and Korean food. I got the tempura from the Korean booth and Chinese noodles to go. The portion of noodles was certainly generous considering the price: $5.99 plus tax. The tempura was shrimp, sweet potato, and pumpkin fried in crunchy batter.

Inside the Soo Chow Garden, there is the “Pavilion of Friendship”, a gift from the Jiangsu Provincial Government, as well as a pond, a bridge, and white statues of the goddess and Buddha, in the middle of the parking lot at the end of the courtyard. There are various businesses in the centre including a hair salon, dentist, HSBC bank, video store, leather goods store, and clothing stores. Diane Zetter, a third-year CTEP student, says she got her hair cut once at the centre.

As a commuter student who lives outside Mississauga, the centre was easily accessible by bus. The 101 E express from UTM took 25 minutes.

All in all, my day trip to China was a unique shopping experience with beautiful architecture and a quiet atmosphere that should appeal to students looking for an easy daycation.

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