A supermarket in distress

It’s Saturday morning, and a dozen post-middle-aged nine-to-fivers cluster in front of a small wooden table inside Al-Habib Supermarket. A woman at the back of the line balances an armful of powdered milk as she steadily taps her foot against the dusty checkered floor. She constantly glances from her Blackberry to the gap-toothed woman named Saadia Khan on the table’s other side. A few seconds later, Khan nods toward the smartphone-hooked woman and says, “I know a boy that your daughter will love.”

Located across the road from Markham’s largest mosque, on Denison Road, Al-Habib sells everything from Halal meat to imported spices from Pakistan, cones of henna and the newest Bollywood blockbusters on DVDs. Most customers value Al-Habib more for its socializing prospects than the dwindling customer service and continually changing tenancy. Word on the streets is that anybody looking for love can find the partner of their dreams here.

Weekends at Al-Habib are all about Khan’s homemade fried bread with chickpea curry and Halwa dessert. Halwa is a thickly sweet concoction of semolina, sugar, butter and powdered cardamom. Her special dishes are so popular that she sells three large pots in an average of two hours. There are always customers who come back the next day asking for more. Priced at slightly less than five bucks for a combo, Khan’s dishes are a steal.

Last spring, Khan introduced a 25-year old medical student to her present-day fiancé, as they waited for her famous Halwa. Both of them previously chatted with her about their goals, hobbies and daily routines without the intention of “meeting someone.” Yet, Khan “accidentally” switched their orders, and used the situation as an opportunity to initiate the couple’s first conversation.

Back at the Halwa stall, Khan’s declaration results in an agreeable exchange of phone numbers. Playing cupid, Khan discloses the young man’s postgraduate university education, passion for soccer, aptitude in the kitchen, and boyish good looks—all ideal traits for a potential son-in-law. With her fresh food dangling from her pinky in a plastic bah, the grinning woman walks out, after picking up two dropped two cans of powdered milk off the floor. Notably, Khan doesn’t charge for matchmaking.

Despite the countless mingling prospects, customers are increasingly disgruntled by Al-Habib’s new image. Until three years ago, the supermarket was favourably known as “Zum Zum”—a title that still resonates strongly with customers today. With Arab origins, Zum Zum renders its name from an Islamic spring water well, perceived as a modern-day miracle by most Muslims. Located in the holy city of Mecca, Zum Zum water represents continuity. Despite being consumed by millions of people annually, for hundreds of years, the well never dried up. Al-Habib, however, is anything but constant.

After opening its doors for the first time in 2000, the supermarket adapted itself to five different owners. It’s not the vendors that keep this place running but the people, says Haris Ahmed, a neighbourhood resident who resents the store’s presence so close to home. One-third ethnic grocery store, one-third social hub, and one-third hushed matchmaking service, Al-Habib looks to its customers for identity.

An employee replaces one of the freezers’ glass doors as an elderly man grabs two mango kulfis, one for himself and the other for his toddler granddaughter. Cardboard boxes of imported oranges line the sides of the freezer doors. Their brilliant orange colour strongly contrasts with the greys and beiges of the mountains of basmati rice in front of them.

Regular customers, such as Sarah Mian, believe new competitor stores will cost Al-Habib its loyal clientele. If customers have no incentive to buy their products, socializing and shopping can be done at a cleaner and more efficient supermarket that has friendlier staff, says Mian. Soon after she first visited Al-Habib, four years ago, its quality products and competent service impressed Mian. Now, however, she only shops at Zum Zum as a last resort.

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‘Premature birth gene’ discovered

A gene linked to premature births has been discovered by scientists in the US and Finland.

The researchers hope their study, published in PLoS Genetics, could eventually lead to a test for women at risk of a pre-term birth.

In the UK, one in 10 babies are born before the 37th week of pregnancy, with potential problems for their health.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said it would help to identify a percentage of those at risk.

The international team of researchers looked to human evolution in their hunt for genes linked to premature births.

In comparison to other primates and mammals, humans have relatively large heads and narrow birth canals.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University, Washington University and the University of Helsinki, believed there must have been an evolutionary pressure to “adapt and shift the time of birth” to produce a smaller baby.

Premature birth can be dangerous for babies

They looked for DNA which showed evidence of “accelerated evolution” – genes which have mutated more in humans than in other primates.

They identified 150 genes.

In a separate study, a team at Washington State University believe they have identified why eggs are produced which result in miscarriage and birth defects.

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Spring in Unionville

Everyone’s favourite summertime street prepares for flip flops and flower baskets. A tourist hot-spot, historically quaint Main Street, in Unionville, is warming up its famous charm.

This video was filmed and edited by yours truly.

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Charlie’s FreeWheels

Charlie’s FreeWheels is a new educational bike shop on Queen St East in Toronto. The sustainable store’s programs support cycling as a viable and affordable mode of transportation and physical activity for youth.

By providing them with the opportunity to earn their own bike and then fix it, youth learn more than just mechanics.

Production team:

Vajiha Sipra (reporter & video editor) & Yeugenia Kleiner (videographer & reporter)

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Chinese man tattoos ‘Degrading’ on wife’s face after accusing her of infidelity

A jealous Chinese man is accused of attacking his wife and tattooing “degrading” onto her face after suspecting she had an affair.

The scandal, which has apparently gone viral on Chinese sites, was loosely translated into English on the China Hush website. According to the site, Wei Shengxiong and Xiaowei, who had been married since 2006, fought bitterly because Wei had suspected his wife of having an affair.


Chinese womans jealous husband tattooed "Degraded" on her face

On the morning of March 30, the couple — who have two children — had a particularly bitter row, after which Wei “decided to disfigure Xiaowei. One, is to release his anger, second to make her make her ugly so she will no longer be loved by other men, as to prevent her from having affairs,” the site reads.

After tying his wife up and cutting characters into her face, Wei rubbed ashes into the injury, tattooing her. The horrific scars are also said to read “cheap” or “lowly,” depending on the translation.

Still, Wei argues that Xiaowei “chose” to be disfigured.

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Lack of data increases Japan’s nuclear risk

Nearly a month after Japan’s nuclear accident, atomic experts and politicians puzzle over a simple question: What danger does the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant still pose?

Some areas are still too radioactive for workers to approach. Meanwhile, Japanese reports conflict with those overseas, leading to clouded understanding.

According to the American Nuclear Regulatory Commission, nuclear fuel in the core of a reactor probably leaked from its thick steel pressure vessel. If that is true, fuel leaks will continue and high levels of radioactive releases would vastly complicate containment and cleanup.

But Japanese officials said there was no evidence of a compromised pressure vessel, and they wondered why they read about it in newspapers.

“If they have a concern, they should inform us,” said Kentaro Morita of Japan’s nuclear regulatory body, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency in a recent NY Times article.

"Japanese child in Fukushima screened for radioactivity"

Accordingly, a senior foreign minister accused foreign media of exaggerating dangers.

Who is proved right in the scientific debate has great repercussions for how and when the nuclear crisis might be brought under control, and the potential implications if assumptions prove wrong.

From the start there have been differences, with the American authorities expressing a more pessimistic view than the Japanese.

Accordingly, senior foreign ministers accused foreign media of exaggerating power plant dangers.

Japanese officials believe that water pumped into the reactor to cool it — as opposed to the nuclear fuel itself — might have somehow leaked out. Evidence show that an explosion may have breached the primary containment structure and allowed highly radioactive water into other parts of the plant and the ocean.

For more information about the Fukushima plant, have a look at this NY Times graphic.

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Ryerson engineering bug push 2011

It takes more than a push to strengthen school spirit. Ryerson engineers encouraged students and faculty to donate money for SickKids while doing some intensive pushing of their own.

Multimedia reporter: Yours truly

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