amw (amw) wrote,

Vancouver, 12 years later

I first visited Vancouver in 2008. I had been talking to this Canadian girl on MySpace and we hit it off, so we decided to do a romcom "meet in the middle" (she was in Toronto, i was in Melbourne) to see if things would work out in person. Of course we had the most idyllic vacation, she subsequently came to Australia for a year, then we returned to Canada to get married.

I'm sure there are lots of utterly cringeworthy journal entries of that time if you care to go back to search. I might go back to them one day because i still need to add tags to a lot of those old entries, but today will not be that day.

Not like i don't have the time available, though. As susandennis pointed out, it's raining today in the PNW. Figures that my second real day of freedom after self-isolation it'd turn into the stereotypical drizzlefest that people the world over will recognize from filmed-in-Canada sci-fi shows.

So let's take some time out to write an entry.

I left self-isolation Tuesday morning, and it was the greatest moment of my life.

Seriously, even that picture cannot express how incredible it felt to finally be free. My condo apartment had a balcony, and an entire lounge room that i had no idea what to do with given i've lived in studio apartments for years, but it's just not the same as walking outside. This quarantine has taught me that i need to walk outside or i will go nuts.

My first stop was the bank, to try get my cards back. It took about an hour, but they finally gave me a new debit card. It was delayed because the previous debit card had been canceled for "fraud" (that is: ordering a $20 burger and $50 worth of groceries to a hotel room) and apparently my signature in 2020 no longer matches my signature from 2009.

They refused to reissue my credit card. Apparently the only way to get a new credit card is to report it stolen and have them send a new one to a nearby branch. I was a little bit annoyed, but i figured it didn't matter because who needs credit cards?

Well, i do. Because i forgot that in North America you are basically persona non grata without a credit card. After a quick Chinese lunch in Richmond, i took the subway into Vancouver and was told that i needed a credit card to check into the hotel.

Here's the lunch, 客家小炒 Hakka small fry-up. Richmond is over 50% ethnic Chinese, and every business has multilingual signage and clerks who can speak either Mandarin or Cantonese. It should theoretically be the best place in North America to find Chinese food, but it's also a massively spread-out suburb so probably not the best place to accidentally stumble upon a restaurant. And yet, i stumbled upon a Taiwanese vegetarian restaurant. Tofu, mushrooms, konjac, bak choy... Great stuff.

Anyway, back to the hotel problem. I told my sob story of just coming out of self-isolation and visiting the bank for an hour and the clerk took pity on me. It probably helped that he had spent some time teaching English in South Korea and had considered heading to China to do the same. We hobnobbed about the East Asian expat experience and then he gave me the key to my room.

Walking into the room i immediately felt more at home than i had in the massive one-bedroom condo i had stayed in before. It's a bare bones hotel - the second cheapest i could find in Vancouver - there is a bed, a chair, a desk, a bathroom and that's it. This is exactly the size house i want, anything bigger makes me stressed out and uncomfortable.

The only thing it doesn't have is any kind of food prep device, so i headed out for a walk to find a snack.

I'm staying in Vancouver's West End, which means tree-lined streets, gayish, wealthy and quiet. I immediately remembered why i had such fond memories of the place. When i reached the beach and smelled the saltwater it came into sharp focus. I remembered sitting out there with J, she had a DSLR and took photos of the sunset, i had freshly-dyed red hair and a new North American belle. Life was good.

But coming back here as a single person, i realize that a lot of those good feelings are just the result of seeing Vancouver on a sunny day. If you're only going to visit one city in Canada, this is the one. It's superbly picturesque. It's not too hot and not too cold. It's sleepy and quiet without being parochial. It's liberal and open-minded and effortlessly multicultural. It's a great place to fall in love.

I stopped into an Irish bar - same one J and i did all those years ago - for a beer. Actually it was mostly to see how they were dealing with the Phase 3 reopen. Every table had long plastic sheets hanging around it to create bubbles, and the bar had been separated into bubbles of 2-3 stools each.

Here in Vancouver there have only been 26 new cases reported in the past two weeks, but businesses are still locked down hard. Most restaurants are still not open inside, they are only doing takeout, and all of the shops and banks have dots on the floor to encourage people to stand 2m apart. All checkouts now have a plastic screen, which makes every place feel like a shady money changing operation. It's weird to see how much more aggressive the coronavirus defenses are here. Nowhere i went in China had screens.

But the other funny thing is that almost nobody is wearing a mask. I guess that's the trade-off. In China, everyone wears a mask inside, even now with most cities reporting 0 new cases each week. But in Vancouver, hardly anybody is wearing a mask - instead all the businesses have put riot shields up and painted dots on the floor. Honestly, i'd prefer people would just wear masks, if the only other option was remodeling all the checkouts into prison visitation booths.

Anyway, weird cultural observations of North America.

I will say that it was really fucking nice to just sit down at a bar, watch some stupid sports, and drink a beer before 9pm. If there's one thing i missed in China it's having normal fucking bars open during the day. Even enclosed in a little bubble it felt good.

After one beer i wandered up through the gay village and stopped at the liquor store to collect some cheaper beverages for my hotel room. And... i was carded. Like, are you fucking joking me? I'm 40! I forgot this terrible aspect of North America too. I showed my driver's license, but that wasn't enough! You need two pieces of ID! I couldn't believe it, this was the biggest culture shock since i got out of isolation. I had a half dozen cards but none of them had a name on it, because why would they? Apparently credit cards do have your name on them, and i should've been carrying around a credit card.

You know what? Fuck fucking credit cards and fuck every shitty fucking society that forces people to carry them around just to do very basic stuff like check into a hotel or buy liquor. Like, way to nudge society into normalizing debt. Debt is trash, nobody should have debt. Fuck fucking credit cards, for fucking real.


I left, without any alcohol, so angrily went to the diviest bar i could find in the Snooty McSnootpants upper class West End. There was hardly anyone there, so i got to sit at the bar in a bubble of my own. The guys down the other end of the bar were watching the hockey and making all kinds of crass jokes about hockey players whose names sounded like "jackin' off" or whatever and i have never been so happy to be back in Canada. Like, here was a little island of Letterkenny in the big city. Full-blown unapologetic "aboot" and "eh" and flannel shirts and terrible puns.

Wednesday morning i woke with a bit of a hangover, which sucked because no fucking kettle in my room to make coffee. I pulled on a hoodie and flip-flops and went to Tim Hortons for a breakfast i am going to have to get very used to - large black coffee, plain bagel with peanut butter and tomato. It's under $5, and pretty much the only vegan thing you can get for breakfast in North America without visiting an overpriced hipster joint.

It was another beautiful sunny day, so i decided to take a walk around Stanley Park. For those who don't know Vancouver, this is a reasonable-sized nature park that is walking distance from downtown. It's also the entrance to the harbor and the southern end of the famous (?) Lions Gate Bridge, a sort of mini Golden Gate.

I retraced the steps that J and i did 12 years ago - through the glass condos and along the marina. I decided to experiment with the zoom on my new phone. Normally i don't use zoom on phone cameras because it just makes things pixellated, but i wanted to frame it up to emphasize my freedom and happiness.

It was also useful to catch a bulk carrier going under the bridge.

Looping the sea wall, i remembered having done the same walk with J, and i also remembered she wasn't the same kind of avid wanderer that i am, so it took longer and we stopped at the end. On my own, though, popping out at a beach stacked full of people, i just wanted to escape back into the peace, so i did a U-turn and took a trail that wound up into the forest.

I posted the other day about how some kinds of forests terrify me. The Stanley Park forest is one of those. It is completely thick with undergrowth - there are areas you'd need a machete to go off the path. There are lots of brambles and ferns and trees that tower up way too high. It reeks of plant matter - well, either that or people smoking pot, but both of things are equally noxious so you get my point. I hate forests like this, the ones with psycho killers and wild animals round every corner, but i still force myself to hike through them because i enjoy the act of walking, and i like being alone, and usually there is a nice view at the end.

There was a nice view at the end. But i also encountered a wild animal - a coyote on the path that gave me a long stare down. I unfortunately didn't have a walking stick, but tried to steel myself with the attitude of someone who's also hiked in Taiwan (which is full of wild dogs) and sauntered past bravely, trying not to run. It was fine.

I stopped in at the mountain top restaurant for a pint of cold apple cider on the deck and it was brilliant. One wonderful byproduct of going out to eat in this North American corona time is that there is nobody there. I don't know if it's because tourists don't want to put up with the quarantine or if it's because people are still scared to go outside, or maybe it's just because it's mid-week, but it is so freakin' nice to be able to get a seat on the deck and not feel guilty that i'm just ordering a drink and no food. I tipped well, even though i think tipping is fucking stupid, because hospitality workers are heroes for keeping civilization running in this part of the world.

I did a loop round the lake on the way back, and sat on a log for a bit looking at the dragonflies and lilies. It's nice to be in a nature park of the non-Chinese kind. No concrete pathways or steps, just gravel trails. No golf carts. No cops.

Lordy, no cops. Since i got out of self-isolation a bit over 48 hours ago, i have only seen a single uniformed authority figure, and it was the Port Authority boat that "pulled over" some adventurous soul who had paddle-boarded from somewhere in the city all the way to Lions Gate Bridge. That's a major shipping channel so i can understand why a dude on a paddleboard wasn't welcome, but i did feel bummed for the guy.

Even still. No security checkpoint to get on the subway. No cops supervising the Falun Gong protest downtown. No cops at the beach. No cops at the marina. No cops at the park. I got so accustomed to seeing cops everywhere in China that it felt enormously freeing to just spend 24 hours without any fucking police. The country feels so, so much safer without coppers breathing down your neck. This is a major cultural hurdle that i never crossed in China. Chinese people have been trained to think that more cops = more safe. I think exactly the opposite. How can a place be safe with so many armed thugs walking around? Horrible. It feels so much better to walk around in a place where people are just people.

Anyway, i got back home last night a bit sunburnt. It's so mild here that walking round all day barely requires any exertion at all. I didn't even finish my bottle of water. It's easy to forget that being out in the sun for 4 hours will still kill ya.

I got a bánh mì for dinner. Another thing i need to get used to - there are no cheap restaurants in Canada. Even the Chinese restaurants that make the same cheap eats i used to eat in China cost $15 minimum. That's fine for a special occasion but not affordable for daily eating. So i got a bánh mì, which is a Vietnamese sub. The place was doing a $10 meal - tofu kimchi sub with deep fried spring roll and basil seed coconut juice on the side. Super delish, pretty healthy and a fair price for a daily dinner.

I see a lot of sandwiches in my future. Burgers, burritos, bánh mì, pita. I definitely missed bread, but i am sure i will get sick of eating it for every meal sooner or later.

Not sick of it yet.

Hey, the rain has stopped! I have been trying to figure out what to do with myself, and i am tempted to extend my stay in this hotel for another week or so, just so i have time to do that whole credit card cancellation and renewal thing. I don't want to run the risk of heading up to a place in the sticks and then not being able to stay because of this stupid physical card requirement.

Here's a gettin' sunburnt selfie to close it out. I might use it to update my professional social media photo on LinkedIn, what do you think?

Tags: canada fuck yeah, food, freedom, travel

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  • i was doing so well

    It's been a few weeks since i drank more than one or two beers. Like, that's how i control it, i only buy one or two, and then i only drink one or…

  • on ancestors and travel

    In a follow-up to my post about family and heritage, i wanted to write about one of the influences on where i choose to go. You see, when i travel,…

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