It was a little bit past 9 o’clock in the evening when I found myself walking awkwardly beneath the picturesque streetlamps and fairy-light covered trees that line the streets of historic Gastown in Vancouver. Awkward because I was increasingly desperate for a piss. Really desperate, pounding the pavement with a short, angry strut and swearing at myself for failing to go before I left the bar. I still had the presence of mind to pull out my phone and take a quick snap of a particularly pleasant stretch of streetlamps and trees for an aunt back home. It was my second night in Vancouver, and Sydney so far is still home.
I arrived at around 8am local time on Tuesday morning, having managed to nap for just half of one in a fourteen hour turbulent flight straight from Sydney to Van. The Skytrain (unfortunately not what it sounds like) ride to a few blocks from my hotels filled up very suddenly after three stops. Everyone was polite, silent, a little suspicious, mostly avoiding eye contact, same as other commuters around the world. I decided the best way to deal with the jet lag was to just stay awake, explored a little during the day, went to a bar in the evening for a burger and far too many beers. Nearing forty hours without anything resembling a proper sleep I finally managed to drag my drunken arse into bed. Slept for eleven hours, lacked the strength to get out of bed for another two. Hangovers and jetlag are a potent combination. Three nights into my adventure and my body is slowly catching up. Sydney is nineteen hours ahead, which makes Vancouver five hours ahead yesterday. It feels like I’m going to sleep at 7pm and waking up at 2am. That’s not too bad. What’s really got me fucked is that my eating patterns are just as broken, which is leaving me hungry at 1am and isn’t helping the lethargy. I’d guess that doesn’t sound like much, but I’m better tired than I am hungry. I’ll get over it in time, but still.
By the time I left Gastown I was seriously wondering what the opinion in Vancouver was for people who piss in alleys. Honestly amongst the youth in Sydney it’s not a big deal, you just find somewhere secluded and everyone looks the other way. I know that sounds disgusting, but when you’re desperate you’re desperate. I had tried taking my attention off my screaming bladder by admiring the light works casting conflicting shadows across the shop fronts. Half a dozen glowing orbs growing from long black stalks like the well-ordered fruit of the gods, I’d think later pseudo-poetically. This became more difficult when I left the picturesque streets of Gastown and began my ascent into the working streets of Downtown.
The weather the past two days has been damp and grey. As I stare out the window towards a wet sky I feel like I should be a depressed European writer, taking slow drags on a cigarette while staring into the middle distance and trying to work out how my great novel will explain the meaning of existence. That’s probably because it’s colder then I’m used to and I don’t know how to react to that beyond ‘wearing a jacket’ so I’m projecting. It’s just one of the things reminding me that I’m not in Oz anymore (see what I did there). Almost every taxi I’ve seen in Vancouver is a Prius, as opposed to a Commodore or Falcon. The complete absence of any Holdens or the Fords I know best is also weird, and I’ve never seen so many Chryslers in my life (they were briefly popular in Sydney because the sedans looked like a Bentley if you squinted). The number of ‘medicinal marijuana dispensaries’ surprised me (I’ve recently learnt what “420 friendly” means), as well as the frequent wiffs of recently smoked pot (it’s neither legal nor open in Australia). The toilets are filled with too much water (seriously, it’s so fucking wasteful), the beers are unfamiliar (but still pretty tasty), the young and full-of-themselves walk with a hip-rolling swagger instead of the chest-thrusting strut of back home (like a bird displaying its plumage). While walking I saw bunch of used needles discarded on the street. I haven’t seen that many discarded needles in Sydney for years. Not because there aren’t any, just because you don’t see them. Again that probably sounds pretty minor, but it’s the minor things that reinforce change the most.
I’ve finally had enough. I turn into a side street with a couple of dumpsters only to discover an occupied car idling with its lights off. I decide to keep walking, a decision that is immediately proved correct when a bloke steps into the alley with two full garbage bags, heading for those dumpsters I’d been so keen on marking. Back onto the main street, full to burst. I walk another two blocks before I find another dark, empty street with another dumpster. I’m there for a good, long, undisturbed while, and finish walking back to my hotel much happier and much more comfortable at a much more normal pace.
There have been a few things that have surprised me about Vancouver. The number of people from Asia or of Asian descent for one. It makes sense in hindsight – after all, Vancouver sits on the Pacific coast and probably relaxed its more racist immigration laws a few decades before Australia did – but my knowledge of Canadian film and television had led me to a stereotype of the local minorities being a lot more African than I’ve seen so far. Funny how that works. I wonder if new arrivals in Sydney are surprised by our vibrant Asian community, since God knows it doesn’t appear in our movies and shows. Similarly I was shocked by the homeless population on the street. Not that Oz doesn’t have plenty of homeless it’s just that, again, we have a certain image of what Canada is like and part of that involves comprehensive social security nets and a can-do attitude towards fixing social problems. I partly blame Michael Moore for this stereotype. Third, personal banking is shockingly backwards. Compared to Australia it’s expensive, ponderous and overly reliant on archaic methods of payment. I’m a former bank teller, I know. But we work with what we’ve got.
It was a little past 9 o’clock last night when I found myself walking awkwardly beneath the picturesque streetlamps and fairy-light covered trees that line the streets of historic Gastown in Vancouver. Awkward because I was increasingly desperate for a piss. I swore at myself for not going before I left the bar and worried that a pattern was beginning to emerge.
It might not sound it, but I’m liking this new city. The differences, the beauty and the flaws give it a personality that a real living city needs. It’s not home yet, and it might never be. But I can live here. Yes I can.