Waltzing Matilda and back again.

Love how the seats of the stadium already wore the Aussie colours.
Love how the seats of the stadium already wore the Aussie colours.

The clouds began to gather around mid-afternoon, with the first few drops falling fat and heavy as I left the hostel to head towards the stadium. It began to really come down just as I threw myself into the shelter of the bus stop where I was able to watch as the less fortunate trudged, sprinted, strode and skipped through the powerful rain. By the time I arrived at and entered Edmonton’s small yet grand Commonwealth Stadium the rain had slowed down to a steady trickle that left my t-shirt damp rather than soaked through. Admittedly this was a bus ride, train ride, poutine, whiskey and coke, and great conversation with a couple of Canadians also heading to the game later. But that downpour had been brutal, and the sky was still filled with brooding grey clouds. I found myself grinning as I entered the stadium when the music blaring over the loudspeakers switched to AC/DC’s Thunderstruck. Seemed appropriate. I grabbed a beer, a Budweiser unfortunately but watching the Green and Gold play in a stadium requires at least a few beers, and settled into my seat just as the women from both teams ran onto the field.

Australia versus Sweden in their final group match of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Green and Gold against Blue and Yellow. The Matildas against the Blågult. It was a fantastic match.

Australia went straight on the offensive, initially maintaining strong possession and keeping it in Sweden’s half of the field with a high-energy, high-speed attack. For a few crucial minutes after the kick-off the Matildas were all over the blue birds from Sweden, before a well aimed kick sent the ball over the heads of their defenders allowed a magnificent run down the centre of the field by Lisa De Vanna and an appointment with the back of the net, leaving the Swedes a little (ah ah-aah ah ah-aahhhh) thunderstruck before the tenth minute. But they recovered quickly enough and equalised before the twentieth with a magnificent bit of passing in front of the Aussie goal. There was more than a little booing from the Australian fans (we’re not the most gracious folk), but I couldn’t help but begrudgingly applaud at a neat bit of foot and teamwork.

With the score tied both teams settled into a long slog, punching at each other up and down the field (thankfully not literally this time… I’m looking at you Nigeria) attempting to force an opening. The Matildas seemed to try and use their possession of the ball to draw the Swedes into the Aussie half of the field to create an opening where their quickness would be an advantage, while the Blågult forced more than a few Corners to attempt to get past the Australian defence. The Swedes were skilled, clever and worked great together. The Aussies were fast, creative and just a bit cheeky, kicking the ball between the legs of the odd obstinate Scandinavian (fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. Fool me three times? Well that’s just fuckin ridiculous).

I wanna talk up the Australian team, but it was tense and the Swedes looked like they were starting to dominate more than once. But that was what made it such an amazing game to watch, and I reckon when a girl wearing the Green and Gold managed to clear the ball after a hard scramble during a Corner we cheered even harder than when that first goal was scored. We’d think or mutter some variation of “bloody hell, that was close!” and get a few seconds of relief before the ball found its way back into our half chased by a woman in blue and the dread would kick up again.

But when that final whistle blew, mate, I can’t describe the elation of that moment. It may have been an even score but as far as every Aussie present was concerned it was a victory. The Matildas had just needed that single point from a tied game to guarantee getting past the group stages into the knock-outs, while Sweden had to rely on the Nigerians not pulling off an upset (that they’d proven themselves capable, if not likely, of delivering) and beating the Americans. But we just needed a tie. We were through. So we cheered and bellowed and gathered around the edges of the field to celebrate our champions like the conquerors we believed them to be. Still believe them to be. Know they are. Well done girls. You’re through.

Gathering to celebrate after the match. Not the most dramatic shot, but a moment worth capturing regardless.
Gathering to celebrate after the match. Not the most dramatic shot, but a moment worth capturing regardless.

A lot of people were surprised when I told them I’d flown to Edmonton all by my lonesome specifically to watch the game. I was a little shocked at all the shock. Can’t help but feel that there’d be a bit less of it if it had been the men’s team playing. It really didn’t seem like all that big a deal. The Green and Gold was being worn at a major international sporting event. I wanted to catch at least one match, and there was no guarantee that once they got through the group stage (never doubted they could) they’d be playing in Vancouver. So I caught a plane to where I could.

Was it worth the time, expense and effort? Pounding on the empty seat in front of me after that first goal was scored because my own clapping didn’t seem loud enough. A murmur to my left that “Lydia’s back!” after the amazing Miss Williams made a fantastic save. Watching De Vanna grab Larissa Crummer as the former came off the field substituted for the latter, yelling something at the young player. I don’t know what was shared between the two, but it looked fuckin’ epic. Laughing with the crowd as the Ref signalled the two teams to play on after a Swedish girl wasted a free kick straight into the leg of an Aussie girl a few feet away in the dying minutes of the game. The simple goddamn joy when the final whistle was blown, and we knew they were through the ‘Group of Death.’ Of course it was bloody worth the effort.

I regret that I didn’t get to watch the game against Brazil. I was on my way to work, unfortunately, when it happened. I’ll tell you what, there’s a lot of surprised Canadians (and others) who have learnt to respect the Matildas. Learnt they are a force to be reckoned with in international soccer. It’s great.Good luck with the game against Japan ladies. We all know you can win it. We all will be cheering for you. And no matter what you will be our conquerors and we will be proud.GO THE MATILDAS!

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Three Months in Vancouver

To the girl who caught me staring as she was crossing Robson St on Granville. ‘Bout a month ago now, some time in the evening, I think it had been raining that day. It’s unlikely you’ll ever read this, or recognise yourself if you did, but I just wanted to be absolutely clear if you ever did. I was not checking you out. When you spotted me watching and smiled coyly to yourself, that was not the reaction I was hoping for. What I wanted was for you to hurry the bloody hell up. You’d started crossing after the red hand had stopped flashing and weren’t even halfway across when the lights turned green, walking with a weird shuffle that barely put one foot in front of the other. I was hoping a judgemental stare would get you to cross a little faster, so that the poor motorists waiting for you to drag your slow arse across the street might get a chance to cross the intersection before the lights turned orange and red again. Alas my face is not the most expressive of mugs, and you maintained your crawling pace all the way across, smiling knowingly. It was fucking discourteous.

To their credit, and my surprise, none of the drivers being held up by this bird leant on their horns or vented some frustration. I wasn’t sure if that was because of stereotypical Canadian politeness or it was just that time of the day when everyone was exhausted and just didn’t give a damn anymore. Given my experience as a pedestrian dealing with Canadian motorists so far I’m inclined to guess it’s a bit of both, but more former than latter. Canadian drivers are so goddamn polite, using their horns more often than not to warn that they’re passing close by a pedestrian instead of as the (otherwise universal) signal for “get the hell out of my way” that I’m used to from back home. It seems like the greatest danger a pedestrian has to worry about are folk on skateboards (and they are bloody everywhere) and tripping over a homeless person camped out on a foot-traffic heavy corner. It’s a far cry from negotiating the intense and impatient streets of Sydney. An even further cry from some of the other cities I’ve visited. Like Rome, where you just cross the road and trust that the guy or gal in the speeding fiat has that unique Italian instinct that allows them to miss a crossing pedestrian by, to quote an old mate of mine, the width of a bee’s dick. Or Hobart, where I’m surprised people attempt to cross the road at all. Seriously, Tasmanian drivers see someone on a zebra crossing and they floor it.

If I had to describe my current state of affairs it’d be with the word ‘settled’. I’ve settled in at work, after a second move I’ve settled into a good house (and I’m not unsettling anytime soon, my bags are fucking heavy), I’ve settled into a loose routine around getting from one to another, I’ve settled amongst the regulars at a few bars and cafes that took my fancy. It’s been three months and I feel that I can finally claim I’m living in Vancouver instead of just hanging about and hoping stuff works out. I’m asking for time off and making plans to expand my experience in Canada. Hopefully Edmonton (Matildas game) in a month and Montreal (comedy festival) in July. Fun times.

But being settled also means that the parts of life that were novel when I arrived are now just irritating, and the parts that were irritating back home have lost the novelty of occurring in another country.

Cyclists catching the Skytrain (still a pretentious name). There are always the good ones, old hands at taking their preferred method of transportation on a necessary stretch of public transportation who know how to do so without inconveniencing anyone and inciting the anger of everyone around them. But there are plenty who simply don’t know how to take their bike on the train without nearly braining someone with their front tire (gotta love young hipsters), or simply don’t fucking care who they inconvenience by parking their bike across the doors or row of empty seats.

A collection of the young and well-intentioned collecting or advertising or something for the Red Cross at Granville Station almost every time I passed through, during the day, for about two months. Not normally something that would bother me, except they kept using a ‘conversation starter’ that began to get on my nerves. “Have you heard about the Red Cross?” When they finally stopped appearing on the steps just inside the entrance, presumably to some new patch of NGO-promoting territory, I was about ready to rip into the next person who asked if I had “heard of the Red Cross.” Like, “What, you mean an institution that’s been around for a century and a half helping people during and after wars and natural disasters that is rightfully culturally synonymous with humanitarian aide, relief, rights and donating blood? Yeah, I may have fucking heard of them. Has anyone not heard of them? Do you really want the money or blood or whatever from the kind of person who has never heard of the Red Cross?” I know it sounds stupid but it’s not a great sales tactic to accuse your possible consumers of ignorance and stupidity right off the bat. Hurts my professional pride you could say. Find something better guys.

Hare Krishnas playing accordions, singing their group’s name and dancing on the street was interesting at first since it’s a rare sight in Sydney (wow, that sounds really patronising), but is now just noise pollution and occasional cause of a bottleneck on the pavement (yeah, definitely sounds patronising). They’re not hurting anyone and they’ve got a right to proselytise, so power to’em, I’m not about to tell them to stop. It can still be a bit of a bother weaving between a crowd out enjoying the sun who’ve stopped to watch the rhythmic musical repetition of “Hare Krishna” when you’re in a rush. Suppose I’m less annoyed by the lady with the accordion than the tourists watching the show.

Shit, I’m not a tourist anymore, am I? I mean, I was never really a tourist in much of the traditional sense. I never really am. But I could at least call myself a tourist for a little while. Now I’m just another bloke living in Vancouver, getting annoyed by a gaggle of rubbernecking tourists acting like they’ve never seen a busker (or Hare Krishna) before.

Of course I still get to enjoy all the wonders of being a foreigner in a strange land. Y’know, like needing to have cultural references explained to you (say, a TV show that never quite made its way overseas) or being asked if other cultural references exist back in Australia (I have, for example, been asked if Aussies had heard of Pink Floyd). I know I haven’t got it bad, I’ve gone from one English-speaking country to another with a lot of shared history, society and culture. Still every so often asks me a question using a local phrase or for an object with some slang name and I’ve had to give a tentative “maybe?” then run off to find someone who can tell me what the hell they were talking about.

Meanwhile I’ve had to cut back on my own slang, lest no one know what the hell I’m talking about. I’ve also had to cut down on my heavier language. Calling someone a “cunt” round here is no longer a term of endearment (unless they’re an Aussie, Kiwi, Irish or, mostly, from somewhere on the rest of the British Isles). That’s not to say they don’t use the word, they’re just… not very good at it. Yeah, that’s probably the best way of putting it. Let me put it this way, while walking down the street I heard a local woman call another local woman a “darn cunt” (then spit at her). A “darn cunt.” Darn. Darn. Shit, I’ve mentioned before I come from a land where using the word in a variety of creative and contextually appropriate ways is practically part of the high school curriculum, but I ain’t ever heard someone say “darn cunt” before. Seems a bit too half-arsed to be a proper insult. I mean, at least go all the way and use “damn” instead of its goody-two-shoes younger sibling. Just, yeah, it stood out.

Mind you, I probably swore more than is socially healthy before I climbed onto the plane three months ago anyway so it’s probably not a bad thing I’ve cut back.

What’s surprised me is how many people have no bloody clue what my accent is. I kinda expected the Australian accent to be a little more recognisable than it apparently is. I’ve been asked if I’m English, Irish or Scottish more times than people have guessed Australian. My theory is that I’ve been speaking slower and more clearly since arriving, lest no one understand what the hell I’m saying (we speak very quickly in Australia, and how much you move your lips/open your mouths depends on what part of the country you’re from). I don’t mind it, and I don’t mind being asked where I’m from, I just thought there were enough examples of Aussie accents floating around in popular culture for it to be a little more easily separated from other English speakers. I guess, really, there aren’t. Aside from Crocodile Dundee and Mad Max there aren’t many Australian protagonists (or even many side characters that move beyond minor). Most North Americans have probably heard Australian actors speaking with constantly slipping American accents or vaguely Olde English sounding shouts than their natural accents. Experience and hindsight.

The weather’s getting better, sunnier, warmer. Most days this past week I haven’t needed to wear a coat out. Time to go out and do things other than barhop, I guess. Not sure what. There’s plenty of tracks to trek, I guess. Someone mentioned white water rafting. That sounds fun. Summer in Vancouver’s apparently filled with festivals and markets and general merriment. Better be fun, the locals have talked it up so much. I’ll still be barhopping. I still love barhopping. Will probably do a bit of that tonight. But I need to start doing things in the sun as well.

So, yeah, not the most exciting three months. I’ll admit that. Been working hard, weather’s been nasty on my days off, but life is good and Vancouver’s a fun city that’s apparently about to get funner. And it seems that there’s Tabasco sauce everywhere that serves food. I goddamn love Tabasco. I wouldn’t have realised that if I hadn’t come here. So if nothing else comes out of this stay, there’s that.

It’s just not cricket

Something I did not expect when I left Sydney for Vancouver was how much I’d miss Australian sports. This would surprise more than a few people who know me, since I’ve never been much of what you’d call by any stretch of the imagination a sportsman or sports fan. Sure I’ve played a little bit of backyard cricket and tossed the footy around with some mates and still enjoy doing both, but I’ve never been part of any organised sports team and never been particularly capable of the catching, kicking, throwing, batting or tackling required by most games. Watching games, tests and matches has similarly never been high on my list of priorities. Sure I watched as the Dragons won the Grand Final a couple of years ago, grab a beer and watch NSW and Queensland battle it out for State of Origin, woke up to watch more than a few of Australia’s matches in the FIFA World Cup, but honestly sport has always been more white noise than anything else for me over the years. Cricket or Union on in the background at barbecues, AFL or League on the TVs at the pub, Soccer generally around and about. Really I only paid enough attention to have a rough idea what was going on and be able to hold a conversation with my more athletically minded fellows. Hell, I only went to my first cricket game a few months before I climbed onto the plane to come here. White noise. But goddamn do I miss it.

This became particularly noticeable when the ICC Cricket World Cup came to its (inevitable) conclusion, as Australia beat New Zealand by 7 wickets to claim the trophy. I was working during most of the match, on a long shift crowded with customers getting a bite to eat pre, post and during first a Whitecaps game (soccer), than a Cannucks game (hockey). With my phone not working how it was meant to (the bastard), and the local sports filling the screens at the restaurant where I find gainful employment, I was unable to check the score until I arrived home late in the evening (well, the wee hours of the morning technically). It was probably the most anxious I’d been about a score, count or tally in any sport into which I take an interest in a very long time.

It was also the most I’d spoken about sports in a very long time. In the days immediately before (and the day after), I took every chance I could get to explain the rules, mechanics, scoring, sledging and rivalries of the game with an enthusiasm that would have made several of my mates proud. This was odd because, while I was never one of those people who always needs to inform everyone that “they don’t care about sports,” I’ve never been one for holding extended conversations about the subject. Religion, politics, economics. TV, video games, movies, music. These have always been my preferred topics. Yet there I was the day after the final gleefully explaining overs and runs to a co-worker’s boyfriend so he’d understand what was happening while the highlights played on the television above the bar (as well as the co-worker herself between customers). I’ve barely spoken at all about the shows I’m watching, the games I’m playing or the political situation around here or at home. What I have spoken about is cricket. And rugby. Oh, and beer, but that’s for another post.

I can’t help but wonder if I’m simply trying to fill a void left by moving outside the usual sphere of influence of Aussie sports. It’s hard to overstate the importance of sports in Australian culture. In many ways sports is Australian culture, underpinning both national and local pride and unity. Hell, we love our sports so much we actually care about our women’s teams (and isn’t it just disgusting that we as a general culture still think so lowly of our female athletes that this can be seen as a serious measure of how much a nation cares about athletics). While they don’t receive nearly as much respect, funding and support as they deserve, we still actually give a shit about how the Opals, Matildas, and Hockeyroos are doing, unlike some other countries in my, albeit limited, experience (*cough*). Wearing the Green’an’Gold and representing the Jack’an’Cross* is about the highest honour one can achieve. It saturates every day life, it’s what we talk about, it’s what we watch, it’s what we do. It’s funny how many conversations with Aussies I’ve met over here have devolved into discussions about sports back home. It’s what we have in common. Leaving that, going to another country with different sports on the television, while not jarring, has left a noticeable absence in what I was used to. Instead there’s ice hockey (just called hockey over here apparently).

But it goes beyond just a difference in what sports are on the TV to the talk itself. I’ve found there to be a focus on statistics at a level never reached when talking about Australian sports. We certainly quote possession, test averages, tackles, shots at goal, shots stopped, wickets and anything else that can be counted in any of the sports we care about, but since I arrived I’ve heard numbers spat out about this player or that team at a rate that has stunned me. Seriously, it’s fuckin’ crazy mate. I suspect it might be partly because of the presence of ‘fantasy’ teams (hockey, baseball, basketball, football, whatever) which relies upon those statistics in order for the owner (or whatever they call themselves) to win. The closest comparison I can think of back home is footy tipping, and even then that always struck me as more a collection of guesstimates and evolving biases. I’ll admit that it doesn’t help that when I do hear people discussing plays or strategy I rarely have a goddamn clue what they’re talking about. Regardless it often feels like the games played over here are boiled down to a collection of numbers representing some average effort rather than the effort itself. And there lies the key difference, in my very humble opinion (seriously, I don’t really know shit about this), between how Aussies and Canadians/possibly-North-Americans-in-general discuss sports. In how we discuss effort.

Aussies really do take the whole “it’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game that matters” idea very seriously. Of course we like to win, results matter, but we also understand that not all our athletes are the best in the world at what they do. Losing to a superior team/athlete in a fair match despite giving it our all is still something to be applauded. Just look at how proud we are of the Socceroos efforts at the past three FIFA World Cups (and outrage at the perceived unfairness of the treatment of the team at the hands of those arseholes at FIFA). Not that we don’t like to win, and constantly losing at something can become a drag (just look at the NSW Blues up until last year, or the Wallabies). But a brutal tall poppy syndrome generally means that we’d rather watch a team give it their all and lose than win without trying. And few things will piss an Australian off than someone who doesn’t think they have to try (just look at the anger towards the Australian Men’s Swimming Team at the London Olympics, James Magnussen became the butt of more than a few jokes). So when we talk about sports, when we talk about the cricket, we talk more specifically about action and effort. Mitchell Johnston’s brutal bouncers, Michael Clarke’s continued play despite an injured Hamstring, Mitch Starc’s left handed variations throwing off batsman too aggressive or too tentative. The usefulness of Haddin’s aggressive sledging and New Zealand’s apparently disconcerting respect and politeness. Yes, we have our own statistics, but it’s more like the empirical evidence used to back up an anecdote rather than the anecdote itself, like what I feel like I hear when people talk sports in Vancouver.

Thing is though I’m not saying that Australian sporting culture is any better or worse. Just different. Not what I’m used to. Like a different language. Given how pervasive sport is in Aussie culture, and given that I’m the sort of person who’s always participated to some small extent in that sporting culture (even if it was just watching and listening), it should be no surprise that the difference would be noticeable.

What does this mean? Well it means that while I enjoy hockey, and I do enjoy hockey (it’s fast-paced, constantly shifting and violent, what’s not to like?), I’ve been unable to develop much of an emotional connection to the game. I don’t much care who wins and who loses. At least not because of any of the people I’ve discussed hockey with. I am a bit partial towards Boston, because I’m a bit of a Celtophile and an old fan of Boston rockers the Dropkick Murphys, but I don’t mention that much since it seems like Boston are some sort of arch-nemesis in Vancouver. Which doesn’t make a whole lotta sense since most of Vancouver seems to take a pretty mercenary attitude towards teams, supporting other teams and only supporting the Cannucks when they’re winning. Yet they seem to maintain a rivalry with everyone except, I don’t know, fucking Winnipeg. Starting to rant now, best stop before I really get started.

Anyway, hockey’s fun to watch. But I just find myself unable to really care what’s going on. It’s unfamiliar. It’s just not cricket.

*God help me that will become slang for the Aussie flag before they decide to change it.

Three weeks in Vancouver

The crowd is mostly silent as I watch my opponent from two feet away. The (somewhat generously titled) referee makes a joke, says “ready” and we each raise a fist. I’m a competitive bastard at the best of times and I right now I want to win. I’ve already beaten one opponent, I need to do it again. The ref raises his hand and yells into the microphone “ROCK, PAPER…” they trade the name of the bar, Beaver, for SCISSORS and we players reveal our choices. Best three out of five, and I win the first game. We repeat the process and after a few tries I take the second game, though our ref announces it to be one-one. “What?” I have time to think but not say because we’re already into the third. It’s longer than the first game but shorter than the second and I win it regardless. The referee says two-one, his associate says that I’ve just made a three game sweep. My opponent seems to agree. There’s a moment of quiet confusion, then I raise my hands regardless and cheer for my victory. Eventually everyone else runs with it and I shake hands with my opponent. I’ve made it through the first round, fought through a ‘threesome’ where everyone else only had to beat one opponent. I get a shot for my sweep win, tequila and Tabasco sauce. It tastes like victory.

It doesn’t seem to be getting any warmer, but at least the past fortnight or so has been sunnier. I’ve got a job now, and the patio’s been opened up to allow the still warmly dressed locals and occasional tourist the chance to have a beer and burger beneath a smiling sky. One customer made a comment about the risk of sun burns, and I had to bite down on my urge to check my phone for some holiday photos while growling “That’s not a sunburn…”

I might be imagining it but there seems to be fewer beggars and more buskers out on the street, though maybe that’s simply because I’m noticing more of the homeless singing for their supper (metaphorically and literally). Everyone’s an artist, or at least think they are. There’s a half-finished chalk drawing of Christ on the Cross, ironically ugly as sin in its incomplete glory, on a corner near Granville Skytrain* station. I wonder if the guy was chased off, got bored and went to a different corner, or simply thought it was done. For a few days in a row there was homeless guy strumming away on an old guitar also near the station. Every time I walked by he was playing the same tuneless melody, into which he’d ram the lyrics of different songs with a few nonsensical flourishes. His covers of Folsom Prison Blues and Sunday Bloody Sunday were particularly notable. Some of the people on the street playing guitars or selling sketches are genuinely talented and seem to have a regular, established place along the side walk. Others you see once or twice then never again.

Side note, I saw a girl wrapped in a blanket with a cardboard sign asking for spare change. Young girl, early twenties at most. Thing is she had amazing hair. Long, thick, silky, a little wavy and nicely coloured (bronze blonde layered over rose). The kind of hair that random strangers must just start brushing their fingers through. Just thought I’d mention that.

The toilets still bother me. It shouldn’t be this hard to take a quiet piss and some of them still don’t carry everything down the pipe. The cars don’t so much anymore. I don’t know if I mentioned it last time, but the fact that most pedestrian lights don’t make a sound is a bit irritating. Aside from how easy it is to look away for a few moments then look back to realise you’ve missed the white walking man and are already onto the flashing red hand, I can’t help but wonder what blind people do when they’re trying to cross the road. Something else that’s grabbed my attention has been the birds. The seagulls are substantially larger here, and there aren’t Indian Mynas scrapping for territory with magpies and lorikeets. The big difference has been the crows, loud, mean and jet black, but more easily frightened than the dumpster diving Australian White Ibis back home.

I’ve worked a lot of shifts lately, and I haven’t had as much time to do as many fun things as I’d have liked. It’s been indicated that as summer approaches and more people get hired the number of shifts will be reduced. I’ve still managed to head out on occasion, a whiskey bar on Commercial Drive or a seafood restaurant on Granville Island. The above mentioned game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. I won the second round, against my German housemate who I’d gone to the bar with. Lost in the quarter finals to a Californian. There was a bit of mockery from the guys running and I played along, swearing back merrily. At the end of the night I was surprised when they thanked me for being a good sport, though I then realised that there were likely more than a few people who’d take their ribbing far too seriously.

There are other things I still need to find the time to do. Go and see a hockey match (not hard, the Cannucks seem to play at least one local game a week), find some baklava in Northern Vancouver. Check out a bit more of the night life. Generally meet more people. Thankfully Vancouver is a very liveable city, and as the days get longer it should become easier to have a proper life outside of work. After all that’s why I’m here.

*Can I take a moment of your time to note how pretentious it is to call it a Skytrain? ‘Cause it’s pretty fuckin’ pretentious.

Three nights in Vancouver

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.