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.