What am I gonna miss?

It’s raining while I’m writing this. I feel like I should work that into this somehow, some sort of metaphor about the city weeping for my loss. Probably says something about my own ego that this might even occur. Probably says something else that I’d never do it even close to seriously. More than anything it reminds me of my arrival, sitting in my hotel room between exploring Vancouver and hitting up bars while the city showed how soggy it can get.

There’s a weirdness about my imminent departure. Stress maybe. I’ve got a long list of things I need to do before I leave and only a few days to do it. Less than a week and I’ll be gone. Mostly it’s just people I want to see before I go, share that one final toast and sing along to that one final song, get properly shitfaced and argue about everything from the superiority of the Australian electoral system to whether or not Suicide Squad has earned the right to sequel – sober me isn’t sure, drunken me is much more decisive in his opinions about second tier superhero movies.

The two discussions I’ve been having the most over the past few weeks though, drunk or not, have been answering, “are you excited?” and “are you gonna miss it?”

The first is easy to answer: of course I fucking am. I haven’t seen two of my siblings in over twenty months (and it’ll still be another one til I see them again, even if I’m leaving the city). I’m tired and homesick and truthfully, while I have built a life here, it’s never become anything more than an extended sideshow to the life I lived back home. The life I’m going back to. The life I have planned.

The second is more difficult to answer. The short version? Not really. The long version? Maybe. Yeah, that doesn’t sound that long but bear with me. Let’s start by saying that if you asked me what I’m going to miss I’d tell you about the much longer list of things I’m not gonna miss.

It’s raining while I’m writing this. That’s something I’m not gonna miss, the rain here. This might sound strange but there’s no drama to the rain here. It’s just constant and soaking. No thunder and lightning, no hail and, shit, most of the time it doesn’t even rain hard enough to make a sound when it hits the roof. You might not even know it’s started raining til you look outside and realise that everything’s gotten wet. No wonder everyone uses dryers here, you wouldn’t have any warning to bring the clothes in if it suddenly began to shower. So you end up with all the problems that come with rain (worse even, since some bastard decided the pave each and every walkable surface with the slipperiest substances they could find) without the fun stuff, the noise and the light shows. It’ll be nice to get back to proper thunderstorms again. Miss me some dramatic weather.

Caesars are another thing I’m not gonna miss. Take a Bloody Mary and add clam juice. Yeah, really. Fuckin’ clam juice. Made so many of these fuckin’ things, and I’m very glad that I’ll never have to make another one again. Such a boring drink and I don’t think half the people who drink them even like them, as evidenced by the number of people who ask for “easy spice.” No mate, that’s not how caesars work. You don’t like spice? Then you don’t like caesars.

Other things are more difficult. Ice hockey (or as they call it here, just hockey), for example, is something I both am and am not gonna miss on the TV. On the one hand, it’s a great sport to watch that ticks all the right boxes. On the other, it’s on all the fucking time, and often becomes the only thing people care about. But I’m still gonna miss seeing the odd game on the TV. Definitely not gonna miss baseball or CFL/NFL though. Fuck baseball and North American football.

But these are just a handful of things on a very long list of will-he-won’t-he’s, and ignore the complicated relationship you form with a place you spend any decent amount of time in. That I’m sick of Vancouver has nothing to do with the quality of the city itself. That I’m sick of Canada and North American culture in general has nothing to do with country and continent. It’s just been a long time since I’ve been home, and I miss it dearly.

Funny how I’ve never really thought of this place as home. It’s always just been where I live, not where I’m from. I was talking to an Irish girl not that long ago, who’d lived on more continents in more cities than I had. She said it takes six months to settle into a new place. I’d agree with that. But settling doesn’t mean taking root. Settling doesn’t mean a place becomes home. I don’t think I ever gave Vancouver that chance. It’s not the city’s fault, I just never saw a reason to. I’ve been here twenty months and there’s always been a sense of intransigence about the way I live. There’s no furniture for me to pack or give away, no art or decoration, there’s not even ever that much in my section of the fridge. It’s not that I don’t want things, it’s just that for the whole time I’ve been here I never planned on staying, so why the fuck bother?

Maybe if I’d met someone, but I didn’t. Maybe if I saw reason to stay through the winter, but I haven’t. So all the little flaws, irritations and annoyances built up and up and up, and without a reason to overlook them all it was inevitable that familiarity would breed contempt. And so I’m going home.

It’s not you Vancouver, it’s me. I was never ready to commit to you, and you deserve all the people who are. You’re a great city, really, but you’re just not right for me. But I’m glad we had this time together.

It’s raining while I’m writing this. It’s supposed to rain every day well past the morning I climb on a plane to Toronto. I’ll probably have caught my next flight to New Orleans by the time it stops. A constant, ugly downpour, stripping the leaves off the trees and turning walking down the fucking pavement into a battle of wits and balance.

I’m not gonna miss this place. I’ll miss the people here, but not the city, and they can come visit me down in Sydney. But I’m glad I came. I’ve learnt a lot about myself, worked out who I am and what I want to do, here. That’s what I’ll take from this. That’s why it was worth living in a place I’ve never loved, never been willing love. Always planned on leaving.

Shit, it’s still raining. I can’t hear it, and it’s too dark outside to see it, but I know it is.

Heading home

I’m flying home soon. Sort of. Y’see I’m leaving Vancouver on the 20th of October, leaving the life I’ve led for the last nineteen months (it will be twenty by that point), and heading to Toronto. After Toronto comes a return to New Orleans, then down Cancun way in Mexico (though I don’t plan on spending much time in Cancun itself), back up into the good ol’ U-S-of-A to finally check out San Francisco.

You jealous? Yeah, you’re jealous.

The part I’m real excited about, however, is my final destination at the end of it all. Just over three weeks after leaving Vancouver I’ll be climbing on a plane. Fourteen hours of travel that are also two days later – because timezones – I’ll be climbing off a plane in Charles Kingsford-Smith. Sydney. Home.

I’m so fuckin’ excited. Counting down the weeks, the days, the hours. It’s been so long and I miss it all so much. Friends and family I haven’t seen in well over a year and a half, a brother and a sister whose birthday’s I’ve missed, my dog, Aussie beer, lamb, Thai food and Donner kebabs, the bars and pubs I learnt how to drink in.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m gonna miss Vancouver. No, that’s not true. I’m not going to miss Vancouver. I’ve not been able to form any real attachment to this city despite what it’s given me and I’ve grown tired of its many flaws and pretensions. I can’t look past them like I can with other cities I’ve visited, other cities I’ve loved, other cities I haven’t lived in long enough to become uncomfortable. But I’m gonna miss the people I’ve met here. The good folk who shared a drink, a meal, a board game or a movie with me. That taught me how to bartend or at least encouraged it, allowed me the chance to realise that yes, this is a job I love and want to keep doing. Will keep doing. I might not miss this city, but I will miss them.

They better fuckin’ follow through with promises to come visit.

But I’m not missing them yet. I’m not really thinking about missing them either. I just wanna get home and see my family, see my mates and be able to talk normally to both without needing to repeat myself (Fuck, I can’t fuckin’ wait to be able to talk – and swear – normally). I wanna pat my dog, see cricket and rugby and AFL on the TV instead of baseball and NFL and ice hockey.

What I really wanna do, what I really wanna do, is sit somewhere on the harbour with a schooner, and get very, happily drunk while watching the sun set over Bridge and the Opera house.

I can’t Goddamn wait.

Irrational irritations and other Unnecessary Issues (29/3/16)

So, Canadian coins are a little stupid. So are American coins, since they’re basically the same (aside from the fact that the Yanks haven’t gotten around to getting rid of the penny or the dollar bill like normal countries), but I live in Canada and use Canadian coin to give Canadian change to Canadians so this is going to be a more specific rant about Canadian currency (Canada!).

I don’t have a problem with the one and two dollar coin. Those are fine, and I’ve even gotten used to calling them loonies and toonies. They’re a good size and feel pretty substantial. Good shit. No, I’m talking about the silver. Well, technically I’m talking about the nickel-plated steel, but silver sounds so much cooler. Anyway, there are two things that piss me off in particular: size discrepancies and making change.

Size-wise I am of course talking about the nickel and dime. Why the bloody fuck is the Canadian ten cent piece so much smaller than the five cent piece? Why is the more useful, more numerous larger denomination the more inconsequential of the two? I don’t know why and, quite frankly, I don’t want to know. What I do want to know is why you haven’t changed this Canada? Is it because they’re basically the same size as the American nickel and dimes and you’re worried that it might hurt tourism if you got your own currency Canada? Is that it? You don’t want to confuse poor American tourists? Well guess what, Americans don’t fucking care. The smart ones expect foreign-looking coinage in foreign lands and the stupid ones are too mesmerised by the fact that you have your own currency at all to care. Make your ten cent pieces bigger!

As for the second item on the list, making change, you need to ditch this whole ‘quarter’ nonsense and pick up on the Australian and New Zealand system of having a twenty and fifty cent system. Yes, I know it means printing a whole new coin (is it still printing if it’s not a note or bill, or is it called, like, stamping? Stamping new coins? Forging new coins? Can someone google this for me?) but guess what, you’ll need fewer coins in the system because shops, restaurants banks will need fewer coins in the till. Let me explain. Let’s say you need to give someone seventy cents change. Now to do that in Canada you need a minimum of four coins, two quarters and two dimes. In Australia on the other hand (with a fifty, twenty, ten and five cent piece available) you need a minimum of just two coins, a fifty and a twenty. And Australia beats or breaks even with Canadian on all but two occasions, twenty-five cents (a single quarter in Canada, a twenty and a five cent in Australia) and thirty-five cents (a quarter and a dime in Canada, a twenty, a ten and five cent in Australia). All the others are either ties or Australia wins. Need to give someone ninety cents? In Canada you need a minimum five coins, in Australia you need a minimum of three. Forty cents? Three in Canada, two in Australia. Fifty cents? Two and one. Less coin, more easily broken. Ipso facto, quarters are stupid as well.

Now, do I believe that Canada should change its money on my say-so alone? Of course I do. I’m fucking brilliant. But do your projections, work out your costs, mine your data. You’ll see I’m right, and you’ll regret not listening to me sooner. Because I’ll already be gone, back to the sunburnt land and our superior, grown-up currency!

Seriously though, loonies and toonies? Perfectly acceptable currency, very functional and I like the fact that you’ve given them nicknames. Also, thank God you got rid of the penny. Man, fuck the penny.

Elections and policy, this side of the ocean.

A bear, a beaver and a moose copyA bear, a beaver and a moose walk into a bar. Each pulls up a stool and when they’re good and comfortable the bartender hops over and asks what they’re having. The bear asks what IPAs they have on tap, ignores the American import and the east coast beer, and instead asks for the one brewed within five kilometres of the bar by men with beards who have given it an aggressive name and an IBU count that’s so high it’s essentially meaningless (after all, how many people know what the fuck an IBU even is?) The beaver’s had a long day at the office and asks what the whiskey selection is like, is deeply disappointed to find out how shallow the list is and settles with some good old fashioned Tennessee rye on the rocks. The moose, asks for a cocktail that he knows is sweet and fruity and full of alcohol, worries a little that the other two will judge him for it, decides he doesn’t care and would rather get something that he knows he’ll like. The beaver isn’t the type to judge him over a drink. The bear is, but also won’t admit how jealous he is of the moose’s colourful choice.

The barman, a rather bored looking wallaby, begins pouring the drinks and – partly since he hasn’t got anything better to do – tries to engage them in conversation.

“You lads voted yet?”

“Not yet,” mumbles the bear as he swallows a mouthful of beer and barely (heh) suppresses a grimace.

“Already done,” grins the moose (at least it looks like a grin).

“Don’t know if I will. I don’t know who to vote for,” says the beaver with a surprisingly deep gravelly voice given his nice suit, stylish haircut and small size.

“You should vote. It’s your ‘civic duty,'” claims the moose with mock gravitas.

“He’s right,” agrees the wallaby as he mixes together the moose’s drink, “we’ve got compulsory voting back home, so you’d have to. But it’s the right thing, exercising your democratic rights and all that. None of the parties appeal to you?”

“Not really,” replies the Beaver.

“What about the NDP,” growls the bear accidently menacingly (he is a fucking bear after all), “They’re promising to cut small-business taxes.”

“So are the Liberals and the Conservatives,” pipes up the moose.

(“That’s also not always a good thing,” throws in the Wallaby but everyone ignores him on this.)

“Are they? Well Mulcair’s promising affordable childcare for a million people.”

“A million children or a million parents?” asks the wallaby.

“Does it matter?”

“It probably does.”

“Not to me,” points out the beaver, “I don’t have kids.”

“But you might have them in the future,” responds the bear, taking another slug from his draught.

“But I might not.”

“But don’t you care about other kids and parents?”

“Not really.”

“What does NDP stand for?” breaks in the Wallaby before the back and forth between the beaver and bear gets out of hand, “National Democratic Party?”

New Democratic Party,” says the moose.

“Oh. That’s a stupid name.”

“Why?” splutters the bear.

“Just is. Trust me, I’m an Australian. We know stupid names. Use enough of them.”

That get’s a chuckle out of the beaver and moose at least, the latter of whom suggests the former consider the Liberals.

“They’re planning on investing in infrastructure.”

“By running a deficit for, like, the next five years,” huffs the bear.

“Just until 2019,” huffs the moose right back, “and we need the investment.”

“It’s still a deficit,” remarks the beaver, “do we really want to our government going into debt with the economy so fragile right now?”

The moose looks like he’s ready to dive into a long arduous debate about the benefits of government actually going into debt in order to invest in meaningful economic projects that will induce future growth, then thinks better of it. Takes a sip of his drink. The wallaby glances between the three patrons, expecting more but not getting anything out of them.

“That’s it?” he asks a little surprised, “Infrastructure investment or childcare?”

“No,” laughs the moose, “there’s more than that. I mean, yeah both of them have got some similar policies. Like they’re less concerned with terrorism.”

“They both say they’ll stop our air campaign against ISIS and let in more Syrian refugees. And both have said they’ll decriminalise weed if elected,” says the beaver.

“Yeah,” says the bear, “But the NDP are more opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership than the Liberals. And the Keystone pipeline.”

“And the Liberals might actually have experience governing the country,” adds the moose, “but Trudeau’s a career politician son of a career politician and people are pretty sick of career politicians. That’s helped the NDP and Mulcair a lot.”

“All right. So you voting NDP mate?” the wallaby asks the bear, glancing at the door a little surprised that no other customers have walked in yet.

“No, I’m voting Greens.”

The moose and beaver both make noises at that. The wallaby realises that at some point the beaver finished his rye, asks if he wants another, pours it while listening to the two of them tell the bear he’s throwing his vote away. The bear argues that he’d rather vote for who he wants to vote for than worry about strategy. Isn’t that was exercising your democratic right is all about?

“So, who you gonna vote for?” the wallaby eventually asks the beaver.

“Don’t know. I’m still not sure if I’m going to vote.”

“You should vote,” says the bear, “and it doesn’t really matter who for, as long as it’s not fucking Harper.” (That last part came out in a growl, the beaver and moose unconsciously shift another few inches away.)

“Yeah, fuck Harper,” agrees the beaver.

“And the horse he rode in on,” follows the moose.

“Too bloody right,” agrees the wallaby, not wanting to be left out.

The three of them talk for the next half-an-hour about why Harper is just the worst, how much damage he’s done to Canada, his attempts to prevent people from voting, his self-congratulating version of nationalism. Not being a Canadian voter, and not really being affected no matter who’s in charge as far as he can tell, the Wallaby doesn’t have a whole lot against Harper. He nods along as is required, and is reminded most of back in 2007, when Australians finally got tired of PM John Howard and seemed to widely decide he was the devil incarnate.

The bear and the beaver leave a little after the conversation turns to hockey (of fucking course) before the voting booths close. The moose orders another drink. The wallaby still looks a little confused about this whole election thing. Mentions it to the moose.

“Well,” the moose says patiently, “that’s because we’re a hypothetical anthropomorphic representation of the author’s experience of the election.”

“Sorry, what? Who?”

“The author, the guy typing this right now who’s in too deep to stop now. We’re a representation of what he’s seen and heard about the election. In other words, not a lot.”

“Huh.”

“Tell me honestly, you must have heard a few people talking about the election. Have you heard many of them talking about the NPD’s or Liberal’s platforms?”

“Not really. Mostly it’s just been ‘fuck Harper’ and ‘this is how fucked we are if Harper manages to hang on'” the wallaby said, barely needing to think about it.

“Exactly, I’ll bet even the few commercials you’ve seen have been less about different policies and more about telling people what arseholes the other guys are.”

“The ones I’ve understood, yeah. The French ones seem a lot more positive, but I might be mistaken. The whole ‘first past the post’ electoral system doesn’t help, does it?”

“No, I don’t think it does. Having a system where simply getting the more votes than everyone else rather than any sort of majority, especially one with three major parties and lots of small ones, is a messy system to begin with. Couple that with the fact that people are more concerned about getting the Conservatives kicked out than who actually wins, and you have a whole lot of negative strategic voting.”

“People voting for the local member most likely to beat the Conservative candidate for their area than the party whose policies they like or benefits them most.”

“That’s what the author seems to think.”

“Right. Reckons he’s got anything insightful to say about it? Being an outsider looking in and all that?” the wallaby said nonchalantly, looking around for a coffee that he’d forgotten about and was probably cold by now.

“Not really. Probably just that voting someone out is not the same as voting someone in, and people ought to realise that it might not end with the kind of results they want.”

“Fair ’nuff. Maybe we’ll have more to say about it after the election?”

“Maybe. Canadian elections aren’t the most exciting topic of conversation.”

“Aussie politics is feeling a lot more bloodthirsty after all this.”

“That’s a topic for another day. On the bright side, there’s probably a decent voter turn-out.”

“True enough.”

“Good for the bear voting for he wanted to.”

“Also true.”

The moose finishes his drink, pays and leaves.

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 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.