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.

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.