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.

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.

Irrational irritations and other unnecessary issues (15/3/16)

Yesterday was the fourteenth of March, 14.3 for most of the world but 3.14 for these arrogant North American wankers. Now I can complain long and hard about the American system of dating things, and I will at some point in the not too distant future, but this time I want to talk about something else. Y’see, thanks to the entirely irrational dating system used in North America yesterday was Pi day. Y’know, π. That number that ‘geniuses’ on TV use to prove that they’re geniuses by quoting it to the sixty-third decimal or some such bullshit, but us mere mortals usually round up to 3.14 (but never to exactly 3).

So yesterday was Pi day and that seems as good as any reason to complain about the lack of pies in Canada. The edible kind, not the numerical kind.

Well, there are pies up here in the northern hemisphere I suppose. I had pumpkin pie for the first time last Thanksgiving. It was alright, tasty enough, though it still doesn’t quite feel like it should be a dessert if you get my meaning. And other dessert pies aren’t unusual. It’s possible to get the occasional shepard’s pie floating around, made with mince that might even have come from a cow and reconstituted potato.

But I’m not talking about any of that, I’m talking about the proper Aussie meat pie. The kind that comes in a foil tin, fits in your hand and available from anywhere with a power outlet to plug in one of those mini-ovens (for keeping things warm and on display). Fuck 420, I wanna fuckin’ Four’N Twenty meat pie at that perfect temperature where the heat brings out the flavour of the beef and gravy but doesn’t burn the roof of your mouth. Mrs Mac or Sargents, drenched in tomato sauce (not ketchup, bloody tomato sauce) I wanna walk into a Vietnamese bakery (they don’t seem to have those here either, damnit) and a grab a steak and pepper pie on my way home from work, or suddenly realise that since I’m in Newtown I can sneak into a gourmet bakery and switch things up with a curry chicken or lamb and rosemary pie. I wanna goddamn meat pie. And a lamington. But mostly a goddamn meat pie.

There are a few places around that cater to the Aussie palate, but the only one that’s worth getting from a pie from is all the way up in Whistler (Peaked Pies, give it a go if you’re up there). Not surprising given the concentration of Australians up in Whistralia, but not a practical option down here in Vancouver. The other places just tasted… not good… enough? Yeah, not good enough. Like the meat was worse than the lowest grade horsemeat put into a service station pastry or the gravy tasted chalky and had the consistency of flubber or the pastry lacked the structural integrity to hold everything together or some combination of things. Just, not good enough. And still difficult to get to.

But good god I miss pies.

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.

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.