Departure Down Under
Undergoing one of my migrations from the antipodean life of New Zealand and Australia back to my home state of Georgia. I sit and reflect on lessons learned from the transition. The necessity of double-checking and organisation has never been more apparent than this recent big travel fully-laden with possessions from Australia to Vancouver. Secondly, inherent disappointment occurs when creating expectations about a place. Its better to go in carte blanche and not create a false world before visiting the real place; I did this with my visit to Vancouver and thus overlooked and under appreciated all of its many wonderful peculiarities. Lastly, returning to the familiar places with fresh eyes enables you to truly reflect on how you yourself have changed as compared to the people and places you once knew so well.
Earlier this November, I made last minute travel arrangements to leave my girlfriend Chelsie for seven weeks in order to visit my homeland in Georgia. I felt is was time as it had been nearly 17 months since I had last set foot in the United States. Plus my old friend Jackson had offered a temporary position working with him to help set up a permaculture farm. Further I had an urging from my friend Ronán to look at Vancouver and the University of British Columbia as a potential place for graduate studies in sustainable development or the like.
That dual motivation was enough to easily convince to book a last-minute flight; something that is becoming habitual. And there is nothing wrong with that price-wise. Often I notice that the price stagnates and sometimes decreases closer to the date of departure. I use the Skyscanner search and find out the easiest route, and occasionally purposely seek out longish layovers in order to stretch my legs and have a look around. This works when you are not in a rush to get someplace, but certainly not for everyone.
4 November 2016: The 30 Hour Day
Needless to say on the day of departure, with my big 90 litre rolling duffel packed and small carry-on pack stuffed, all of the upcoming travel and organisation cluttered my mind. Chelsie said, “want to do a last minute sweep?” “No,” I responded, “got my passport and wallet, so all good.” Well this laptop I type on now was left charging under the bed, so that was somewhat important. Three weeks later, thanks to the miracles of worldwide shipping, I have it back. But that gave me time to think about the true differences between luxuries and necessities. The laptop, while certainly an important tool, is nonetheless a luxury and I’ve lived just as well without it.
Two separate lessons learned there: always habitually do those last-minute sweeps; but recognise that as long as you have your passport and your wallet, you are set to travel. So no need to freak out for a bit like I did.
At the Brisbane Airport, I boarded an EVA flight to Vancouver with a 5 hour layover in Taipei. Overall, both flights and the Taipei Airport were pleasant. I would recommend EVA for any international flight, its affordability and attentive staff make a stellar combination. . The Taipei Airport is massive, and after the 8 hour flight and upcoming 11 hour one; I walked around and attempted to lounge in many of the peculiar themed lounge areas: Hello Kitty, Taiwan music, Taiwan cinema, an exercise area, an orchid garden, and my favourite a small art exhibition and garden with some lounge chairs perfect for a catnap. The airport staff all exuded friendliness and helpfulness. Overall the airport layover experience was pleasant, and has encouraged me to return and visit the country.
Flying eastward across the Pacific on these long hauls provides one with the benefit of obtaining an extra long day. In transit for 25 hours, I arrived in Vancouver with another 5 hours left of 4 November. Quite an intense day of transference, and one I believe jostles our circadian rhythm more than we are willing to admit.
Once in Vancouver, my friend Ally and her boyfriend Brody kindly picked me up at the airport. I’m fortunate to have many such friends as Ally. Working together during an Australian ski season in 2014 at Thredbo, we have maintained loose ties. Just as I look forward to hosting friends and relations whenever and wherever I settle. One of the most important benefits in travelling for immersion is the people that you connect with whilst outside of your normal comfort zone. They become lifelong connections, all across the globe; kindred souls that are always up for good quality conversation and enjoy the aesthetic nuances of life.
The goal of this visit to Vancouver was a scouting mission. I wanted to see if the city and the University of British Columbia would be a good fit for a new important phase of my life. So I built in expectations of what the place would be like based on other peoples’ experiences. This is not recommended.
Looking through the lens of intense observation of a disassociated traveller, I saw both beauty and detritus. Vancouver is obviously a liveable city as expressed by all of those list reviews you see on the internet, but it has its major flaws that should not be overlooked. There is no such thing as an urban utopia in this consumerised world. However Vancouver does indeed come close in many aspects.
Leaving Ally and Brody to their weekend commitments and sport watching, I was mobile. After a long travel walking long distances is the best cure. The jet lag was real; and coupled with two sleepless nights in a downtown hostel full of boisterous Australians made for a surreal city exploration.
5 November 2016: Surreal Sights
Using my friend Ronan’s recommendations, I sought out coffee shops. Coffee shops with good character, I believe, are the best places to spent moist, overcast days. In the Gastown District of downtown, I found a few which I loved. Fully caffeinated I walked through the surprisingly mild intermittent rain.
Equally as important to finding the cool spots, are seeking out the spots that locals discourage you from visiting. How else can you form your own complete opinion of a place? Ally and Brody jokingly stressed avoiding parts of Hastings Street. During my caffeinated stroll I crossed paths with it. There I found a Vancouver that the tourism bureaus would have you forget and ignore. Dozens of street people lined the sidewalks. Storefronts were either empty or played host as soup houses and shelters. This stunned me. The juxtaposition of the trendy Gastown coffee shops and restaurants and just a block away was a different world. A tent city stood on one section that looked like a former community garden.
While balancing the line of jet lag exhaustion and jittery caffeination, I heard some Native chanting in the streets. Getting closer to investigate, I stood with a gathered small crowd in the middle of a closed-off street as a procession began as some Natives clad in traditional attire rolled a brand-new totem up and down a few streets in ceremony. This part was unique and one of those special, unplanned moments whilst traveling that can lift your spirit to new heights. They unveiled the new totem in a small piece of public city-block. The next day I passed and saw that the homeless and their possessions had reclaimed that public piece, but under a new, hopefully beneficial, spiritual protector.
Hours later during the same day, I was walking through the city centre near the art gallery. My intention was to go inside at Ally’s recommendation, but I was drawn to the commotion that surrounded an usually extra-dense cloud of marijuana smoke. Two events were happening back to back. The ganja smell drifted in from an unsanctioned demonstration of hippies and the like, blocking a street, playing music and selling wares related to marijuana much to the chagrin of the law enforcement officers watching intently nearby.
Not a 100 meters away, on a lawn in front of the art gallery, was, I presume, a living art exposition. Here luckily, I took a photo, because an attempt to fully explain what was happening would be a post in itself.
So yes, a man clad in black, the artist I presume, was on top of a Ford Taurus station wagon (my first car funny enough) on a cage filled with shopping carts, attempting to drag a sofa on top. I watched this spectacle for a few minutes. To me the hilarious part was how many other people were watching, enthralled. I assume that symbolically that is must represent consumerist culture somehow. At least I found my own symbolism and left it at that.
6 and 7 November: Down to Business
Another sleepless night followed in the hostel of nocturnal Australians. The next morning I changed tactics and found a cheap real hotel to stay in. Even as budget conscious and stingy as I normally am while traveling, sometimes you need that upgrade. I rate the Ramada Inn in downtown Vancouver as worthwhile, felt princely relative to the dank hostel.
The next few days I focused time across False Creek. I walked from the hotel all the way to the UBC campus which took all day. The park system impressed me extraordinarily. A continuous recreation area lines False Creek for miles. Once across the water, I noticed very little homelessness despite those parks being prime spots (if I were homeless) to make camp.
Those two days wandering around Kitsilano enabled me to realise that the lifestyle of Vancouver is superior to nearly any other North American city. I came to understand why so many were in love with the place. Plus I feel that rain is like mana and that dense, moist air reminded me of the air purity in Milford Sound.
Later on the 7, I found myself in the Geography Building on the campus of UBC. There I met a professor, Dr. Brown, and we had one of the best conversations in recent memory. Professor of Sustainability and related topics, he filled my brain and notebook with so many good ideas in the growing field of business and the environment. What he spurred has not yet come to fruition, but what was inspired is filling the pages of my journals.
Advice and Such
No place is a perfect utopia. It is not recommended to have expectations in one’s mind built up about a place before arriving, but that is difficult for us humans. Its almost as if evolution has genetically imposed building expectations about a place for some risk assessment gene. Going against your own grain, I recommend not doing this. Those expectations shadowed my visit to Vancouver as I judged it as I walked each city block.
I attempted full immersion in just 5 days; that’s not plausible. And in so doing I look back at the good memories instead of completely appreciating them while I was there. Ally and Brody were such welcoming hosts on short notice. That I will return to others that visit wherever home may be.
Recommendations and Acknowledgments
This is not much of a tourist guide for Vancouver, surely there are enough of those. But I did find some amazing places thanks to recommendations to others. Personally, the coffee scene is the best outside of Australia and New Zealand cities. My dear friend Ronan told me to visit in Gastown: Timbertrain, Birds and the Beets, and Nelson and the Seagull. All of which I strongly recommend. Also his former employer, Chambar, was one of those sorts of places that has a culture in itself: delicious beer and delectable food there.
I stumbled across a pub called The Three Brits near the famous Stanley Park that had one of the most genuine personable publicans that I have ever come across. So maybe you will come across this bearded gentleman yourself if you patron the place.
And of course, my dear friends Ally and Brody for their local insight and hospitality. I sat with them to watch the infamous 2016 election results. And with that change, the next day I boarded a plane to hop over to Seattle for a 6 hour layover. The general malaise and consternation of the Pacific Northwest was in stark contrast the the general elation in the South. Arriving in Atlanta and returning to my home state, there was a sense of tangible victory against the establishment. Strange times to be returning.
Full of opinions but feeling removed (which I was for 17 months), I partook in the American pastime of shooting handguns at makeshift targets, a fitting re-introduction to America. And symbolic beginning of a new chapter.