Thursday, March 15, 2007

Vancouver, the Parallel Universe

I know it has been said many times before, but until you experience it yourself, you can't quite understand how odd it is to be in Canada. You have to keep reminding yourself that you are not in the U.S. anymore. It isn't obvious by the foliage, the people, the architecture, the food, nothing. So you go along your merry way, enjoying the rain, delighting in what a lovely day it is because everyone seems so polite, and then you notice that nobody steps off the curb at a red light. They definitely don't cross the street, even when there are no cars. Then you get some change, and it seems so light, those quarters are ALMOST quarters, but lighter. And the $2 coin, that one is hard to get used to. They collect at the bottom of your purse, and they really add up over time so you always know you have tip money on hand.
Then you have a conversation with someone, and you find that you can't end the conversation because each of you is so busy thanking the other and it's like when you are a little kid and don't want to be the first one to hang up the phone, so you stand there being so uber-polite, and it seems natural, until you notice how much time has passed and you are still thanking the clerk for giving you the receipt in your hand instead of in the bag.

Of course there is also French on all the products, yet nobody on the west coast seems to speak French. One man told me they speak "cereal box French" from when they were kids, and everybody knows how to talk about winning free toys inside, in French.
In Vancouver, they seem to think they have a homeless problem, and everybody will tell you not to go to Gastown alone, which seems to be a little like the East Village about 15 years ago, not too bad, not too good, but just fine. Apparently there are some drug addicts there, and homeless people too. When the taxi driver speaks about the homeless, he doesn't say it in a way that indicates he thinks it's ruining the city, but more in a wistful way, as though he wished he knew how to solve the problem of such utter sadness in someone's life.

Products are almost the same, but not quite. They drink beer called Sleeman's in addition to the usual brands, and it comes in a few popular flavors. And they don't have Oil of Olay in the drugstore. The mall stores are the same, except they have Hudson Bay instead of Macy's. You wouldn't know the difference if you didn't see the sign outside.

Vancouver has no highways that go through the city, so getting from the airport is a huge time sacrifice that could be avoided if they would get over their fear of industry and just build the damn highway. Getting to the airport from Whistler requires that you drive through downtown. They are widening the Sea to Sky highway for the Olympics in 2010 and every citizen can tell you how much they are spending on every thing they are building to get ready for the Olympics. The funniest stadium story was that very recently the roof of the big stadium popped.

While I never ran into any shops that sell pot, which I believe is legal, or maybe it just isn't illegal, there were a few people smoking in the street rather casually. However, the shampoo in my hotel room smelled exactly like pot, so maybe it was just their hair that caught my attention. This gateway drug certainly has not lead to a city overrun with heroin addicts murdering people in broad daylight.

Then you find out that Vancouver Island isn't the same as Vancouver. (Not to mention Vancouver in Washington state). When you look at the map, it looks like it is right next to the city, but in fact it takes around 4 hours on a bus/ferry/bus to get to Victoria, the capital, or 35 minutes by seaplane (the kind that take off and land in the water, which is way cool). It's a very cute little city with some great old fashioned Victorian style architecture (hence the name?) in the main government building and the Empress hotel. The construction of condos all over the place, both in Vancouver and Victoria, are reducing the charm palpably. And then you notice that the government buildings have totem poles in front of them. And finally you realize that when people talk about First Nations, they are referring to Native Americans.Everything in Canada is exactly the same as the U.S. only a small step to the parallel universe on the left.

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