My initial impression of Vancouver is that it’s a little like being in a parallel universe, or in one of those dreams where you’re in a place but not really. That is to say that being here is so incredibly like Portland, and yet so incredibly different that trying to wrap your head around it leaves you a little bit in a daze.
Essentially, I’m staying at a house that is located, as far as I can tell, around 39th and Hawthorne–except actually in a foreign country. The houses in this neighbourhood (har har!) have extremely small or non-existent yards, the city has many parks sprinkled throughout, I’ve seen many bikes along all the bikeways in the city, and Commercial Drive teems with home-grown eateries a mere half-block away. There’s Ethiopian. Indian. A place called Me and Julio. A burrito place run by a Chinese-looking woman, which blows my mind until I remember that oh yeah, there probably aren’t a lot of Mexicans in Canada. Then there’s this place, very Portlandy, where I got a pineapple tofu veggie burger for dinner. Yum yum.
Commercial Drive itself has way more people than Hawthorne, though. In fact, there was so much foot traffic that I had to be very mindful and “pull off to the side” if I wanted to stop and look at a store. And those other pedestrians walk fast and with determination, like New York City. There’s an elevated rail station about five blocks away, lending a flavor of the outer boroughs.
Despite all these pedestrians though, drivers are drivers. Not an hour after venturing from the house I’m staying at, I almost got run over by a lady not looking for pedestrians as she exited the parking lot of the nearby Safeway.
In Canada, products are labeled in two languages. “Of course!” you think. But, although you may have seen a multi-lingual product package before, have you gone into Safeway and seen every single product on the shelf labeled in English and French, the same weight given to each? Or in that very store, have you looked at the peanut butter shelf and found the major US brands almost forgotten at the bottom, with Adams inexplicably becoming hugely prominent?
Reinforcing the Portland theme, I also saw a woman with a spiky purple mowhawk fly down Commercial Drive on a longboard, and then on my walk home from Safeway, saw that same woman using a Starbucks cup tied to the end of a makeshift fishing pole to beg for change. Interesting.
One particularly cool moment during my walk was when the streets opened, presenting a peek at the downtown area of Vancouver and that thing from the world’s fair of 1986. You know…that thing?
What’s on the docket today? Just learned how to flush the toilet (no, I’m not kidding) with the help of the internet. Need to find a money exchange and touristy gift shop. I’m hoping to get on my bike today and start exploring the city’s bikeways, heading over to the UBC museum.