When I finished off my previous post Anna had been attending a conference in Paris and the two of us had been wandering around the city, exploring the catacombs, doing a lot of eating and shopping, all the while trying to avoid stepping in dog shit. Now we had to fly over to Canada to attend a wedding.
Saturday, September 7, 2019
Today was the day that Anna’s cousin, Robin Wong, was to marry Kat Gan in Vancouver, Canada and nobody from Anna’s immediate family were able to attend so that became our duty. We had to fly out from Charles de Gaulle Airport at about 9am for a wedding ceremony at 11am being held halfway around the world, however, timezones would allow us to pull it off, but only barely.
The traffic wasn’t be too bad that early in the morning so we got in an Uber, wound our way through the city, past the extensive vagrant tent villages en route to the freeway, and then we cruised relatively smoothly to the airport. Once there we kicked back in the lounge for some breakfast before boarding and, due to being tired from the little sleep we got leading up to that flight, were both able to snooze for the bulk of the nine-hour trek to Vancouver.
When we landed we had about 45 minutes to pass through immigration and get to the wedding. This meant that we had to change in the toilets at the airport, because I don’t think the tracksuit pants and t-shirt I was wearing to be comfortable on the plane were really appropriate wedding attire and Anna was dressed similarly too. Once we had changed and were in the cab the clock was ticking and we were cutting it extremely close. In fact, by the time we got out of the taxi, dumped our suitcases in a storage area in the lobby of the venue, and found our way to the garden for the reception, we walked down the aisle and found a seat less than a minute before the bride and her parents were to take the same path to the stage. It was a beautiful reception and when it was all finished we collected our luggage and caught a taxi once again to check into the Rosewood Georgia Hotel. Compared to our hotel in which we had spent the past few nights in Paris, our new room was enormous and, as an added bonus, it had possibly the best shower I have ever used, one we both took advantage of to wash off the sweat and stink of sleeping in a rather warm airplane for hours.
This is where we were staying for the next four nights:
We unwound for a bit in the hotel before the wedding dinner that evening, but there were other plans for a portion of the afternoon too. Another of Anna’s countless cousins, Catherine Sprunt, is married to a British guy called Darren and he is exactly like me in every way, but ten years younger, leading Anna to refer to him as my “Brother from Another Mother.” He even has the same tattoo of a plastic chair as I do, because the original idea that led to it was his. Anyway, Darren had stumbled upon a bar nearby our hotel that he thought I’d like called The Moose and he wanted to have a few mid-afternoon libations with the two of us before we went to the wedding dinner. That sounded like the perfect idea so Anna and I got ready for the dinner and then went down to meet Darren at The Moose. When we got there it turned out that he had found this awesome little dive-bar similar to my local back when we lived in New York, Jeremy’s Ale House, right down to the bras hanging from the ceiling. This place played great music and had cheap drinks, however, Catherine didn’t go because she is currently pregnant. She probably needed the rest anyway. It was a warm day so it got a tad hot wearing a three-piece suit inside and Anna felt the constant need to point out that Darren and I were wearing essentially the exact same thing to the dinner. We were a bit overdressed for where we were hanging out so I probably fit in better when I rolled up my pants to cool my legs.
We were having a blast kicking back in The Moose, but soon we had to make our way to the dinner at Floata, a Chinese seafood restaurant located in Chinatown, the name of which providing us with endless laughs. It was really good just eating, drinking, and chatting to a bunch of Anna’s cousins on our table, with whom I get on really well, and after the speeches were done and a bit more of a party-like atmosphere had set in I decided to bust out something I had worn under my suit for the occasion; an original Bryant ‘Big Country’ Reeves NBA jersey from back when the Grizzlies were originally in Vancouver, and a player that I used to love. It was only when I saw the photos that I realised how pasty my arms look when I’m wearing a black singlet indoors.
As the celebrations wrapped up everybody said their goodbyes, some guests filled takeaway containers with leftover food for the following day’s lunch, and a few of us, Darren included, went back down to The Moose for a while to see out a fun night, briefly interrupted by a crazy tramp coming in and playing the spoons.
Some scenes from the ceremony, The Moose, and the dinner:
Sunday, September 8, 2019
The plan for Sunday was lunch at another Chinese restaurant, this time in a different part of town almost an hour’s walk away so we decided to hoof it. We were staying in a pretty cool area of the city, but we didn’t realise how bad the homeless problem was right across Vancouver, there are derelicts absolutely EVERYWHERE, some just sitting, others wandering around, however, they don’t really hassle you too much. Just like pretty much all of the Canadians we encountered on this trip, they were really polite and friendly. The few that did approach us generally apologised in advance for having to ask us for money, the ones with politely written signs again apologising in writing, some to the extent of, “Sorry, I haven’t eaten since yesterday, could I bother you for some change,” that type of thing. Clearly you couldn’t give to all of them, otherwise you would become one yourself and they seem to realise this, just moving on if you decline. We figured there had to be a reason for the sheer amount of vagrants here and it turns out that Wikipedia has entire page entitled Homelessness in Vancouver, here is how the crisis is summed up in the opening paragraph:
Homelessness in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada is a social crisis that has been rapidly accelerating over the last decade. According to the United Nations, homelessness can either be relative or absolute. Absolute homelessness describes people living in absence of proper physical shelter. Relative homelessness describes people living in poor conditions of health or security, including an absence of both personal safety and steady income despite having physical shelter to reside in. As of 2011, roughly 2,651 people in Vancouver are subject to one of these types of homelessness, or are transitioning between them. Homelessness as a social issue in Vancouver originated from federal funding cuts to affordable housing. After market housing increased, the cost of housing became one of Vancouver’s main causes of homelessness, alongside lack of income. The homeless population in Vancouver have developed or previously suffered from mental health and addiction issues, and they are subjected to high amounts of crime-related victimization. There have been several approaches to reducing the homeless population in Greater Vancouverby the city and other organizations. As of 2011, the rate of homelessness in Vancouver has stopped increasing, but it is not being reduced either.
That’s crazy when the 2016 census showed there were only 631,486 people in the city, meaning that roughly one in every 250 people in Vancouver is technically homeless. Even if that homeless number applied to the Greater Vancouver population of 2,463,431, it would still be staggering. This also wouldn’t be the last time we would encounter them en masse, not by a long shot.
Anna and I continued walking to the downtown area of Vancouver, passing Rogers Arena, once home to the Vancouver Grizzlies NBA team and now the Vancouver Canucks of the NHL, past fields of geese in creekside park, and to the Chinese restaurant where we had lunch with members of Robin and Kat’s respective extended families.
After lunch the two of us continued to explore this part of the city, looking at the sights and stores, but we both soon became exceptionally bloated, my stomach noticeably protrudent, even through a jacket. I guess Chinese food in Canada affects us a little differently than it does in Asian countries. It got so bad that at one stage we were both standing on a bridge, looking at our necessary arch enemy, Google Maps, to see where to venture next when I tried to discretely fart to release even just a little of the potentially belt-breaking pressure in my abdomen. I would’ve got away with it, too, if a gust of wind hadn’t blown up behind us just seconds after, wafting it back in our faces and causing and audible response of “Phwoar!” from us both. It was seriously that bad!
We continued walking in the general direction of our hotel, Anna’s terrible eyesight cracking us both up along the way when we passed Homer St. Cafe and Bar and she thought the sign said Hombre’s, although it didn’t even remotely resemble a Mexican restaurant. We also kept seeing posters for a giant flea market on nearby Granville Street so we dropped in to check it out. The market was held in what appeared to be an old, disused theatre where the upstairs carpet was extremely sticky, however, there was some great stuff, but it was pretty expensive. A good example of this was the awesome original Married… with Children t-shirt I found featuring Al and Peg Bundy sitting on a sofa, Al with a hand down his pants as usual, but it was CA$150.00 (US$113.00)! I didn’t get it, but I did walk out of there with a cool Mr. T t-shirt.
After all that walking we went back to the hotel to relax for a bit before meeting up for a great dinner with our friends who had driven up from Seattle to see us, Momo and Takuo, as well as Takuo’s mother. After dinner they all went back to their hotel so Anna and I met up with Darren at The Moose one last time, or so we thought, as well as a friend of his from London that was in town, Harry, who looked identical to Seth Rogan. It’s very rare that you walk into a bar on a Sunday night and they are playing Children of Bodom at full volume, but we stuck around for a bit before opting for a change of environment. We found another cool bar upstairs in a nearby building that had a main area at the front and another bar around the back with a pool table and shuffleboard table. We were having a really great time just drinking and trying to figure out the rules of shuffleboard while playing when Anna and myself went over to order some drinks and a woman next to the bar had an amusing mishap that even had her laughing hysterically and telling her entertained friends. I won’t relay the story here as, despite it not being particularly offensive or triggering, this website is still blocked from being linked to Facebook after three months for some reason, a situation I’m still trying to rectify. Add to this the fact that my personal Facebook account recently got a three-day ban when I posted an interesting article that contained an image of a naked statue and I get the feeling they may be as sensitive as some Canadian millennials. Anyway, I saw the woman telling her friends what had just happened so I passed the story on to Anna, who thought it was priceless, and I then took a photo of the room so I could remember. The woman working behind the bar didn’t care when I told Anna the story, but as soon as I let Darren in on the comical tale, she told me I was objectifying women, insisted I delete the photo, and that we leave. Okay, I guess we’ll just take our money back to The Moose. Never be more upset than the victim.
Looking around different areas of Vancouver:
Monday, September 9, 2019
It was now our third day in Vancouver, yet we hadn’t really explored much of the area in which we were staying so the plan for Monday was to take it easy and look around our general vicinity, as well as the Gastown neighbourhood of Vancouver:
Gastown is the original settlement that became the core of the creation of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Currently, it is a national historic site and a neighbourhood in the northwest end of Downtown Eastside, adjacent to Downtown Vancouver.
Gastown was Vancouver’s first downtown core and is named for “Gassy” Jack Deighton, a Yorkshire seaman, steamboat captain and barkeep who arrived in 1867 to open the area’s first saloon.
Gastown is a mix of “hip” contemporary fashion and interior furnishing boutiques, tourist-oriented businesses (generally restricted to Water Street), restaurants, nightclubs, poverty and newly upscale housing. In addition, there are law firms, architects and other professional offices, as well as computer and internet businesses, art galleries, music and art studios, and acting and film schools.
It was a great part of town, but the weather that day was terrible so we intermittently got stuck in bars and cafes while waiting for torrential downpours to cease. The rest of the time was spent shopping and eating, but after a while we began to notice a pattern; every time we entered any business we were always greeted by someone asking us if we had been there before. When we replied that we hadn’t, we would receive an answer of something to the extent of, “Oh, because we do things a little differently here” and then told what makes their store, cafe, bar, dispensary, etc. unique. Even the owner of the secondhand store that was selling, among other items, a pile of 8mm pornographic movies from the 1970s said something similar, but he had a valid point because I hadn’t encountered anything like that in real life before, even while I was volunteering in a New York City thrift store. Another interesting sight was the Gastown steam clock:
Gastown’s most famous (though nowhere near oldest) landmark is the steam-powered clock on the corner of Cambie and Water Street. It was built in 1977 to cover a steam grate, part of Vancouver’s distributed steam heating system, as a way to harness the steam and to prevent street people from sleeping on the spot in cold weather. Its original design was faulty and it had to be powered by electricity after a breakdown. The steam mechanism was completely restored with the financial support of local businesses as it had become a major tourist attraction, and is promoted as a heritage feature although it is of modern invention.
The steam used is low pressure downtown-wide steam heating network (from a plant adjacent to the Georgia Viaduct) that powers a miniature steam engine in its base, in turn driving a chain lift. The chain lift moves steel balls upward, where they are unloaded and roll to a descending chain. The weight of the balls on the descending chain drives a conventional pendulum clock escapement, geared to the hands on the four faces. The steam also powers the clock’s sound production, with whistles being used instead of bells to produce the Westminster “chime” and to signal the time.
We continued strolling around for the rest of the afternoon, including passing a pretty scary park in Downtown Eastside that contained the highest density of homeless people and junkies I had seen in a such a small area in all my life, and before long it was time for dinner. We went to a restaurant that had a great six-course tasting menu and it was fantastic, possibly because we had never been there before and they did things a little differently, but it would’ve been even better if we weren’t being constantly interrupted by a waitress who felt the need to keep asking us, “How’s everything tasting over here?”
Once we had finished we went back to our room for an early night, but here’s a bit of what we saw that day:
Tuesday, September 10, 2019
Our last full day in Vancouver had come so we wanted to hit up a completely different part of town, but there was something else we wanted to try first; Japadog. Friends and relatives in Canada had been telling us all about how good these Japanese-style hotdogs are and there was a stand near our hotel so that was breakfast sorted. It was only a small stall so the full menu wasn’t available, but we were still happy with what was available and shared an okonomi dog and a spicy cheese terimayo dog, as well as pulled pork poutine, and all I can say is that if Japadog ever comes to Singapore, it wouldn’t take me long to get chubby again!
After we were done with the dogs our plan was to look around Granville Island, especially the Public Market:
In the 1970’s, Granville Island began its successful transformation from an industrial wasteland to one of the most beloved public spaces in Vancouver.
As Vancouver’s premier artistic and cultural hub, located in an urban, waterfront location and steeped in a rich industrial and maritime heritage, this unique destination attracts millions of visitors each year from Vancouver and around the world.
The charm of Granville Island lies in its unexpected mix of uses. The famous Public Market, open daily from 9 am to 7 pm, is home to more than 50 independent food purveyors and contributes to the Island’s appeal as a renowned culinary destination. In the Net Loft Shops and Railspur District, many of Canada’s best artists and designers can be found. Granville Island is home to many cultural venues and hosts numerous performing arts and cultural festivals year-round.
Operationally self-sustaining, Granville Island is home to more than 300 businesses employing more than 3,000 people.
We walked down to the island (which is now technically a peninsula), entered the market, and spent a great deal of time going up and down the food aisles. Eventually we found Kaylin & Hobbs, a store that sold New York style pickles and anyone who knows me well would be aware of how much I love anything pickled. I started sampling a range of different pickles, eating as many free ones as I could, but it turned out to be honey mustard and the full sour pickles that I liked the best so I bought a jar of each.
Even though not a lot of time had passed since we had had our Japadogs, seeing all of the great-looking food in the market was still making us hungry so we took a seat in the food court and ordered some oysters, a lobster, and some vegetables, me accidentally getting some lobster stuck to a window while trying to get it out of its shell.
When lunch was done we decided to catch a ferry back to the main part of town, taking a beautiful ride across the water. When we got off the boat we started to look around the nearby shops, even encountering a 24-year-old dog with the worst teeth in one store when it suddenly dawned on me — “Oh shit… I forgot the pickles.” Anna at first had a shocked look on her face, but that soon changed to one of amusement when it occured to her that this is kind of expected of me. She asked me if I wanted to go back and get them, but it was too much effort for a couple of jars of pickles, no matter how good they were. Instead, we just kept looking around at the stores before heading back to the hotel to pack in preparation for our flight the next day.
When we had finished packing we went out for dinner and to enjoy our last night in Vancouver. We stopped at a couple of bars, but it occured to me that we were near one that had caught my eye the previous day in Gastown, an Irish pub called The Blarney Stone. You might be wondering why a simple Irish pub would stand out to me. Well, my favourite band, Ween, have a song called The Blarney Stone which sounds like it is being sung in a raucous pub in Dublin, however, it was a Tuesday night in Vancouver and this place wasn’t particularly busy, but we still had to stop by for a drink or two.
A taste of our last day in Vancouver:
We had to fly back out to France the next day so watch this space for the conclusion of this adventure when we spend some time in the small French village of Colmar and then a final couple of days in Paris again.
We loved Vancouver and its ridiculously friendly and polite citizens, but this part of our trip wasn’t about us, we wouldn’t have even been there if it weren’t for Kat and Robin’s wedding. Congratulations, guys, and we both wish you a lifetime of happiness together.