Spring in Vancouver

North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Cherry blossoms in North Vancouver

Yesterday was the first day of spring. For the first time since I left a month and a half ago, I miss Vancouver. Unlike the rest of Canada where the adage about April showers and May flowers rings true, March brings the first relief from months of rain and fog. I felt most content in spring. The despondency of winter only hit me when the rain fell; the breeze warded off the heavy restlessness of summer.

North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Cherry blossoms on a house in North Vancouver

In spring I set off to beautifully unremarkable places just to remind myself that I could. I went to Greater Mission Squamish Reserve in North Vancouver and took photos from the peripheries. I visited a boy I loved in Victoria and drank until I cried on Douglas Street. I listened to “Townie” by Mitski and felt something that was indistinct and good. (“Drunk Walk Home” reverberates with the weight of July’s heat.) I thought the trees in full bloom turned West 7th to the prettiest street in the world. I checked out CDs from the Vancouver Public Library and listened to them on my apartment’s sagging balcony, looking out onto the stinking alley I loved like it was mine.

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Holland Point, Victoria

Now that I’m away from it, preparing for fall in the opposite hemisphere, I remember how spring felt. It was raw with potential and nerves exposed. I was beat by winter and months of pursuing landmark goals: finishing a degree, establishing a career, finding the next love of my life and other such shit. Whereas in winter I was all stress and perspiration by early nightfall, in spring I found stillness in the last light of a day growing steadily longer. I sat in Jonathon Rogers Park and felt a hush.

Fairview, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Flowers in Fairview, Vancouver

Melbourne’s fall comes with rain and fog. To transition from winter to fall – with a few weeks’ Australian summer in between – means I’m missing the time of year that made me feel the most hopeful. I feel like I’m stuck in the endless pursuit of accomplishment. I oscillate between giving no fucks and giving all the fucks in the world, an indeterminate state that feels like the first whispers of resignation. Now I have to find my own relief in a country without the seasonal signifier I knew and the feelings they cyclically evoked. I must find my own contentment and stillness. But after trudging through winter, all I want is the first lightness of spring.

Song of the day: “Townie” by Mitski

Sixteen Hours in Guangzhou, China

Guangzhou, China
Canton Tower, Haizhu District

A bargain price is never without its catch; inexpensive flights are no exception. When I read over the details of the bargain flight I found for a round trip from Vancouver to Melbourne, I realized the catch was a sixteen hour layover in Guangzhou, China.

Guangzhou is a city two hours northwest of Hong Kong. It is currently China’s third largest city behind Beijing and Shanghai, and it is generally considered an important node in the global economic system. This I learned from a Wikipedia search. The specifics of international geography are not my strong suit. I decided that a layover in Guangzhou agreed with me and all other details I could work out later.

Pearl River, Zhujiang River, Haizhu District
A group of men play cards along the Pearl River

The flight landed at six at night, two in the morning PST. What I thought was cloud cover as the plane made its descent turned out to be smog. I had no trouble getting a visa for a half day’s stay in China; I had a great deal of trouble locating my hotel even though it was practically attached to the airport. When I finally made it to the hotel my Raptors jersey and duffle bag were met with some side eyes but I had no issues checking in. Within an hour, I was back on the street and determined to take the subway to the Haizhu District. Two hundred metres out of the hotel lobby, I realized I couldn’t tell driveway from roadway.

I took an hour long taxi ride through the residential districts of Guangzhou. We drove past hundreds of apartment buildings, some clean white, many with stained facades. Windows glowed pale with fluorescent lights, casting eerie shadows in stairwells and against the clothes hung from lines across hundreds of small grated balconies. As we came closer to the Haizhu District more buildings were topped with gigantic neon signs, flashing coloured light onto the adjacent buildings. I wondered what it would be like to hang your shirts in the glow of red neon.

The taxi let me off along the Pearl River, near Canton Tower. The river walk was packed with pedestrians taking photos of the tower, of the river, of themselves, and of the coloured lights that seemed to beam from every bridge and building. I realized after the fact that I was in the district on a Friday during the opening night of the Guangzhou International Light Festival.

Liede Bridge during the Guangzhou International Light Festival

The lights and the crowd thrilled me at first but as I walked around, I began to feel lonely. I obliged the first pair of women who asked for a photo – surely they realized I was an average looking white person and not a Gigi Hadid in their midst – but declined anyone who asked after. The gaze of by passers made me feel alien. Never before had I been a visible minority. Huacheng Square was closed to pedestrians by the time I reached it, leaving me at a dead end a few kilometres from where I started on the riverbank opposite from where I intended to be. For the first time I was stuck by the realization that I could become lost in Guangzhou and if that happened, I wouldn’t be able to ask for help. In the middle of a crowd of thousands I was completely alone.

I hailed a return taxi at close to eleven. I showed the driver my hotel name in Cantonese on my phone. He raised his hand and made an engine sound. Yes, I was staying at the airport hotel. As he drove the winding highway past the neon lights and stained facades I struggled to stay awake, drifting and waking fitfully in the glare of five storey flashing signs.

In front of the hotel lobby I paid the driver in yuan, grateful to have enough small bills to pay the fare exactly. When I opened the door to exit the taxi, he began to protest loudly. He waved the money at me. I looked from the metre to the money, certain I had given him the right fare. I moved for the door again but he started to yell. I got out anyway. He motioned for the bellhop, with whom he conversed. The bellhop told me I owed an additional five yuan. “That’s not what the metre showed.” They spoke again. “Yes, five yuan.” I was prepared to argue it but the language barrier stacked the odds against me. I paid the five yuan. The equivalent of $1.05 Canadian wasn’t worth arguing about. I made my way back to my room, washed the city from my hair, and closed the curtains on the moonless sky.

Song of the Day: Jeopardy by Run The Jewels

Conversation on a Nighttime Bus

Alexander Street, Vancouver

I was sitting on a crowded bus at quarter to ten at night, my backpack on my lap and my copy of Gravity’s Rainbow open in front of me. I was endeavouring to read but was struggling against the noise of the guy sitting across from me who was freestyle rapping to his friend.  I kept mouthing the words of Gravity’s Rainbow, trying to make sense of the placeless setting they created. believing in the primacy of the ‘conscious’ self and its memories, regarding “Miss?” regarding all the rest as abnormal or trivial, and so he is “Miss?” troubled, deeply…

“Yes?” I replied, looking up at the man beside me. He was scruffily bearded, wearing a light jacket, dirty sneakers and a blue sheet around his waist.

“Do you have to  move your lips when you read?” He laughed. I laughed.

“No,” I said, “but I do it when the bus is loud so I can better concentrate on the words.”

“Is it a complicated book?” he asked.

“Yes, very. It’s about war, and that’s all I can say about the plot right now.”

“I’m not much of a reader. I like cartoons and Sudoku.”

“Those are both good things,” I replied, and I focused on the page. She has a few marks with her, Franz has his toy rockets to the moon.

“Do you know when the liquor store closes?”

I put my finger on the end of the sentence. “No, I can’t say I do.”

“It might close at ten, but I’m hoping it closes at eleven.”

I thought about it. “Yes, I think it closes at eleven.” I looked again at the page. It is really over.

“I was down at Wreck Beach today.” I nodded at my book. “We had a ceremony for a friend who died, one of the regulars down there.” I looked up at him. He looked far away. “We built a campfire. We took the box they gave us with his ashes and had a ceremony.”

“That’s a nice place to have it,” I said quietly.

“When I go, I hope they do the same for me.” He paused. “I scattered my parents’ ashes in the Fraser River.”

“All of my family is in Ontario.”

He turned his head to me. “Are any of them in the ground there?”

“Yes, all of my grandparents.”

We both fell silent. After a minute he said, “I’m going to go to the front of the bus so I can see if the liquor store is open before I get off.”

“I hope it’s open until eleven,” I said with a smile.

“I hope so too,” he replied. “If I don’t see you again, have a good life.”

“Thank you. Same to you.” I watched him walk to the front of the bus, the blue sheet draping towards the floor. I read a few more pages and went a stop further than I usually do before I walked out into the cold November air. I thought of his words, I hope they do the same for me, and I felt cold.

Song of the Day: Strange Hellos by Torres

One Year in Vancouver

Kitsilano Beach, Vancouver
Kitsilano Beach, Vancouver

One year ago today, I boarded a dawn flight to Vancouver feeling slightly hungover and completely terrified. I was neither willing nor ready to leave home, a terrible combination when you’re preparing for a one-way flight. I arrived in the city with three suitcases, thirty books, and a dim idea that people in Vancouver spend all of their time eating sushi and doing yoga in front of mountains. The first and only time I had been to British Columbia I was fifteen and spent the majority of my time in arenas in Chilliwack. Still, I decided that British Columbia was the province I was meant to live in and Vancouver was the city I was destined to move to. Seven years later, I applied to graduate school in Vancouver on the strength of this conviction. I accepted the program’s offer with some trepidation but I mainly felt confident that I was following a well-crafted plan I had made for myself years prior. Somewhere between the completion of my clusterfuck of an undergraduate thesis and my fourth month sitting in a grey walled cubicle in Toronto’s Financial District, I began to have some doubts. I debated staying in Ontario but I realized that doing so would result in two things: run-ins with friends and peers who would wonder why the hell I wasn’t in BC and in a fifth month copying and pasting into Excel spreadsheets. I wanted nothing more than to avoid both of those things so I decided once and for all that I was moving and there wasn’t a damn thing that was going to stop me.

After one month in Vancouver, I wrote a post about my realization that this was the right time for me to leave Ontario, to push myself to the edge of my world to see what I would discover there. I finished writing, saw a spider the size of a coaster and cried for two hours; my writing was never shared. I exaggerate but the feelings are true all the same. I was afraid of everything the city had to offer: its streets, its dogs, its dirty cafes and its people. Its people most of all, even though I was desperate to make friends with them. My loneliness had me searching cafes with bewildered eyes and making jokes to baristas that always fell flat. I spent time with my peers but I was afraid of them too because the only things they seemed to talk about were David Foster Wallace and SSHRC funding. I decided I would finish my Master’s degree as quickly as possible because if I didn’t, I would die of loneliness if the rain didn’t try to drown me first. I took too many courses at once, marked two-dozen engineering papers to mitigate the cost of living in Kitsilano, saw an army’s worth of spiders, moved out of Kitsilano and moved into the Fairview apartment that I’m writing from today. Okay, it wasn’t all bad. I was already getting acquainted with what the city had to offer and my Monday night trivia team kept winning free beer. However, the latter made my Tuesday morning Victorian Literature seminars difficult and only added to the apathy I felt for George Eliot and phrenology.

Pier 57, Seattle, Washington
Pier 57, Seattle, Washington

Following a holiday with the Heffs in Seattle and a visit from Kelly in Vancouver, I started the next term with as many courses and more engineering papers than before. My roommate Stephen and my temporary roommate Ivan witnessed my struggles with Affect Theory and Ulysses. I sat in seminars drawing cats in the margins of my notebooks, speaking only to describe my affective response to whatever theorist we were reading that week. I walked the Cambie Bridge almost daily in a quest to make it to my Bean Around the World of choice. After seven months I realized I could get there a lot faster by SkyTrain. A misguided attempt at high scholarship had me trolling through collections of Samuel Beckett’s early works while I listened to Beastie Boys CDs I picked up from the Vancouver Public Library. Looking back on it now, that almost sounds like fun. It was around this time that I started sitting on my apartment’s balcony and engaging my neighbours in casual conversation. I could dedicate an entire blog post to my neighbours Trevor and Tyler who have since moved away, but it will suffice to say conversations with them got me through a seminar paper on Friedrich Kittler and Gravity’s Rainbow and made me realize there is more to life than feigning interest in literary theory. It was also around this time that the weather started to improve. I discovered Jonathan Rogers Park, found the greatest old school Canucks jacket in time for their playoff elimination, and realized I didn’t hate Vancouver as much as I though. At the end of eight months – eight and a half, if you count the extension I got on my Mediated Literacies essay – I had finished all of the coursework required for my degree. I took a trip home to visit some of the people I love and returned to Vancouver on an afternoon flight, in good physical health and feeling hardly any terror.

Stanley Park, Vancouver
Stanley Park, Vancouver

In the last four months, I have been lucky enough to meet great people in Vancouver. Some of them I met when Stephen’s friends came to stay with us. Others I met when I joined the English department softball team, The Prose, and have since had great times with sharing post-game (and mid-game) beers. I have been to games nights at Kristan’s, where I always make new friends and try fine tequila. I have spent enough time in Jonathan Rogers Park to meet the Australian football team that practices there, the West Coast Saints. Even though he has since moved away, I’ll remember Kerron for being a charming little shit with a propensity for sneaking up on me and for using Aussie slang so I wouldn’t know what the hell he was talking about. Also, for introducing me to the greatest radio station ever, triple j. Stephen, Michael and I made a truly bizarre Sunday night trip to The Libra Room on Commercial Drive; Stephen and I ended up in possession of one Pape and three Reba McEntire albums as a result. Emily came to visit me and after deciding that it wasn’t enough to eat and drink our way through Vancouver, we made a trip to Portland. (Stories of our bus trip, coming to a blog near you.) With Emily, Stephen and Doug, I celebrated my ‘nobody likes you when you’re 23’ birthday. I have since tried to convince everyone I know to come to The Cobalt with me so I can use their photo booth. The best laugh of my summer was either when Michael opened up his pantry and revealed almost a dozen jars of Bick’s sauerkraut, or when Stephen, Amanda and I reflected on the night we went to The Fox and ended up at the now infamous 24 hour pho restaurant. My peers have become my friends though the frequency with which the word plebs occurs in their conversations continues to alarm me. Just kidding, all of you keep my life interesting.

As for my progress on my Master’s degree, I’m hard at work on my thesis on Kendrick Lamar. I’m still trying to finish this degree as quickly as possible because I have realized I’m not meant to stay in academia. While I love the topic of my thesis, working on it in the initial stages has been more frustrating than rewarding. On bad days, this frustration is intensified by the fact that even with all the great people I have met here, I don’t have the support system in Vancouver I have at home. On good days, I remember that I will finish my thesis eventually and in the mean time I should probably join Stephen and Ivan on their quest for the best chicken and waffles in Vancouver. (They eat the chicken, I eat the vegetarian option.) The thought of spending four more months on a project I had hoped to finish by the end of August is daunting. To finish my thesis by the end of December would be to finish the degree eight months earlier than the university expects me to. The odds are against me but it will be worth it to finish sooner so I can wrap up and get on with the next phase of my life. What that phase will be, I’ll figure out when I write my Master’s thesis.

Portside Park, Vancouver
Portside Park, Vancouver

Now you know what I’ve been doing for the past year. Thank you for a hell of a year, Vancouver, and thank you to everyone who made the worst days bearable and the best days worth writing home about. Given the length of this post, this should suffice for personal updates for the next year. Until then, I’ll keep on trying to be the good kid, Van City.

Song of the Day: Pretty Pimpin by Kurt Vile

My Vancouver Apartment

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After I moved out of the Kitsilano Hell Hole, I moved into an apartment on a main street in Fairview with a friend from my program, Stephen. When Stephen first showed me the apartment, I thought it was nice enough that I would happy living in it and it was shitty enough to remind me that I haven’t hit the peak of my prosperity yet. I still feel the same way about it. The apartment is dilapidated and it makes me happy, though admittedly, a new kitchen counter and hardwood floors would only increase my affection for the place. The apartment has high ceilings and a lot of windows, so it gets great light. The kitchen and living room windows look out onto what has been dubbed the courtyard. The courtyard is a four by six foot square of black tar with poor drainage bordered on two sides by our apartment’s windows and on the other two sides by fifteen foot high cinder block walls. I could probably get onto the courtyard by way the window, but the window is only two feet wide and I’m afraid that I would either get stuck in the courtyard and have to ask the people above me to lower a rope so I could climb out the top or that the tar floor would collapse and I would end up in middle of the cafe below me. The bedroom windows look out onto what would function as a balcony if the space wasn’t occupied by a staircase. My view of the back alley and the people rifling through the recycling isn’t unobstructed by the staircase, but based on the staircase’s position, anyone coming down from the floor above has to make a turn that puts them directly in front of my large bedroom window. Essentially, if I have the blinds open and I’m sitting at my desk in my Perry the Platypus t-shirt, I’m looking out onto the people walking down the stairs like, ‘Hello there, friends! Thanks for stopping by!’ Needless to say, I close the blinds when I’m sleeping, dressing, eating granola with my fingers and practicing yoga inversions.

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Our apartment is surprisingly well furnished. Nearly everything in the apartment came from IKEA. It was either from the trip out to the Richmond IKEA Stephen and I made or it was purchased from the Icelandic man who lived here before us, Arnie. I refer to Arnie as our Icelandic benefactor because in addition to supplying us with a TV, light wood IKEA living room furniture, a rocking chair likely salvaged from the aforementioned alley and half a table certainly salvaged from the same place, he provided us with most of our IKEA dishes and cutlery. I got to meet Arnie before he moved to Sweden, so I find the traces of our Icelandic benefactor to be a source of joy in this apartment.

I don’t know my neighbours well but everyone I have met has been really friendly. It seems like everyone in the building is a student, a tattoo artist (a tattoo parlour operates out of the building’s first floor) or is unemployed. In the summer, my tattoo artist neighbours said, we’ll have a party up on the roof of the building. It’s easy to get up, they said. You just have to climb up a ledge and onto a table.

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At the start of January, Kelly came to visit me. I had given her advance warning about the shape the place was in, but she found the apartment to be nicer than the average European hostel. I also warned her that we can usually hear the people above us at night. On her first Saturday in my apartment, we heard the sounds of an acoustic guitar playing Neil Young, Nick Cave (I love when they play “Rye Whiskey”) and Iggy Pop with vocal duets. When Kelly remarked upon it, I told her they make music on the weekends. We enjoyed their music until they played variations on “The Passenger” by Iggy Pop for two hours and I said they were trying my patience.

A few days after Kelly arrived, Stephen’s friend Ivan arrived, which meant that for a  week we had four people living in a two bedroom apartment. Stephen and I gave Ivan a briefing about the place but there wasn’t any sound from upstairs to emphasize our point about our neighbours. “Just wait until Tuesday,” Stephen said. “We hear a lot from them on Tuesdays.” Generally, the people who live about us play video games late at night on Mondays and Tuesdays, accompanied by the sounds of profuse swearing and bass heavy music. All four of us were sitting in the living room on a Tuesday night when we suddenly heard the sounds of blistering heavy metal music. Yes, out of the silence of a Tuesday night, we heard the sounds of “Raining Blood” by Slayer. I have nothing against metal — Kelly heard more than she ever wanted to when I took her to see Fucked Up — but even my peace was disturbed. Luckily,  after an hour or so they were listening to “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne and the music that came after was comparably soothing. We still haven’t figured out where the people fit within the categories of student-tattoo artist-jobless. They either have schedules that make Tuesdays their Saturdays, or they are unemployed and are passionate about keeping routines.

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All in all, things are going well in my Vancouver apartment, in spite of — or perhaps, because of — the series of oddities that surround it. Though my life would start to feel kind of sad if I stayed here for the next decade reading Silvan Tomkins’ studies on affect while my neighbours played Pantera, I’m happy to be here right now.  Ivan is leaving after a month as our temporary roommate to move into his own Vancouver apartment that I hope for his sake is less of a character apartment than this one is. That means it will just be Stephen and I and our heavy metal neighbours, sharing a view of a back alley in Fairview until our next guests come to experience life in Vancouver.

My Song of the Day: Mona Lisa by Dead Sara

Stephen’s Song of the Day: Still Into You by Paramore

All photos were taken within five blocks of my apartment so while the view from my bedroom is over the alleyway pictured above, I’m only five blocks from water and mountains.