...in a day
29.03.2006 19 °C
Arriving in Vancouver, I brushed with the crystal-meth charged homeless that congregate around the bus station, managing to avoid any unpleasant confrontations. The city has a real problem here and little evidence of any community projects to address the problem which is a shame for such a liberal place. Continuing en-route to my accommodation - the HI Vancouver Downtown - I met some interesting folks who again displayed the open and helpful Canadian welcome with bus route banter. Hostel was basic but friendly and clean which is all you can ask, I hear much nicer/safer than the HI Central. A little culture shocked as I re-established contact with 1) the real world and city life; and 2) the backpacker fraternity who at times I find a little self-indulgent for want of a better word, especially when you discover the extent of their ‘travels’ is living in the hostel for the past 3 months. Cynicism aside I met some really nice people, notably one chap from Cornwall who invited me to experience surfing English style. Unfortunately, none would join me for a beer so I headed out alone, only to venture unwittingly into a gay bar, the super-camp waiters and 6 foot paintings of naked men on the walls should have been a giveaway - I guess I was too tired to notice, no problem with gay bars at all but perhaps a single young male drinking alone might send out the wrong message, pint down the neck, quick exit and early to bed.
Setting aside only a single day to explore Vancouver having stayed in the city for 7 days on my previous trip in 1996, a whistle stop tour ensued and admittedly Lonely Planet was my guide verbatim. I was impressed - they do quite a good job if you haven’t got the time or inclination to think and explore for yourself.
Walking downtown from the hostel on Granville Avenue, I was overhauled by diversity of the people that live in this city - office workers supping on their soya-lattes, punks and layabouts hanging out (one begging for change under the slogan 'any spare change for weed, too lazy to work'), and tourists gazing skyward or eyes buried in their streetmaps. Neon signs advertising DRUGS and evening soirees amblazoned in 6 foot high hoardings created a neo-Tokyo style feel, intermingled with chrome-plated office blocks in a modern inside-out arcitectural style.
Arriving at Canada Place Way, I take in the remnants of the EXPO '86
exhibition that I was fortunate to visit as a kid, which has now been converted for use as a convention centre, on this day hosting an IT conference with the likes of Oracle and IBM representing. I am reminded of the 'real world' of laptop powerpoint presentations and business jargon speak as I eavesdrop on conversations.
I pass by a curious statue, a plastic looking bear that has been painted with a colourful depiction of Vancouver's sights.
Entitled 'Bears in the City', this is a British Columbia charity fund-raising initiative where 6,000 life size (approx. 7ft) custom formed fiberglass Spirit Bears are distributed across BC to local artists who create a unique design and apply it to the surface. The Bear becomes the artist's canvas. Once the work is complete, the Spirit Bear will be displayed in prominent public spaces around the participating cities.
The bear is actually the rare "Spirit Bear" or "Kermode Bear". A First Nation legend states that the Raven, their creator, made these bears white as a reminder of the time when the world was pure and clean and covered with snowdrifts and ice blue glaciers. Raven promised that these bears would live in peace and harmony forever.
The exhibit ends with the great 'Spirit Bear Auction', a gala event where the Spirit Bears will be put on the block and auctioned to the highest bidder. Spirit Bear auction proceeds will benefit the BC Lions Society's Easter Seal Operations and the Canucks for Kids Fund. read more here. Very nice.
Moving on I take in the view from the Sea Bus terminal looking over the bay, North Vancouver and up and beyond to Grouse (where they do flood-lit) night skiing) and Seymour Mountains and feel a aching in my belly to return to mothership. Around the corner, I stumble across the home of computer game legends Electronic Arts. The developers outside enjoying their morning smoke break quite the contrast to the business folks.
To get a better view of the city on this splendid blue sky day, I head to the Harbour Centre Tower opened in 1977 and at an impressive 177 metres, it certainly fit the bill, tho thankfully there was a convenient glass fronted elevator to save my poor whittling lungs. The view from the top was amazing and I attempted my first panoramic construction to re-create the view.
Next on the Lonely Planet's guide to life was Dr Sun Yat-Sen’s Classical Chinese Garden, which whilst not being an entirely Canadian affair, has some local significance given that Vancouver's Chinatown is the 2nd largest in North America, and Mandarin and Cantonese are the mother tongues in 30 per cent of Vancouver homes.A freebie was to be had next door to the real mccoy which was impressive, and provided a sneak glimpse of the real thing which won me over despite the hefty $9 entry fee.
Once inside you are whisked away to a magical Chinese wonderland with ornate summer houses, naturally-created limestone features in the shapes of dragons or depicting scenes, and the ebb and flow of Chee (?) passing on an invisible spiritual plane.
Amazingly the garden is constructed entirely of materials imported from China from the tiles on the mosaiced floor to the beams of. There are four major elements in the Garden: water, rock, plants and architecture, the relationship of which reflect the Taoist belief in Yin and Yang--opposites that must be in balance to create harmony, depicting all elements of the natural landscape--mountains, rivers, lakes, trees, valleys, hills--and, by bringing them together in a small space, to concentrate the life force, the qi, that animates them, or so they say. I was even inspired to take pictures of some pretty flowers such was the power of the energy flow.
Moving on, I completed my whistle-stop tour with a stroll, which quickly turned into a gentle sprint through Gas Town. Whilst it is steeped in historic charm and independence, infact being the birth place of the city back in 1867, it's back streets have deteriorated into a vibrant not-so-clean needle exchange so I'd not recommend hanging around. That said, I managed to grab a sneak peak of the statue of Gassy Jack who built the first boozer in town so is accredited with making the city, and the infamous Steam Clock that tells the time and blows steam out of many an orifice every 15 minutes - how quaint.
Time a pressing, there was only time to grab a Tim Horton's combo special before grabbing my oversized and overpacked rucksack (no snowboard bag in tow now thank the lord) and heading off to complete my Greyhound adventure - on to Horshoe Bay and ferry across to Nanaimo, Vancouver Island before I retreat once again to the wilderness that is Gabriola Island where my next over-verbatim tail will pick up.