How did we end up living in Canada? Why in Vancouver? I received these questions several times during the last week. The answer is quite simple. Forestry. For a long I thought that my geography background has an advantage, but this time the forestry side opened doors. I will participate in a research project for 3 months that includes field work on Vancouver island as well. Hopefully I will not meet with too many bears!
In a wooden house far from the skyscrapers
I always imagined Vancouver as a seaside city of skyscrapers in the middle of mountains. I was wrong. Only the Downtown has the huge metal and glass buildings, but not only those. The oldest part of the city is the Chinatown, with smaller, cute buildings and dirty side streets with homeless people. Besides the downtown area, the city is full of wooden family houses and smaller buildings. It is very green, millions of parks and trees are everywhere and you constantly going up or down a hill. We live in one of the wooden houses 4 km from the center and 12 km from the university. The floor is not even, it is a bit cracking, but I already feel like at home – which we don’t have already for half a year!
The university campus and people
I have visited the UBC campus on my second day because of work. It is huge! A separate part of the city. Parks and few golf fields separate it from the city. All the services you need can be found there. Museums and exhibitions are also the part of the campus, not only the teaching and research buildings, dormitories, shops and restaurants. Hundreds of options to get your lunch. Either in the university or just nearby in some of the buffet restaurant places. The prices are similar to the Finnish ones, just here I have much bigger choice of places. Asian food is very popular, you can choose among sushi, Vietnamese, Chinese, Philippine or Indian food, just to mention the most common ones I’ve seen.
I was surprised to see such a mix of people in Vancouver. About third of the people belongs to Chinese minority and about 20% to other Asian countries. European decedents are around 40%. The Aboriginal population is a very small ground, only a few thousand people belongs to the First Nations.
We are in the English part of Canada, but not entirely. 52% of Vancouver residents have a first language other than English. We hear often Chinese or other Asian languages spoken among people on the street or on the bus, and some French speakers are also around.
The lab where I work is well equipped and based on the first week experiences have friendly people. Everyone seems as relaxed as in Finland. Less formal than in Hungary. The group have a weekly hang-out event as well… why didn’t we have anything like that in Finland?
I was not aware of Vancouver’s role in Hollywood movies until recently. The city turned out to be one of the most popular and important centers in North America, they even call it “Hollywood North”. The X-files was filmed here already in the 90’s, but to be honest, I cannot recall any place from it. Considering the more recent movies I’ve seen, 50 Shades of Grey and Deadpool also were shot in the city. We recognized couple of places from both movies: the seawall, the harbor, the Beaver Lake (see below), shots from the Dunsmuir Viaduct with the Science World in the background and so on.
Public transport versus cycling
The public transportation (transit, as they call it) is not the best. The Skytrain lines connect the downtown well, but they don’t go to the UBC campus. Only buses and trolleybuses. That takes ages even though the school year haven’t started yet. My boss warned me that next week I will need double time for commuting. And I use the express bus service.
About prices: it is quite expensive. A monthly pass is $91 and it is only valid per calendar month. One 90 minute ticket is $2.75, but if you have an electronic card (which I luckily do) ‘only’ $2.1. There are no ticket options for short rides, so better to walk if you want to go only few stops and you don’t have monthly ticket.
The cheaper transportation option is cycling and a lot of people choice that. It is also more convenient where only buses operate. The bike route network is developed and the traffic is mostly okay for cycling. Even busy streets have cycling lanes. As a plus, you can take your bike on the buses and trolleybuses. In front, so you don’t piss off other passengers. Love the idea!
Everything is bigger
The cars are big. The roads are wide. The food products are in big portions. Everything is bigger than in Europe. It feels like that we are in the American movies – which is not so far from reality considering how many films were shot here.
The traffic lights are also different for pedestrians. It shows a stop hand when it is ‘red’, and a walking man in white (!!) when it is ‘green’. I have problems noticing when I have a right to go, especially on sunny days. I think it is much easier to see the European version of bright green colors.
Karol has issues with toilets. First of all, he does not like to pee to a ‘lake’. Indeed, toilets are full of water! They fill up very much after flushing. His other concern is the hot and cold water tap. They are separated, like in our childhood, luckily there is one tap where the water comes out unlike in Great Britain.
Many but tiny parks
The city is full with parks and they even plan to establish more! It is important to note that they named every green area as a park, does not matter how big, or actually how tiny they are. Many cities could learn from them still.
Stanley Park is next to the Downtown of Vancouver and over 400 hectare big! The park is basically a forest on a peninsula, surrounded by the seawall which has a cycling and walking path. It is 22 km and it is the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront walkway. There are several beaches, one swimming pool, nice rocks and old lighthouse on the way. In the inner part we have seen only the Beaver Lake so far (few outdoor scenes from 50 Shades of Grey were filmed here). The totem poles are also very famous spot in the park, but we didn’t wander there yet.
Another park we have visited was the Central Park in Burnaby (Metro Vancouver). We participated in the weekly orienteering training there. It was weird and actually very easy to do it in the park. It was flat and easy to run. We only had to fight against the 27°C (in shadow) and not to picture squirrels while running! 🙂
Nudity is not so big deal
The Wreck Beach is just on the seaside of the university campus. Not built-in, not developed. You can just stay on the shore and no sellers will approach you, although there is a place to buy snacks and beach towels. Huge tree trunks are everywhere. And sand. And nudity. The beach has optional clothing on over 6 km length. So it is really up to you if you wear anything or not. After living so long in Finland it didn’t feel weird. We got used to going to sauna naked with unknown people or with friends, but here it felt less natural. We have seen mostly older men nude, very few ladies or girls. Otherwise the water was quite cold. I’d suggest to swim at one of the beaches at Stanley Park.
The most livable city?
Vancouver is listed as the third most livable city in the world in 2016. Hard to believe, because you keep seeing signs that they will prosecute shoplifters, assaults against bus drivers is a criminal offense. There are also posters that black lives matter. For me it shows an insecurity and feels so negative. Maybe they just remind people to the law? We will have time to figure it out. The other issue I want to mention is the trash. The city is dirty. Litter everywhere, most of the district does not have any special design by at the first glance. Not to mention the rent prices… On the other hand the parks, the seaside, the mountains can balance it out?
Small talk and people
Karol often emphasis that I am from the “south” and Hungarians are very talkative, hugging and open. Here I feel the same. Although most of the phrases are just for politeness. I think during this one week more people talked to me on the streets, on board of buses, during shopping or hiking than in Finland during the last 5 years. I need to get used to small talk again. 🙂
After our first week we are glad being here. We will slowly explore the city and the surrounding. In the next few month our posts and pictures will be from this new city and continent.