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Vancouver

I arrived in Vancouver at close to midnight. The air was soft, refreshingly cool, and almost about to rain when I exited the airport terminal building. Grabbed a cab, driven by the ubiquitous Punjabi (even here!) and arrived at the hotel within few minutes. Switched on the TV, which had blanket coverage of the US Democratic primaries (this time Puerto Rico). Crashed.

The following morning broke with fairly heavy cloud cover but some blue sky and sunlight also. Went down to the hotel lobby and muddled with the other guests in finding out how the breakfast process worked (I’m in a ‘budget’ hotel so its the usual bad layout, display, selection and service). By the time I had finished, what had been a semi sunlit morning had degenerated into total cloud cover, with black rollers lurking over the hills and the soft breeze turned to chilling squall. And so it remained to the end of the day.

I had a business meeting in the afternoon, so split my day into a before and after, strolling around town, seeing some of the sights and shooting a few photos (just snapshots).

Its 10 years since I’ve been on the Pacific coast (last time was Monterrey in California) and, for me, there’s always something of a ‘frontier’ sensation here. I don’t mean in the ‘Old West’ discovery sense, but the recognition that there is half a world of Ocean to cross before you see the mainland of Asia. The great, wonderful, immense, awesome Pacific.

Indeed, the very reason why Vancouver was built. The Brits needed/wanted a deep water Pacific port; they had been looking since the 1760s, found it in the 1790s, and seriously settled it in the 1860s to counter US moves westwards when they founded Seattle. It was all about trade then (lumber and furs) and its all about trade now.

The core of the city is built on a grid plan, stretching over a slim promontory with a ridged back. Imagine the back of a breaching whale and you have it. Or again, a smaller version of Manhattan, itself originally settled for the same purpose – end of the line for the export of furs and timber. Like New York, the greater part of the people live in other districts over the bay, places like West and North Vancouver; a sliver of high rise along the waterfront with a broad carpet of residential homes stretching up the mountain slopes behind the shoreline. Like them, they either drive into town or take the ferries that cross the dark grey waters regularly.

I was always curious to visit Vancouver. It is famous for great variety of its flowers, its natural scenic beauty and its soft, rainy climate. Well the last point is for real, and unfortunately that means I can’t see much of its natural beauty as the clouds are getting darker as they bend they way down towards the town.

My instant impression? This could be western Norway, or with a little imagination some parts of western Scotland. More like Norway, because here the houses are timber or timber clad, not those miserable, stunted brick houses the Scots live in. There’s even a trace of Australia here, the way the town ‘feels’, likely because of the same time in which both were first developed and the inevitable British colonial imprint.

The other thing Vancouver is famous for is the historic mixing of peoples; mostly Scots, Irish, Chinese, Native Americans. And this I can see too, which is delightful. Now its reinforced by tourism, as the families of these immigrants visit and as others from all over the world, like me, come to see this Pacific outpost.

Downtown in Canada Center there is a convention hall, built in the harbor in the shape of a cruise liner with its prow facing the Ocean. A real cruise liner, the “Norwegian Sea” is moored alongside. This is the beginning of the cruise season: from here people go up to see the islands of the NorthWest; I can hear the voices of Germans, Americans, English and Swedish aboard.

The Gaslight area of the town was its original center; fallen into decay it has been restored and is the tourist shopping street today.

Wandered around the stores a bit, looking at the many trinkets, reproduction totems and local NorthWest Indian artwork, which is based on the animals they knew and stylized in a way that almost anticipates 1960s swirls and colors.

I wandered up to Chinatown too; this area seems to be the new skid row, full of straggle bearded hobos curled in doorways, clumped around a liquor store and slumped over supermarket trolleys. Not a few times have I been asked for spare change today. That surprised me.

Such warmth as there was disappears in the late afternoon, so I head off for a warmer place.

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