As a born and raised Albertan, one of the central reasons I was drawn to Vancouver was, while lacking in originality, the mild winters. While still swollen by thick layers of clothing in Edmonton, I imagined life in Vancouver. I was buoyant with the anticipation of living without snow drifts, spinning tires, demotivating cold snaps and insidious black ice. After arriving in Vancouver, I recall meeting a profusion of other Canadians, in particular, fellow Albertans, who also identified with my need to liberate myself from a cold climate.
Those who are hugged by East Hastings’, relatively speaking, warm curbs have also migrated to Vancouver as a mecca. As a newcomer to both Vancouver and the east side, I became instantly acquainted with the culture of the impoverished, mentally ill and addicted of East Hastings, as my bus route to my evening serving job ran straight through it. Many Vancouverites that I spoke to conceived of this area as dangerous, and I did observe many of the harsh realities of life on East Hastings: a gaunt woman scuttling away from a not-so-intimate encounter in a back alley, sour odours from cans being collected for recycling refunds rattling and leaking on the bus and, once, an aggressive passenger on the end of a bus driver’s punch. However, my friends who had experienced the area first-hand informed me that East Hastings is not teeming with gangs of cunning knife-wielders who stab trespassers indiscriminately. Instead, East Hastings resulted from the closure of a mental health hospital brought about by funding cuts. From this explanation, I developed a greater understanding of the East Hastings community, sometimes interacting with the residents during my bus rides, but primarily traversing the street safely as an unobtrusive passerby.
At the same time that I was becoming acquainted with East Hastings, I was greeted with culinary sensations, courtesy of Vancouver’s multicultural nature. My eating habits have been enriched by the discovery of Taro bubble tea, where the eventful shaking and packaging process precedes the taste of sugar saturated purple milk mingling with the unanticipated delight of chewy, plastic-like pearls. I was bombarded by the plentiful availability of sushi shops, where I can compare, declare one shop “my favorite sushi spot”, and then bring friends. Further, I had my first encounter with Thai food on Commercial Drive, where I make it a habit to gobble a dish of saucy sweet and sour chicken with vegetables.
After a few years of my east Vancouver experiences, I left Vancouver to live in South Korea for a year. When I came back, I began living in the west end, a very different atmosphere than east Vancouver. I was struck by Vancouver’s cultural diversity, a stimulating contrast to South Korea’s homogeneous society. Prompted by observing the teeming groups of ESL students in my area, I began one-on-one ESL tutoring with students from South Korea, China and Germany. I spoke with several students who were intent on becoming permanent residents as a result of what they had encountered: Vancouver’s multiculturalism, acceptance, natural beauty and opportunities. Further, we discussed topics that have challenged my cultural paradigms, such as how Germany provides generous social support, making it easier for prostitution to be a woman’s choice, rather than a last resort resulting from poverty.
After several years of living in Vancouver, I have been exposed to the compelling, delectable and enlightening elements of the city, both embedded and transient. As anticipated, the weather has been congenial. However, it is my unexpected brushes with other cultures that have led me to realize that Vancouver possesses much more than one element worth acknowledging.