Embracing traditions, food, art and history from around the world

It’s been six months since I moved to Vancouver, and life in this metropolis is a major contrast to the quaint towns and small cities I’ve been living in over the past 10 years. Ethnic populations have a presence even in the most rural parts of Canada, but nowhere near the degree they do here in Vancouver.

One of the easiest ways to appreciate other cultures is through cuisine. There’s a strong Middle Eastern presence in my neighbourhood – within two blocks of my West End apartment, there are six places to get a falafel. Since this period of isolation has begun, a seventh falafel restaurant has opened up. With this many competitors in the area, there’s a rich quality that goes into every spice, sauce and protein, so the local shawarma dishes are far more delicious than what I’m used to (though I haven’t tried the new place yet).

Vancouver’s West End is home to people from many other backgrounds as well, which can also be noticed through the restaurant scene. Within a short walk from where I live are several restaurants offering dishes from Japan, Italy, Korea, India, Greece and Mexico. But I don’t need to be out for supper to appreciate the community’s diversity – anybody taking a stroll will hear many different languages being spoken, such as Farsi, French, Spanish, Mandarin and Punjabi.

Beyond my own neighbourhood, I’ve been able to enjoy Chinatown, most notably during the Chinese New Years in late January, when 2020 was commemorated as the Year of the Rat. I marched in the parade as part of my work-team, and I remember how peaceful and serene it felt to be surrounded by the music (particularly the Guzheng), costumes, and dancing during the celebration. But while the parade is a great reason to visit Chinatown, nobody needs to wait for a special occasion to appreciate the Chinese-inspired architecture of that neighbourhood.

Member of indigenous rock band Tribal X. | Photo by Dan Walton

I have a colleague at work who grew up in Iran, and I have a much better understanding of Middle Eastern politics thanks to him. Between regional rivalries, the popularity of political leaders, and the background of each government and war – he is much more familiar with the issues than some people I know, so we always have compelling conversations. Although history was one of my favourite subjects, curriculums in Canadian schools don’t extend far beyond what happened in present-day Canada and Europe.

We may not be able to learn about every culture in school, but right here in Vancouver, we can observe a huge array of human history at the Museum of Anthropology. Collection of artifacts many thousands of years old have been found in communities spanning across the globe. When trying to interpret the facial expressions that were carved into masks and sculptures, it is interesting to observe how some symbols and designs were universal among all cultures, while other features were completely unique to certain regions.

I love photography and earlier this year I volunteered to take pictures for two groups of musicians – Tribal X, an Indigenous rock band, as well as Higher Roots, which is a new reggae band. It was an interesting challenge to capture and reflect the cultures those artists were inspired by through photography, and I felt like both of those creative collaborations yielded great photos and experiences.

With the measures in place to deal with COVID-19, exploring new parts of the city isn’t really happening at the moment. My girlfriend and I were planning to attend the Nowruz Celebration in West Vancouver in March, but unfortunately we’re going to have to wait until next year. However, all this extra time at home has given us the opportunity to watch Tiger King on Netflix … now there’s a fascinating foreign culture.