Reflections on Vancouver

My overall impression of Vancouver is that of tranquillity. Which is surprising considering it is a bustling metropolis. Maybe it’s the fact that it is surrounded by still water, followed by pine forests. Maybe it’s the mountains in the distance. Or the fact that even in the centre of this city, it still feels calm.

Vancouver skyline

My BF kept happily saying “crime doesn’t happen in Canada!”, and I had to keep reminding him not to be complacent, and that nowhere is a utopia. But it didn’t help my case when we went to a restaurant and the locals went up to the bar to collect their order, leaving their wallets and phones on the table! My BF clearly tried to test his own theory by leaving his bag in said restaurant. We feared the worst, but happily, the very honest cleaner had found it and put it behind the counter for us! 🙂

Gastown

At another cafe, our food was brought out by a man who explained “I’m just helping out”. He gave us our food and then upon realising we had no cutlery, went and fetched us some. We were like “Whaddya mean, you’re just helping out?? do you work here??”. When my BF went up to order something else, he noticed the man was sitting at one of the tables, so we concluded that he was a customer! But I later saw the man behind the counter. So we’re not sure if he was an extremely helpful customer, or a confused employee 🙂

But it’s possible he was just being helpful – at a busy Tim Hortons, I noticed a lady was about to leave, so I hovered by her booth to snag her seat. She left and cleared her plates, but then came back with napkins to wipe down the table, explaining that it was covered in crumbs before she got there!! That was really going above and beyond the line of duty!

Chinese Garden

However, there was also a darker side of Vancouver. The number of street homeless people was quite staggering. You see homeless people in every city; it is obviously not just a Canadian problem. In fact the worst I’d seen so far was San Francisco, although in the UK I can see the problem getting worse, especially in the last couple of years. But in Vancouver the problem was worse still; by which I mean every few metres on Granville Street where the bars are, there was homeless people who had set up camp and would ask you for money. There was a homeless person outside every 7-11 convenience store who would ask you for money on the way in and out. But worse still was East Hastings Street, near Chinatown. When we arrived in Vancouver, our hotel told us not to go there. But typical us, we always end up accidentally wandering into neighbourhoods we shouldn’t be in, just like in Panama City! When we reached East Hastings Street I realised that this was the place we had been told to avoid. The pavement was crowded with homeless people, some of whom had set up shelters to stay there.  Also, in Central Vancouver we saw a well-dressed older gentleman (about 50-60 years, wearing a nice jacket) sleeping on a hot air vent, presumably because it was warm. It was desperately sad.

Now I don’t want to be unfair on Vancouver; as I said, with the global recession and cuts to welfare, people are struggling like never before, and this is a global problem, not just Vancouver. But I couldn’t help wondering why the problem seemed worse in Vancouver when it seems like such a utopia in most other ways.

For the tourist, the implications are few – just avoid East Hastings Street, and be aware that you will be asked for money frequently. For most locals going about their day-to-day lives, I guess the same applies. I imagine that street-homelessness is a complex issue, and I’m no expert, but I hope local authorities and charities are providing assistance and support.

Vancouver is a harmonious multicultural city located in an area of natural beauty; maybe the closest to a perfect city that I have been to… but there is more work to do.

Sunset

Next blog: Beartooth Highway, Montana, USA

Previous blog: How to… Not get Travel Sick!

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