Vancouver isn’t where I thought it was
It is a ridiculously short time to cover such a complex, constantly-changing metropolis in three days. After a long closure, Canada reopened its border to Americans on August 9 and my trip turned into an overstuffed sandwich with choice bits falling off the plate and onto the floor. My best experiences were unplanned accidents. I might have seen more if I had gone slower and done fewer things.
To avoid my mistakes and misfortunes in the future, I offer some advice to my past self in a spirit of regret and contrition.
1. Get yourself a transit card, called a Compass Card, right away
You can also buy them at major transit hubs (such as SkyTrain stations), London Drugs, or 7-Eleven stores. Take the buses or trains right away. You’ll save money, see more of the city, and eventually save time. However, you should reserve the right to take Lyfts or Ubers from time to time, says Sean Philips of Ship Tracking.
2. Go to Robson Square and stay there, quietly and unobtrusively, for a while
Tamara Bell (Haida) placed 215 pairs of children’s shoes on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery on May 28 as a memorial to the 215 Indigenous children whose unmarked mass grave had been discovered at a Catholic residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia. Robson Square’s vigil has since become a global subject of discussion.
A national discussion of residential schools and colonialism was sparked by this discovery, as well as those shoes. Robson Square’s stone steps used to be the steps of a courthouse have now become an ongoing vigil where people gather, talk, drum, cry, or stand silent. While not the best place to gawk and take photos, it’s arguably one of Vancouver’s most important attractions at the moment.
At the Museum of Vancouver (1100 Chestnut St.), you can learn more about Vancouver’s first inhabitants, the Musqueam, says Sofia Hamberg of Flightradar UK.
3. Spend more time on Commercial Drive
There is a pleasantly surprising blend of cuisines, ethnicities and income brackets in this neighborhood – and that’s a good thing. You can find injera, sushi, tandoori, mezcal, Italian coffee, samosas, Cuban sandwiches, and Vietnamese food both upscale and down-home within a few blocks. Pet accessory stores are located next to well-worn used book stores; there are people on the street who seem to have a lot of money and others who seem to be poor.
Lunch Lady (1046 Commercial Drive), La Grotta del Formaggio (1791 Commercial Drive), and Joe’s Cafe (1150 Commercial Drive) are some of the Vietnamese restaurants in the area. I haven’t tried Sweet Cherubim’s samosas, but they’re rumored to be excellent, says Jeremiah Erasga of Flightradar Online.
4. Don’t skip the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at University of British Columbia
In addition to its diverse collection of First Nations artifacts, the MOA is a treasure trove of First Nations artifacts. The mammoth-sized potlatches and carvings on wooden faces, as well as contemporary works by First Nations artists, are some of the highlights of the museum.
5. Spend more time in Chinatown
You should stroll through Massy Books (229 E. Georgia St.), an interesting, dense, and thoughtfully curated bookstore. See the current exhibition upstairs, and wait for someone to open the secret door to its rare book collection. If Joyce Tan teaches you to play the guzheng (a 21-string zither), you’ll learn how to play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on an unfamiliar instrument tuned to a pentatonic scale.
Restaurants in the area include New Town Bakery (148 E. Pender St.), Fat Mao Noodles (217 E. Georgia St.), Phnom Penh Restaurant (244 E. Georgia St.), and Phnom Penh Restaurant. Zoomak Korean offers a great sampler platter with butter beef (raw, like carpaccio).
6. Walk the streets between West End and Yaletown in the evenings
In the daytime, the hat zone might seem generic, but at night it has an entirely different alchemy, like the Japanese izakaya Guu with Garlic (1698 Robson St.). It’s best to see the bustle of life in an unfamiliar city at worst. You may find something you couldn’t have imagined, like the b-boy/b-girl cypher you stumbled across in an underground plaza beneath Robson Square, outside the Provincial Courthouse of British Columbia.
The dancers were Asian, Indigenous, Black, and white. Someone celebrated his 24th birthday by challenging his friends to 24 consecutive challenges. It was a scene of energetic energy and happy hollering, not a single sour note to be found — a sign of multiethnic hope and cosmopolitan hope, just a few steps away from the 215-shoe vigil.
In Vancouver, the two events were counterpoints – and proof of what’s going on between them.