Category Archives: British Columbia

Vancouver is pretty, but it’s not for me

Mon pays

Most people have a strong attachment to their home. Adopted or native, home is where we build our life, make connections, are part of a community. Home is where we feel safe, where we feel loved, and where we can leave a part of ourselves.

Someone criticizing your home can sometimes feel like a criticism of you. You feel a sense of personal slight, like there’s something wrong with you for liking a place over another that, in your opponent’s eye, is better. It makes me twinge when people say something bad about Montréal, even though I am aware of its faults. Because despite its problems and the bad things about it, it’s still the place that I consider as my home.

On my second visit--I was already in love

The Cult of Vancouver

Vancouverites are fiercely protective of their city. And with reason: it’s beautiful and it has a lot going on for it. But for the last few days, this civic pride has shown a darker side to me: that for some people, criticism is not acceptable. BPOE, they say; “Best Place on Earth”. Questioning this mantra is close to sacrilegious.

I moved to BC in 2008; spent 2 years in Victoria, then 10 months in Edmonton, then 6 months in Vancouver, then back to Victoria. I don’t know what it was like before the hype surrounding the Olympics. Some people tell me they ruined everything. Others tell me they made everything better.

I got caught in the hype too: I WANTED to be in Vancouver, now, because everyone else did. The world watched Vancouver, and Vancouver basked in its mountainous and oceanic glory. Vancouver is modern. Vancouver is hip. Vancouver is welcoming. Vancouver this, Vancouver that. The PR campaign was well executed. It worked. I moved there after Edmonton, thinking “this is my chance. I’m young, I’m smart, I have a lot to give. I can build a life here.” But Vancouver, it seems, had no place for me. It’s not a bad thing–there is one somewhere else. But Vancouver promised, and Vancouver didn’t deliver.

Coming out

I’ve been flooded with comments about my courage for, somehow, “coming out” about my frustration with Vancouver. But I am far from the first one to express this. Numerous articles from actual objective journalists have preceded me. I did not live this experience in a void; nor was this experience devoid of good things.

If there is anything that my academic experience has taught me, it’s to question everything. I’m not always diligent in this, though; in fact, if I was a police story stereotype, I’d be the “shoot first, ask questions later” kinda gal. Vancouver didn’t force me; I came willingly.

From the top of Mont St-Hilaire, looking at my native valley.

Asking questions

But now, I am asking questions. What does “best place on Earth” mean? Is it the natural beauty? There’s beauty everywhere; one only needs to look. My native valley doesn’t have a mountain range, but it has a peaceful river nourishing a fertile soil. It has a feature that’s unique in the world: random magma bursts in an otherwise flat landscape, eroded by the eons and dotting the valley with small but picturesque “mountains”. It’s beautiful too.

But now, I am asking questions. What should “the premium of living in Vancouver” really be? If the “premium” becomes only accessible to the wealthy, then the city loses the economic diversity that makes it work. I’m no economist, but this is not happening because so many people are flocking to Vancouver, trying to “make it” and take the lower paid jobs while waiting for the good ones. And waiting. And waiting.

But now, I am asking questions. The government has the power to control the rise in rent prices. I hear many community organizations requesting regulations, affordable housing, a moratorium on luxury condos. Why is no one doing anything about this? My analysis of it is that the real estate market is the cash cow of the local and provincial governments–but where will it stop? When Vancouver is a phantom city populated only by those rich enough to afford the inflated housing prices? The people who make a city vibrant–its students, its artists, its immigrants–are not going to stay.

But now, I am asking questions. On what scale is Vancouver rated a “world-class city”? Is it the amount of business done there? Probably not. Where is the “world-class” business being run in Vancouver? Is it the amount of foreign visitors? Maybe, but then on that scale, Cuba can be considered a world-class destination as well. What does “world-class” mean? Does it mean “for jet-setters only”?

“We need? What about you need?”

My expectations were not out of measure. I wanted a professional job with chances of advancement that paid enough to make a decent living. In my head, a decent living means having a nice home for at most 30% of my net income, to be able to pay my debts and save, and to be able to enjoy entertainment and shopping. These expectations may have been too high for Vancouver to fulfill, and I only have myself to blame for that. However, I can also see that a city with which I feel in love in 30 seconds is wasting its potential on trying to look good, but becoming empty inside. The Vancouver Playhouse closing is a symptom of a much bigger problem that everyone notices, but no one dares to talk about.

As I see it, the amount of restaurants is amazing, but it’s also a smokescreen. “Eat”, they say, “forget about the homeless, and the illegal suite you’re living in. Forget about the businesses leaving, about the empty condo tower across the street. See all these tourists enjoying themselves. You should feel this way too! Eat and drink and forget.”

But when you’re done drinking, when you’re done eating, when you’ve digested and sobered up, what is there left? Empty condo towers and offices downtown, arts organizations closing, smart people leaving, and no way to provide for a family. If Vancouver is your home, I’m sorry for saying bad things about it. It’s not about you; in the end, it’s about what I want for my life, my future and that of my family.

My conditions–and they are MINE–were not met. If it meets yours, then I wish you all the happiness in the world. As for me, I’ll be looking elsewhere.

Advertisements

6 Comments

Filed under British Columbia, Life, Personal, Thoughts

“Don’t Move to Vancouver”: Why I Changed My Mind After 6 Months

It's pretty enough.

***Note: Due to the sudden (and rather unexpected) popularity of this post, I will fiercely moderate the comments. I thank everyone who shared their thoughts and stories with me; I encourage you to write your own and let me know on Twitter (@anabellebf) or on my blog’s Facebook page so I can link up to it.

This post is entirely my own opinion, based on my personal experience and has no claim to objectivity. It does not mean to represent in any way the “truth” about Vancouver. It just represents my truth. I’ve recently written another post that attempts to put some things in perspective. Please give it a look.

While you’re here, why don’t you drop by my home page for my latest post, and subscribe by email or RSS? I do like to talk about other things :)***

There’s this thing we have back East about Vancouver: we think it’s a mystical land where there is no snow in the winter and summers aren’t crushingly hot. There are beautiful mountains and glass skyscrapers and the ocean. Everyone is a hippie and people are friendly and mellow because they all do yoga and run while breathing clean, wholesome ocean air. You can grow pot on your lawn and it doesn’t get you arrested. There is no snow. There is no snow. There is no snow.

You should have heard me in my first two or three months here: “I’ve always wanted to live here. It’s so beautiful. There’s no way I can go back home after seeing this, being here! You should totally move here. Yeah, it’s expensive, but this view makes up for it!” I was gaga for Van; if it had been a person I would have waited in line for an autograph.

Now, not only am I leaving, but I never want to come back.

So long! Adieu! It’s been nice, but now I feel like a young naïve girl who’s been tricked into having sex with a pretty but vapid jock.

Despite the good things about Vancouver, it has disappointed me on so many levels that I wonder why anyone in their right minds would choose to stay here. Let’s see a breakdown, shall we?

Disappointing thing #1: The job market

I wasn’t expecting it to be easy, don’t get me wrong. Times are hard and jobs are scarce, but I am a highly trained, skilled and experienced person and when barely 15% of the jobs you apply for actually call you back, you’re starting to take it a bit personally. “Is it me? Am I not good enough?” you ask in tears as the pretty jock dumps you after he’s had what he wanted.

There are no jobs here, and when a good one pops up, the competition is so fierce that you have to send a singing telegram to get noticed. I thought my French would give me an edge–might as well speak Catalan for the little it did for me.

And IF you get one of these rare jobs, the salaries are in no way high enough to support basic living. Vancouver’s minimum living wage is 19.14$. 19$ an hour is somewhere around 40K a year, BEFORE any taxes and deductions are taken. And that’s just basic survival for a family with two full-time, full year income earners. No car, no luxuries, probably no savings either.

So what’s wrong with this picture? 19$ an hour is a lot, you say? Let’s see what else.

Disappointing thing #2: The cost of living

Okay, this isn’t exactly a disappointment. I knew about the cost of living because of the two years I spent in Victoria. But even then, the cost of living here is ludicrous. How many people must cram into a 1500$/month 2-bedroom apartment just to make ends meet? “Why aren’t they moving somewhere cheaper?” you ask.

Well, there isn’t anything cheaper. Well, actually, there is, but the cheaper stuff is often illegal, unsafe and unhealthy. I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to rent my room for 500$ because I know the person who owns the house and they have accepted me in the family. The real estate costs are driving the rental costs at levels where even renters won’t be able to afford it anymore. When a one-bedroom rent for one person can easily eat out 50% of your monthly income, there is something deeply, deeply wrong with the market.

And it’s not just about the rents. The food is also ludicrously expensive. On a comparative scale to Montréal, the food can often be close to double what I used to pay back home. Big brick of cheap, Kraft, orange cheddar cheese? 15$. Back home? 8$, 6$ on special. 5 chicken breasts? 15$. Back home? 7-ish$.

So it’s not just about the rent prices; it’s also about the sky-high prices of everything from food to entertainment to personal care items.

Disappointing thing #3: The heart

It’s not like there’s nothing to do in Vancouver. Actually, I was pretty busy during the months I spent there. But the city has, how can I explain it… no soul. It is as superficial and empty as the endless condo towers growing like weeds.

There are good people in Vancouver who give this city some spark and light; but most times I felt no joie de vivre, no… happiness. Everyone is working so hard to maintain the appearance of being affluent that they lose their souls in the process. They lose their ability to enjoy life. And what good is a city surrounded by nature if you can’t find it in your heart to enjoy it to its fullest because you are worried about bills all the time?

Montréal might not be as pretty, but people there have fun. And there’s fun enough for everyone, not just the pretty 18-year-olds. Sometimes it felt to me like Vancouver’s obsession with food is masking a deep dissatisfaction. An interesting study topic for a cultural anthropologist?

Conclusion

I used to love Vancouver as a tourist… but staying there made me hate it. How many smart, motivated young people must you scare out with your over-inflated prices and lack of joy before you realize that you are headed to an economic and human disaster, Vancouver?

Related links:

Avenue Edmonton: Paradise Found

Cunting Linguist: Vancouver, I love you but I’m leaving

Cunting Linguist: The deeper reasoning behind my leaving

Miss Manifesto: Vancouver, Lost

BC Business, Dec 12 2011: Housing has become Vancouver’s toxic asset

Sandy Garossino: Unaffordable (That’s what you are)

Maclean’s, June 11 2011: The real problem with Vancouver’s outrageous house prices

98 Comments

Filed under British Columbia, Personal, Rants

The Russian Ship at Canada Place

Imagine my surprise when, this morning, while on my way to North Vancouver for a job interview, I saw this docked at Canada Place:

IMG_0398

I thought I’d heard about this ship on Twitter this morning; it was all the buzz, especially from people who work on the waterfront.

After a bit of research (not really hard, really), I discovered that this is the Slava-class missile cruiser Varyag, open for visits today (sadly, today is over) and tomorrow (yay!) from 9AM to 12PM.

I can’t visit it myself, sadly (wish I had known before), but if you can take an early lunch tomorrow, it’s probably going to be your only chance to visit an actual Russian military ship in a long, long time!

More information on this news story from The Province.

Leave a comment

Filed under British Columbia, Events

Home Is Where the Heart Is

I know, this is pretty much a cliché, but clichés exist for a reason–they’re often a reflection of a reality that’s so ordinary that people stop thinking about it.

I’ve moved 11 times in the last 10 years, and I know I’m not quite settled yet. I love Vancouver, I love its majesty and the feeling that anything is possible here. I love how it makes me feel young and hip and part of a community.

Vancouver also has its issues: besides being so damn expensive, there’s also a hidden, cutthroat attitude to it. Here, you make it or you’re nobody.

Despite all of that, despite how much attraction I feel to Vancouver, Victoria is more synonymous with “home”. The main reason lies in my SO living there. I only really feel home with him; however crazy, social, amazing my life has become in Vancouver, not being with him makes it all seem… less relevant. Victoria was also my first home in BC and I will always feel more “at home” here.

I’ve been having these fantasies lately, fantasies of moving to a remote cabin somewhere in the Gulf Islands to write. With him. Let go of the need for fashionable clothes and a bus pass and eating in fancy restaurants. I just want to do what I love–writing–with the person I love most.

3 Comments

Filed under British Columbia, Life, Thoughts, Writing

A day on Granville Island (reviews and thoughts)

On Saturday August 10th, I spent the day on Granville Island to attend two Fringe plays, Fortunate Son and Big Shot. (You can see reviews respectively here and here.)

Granville Island had always been a place I’d wanted to visit whenever I came in town between 2008 and 2010 and never got to see, so I was happy to finally get a reason to go.

Yes, it’s cramped, touristy and crazy (especially during festivals like Fringe), but it’s also a great spot to find fine farmer’s market food, crafty and artsy stuff and indie shows always playing, Fringe or not Fringe.

We were starving after the first play, so we had lunch at Cat’s Social House right behind Studio 1398. It was quick and convenient and we didn’t feel like walking around to find another restaurant.

The menu was simple and straightforward. I had the roasted tomato linguine (half-plate) with blackened chicken. The chicken was a bit spicy for my taste, but that’s the usual way to make blackened chicken. The pasta was good and left me extra tomatoes to put on my bread.

The highlight of the meal was the pink sangria. Sweet, refreshing and delicious: a definite must if you want drinks on a weekend afternoon on Granville Island.

After our meal, we wandered around the island, visiting the Granville Island Toy Factory store (ask me about the one thing you’ll never see Jedis do…) and other stores in the Kid’s Market and wandering the Farmer’s Market in search of a bottle of water (not as easy as it seems).

We then hopped on the AquaBus for a quick trip to Yaletown; I wanted to take my love to a hat store I’d noticed on Hamilton last time I was there (he loves hats). After a few drinks at Earls, we headed back on the AquaBus to meet with Lois and her friends at the Dockside restaurant.

I’m not going to review Dockside because I only had small shrimp entrée, but one thing it has is a view. Lois had made reservations for the patio and it’s one of the nicest I’ve seen, Montréal included (Montréal doesn’t have these kinds of views anyway).

There was a wedding reception when we were there, and I can understand why the space is attractive. Beautiful outdoor furniture, a great view of Yaletown and the downtown core, and an excellent food choice. If I had any budget for my own wedding (and didn’t have to do it in Montréal considering all my family is there) I might consider it!

We headed back home after Big Shot, exhausted but happy with our day. I look forward to future events on Granville Island, except maybe for the fact that it’s a b*tch to get to by transit. Translink should think about an easier way for people to get there, especially those coming on the Millenium or Expo Line from Burnaby for whom taking the 50 is actually a detour.

3 Comments

Filed under British Columbia, Restaurants, Reviews

My 4 Favourite Things About Vancouver

Why did I choose Vancouver as my adoptive city, and did not go back to Montréal or stay in Edmonton? Well, it wasn’t hard to leave Edmonton, and even though Montréal is attractive because of the cheap rent and my family there, the choice to move to Vancouver was ultimately a matter of the heart rather than the head.

The landscape

Montréal has a mountain… or rather a hill. And where I’m from is pretty picturesque if you think about it:

Mont St-Hilaire from Beloeil

Mont St-Hilaire, as seen across the river from Beloeil. Credit: Wikiabou

A “mountain” I’ve hiked a hundred times, a pretty church, a river. And yet, there’s something about Vancouver that simply puts me in awe every time.

Boats, Stanley Park, mountains

Boats, Stanley Park and the mountains behind

There’s just something about the landscape here that takes my breath away.

The shopping

Vancouver is VERY fashionable. Just as much as Montréal, but on different terms. Montreal is a mix of business and casual; in Vancouver people dress up to a level I’ve only seen in the swankiest bars in Montréal. To go for dinner at the corner chinese restaurant.

The shopping here is varied and easy. Can’t go on Robson without leaving with some new frocks…

The beat

If you’ve ever lived on the East Coast, you know what I’m talking about. Here everything is so much more relaxed. People take it easy. There’s something about the air, about all the coffee shops and the occasions to be outdoors that makes this place an easy one. The hippies might be rarer these days, but their legacy remains.

The food

Oh my god. The food. It’s easy to get bad food in Montréal… here you need to dig a little deeper. Even the food trucks have renowned chefs! I still need to visit more restaurants–low budget obliging–but my dream day would be a day spent on Denman trying every single restaurant.

I might have mentioned the climate, but it’s an obvious one.

What do you like about Vancouver? If you were born here, what you’re favourite thing about it? If you’re an expat like me, what made you stay?

3 Comments

Filed under British Columbia, Thoughts

Downtown Vancouver Wanderings

I’ve been downtown before during my previous trips to Vancouver, but I always stayed around Robson and Denman. So when I had to go to ICBC near Burrard station, I thought I would be able to find my way.

Wrong.

After taking a pretty picture of the outside of Burrard Station

Burrard station

They don't have those in Montréal...

(very pretty urban park, I love those), I set out to find the fabled ICBC office.

Dear readers, if you know me at all you know that I pride myself on my sense of orientation. I always know where I am and where I am going, where is north and where is east.

Not this time. Because of the skyscrapers, I could not find the mountains to the north. Because of the random hills everywhere, I could not orient myself through ascent or descent.

I must have looked like a silly tourist as I was clutching my iPhone, desperately trying to figure out which direction to walk into to meet the point on the map where the ICBC web site told me their office was.

In the end, I didn’t even have to go outside: the office was in the Royal Place Mall (or something), which I could have accessed by the Burrard station. But then, I wouldn’t have seen the pretty park. Serendipity.

A half hour later, as I confidently walked east towards Richards and Gastown (a section of the city I know much better) and my meeting with Raul of Hummingbird604.com, I realized that I was born to live in this city. That no matter what it throws at me, I will always find my way.

Bring it on, Vancouver. I’m ready!

1 Comment

Filed under British Columbia, Thoughts