Emigrating

Dancing In The Park

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Yesterday we went to Belcarra Park.  We did a nice little hike, had a picnic on the rocks overlooking Burrard Inlet and returned to the park to enjoy the beachcombing, play park and people-watching.  All was peaceful and pleasant.  Then a large group of young adults, who looked to be of Middle Eastern descent, set up a huge pair of speakers and switched on the music at full volume.  Awful, booming bass beats overlaid with ululating vocals echoed all around the park and disturbed the peace.  We huffed and tutted and shot angry glances their way but they didn’t seem to understand the British code for “Shut Up That Foul Racket”.  Then they started dancing – proper organized group dancing, all in a ring holding hands and laughing and joking.  They were having such a good time, people started to watch and then a couple of little Korean ladies got up from their picnic table and started dancing.  Then they moved over to the group and tried copying the moves.  When the song ended everyone laughed and applauded, and they found “Gangnam Style” and everyone danced to that.  By the time we were ready to pack up, they had started playing traditional Korean music and the ladies were teaching the group Korean dance moves.

I love Canada, and our amazing neighbours with all their ethnic diversity, curiosity and sense of fun.  Happy Canada Day!

Vancouver in 3 Days… Ready, Steady, Go!

Running Race

Our friends are coming to visit in July, just staying for 3 days before they take the train over the mountains to Calgary and on to Toronto.  It’s their first trip across The Pond, so the whole family got together to produce our list of What You Need To See In Vancouver In 3 Days.  Here is the email we sent them:

“I chatted with the girls about what they think is essential to get a flavour of Vancouver in 3.5 days, and we all agree that Mountains, Sea, Stanley Park and Granville Market need to be on the list. One thing you need to know about Vancouver is the city centre itself is very small (you can walk across the main part in half an hour).  The areas to the east (anything east of Gastown) are pretty run down, and not the best for visitors if you want to see the pretty parts.  The city is very young, and most people live here because it’s a good place to reach the sea and the mountains.  So, compared to Europe, art galleries, history, architecture (except modern) and shopping are not what you come for.  Vancouver is all about amazing views, friendly (and occasionally high) people, wonderful food, multicultural harmony and incredible wildlife.

The tour bus is a great idea for your first afternoon, and the hop-on, hop-off buses and trolley buses have stops near most downtown hotels.  I checked the route map for the trolley bus to see what it covers, and we’d suggest you hop off at Canada Place and walk to the end for the view, then if you still need to stretch your legs, walk along the sea wall past the Olympic Cauldron to the Westin Bayshore, then hop on and hop off again at the Aquarium which is stunning and has Beluga Whales.  The rest of the tour takes you round Stanley Park, across to Granville Island and into the Eastside (see previous comments – stay on the bus), but we love the Old Spaghetti Factory in Gastown, and you can walk back through the city if your hotel is near enough, after the obligatory picture of the Gastown Steam Clock.

On your first full day, try Capilano Suspension Bridge and Grouse Mountain, if you feel up to it and if the weather is OK (the views on a clear day are amazing).  Come back via Lonsdale Market for dinner and catch the Seabus back to Waterfront.  Most people find the jet lag means you are up way too early, and exhausted by 3pm, so plan early starts and it’s best to keep the afternoon flexible for the first few days.  Next day, try Granville Island market which means going to Science World and taking the little water ferry down to the market, then across to English Bay for some beach time, or walk from the market round Vanier Park.  You can even continue round to Kitsilano for dinner on the beach.  Then, we recommend a whale-watching tour – Prince of Whales (ouch, bad pun) leaves from the Vancouver waterfront but we went with Seabreeze and they have a shuttle to pick you up from the hotel.  It’s not cheap, but the islands are so beautiful and you are pretty much guaranteed to see killer whales, sea lions and maybe humpback whales and porpoises.  If not that, then a shorter harbour cruise or a kayak tour, or even a stand up paddleboarding lesson.

The Aquarium, tour bus, Grouse Mountain, Capilano and whale tours are all pricey, and if your budget is limited, we know free alternatives to all of them.”

So that is our best option for the Tourist 3-Day Package.  But how about the Potential Immigrant 3-Day Package? Or the Doing Vancouver On A Budget 3-Day Package?  What are your best suggestions?  What did we miss out?

The Olympic Effect

A while back I wrote about the Facebook Effect, which we all know and love, I suppose.  According to Facebook all our friends have much more exciting, fulfilling and generally marvelous lives than us, and it’s sometimes hard to put all that marvelousness into context.  Anyway, today we have been wondering about The Olympic Effect.  A friend in England posted his opinion about the Winter Olympics in his usual diplomatic, thoughtful way; “Watch some toffy-nosed bint sliding downhill on a plank cheered on by all her Hooray-Yah mates?… No thanks!”  And of course, in England, winter sports are, by and large, for those who can afford them; the ones who take a couple of skiing holidays every year, buy expensive equipment and send their children to train overseas.  There’s little chance of getting some support from the Government and no chance of a serious training program through the school.

When we moved here, one of the things we really enjoyed getting used to was the accessibility of sports, equipment and facilities.  How can we explain to someone back in the UK that skiing at Whistler is not really a big deal when it’s just a 2 hour drive up the road, and 2 of the children ski for free through the Government sponsored sports schemes?  Ok, it’s still a big deal because it’s fabulous, beautiful and awesome, but we don’t really bother with Whistler anyway because its more expensive than the 3 ski resorts within 30 minutes of our back door and for novices like us, they’ll do just fine.  When we were flying back from Heathrow after Christmas we were in the line-up behind the British Bobsled Team.  I asked them if they were traveling to Whistler to compete or to train, and they said a bit of both.  “Where do you train in England?” I asked. “I don’t remember hearing about a British sliding centre.”  “There isn’t one,” said one of the athletes, a bit ruefully.  “We mostly train on things like go-carts down a hill.”

So when our friend watches the Winter Olympics, he is likely to be watching well-heeled British athletes who have paid their way to the top of the profession, or are living and training overseas and competing for Team GB when the occasion arises.  They are no less dedicated for all that, but it’s hard to really get behind someone competing in a sport you can’t afford to try.  When we watch our Canadian Olympians we are cheering on people just like us and our children, who all have a chance to make it to the Olympics if they have the talent and the commitment.

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Justine and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe, Gold and Silver at Sochi 2014

January – It’s A Trap, and Resolutions Doubly So

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“It’s a Trap!” shouted Admiral Ackbar in Star Wars, and that’s just what I feel like doing every time I hear another person talk about their New Year Resolution to lose weight, do more exercise, achieve healthy living, cut out the sweet stuff, detox, give up drinking or smoking.  I mean, seriously, people, IT’S JANUARY FFS.  The month of the Worst Day Of The Year, Blue Monday*.

 

Here’s a bit of free advice.  Make your “good” resolutions in January – I will be more generous, I will volunteer more, I will be 100% present when listening to my children and partner etc etc.  Then you can sit on the sofa, in front of a roaring fire, eating chocolate, drinking wine and making lists of the great stuff you want to do.  Wait until the sun starts thinking about coming out, and you can see the summer approaching before you inflict real discipline on yourself.  It’s depressing enough at this time of year without guilt and failure to add to the mix.  Be kind to yourself.

Here’s some more good ideas from around the internet to feel better without making resolutions you will fail to achieve:

  • When it stops raining, go for a walk.  The fresh air feels so good.
  • Take an umbrella and walk in the rain, and jump in puddles.
  • Eat healthy stuff, homecooked if you can manage it.  That doesn’t mean low calorie, or nasty processed food, it means lovely rich stews with green vegetables and dumplings, crispy baked potatoes, soups – real warming stuff.
  • Get a daylight bulb and take Vitamin D to conquer the blues.
  • Talk to someone if you can’t shake the glooms.  You may not realize how bad it is until you talk about it, or it may help to just have a moan.
  • Book some fun.  Put it in the calendar – silly game night with friends, cinema trips, meals out, days out.  Even if you don’t feel like it, go.
  • Watch silly movies and shows to make you laugh and smile.  Then spread it by smiling at someone else.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Treat your hair, hands and skin well.
  • If you can, get high.  Up a mountain, that is.  On a gray day, it there might even be bright sunshine up there.  If it’s not, there is at least clear air.

 

 

*I love the fact that the Wikipedia entry on Blue Monday explains that this was all a load of bunk, but it feels right.  Allegedly, the date was calculated by using many factors, including: weather conditions, debt level (the difference between debt accumulated and our ability to pay), time since Christmas, time since failing our new year’s resolutions, low motivational levels and feeling of a need to take action.  Since the announcement in 2005 the date has been around January 23rd, but this year it got changed to January 6th, which doesn’t work for me.  On January 6th you are still pretty convinced you can manage your resolutions, on a sugar high from Christmas, haven’t broken your gifts yet, and probably haven’t received your credit card statement.  January 23rd 2014, however, is a Wednesday – pretty depressing all by itself, but on top of that, it’s ages until the next public holiday, it’s time to pay that credit card bill, the weather sucks and you are really, really sick of your diet, you’ve missed the gym for a week and feel like all you really need is a glass of wine, a cigarette and a box of chocolates.

Is Vancouver Expensive?

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This is a great article from Expatistan – the relative cost of living in a number of different cities around the world.  We went to a seminar while we were considering moving to Vancouver, and one of the speakers explained this concept.  The cost of living is not the same as the cost of buying stuff when on holiday, because you have to take into account your earning potential and all the other boring sundry stuff that comes with living somewhere. At the seminar, the comparison was made between the Big 4 (most popular destinations for emigrants from the UK) – Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, and this article seems to back up what was said then, 5 years ago, and what we have found since we moved.  Vancouver is far less expensive than London, and a bit less than Manchester and a bit more than Nottingham – actually around the same as our previous life around a number of small towns in the south and centre of England.

Of course, everyone’s experience is different, but the general idea is, if you get a comparable job and live in a comparable way, this index will show if you are going to be better or worse off.

 

 

The Best Weekend Of The Year

Canada Day

I have decided that this is the best weekend of the year.  Better than Halloween, better than Christmas, better than my birthday.  This is the weekend of:

  • School Is Out!
  • The Sun Is Coming!
  • Unexpected Holiday!
  • Endless possibilities abound….!

The first year we lived in Canada, we were horrified at the thought of nearly 10 weeks of summer holiday.  How is anyone expected to manage a full time job and afford childcare for that length of time?  The following year we booked every child into every camp possible, and they went back to school in September more tired than they had been in June.  Now we are seasoned, experienced, and almost Canadian.  It helps that our children are old enough to babysit each other, and had been studying karate long enough to inflict discipline on each other without too much real injury.  The prospect of watching them spend the hot months chilling, cycling, swimming and doing what kids are supposed to do (“Stop that, put it down, you don’t know where it’s been, NOW look what you did to your new sandals…”), is just bliss.

Recently we shared a picture on Facebook.  This is what the start of our summer has been like, but it is still better than Juneuary last year, when we were still wrapped in our polar outfits and snow boots, and at least we are not underwater like parts of Alberta.  Summer

This year the rain has meant that everything I planted in the garden, and many things I did not plant (we have an Accidental Pumpkin patch in the area where I spread my home made compost.  I forgot I had put all 7 Halloween pumpkins with their seeds in the compost last November), are growing, and the time of sitting and appreciating the growth, with a little light harvesting, weeding and reseeding, has arrived.  July and August are generally scorching, and the amount of ground water means I may not have to water the lawn or beds for some time.

The Unexpected Holiday is Canada Day.  You don’t realize until you move from the UK how your body has become attuned to the seasons with their high days and Bank Holidays.  I feel a little wrench at the beginning of May when I realize that it’s Spring Bank Holiday, but I am at work.  But that is completely overwhelmed, when you have been dragging yourself and your children to the end of the school year (“Just 3 more days… just one more teacher gift… just one more awards ceremony… I really don’t care where your planner or lunch box have gone, you only have 2 more days at school…”), when you realize that it’s Canada Day Weekend!  Break out the wine and the barbeque!

And now the endless possibilities… tomorrow I am going to load my grumbling husband and happy dog into the car and drive away.  I will leave a note for the children, which will say “Your parents have run away.  You must solve the clues and find them or your college funds are in jeopardy.”  There will be clues to lead them to the Skytrain, along the waterfront, into Stanley Park and round the seawall.  A real adventure to start the holiday, with a picnic and ice cream at the end.   Later in the holiday we will go berry picking, camping, climb the Stawamish Chief, explore Simon Fraser University campus, shop for new school supplies and clothes and backpacks, paint the shed, create a mural of salmon on the wall of the house that faces the salmon creek – or do none of the above.  The kids will play in the street with other kids, and we’ll dish out freezies, After Bite and bandaids in equal quantities.  Before we know it, we will be back in school and greeting our old friends, and loving the run up to Halloween and Christmas!

freezies

You gotta love a Freezie on a hot day!