101 Things I learned after a month in British Columbia

It’s a rare and beautiful thing to be able to get away for a 30-day trip. And as much as I love my husband, it is nice to be separate sometimes, which we don’t often get a chance to be. So while he was home, holding down the fort and consoling himself with tv dinners, I was able to travel with the kids to visit my parents in BC.

In my 30 days “over there”, I learned, observed, reflected upon, and inferred a lot of things about BC life in general, and about people, work, and travel. Below is a list of my most important discoveries and musings. Not everyone will agree with me on everything, but I hope that it will provoke some thought, especially with BC—and specifically, Vancouver and the Olympics—in the spotlight right now. Here, then, are 101 Things I Learned After a Month in British Columbia.

On Travel and Transportation:

  1. No matter how carefully you pack, you’ll always forget something.
  2. If one of those things that you forgot is a laptop, it costs $45 to ship from Toronto to Vancouver, in a reasonable three business days.
  3. When you’re without your own computer, you realise just how much you rely on a machine to remember passwords and bookmarks.
  4. When you forget your cosmetics bag, you realise that you can survive on only four pieces of make-up: a mineral foundation, a lipstick, one eyeshadow that can double as eyeliner, and mascara.
  5. You can spot a bunch of Torontonians visiting Vancouver in the autumn: we’re the ones who brought along mittens, thinking that we’d need them.
  6. On that note, don’t pack a heavy coat for Vancouver in October. You’ll never use it.
  7. Carseats now count as check-in luggage. Hmm, never used to before (two years ago).
  8. When packing two kids for a month away from home, make sure that at least one of the suitcases (the regulation carry-on size) contains nothing but games, books, and entertainment items.
  9. Great things to pack to occupy an 8-year-old and a 4-year-old for a month away from home: a deck of cards; Uno; magnetic chess/checkers; one simple boardgame for the under-5 set, like Busytown; about three thick, unstarted novels; one MathSmart book; a good hidden-pictures book; a Nintendo DS with about five games; markers; crayons; and at least one blank notebook or chalkboard mat, for doodling.
  10. In-flight movies, music, and the novelty of a meal on a tray can only keep kids distracted for about three hours, before all that gets boring.
  11. For the rest of the flight, kids can amuse themselves with a simple drawing tablet or chalkboard mat. Who would have thought that old-school methods still work?
  12. On the plane, you can get away with watching only about three episodes of “30 Rock”, before the kids start demanding your undivided attention.
  13. WestJet employees out of the Vancouver airport don’t seem as friendly as remembered from WestJet experiences elsewhere.
  14. Employees—WestJet or otherwise—should refrain from discussing weekend adventures with their co-worker, when there is a client patiently waiting in front of them, ready to check in her baggage.
  15. WestJet’s in-flight entertainment is disappointing compared to Air Canada’s: the choices are fewer, and who wants to pull out their credit card to pay for more in-flight services?
  16. Compared to Toronto and Montreal, Vancouver’s morning rush-hour is actually not that bad, in terms of time spent behind the wheel.
  17. However, some Vancouver rush-hour drivers drive like they never left the slalom course behind on the weekend.
  18. As manageable as downtown Vancouver seems, it is possible to get lost for an hour, and literally drive in circles.
  19. Trying to get from Cordova St. to Richmond apparently does not involve going through Stanley Park and crossing over into North Vancouver.
  20. The Lion’s Gate Bridge is jinxed with accidents (so says a friend).
  21. Nobody should be looking down at paperwork while driving. I don’t care if you are only driving at 20 km/h. You’ll rear-end somebody in her rental car, dammit!
  22. When rear-ended at 20 km/h, there is no damage at all, certainly nothing that is noticeable and needs to be mentioned to the car rental agency.
  23. When rear-ended on the Lion’s Gate Bridge, do not stop in the middle of said bridge to take a look and settle the matter; you’ll only annoy the other drivers. Best to drive to the end and hope that your bumper is not dragging along.
  24. There’s nothing more liberating and adult-like than going through the process of renting a car by yourself, for the first time in your life.
  25. For $21/day, you really can’t beat a good economy car like the Nissan Versa hatchback or the Hyundai Accent hatchback. They get great gas mileage, and they’re not so cheaply made that they ding easily in a minor accident, like getting rear-ended on the Lion’s Gate Bridge
  26. Given the choice, opt for the Versa over the Accent. It’s roomier, and feels better built (less of that “cheap hollow plastic sound”).
  27. You can get from Richmond to downtown Vancouver, do a day of sightseeing, and come back, all on $4 of gas in a Nissan Versa.
  28. If you try really hard, you can indeed fit three humans, two bags of groceries, and six pieces of luggage all into an Accent.
  29. You can drive a—gasp—minivan and your world as you know it won’t end. And surprisingly, you won’t have a sudden urge to wear elastic-waist pants and become a soccer mom.
  30. Always spring for the $10/day rental of a GPS in the rental car. Yes, it seems proportionately steep, considering that the car itself is only twice that. But it’s worth it. And always book one far ahead, because they get reserved rather quickly.
  31. There is such a thing as overdependence on a machine. Take away the GPS, and you can feel, quite literally, lost.
  32. When you’re in trouble, a $5 map from a small gas station out in the middle of nowhere can save your life.
  33. Map: $5. Having an 8-year-old passenger who knows how to read one and navigate as you drive: priceless.
  34. Even if you’re across the street from the car-rental agency (and can actually see it!), it can still take 45 minutes to navigate one-way streets and confusing street signs to get there.
  35. Driving down the TransCanada Highway on Vancouver Island, with water on your left and soaring trees on your right, great music blaring on the radio, two happy kids babbling in the back seat, and knowing that you’re on your way to visit a high school friend whom you haven’t seen in about 15 years: life doesn’t get any better than that.
  36. Apparently, there is not yet a cell-phone ban in B.C.. Or if there is one, quite a lot of people are ignoring it.
  37. Some people can have really nice cars, but it doesn’t mean that they know how to drive them. (Yes, I know that this rule can apply pretty much anywhere, but I found it to be truer in the Richmond-Vancouver area than other major metropolitan areas that I’ve visited/lived in.)
  38. Metro Vancouver’s TransLink transit system is perhaps the most organised and efficient that you can find in Canada. (And this statement comes from someone who, until about a year ago, was a life-long user of public transit only.)
  39. TransLink’s web site has one of the best and most accurate trip-planning features you’ll find on any Canadian transit site.
  40. Vancouver’s transit system operates on a pay-by-zone system. Given the geographical size of the metropolitan Vancouver Area, this makes it slightly more expensive than Toronto’s much larger transit zone.
  41. The SkyTrain, especially the new Canada Line, is so wonderfully clean, spacious, and well-run. It’ll be interesting to see how long that lasts, once the Olympics crowd has left town.
  42. From a SkyTrain station, you can check in electronically for your airline. How cool is that, for time savings?
  43. What a great feeling, to know that you can easily take yourself and your bulky baggage on public transit to get to the airport, and the other passengers don’t mind.
  44. For the paltry amount of $45, a senior citizen on assisted income can get a public transit pass for an entire year. Very cool. (See point #70.)
  45. There’s not as much courtesy, or friendly interaction among passengers, on metropolitan Vancouver buses compared to the experience in Toronto and Halifax. Vancouver may tie with Montreal, in that regard.
  46. People don’t give up their seats on buses or the SkyTrain as much as you would like/expect them to. Again, a tie with Montreal.
  47. Asian seniors can be feisty on the bus, when they’re not offered a seat by some kid with his ears buried in an iPod.
  48. Bus drivers (in Richmond, at least) brake too abruptly to make the ride comfortable.
  49. There appears to be more friendly and engaging bus drivers in metro Toronto than in metro Vancouver.
  50. You may very well find more roundabouts on Vancouver Island than in all of Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia combined.
  51. The SkyTrain security personnel look cool and smart in their uniforms, but don’t seem willing to exercise their power. Sample exchange, upon exiting the SkyTrain:
    Security: “Excuse me, may I see your ticket or pass?”
    Teenaged boy: “Oh, um. I don’t have one. I was just about to get one on my way out.”
    Security: “Okay, but better do it now.” Then turns around and walks away.

    On B.C. Life, Play, and Surroundings:
  52. Almost anywhere you look, you can see mountains. What great surroundings in which to spend your life.
  53. The Vancouver skyline has dramatically improved from three years ago, when it was all very depressing in its pre-Olympics construction phase.
  54. The ferry ride from the mainland to Vancouver Island: indescribable in the sense of calm and quiet happiness that it can induce.
  55. The ferry ride from the Island back to the mainland can evoke in you a great sense of sadness in leaving something wonderful behind.
  56. Move to the Vancouver metropolitan area? Not at this point. But Vancouver Island? In a heartbeat.
  57. What is it about trees? You can stand under a massive West Coast specimen, close your eyes, breathe it all in, and all the troubles of the world simply . . . vanish.
  58. When walking in the woods on Vancouver Island, look out for giant slugs underfoot!
  59. This must surely be a boring job: Sitting in a booth, telling tourists on the Capilano Suspension Bridge: “Please do not shake or jump on the bridge.” Every ten minutes.
  60. Richmond and Vancouver are home to two of the most amazing playgrounds ever—Garden City and some playground in east Vancouver which we don’t believe has a name, but is the first one we’ve come across that has a mini-zipline! (And this assessment comes from a couple of playground experts who have travelled across Canada in search of them.)
  61. You can take young kids anywhere in the world, show them the greatest museums, galleries, landmarks, natural wonders . . . but when you ask them what was the best part of the trip, it almost always comes down to “The playground!”
  62. Richmond is full of wild rabbits on public property. Apparently, they come from too many people having bought them as pets, tiring of them quickly, and letting them out on the loose. Once free, they began breeding like . . .
  63. The city of Richmond is considering allowing citizens to keep any wild rabbits that they catch, as pets. And passing a by-law to ban the sale of rabbits in pet stores.
  64. The newer homes in Richmond are massive! And eerily, all pretty similar to each other.
  65. Kids like large, impressive-looking homes. You don’t have to tell them, but they instinctively know the concept of “rich” when they see it.
  66. Even in really nice neighbourhoods, petty theft occurs (and right from the front lawn in broad daylight!).
  67. People can possess the most expensive, impressive-looking electronic equipment, but that doesn’t mean that they know how to use it.
  68. On the first day of Sunday School, an 8-year-old learns the Ten Commandments. A 4-year-old learns that if you repeat what the lady says, you get candy.
  69. In 20 years, the church service has become thoroughly modernized: big screen projections and PowerPoint-like presentations. Jesus has never been hipper than now. ___________________
    On B.C. People: 
  70. The B.C. government loves its seniors (see #44). And seniors love B.C.
  71. It is estimated by the BC government that by the year 2031, 24% of the population will be over 65.
  72. It takes an 8-year-old less than a week to realise that a lot of people out here (especially in Richmond) carry the same types of handbags over and over again: “These women all have the same two logos!”
  73. “Hong Couver”—best city nickname I’ve heard in a long time.
  74. “Keeping up with the Joneses” (or in this case, the Wongs) is alive and well.
  75. There are many people who value living in an impressive, well-off neighbourhood above living where they’re more comfortable, and happier.
  76. People on Vancouver Island are more likely than mainlanders to want out of the rat race.
  77. Many Vancouverites love talking (complaining? bragging?) about the high price of their real estate, especially to strangers from outside the province.
  78. Asian people do not dine at the IHOP in Richmond.
  79. Asian people (especially in Richmond) push their way around a lot, in crowds. And I say this respectfully, as an Asian person.
  80. There are indeed quite a lot of Japanese tourists in BC. And they do indeed say “Ka-waiiii!” when they take pictures of cute kids.
  81. Coming from a truly multicultural place, you realise that there is less diversity of cultures out here than in Toronto or Montreal.
    On Work:
  82. No matter how well you plan for a tradeshow, plan on something going wrong.
  83. That two-day buffer that you put in, to offset any unforeseen circumstances, delays, and screw-ups? Make it ten.
  84. When people have bad news for you, they’ll always avoid telling you by phone, and opt instead for hiding it in an e-mail. At 6 in the morning. When they know that you’re probably already on the road, stuck in downtown rush hour.
  85. When someone says “I’ll do my best”, and they don’t, but never even call you back to tell you about it—that’s when they’ve lost your business for good.
  86. Always, always, always put everything in writing not just once, but three times. Then repeat. With three different people. In at least two different departments.
  87. Nothing makes a bad business experience more bearable than when you have the chance to tell 100 of your colleagues about it.
  88. You make a lot of friends quickly when they pity you.
  89. Standing at the Vancouver Convention Centre at 8 in the morning, looking out at the water and the skyline, can (almost) make all of your worries disappear.
  90. Vancouverites do not spend as impulsively as Torontonians.
  91. It would appear that many Toronto customers have a greater appreciation for unique artisan-made goods; many Vancouverites have an appreciation for well-known brands (see point #s 72 and 73).

    On Friendship and Family:

  92. The same friends can be so much more appreciated in your adulthood than in your teens.
  93. A friend’s laughter is something that you never forget—a sound that can take you back all those years.
  94. It’s always so great to meet up with someone else—especially a friend from high school—who’s looking for the same things in life as you: happiness, comfort, and gettting out of the rat race.
  95. No matter how hard you try, you can never convince your parents, 100%, that you’re an adult now.
  96. Pride is indeed a sin.
  97. Blood is not thicker than water.
  98. You shouldn’t have to be with people who make you miserable. Life’s too short for that.
  99. When working under the effects of anger, you can do a month’s worth of packing and cleaning in fewer than three hours.
  100. Don’t feel anxious about going to visit family. At the same time . . .
  101. Never feel guilty about leaving.
  1. There’s nothing more liberating and adult-like than going through the process of renting a car by yourself, for the first time in your life.