Vancouver: Nĭ Hăo!

Though the train ride from Edmonton to Vancouver sounded too good to pass up, I found a $60 plane ticket. At this point, getting there sounded better than a once-in-a-lifetime trip through the most beautiful land imaginable. I turned in the rental, trusted an airline I’d never heard of and sat next to an Indian woman who blamed her farts on me for an hour. 

It’s wonderful to see the mountain tops poking through the clouds, wonderful and unsettling at the same time. But more wonderful than unsettling. Besides, there are worse ways to die than hitting a mountain in a metal vibrator at 500 mph, I’m sure of it. 

I’d had enough of the landlocked Canadian terrain and couldn’t wait to be seaside in one of my favorite cities. 

Vancouver has everything: Midgets with biscuit knees… but seriously, their Chinese restaurants are so good, “Chinese people travel from China” just to dine. A bartender told me this and it’s now one of my favorite reference terms. There’s an incredible craft beer scene, if I (if you) gave (give) two shits about craft beer. Personally, I can’t drink more than two craft beers in one sitting without crawling home and prefer to sip all day long without worry. A certain beer-flavored water from Golden, Colorado is my go-to. Yeah, high class.  But hey, you can get it or a reasonable facsimile anywhere with a nice whiskey kicker.

Vancouver also has lots of water, sea planes take off and land all day, there’s a chance of seeing a bear in the middle of a city park, and it has a laid-back, worldly vibe that’s tough to match. The people are friendly, even the bus drivers – though their friendliness can vary depending on how many questions you ask them.

[The bear thing is something they tell naive tourists, ahem. In real life, they do get into people’s backyards on the northside of town.]

For the first time in my life, I had booked a room in a hostel. Didn’t know anything about them, heard it could be fun and this one had tours and activities.

If you’re not a male surfer under the age of 25 or a female hockey team, never, ever stay in a hostel. With more fairness and accuracy, don’t stay in a hostel if you’re me. But I thought it would add some adventure to Canadian leg of the trip. Boy, was I right.This was a gem, close to everything you may want to do in Vansterdam, as the kids say. And mostly, the kids want to go down to the beach and smoke out. That is to say, they cherish Vancouver’s lax view on controlled substances and cannabis. I can’t handle my marijuana therefore I don’t partake but I find those who do highly entertaining and usually pretty non-judgemental and interesting. So Vancouver’s like being on set with Bill Murray and Zach Galifianakis for me. But the hostel wasn’t nearly as entertaining in that fun way. 

First of all, English was no one’s first language. Second, I look like me, not two ripped, blonde Dutch dudes in town looking for ways to use a case of condoms. I’m used to the “oh, it’s just some old, out-of-shape guy” look by now but what I wasn’t prepared for was the possibly dead man already in the room with his ass hanging out. The entire time I was in Vancouver, which was only three days, this guy didn’t move. The kid at the desk assured me he “probably” wasn’t dead which was good enough for me. I made the decision right then and there that I would spend the extra money and never stay in a hostel again. 

If he wasn’t dead, he smelled like it. 

I was out exploring during those three gorgeous days in early July, I dare say the best time to be in Vancouver. The hostel was located in Davie Village, Vancouver’s gay neighborhood. Beautiful homes and buildings surrounded the hostel and lined the streets between Davie Street and Sunset Beach, a scenic stretch of beaches, breakers and boats leading to Stanley Park. 

But first, it was time for a beverage. 

Faced with the fact that the closest bars would trend LGBT, I was okay with that. They have the same selection of beverages we have. And they are more fun than we are, on average. Also, they tend to be more open to strangers and not as fond of mind-numbing small talk as breeders. And Vancouver’s LGBT community was no different, in fact, they were far more fun and interesting. Hell, there was a drag show on a Tuesday night. 

I needed some food and I don’t like ordering from a restaurant during drinking hours, so I made my way over to the Independent grocery store to get a piece of fruit and a granola bar. Heading in, a gentleman paused to let me pass and whispered, “You’re cute” then winked at me. This had never happened to me before, that I was aware of. Being called “cute” by a dude, an older dude as well. He looked like the 90s version of Victor Newman (The Young and the Restless). 

In the movies, if a gay man comes on to a straight man, he usually roughs the guy up and yells horrible things. Or says something clever and compliments them in return, “Boy, if that did it for me, I’d be the luckiest…”, etc. I was taken aback and extremely flattered. I blushed and said thank you. It was uplifting, now I was walking around Davie Village and I was cute. Man, how could I capitalize on this? I decided I wouldn’t and probably couldn’t and ate my banana non-seductively on a bench and watched dusk tackle Davie Street. 

How, you might ask, do I know anything about Victor Newman from daytime television’s Young and the Restless? Because in the mid-90s there was a soap opera that came on at noon, it was called Days of Our Lives and we scheduled our classes around it for a whole semester because there was a lady on there named Marlena and she was possessed by the Devil. Sometimes, we’d turn on the TV early and there was Young and the Restless in all it’s Victor Newman glory. He’d say things like, “Because I’m Victor Newman, damn it!” We were hooked. 

So, as you can see, I wasn’t overly shocked to be called “cute,” as it’s obvious that I’m gay on paper. 

Woohoo! It was the 4th of July and… well… no one gave a damn. Everything was open. I walked down Davie toward Stanley Park, I was told the library was the best place to find a working printer. My client required that I sign something and scan it/send it back. You know, because it was 1998. The librarian couldn’t have been nicer or more patient and informative. Everything progressed without a hitch. What now? It was only 11:30 am on the 4th of July in a country that doesn’t celebrate it. 

English Pub, obviously. 

Three Brits is perfect. Cool views, quaint ambiance, no frills, on an action-packed street corner and they pour a tremendous pint. Your typical Irish/English chain in a cargo-container-pub. Good folks, food looked lovely and plenty of regulars and tourists who were overly excited about a rerun of a World Cup game. Or match. England and Colombia, so it made sense.

[The pub isn’t in a cargo container, as you may have pictured. About 30 years ago companies like Irish Pubs Incorporated started sending authentic, old-timey Irish accoutrements to the U.S. in cargo containers and fashioning out pubs like Fado and the like.]

To continue the Independence Day celebration, I had some poutine with crab in it then walked to the downtown older skyscraper district to have the screen replaced on my phone. While waiting, I walked toward the Olympic Village then found CRAFT Beer Market, where I had a sampler that made me lightheaded. “Flights” they’re called. Now I know why. 

[Whenever I’m in a city that has hosted the Olympics, I have to visit the remnants. It makes me feel patriotic but the kind of patriotic that wears a mask when Fauci says so.]

It was hot and I was a little wobbly so I opted for a couple of bottles of water on my way back to the phone place. I picked it up, the kids did good work, then had some of the best Phở on this continent. Hai Phong Kitchen in the International Village/Abbott Street area, deserves the proper spelling and pronunciation. It’s a sliver in a stripmall of sorts but it’s worth any wait for a stool in the corner. Some folks pronounce “Phở” as “fuh,” which – when I say it – I think I sound like an asshole. Also, that pronunciation makes me think of all the Phở King restaurants I’ve seen. So I just call it soup.

In Austin, Texas – there’s a newer neighborhood on the grounds of the old airport and it’s called Meuller. There’s been quite a bit of debate about how to properly pronounce it, “Miller” or “Myooler?” This can go on for hours, some people invoke German, others, the fact that they know someone in the family. I call it the old airport because I have shit to do with my life and don’t want to talk about something so subjective and inconsequential, so please, for the love of God, I’d like a bowl of soup. 

I hadn’t done anything American on the 4th of July and it was nearing its end. There were no World Cup matches on and America hadn’t qualified anyway. There was only one thing that could comfort me and remind me of home, Wild Turkey in a large homosexual dance club where I met a lovely couple who allowed me to join them and peppered me with questions.

[Actually, I asked for a glass of ice to go with the can of Diet Coke I had with the soup, that’s pretty American.]

What was I doing in Vancouver? Exploring and writing about it, occasionally taking bad photographs with my phone. Had I eaten anywhere of note? Yes. Then went into great detail and they were proud of my findings. What was my favorite thing so far? Stanley Park, the gorgeous and fecund, sprawling seaside forest with trails and such. Oh, of course it was, why was I in a gay bar alone? It’s not why you think, it’s because this was the closest bar to the hostel and I knew what shape I’d be in on the way to it. Why was I, an older, single man, staying in a hostel near the gay bar? Because I didn’t know hostels sucked and the other was a surprise. 

A pleasant one, I assured them. 

Would I like to walk down the street with them to Celebrity’s Nightclub where I could meet some drag queens and maybe an NHL player? Absolutely. As a friend of mine likes to say, “Don’t threaten me with a good time.” It was the 4th of July and I was feeling sentimental about my native country, though it was only about 22-miles away. So I needed a little cheering up, in my selfish mind, and drag queens are just the people you need around for such a challenge. 

We had so much damn fun I forgot I was already homesick after only 20-some-odd days. It gets a touch hazy after midnight but there was bad dancing, bad singing and no water intake on my part, I can assure that much. Dancing. Something I haven’t done in a few years and am told shouldn’t ever do again. To hell with it, it was freeing. And it was my country’s Independence Day. I celebrated theirs a few days earlier with Chinese people in Banff. 

[My new favorite all time drag queen name is Continental Breakfast.]

China. They own most of Vancouver and, I’m told by more than one resident and native Canadian, they are fine leaving their condo investments empty. These building and land purchases are what are known as tax havens or what you and I might call money laundering. No matter the truth, the Chinese and beautiful people from all over Southeast Asia and beyond, help make up the rich tapestry that is the very international Vancouver. It’s a great town, clean and friendly. I learned how to say “Nĭ Hăo!” and used it with great frequency, often hearing in return, “You okay, buddy?”

Yes, a small portion of my brain is uneducated and narrow. But it comes from a good and earnest place. Perhaps I’ll just stick with the other phrase I learned, “Go-own girl!” (Go on girl), I’m sure that can’t backfire at any point. I love Vancouver and started feeling bad about leaving but – my itinerary had changed and I now had a focus. To become the kind of traveler that makes people abroad rethink the “ugly American” stereotype. Seemed worthwhile to me. 

I just hoped they wouldn’t judge me by the dancing.