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Seattle Vancouver

23rd May 2010

Vancouver: Chinatown and Gastown

    It was time I moved on. I had enjoyed my stay in Seattle despite the original misgivings about the van I had bought (still hadn't got a name for it yet). Seattle is a long and narrow city and it is easy to take in the areas of interest though I would have liked to visit more of the museums, I felt the need to move. I suspect a lot of beauty is out there to the east in the Cascade Mountains, or to the west amongst the many islands in the Puget Sound. Another time perhaps.
    The day started with kicking the van into action. It is a real b.....d when the engines cold. There is a problem with the automatic transmission hydraulics and I for one know nothing about automatic vehicles. I will need to get it attended to before I cut my ties with civilisation. The kick start was a sod, but vehicles are like people, once you have worked out their quirks you to learn to get along with them.
    After checking and answering my emails, I booked a hotel in Vancouver online, checked out and left for the north. The trip up to the Canadian border was straightforward; straight up the I5. The interstate highways use odd numbers for north/south roads, and even numbers for east/west. The I5 through Seattle connects Canada and Mexico. The I90 from Seattle stretches all the way across to Boston. The road gracefully swept through a mountain range shrouded in cloud, with lacy tendrils tumbling down the valleys and ravines, like fingers of a giant hand, indicating, "Keep off, these peaks are mine". I had brought along a few CDs from England, and I was blasting out "Sweet Home Alabama". I was content.
    The border crossing in bright sunshine was just a 5 minute wait with the usual interrogation by the official. He curtly told me to switch off the engine, gulp, suppose it won't start again. He was keen to know if I intended to sell the vehicle or put it into storage. Perhaps people do the latter. Just over the border I made use of the currency exchange and visited the information centre. The young fellow and girl couldn't have been more helpful. Once they knew my itinerary for British Columbia they provided me with maps, brochures and advice on ferries, camping and almost everything else. I was most impressed and grateful.
    The drive up through Canada in the sunshine was glorious, though the blues skies turned gray as I approached Vancouver, named after Captain George Vancouver, a British explorer. I reached my destination with no problem at all; I had had the chance to research my route through Vancouver, unlike the Seattle suburbs that I was dropped in.
The Walk Downtown
    I checked in, dumped my gear, and headed downtown on foot. Since my route would take me through Chinatown, I thought that I'd explore. Vancouver Chinatown is the largest in Canada and is one of the city's earliest communities. I passed by Chinese food shops wafting incredible aromas onto the streets, with the most wonderful exotic selection of fruit and vegetables. However, my enthusiasm waned a little when I came across flat dried octopi which resembled road-kill.
Chinese Shop
Decorations at the Chinese Gardens Entrance

    The Chinese Gardens were an enchanting oasis. They occupied quite a small area, but the judicious planting of bamboo screens and the myriads of narrow twisting paths made it seem much larger. A colourful selection of flowers and shrubs helped build up a peaceful and thought provoking atmosphere.
House on the Pond
Small Building on the Pond
Blossom on a Tree in the Gardens
Blossom on a Shrub in the Gardens
A Flower in the Gardens
Chinese Millennium Gate
    Along Shanghai Alley I came across the replica Yong Bell. The two-tone bell had back and front faces producing a full tone when struck, while the side faces produced a chromatic semitone. The most distinct characteristic of the Yong Bell is the long handle at the top, called a "Yong". This type of bell first appeared in the West Zhou Dynasty (11th century BC to 771 BC). In China bells traditionally symbolise harmony and everlasting peace. In commemoration of the 15th anniversary of the signing of the Sister City agreed between Guangzhou and Vancouver, the City of Guangzhou presented the bell as a gift to the City of Vancouver.
    From Chinatown I headed across to Gastown. On the route I became aware of a sub-culture. Similar to Seattle, there was not a preponderance of beggars as in San Francisco. There were quite a few individuals about who I couldn't really say were homeless, they were just odd. The bone structures in many of the faces suggested that they may have been of local Indian tribe decent. What stuck out in my mind about some of these characters was the fact that they looked as though they had just jumped out of a Dickens novel; a Uriah Heep here, Mr. Micawber there, the Artful Dodger around the corner, and so on. If Dickens were alive now he would have a field day incorporating these characters into his novels.
    Whilst walking I became aware of lots of birds singing loudly; cuckoos, rooks, sparrows, etc, some quite close, but I could never see them. Then I twigged and felt daft. At U.S. and Canadian road crossings the pedestrian crossing signal normally bleeps, similar to the U.K. pelican crossings. However, in Vancouver they seemed to have replaced the bleeps with bird song. Or perhaps it was my ears. At all road crossings without pedestrian crossing lights in America and Canada, drivers are very courteous and give way to pedestrians. The pedestrian is king.
Steam Driven Clock
Gastown Street
Ticket Booth
    Eventually I reached Gastown. Vancouver was born in Gastown. Out of "Gassy Jack's" scrappy saloon, it has become a district for design, fashion, architectures, dining and nightlife. John "Gassy Jack" Deighton, who hailed from Hull, armed with only a barrel of whisky and a penchant for longwinded tales, wandered through the wilderness of Coast Salish lands in 1867, and set up his saloon on the south shores of the Burrard Inlet. Where the whisky went others soon followed, and the loggers and mill workers named the area Gastown to reward Jack for his libations. Gastown became the city's commercial and shipping hub and the brick warehouses that helped build the city are now home to some of the country's leading creative residents and industries. Gastown had many fine restaurants to offer, and I stumbled across the Steamworks Pub and Restaurant. Downstairs, opposite the open kitchens, stood four polished copper vats where a variety of beers were made with steam. The beer I sampled was a fine example of a good ale. I'd had enough of fish lately, so I opted for a Thai beef salad. The waiter who took my order had an Australian accent, and I commented he was a long way from home. It turned out he was from Birmingham and had studied at Nottingham. He turned on the Brummy accent to convince me. He did admit he had an Australian passport. Unfortunately he had to go and attend to other customers so I never got to hear his tale.
    I made my way back to the hotel via Chinatown, which was in full swing by now with its China Night Market, full of stalls selling all manner of Chinese hot steaming food, clothes, jewelry and other things that I'd call junk. Leaving Chinatown, I crossed a road opening where a van was just completing a three-point turn. "Excuse me, I was wondering if you can help me", shouted the driver. Normally I'd associate those words with 'gimme some money', especially in San Francisco, but I thought the guy is driving a van, so he can't be that hard up. He only wanted to know how to find Carrall Street, which I knew and gave him the directions. He thanked me profusely. "Hey, you're not from around these parts", he grinned. I told him I was passing through on an extended trip. He was gob-smacked, which I find strange from a resident of a nation that was built up by pioneers. You'd think they would be more adventurous. "Well, son of a gun", he said, "and all that way with a tiny backpack. Gee whiz!". He obviously thought all my worldly goods were in my small backpack. I left him in his disillusionment and he drove off, thankfully in the right direction.
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Seattle Vancouver

Uploaded from Howard Johnson Plaza Hotel Vancouver, 395 Kingsway, Vancouver, BC V5T 3J7 on 24/05/10 at 10:15

Last updated 25.5.2010