If you stick around at a party long enough, you become the cool kid.

I am a native Vancouverite. I wasn’t born here, but thanks to an upswell in careers for Electrical Technicians in Western Canada in the 80’s, my family moved here from my birthplace of Montreal shortly after I was born, in 1982. So I have seen this place grow over the last few decades.

My Grade 7 graduation in 1994 at the St. Patrick’s Church parking lot on Main & 12th. I’m bottom right; you can see IGA in the background, which is Save-On-Foods now.

I went to school for 13 years in Mount Pleasant at St. Patrick’s Elementary and High School, where I saw our parking lot turn into a new church, and Juicy Fried Chicken morph into The Rumpus Room and then whatever it is going to be next. My family didn’t live too far from here — my parents are still in the Kensington-Cedar Cottage hood right across Famous Foods (King Edward Village). My friend’s dad owned Manila Video, a video rental store until 1995, right on Kingsway & Main around where Budgie’s Burritos is. That was where I watched Tagalog rom-coms I couldn’t understand, and classics like The Gods Must Be Crazy. Little Saigon (Kingsway) hasn’t transformed much, but that’s a good thing. I do feel like I missed out when Our Town and later, Pallet Coffee Roasters moved into the Kingsway/Knight corner, because I spent most of my University study time at home, and never really had a cafe to call my own.

When I was much younger, at least a few times a month, my mom would take me to Oakridge Centre and almost always I’d get treated to an ice cream bar from Purdy’s or onion rings at A&W. Birthday parties were always at McDonald’s on Main & Terminal Avenue, and then later at Riley Park skating rink, pre-souped up Hillcrest days.

Hallowe’en 1994: Dressed up as Immature at Guelph Park (now Dude Chilling Park). Romeo won Best Costume in our Grade 8 class.

 

Now, I’m back on Main Street, in-between the Subway on 41st Avenue and Roots Cafe on 49th. I still shop at Famous Foods, and now I get jars and bottles refilled at the household factory that is The Soap Dispensary. My hood hasn’t been hipster-fied yet, still maintaining the essence of the Punjabi community. There are also five different churches within the city block, which draw diverse crowds. With more retail spaces becoming vacant south of 49th Avenue, it’ll be interesting to see what this hood develops into. My friend Donna’s hair salon, Studio D Hair Salon, is in one of the newer buildings on Fraser, and I got my first tattoo by Romeo, Donna’s brother, who owns Zen Tattoo inside the salon.

Getting my first blue fire tattoo designed by Romeo Reyes @ Zen Tattoo, November 2016

Vancouverites that didn’t grow up here call me a rare breed.

I also have the same set of besties I grew up with for 23-31 years, which is awesome (Romeo is one of them). But I know not everyone digs that. I had my getaway year in 2002-2003 when I went to Toronto for school and the five-month, 3-feet high snow was enough to make me appreciate rain. So if you hate rain, try living anywhere north of the Lower Mainland or East of BC for a year and see how you like it.

When I was growing up, I didn’t feel how expensive the city was getting. For five years I was lucky enough to have music and dance lessons, as did my siblings. Most of my money was spent on Dairy Queen blizzards on Main & 13th Avenue, sour candies or Slurpees at 7-Elevens, 99 cent pizza slices from Papa’s Gourmet Pizza on Main & 14th, bubble tea, or shopping for cheap track suits, jackets, and kicks at Urban Behavior and Frugal Feet at Metrotown, pre-Metropolis days.

Even when I had access to a car, I spent weekends at Wendy’s, house parties, or band practice. I scooted down Robson and Denman to see the Celebration of Light fireworks at English Bay. I kept it cheap. I self-funded and student-loaned my education at UBC and stayed at home in my parents’ basement, until my hubby and I moved in together just 5 years ago. I think there’s an innate wisdom Asians know that helps us keep healthy domestic boundaries.

I guess I’m writing this because there have been a lot of folks complaining about Vancouver, from the drug crisis to homelessness and unaffordable housing to it not being a fun city, racism, or disrespect of other cultural groups. The complainers are composed of local business owners, artists, parents, and foreigners alike, and while they seem to complain a lot, they also seem to have enough reasons to stay. I know that there are a lot of reasons to leave Vancouver, and many have, loudly. And I hear them.

But for me, Vancouver will always be home.

The only place I’d consider living outside of here would have to be as equally food-diverse, racially-diverse, fresh (in the air), nature-accessible, economically opportunistic, and democratic, WITH MORE SUN and less rain. Does such a place exist?

Throwing up signs with Romeo on my back porch on Fleming St. in 1997; on the same street on my sister’s rooftop hot tub, April 2018.

I love travelling, and I love returning to Vancouver even more and breathing the fresh air, even if it’s at YVR. There’s something about that big fountain that makes it seem like the outdoors. Besides it being hard as sh*t to sustain a business beyond five years (and there are many that have here), and the inevitable increasing property tax my husband and I have to deal with, I consider myself pretty freaking blessed. We’re dying to rent out our basement suite again but it’s taken 22 months (and counting) to go through the renovation and permit process to legalize it. Children aren’t an option (and may never be) with my unstable income and the increasing costs of living, but not having kids is the best thing to do for the environment and probably our mental and emotional health.

I live in one of the best towns in Canada for living an eco, plant-based lifestyle.

The zero waste grocery store and vegan industries are just about to blow up here, among others: impact tech, clean energy, crypto, cannabis, and I’m hoping the event and arts scenes more as well.

 

Above: Capilano Suspension Bridge with my parents, 1987 or ’88.
Below: Crushing the Grouse Grind with Leo in 2015; Lynn Canyon, 2016.

 

A recent conversation with a budding entrepreneur new to Vancouver (who’s lived in Asia and the USA) spawned the idea of Vancouver’s potentiality. We have so much cool things going on, but that don’t pay organizers. These initiatives are donated, granted, or crowdfunded. We’re so used to startup culture, which composes our “Silicon Valley North” reputation.

Ten years into running my business, it has only occurred to me recently that I am one of the few female Filipino-Canadian business owners in town. I don’t know if that position is of any value, but right now everyone’s talking about equal gender pay and reducing harassment in the workplace and women rising up. And that’s all amazing. But as an Asian woman and business owner, I feel like I’m a bit of a triple niche here — I negotiate my own salary with myself, and I don’t have a network of folks I can relate to. (Now that I am writing this, I am thinking of all the Pinay entrepreneurs I know and whether I should do anything about that.)

I miss when the Filipino Independence Day Festival was held at Plaza of Nations and I could get my Goldilocks pastries, water balloons, and do the Coke vs. Pepsi taste test all in one place. The last time I attended this festival was when I performed with my friends in 2002. It moved from Vancouver to Surrey and I’ve only just discovered it was rebranded as “Pinoy Fiesta” and has been in my hood at Memorial South Park! This year, the event is August 26. This was one of the only ways I felt connected to that community, aside from the annual big family dinners my aunt and cousin host on an annual basis…so I am looking forward to reconnecting again.

Above: Romping @ Concord Place on Day 1 of Philippine Independence Day Festival, June 2002.
Below: Day 2, performing with Tiger’s Eye (left).

 

One of the things I have been doing more of this year is exploring free or cheap events on my own that I normally wouldn’t go to. I’ve been to art exhibitions, dance performances, films, and plays. ‘Cause let me tell you, there is something going on EVERY DAY that you can do if you just know where to look: Facebook, Eventbrite, Meetup, or traditional media – The Georgia Straight newspaper is probably my go-to of these. Many events cost money, and I know you’re already on a tight budget.

I guess what I’m saying is that living in Vancouver requires some creativity.

If you’re not wealthy, you’re going to have to prioritize EVERYTHING. Running around the block vs. a yoga pass. Hikes vs. gym memberships. Biking or transit vs. driving. Homemade coffee vs. a latte and croissant at Matchstick. And we LOVE Matchstick! A night home with Netflix vs. dinner out or a weekend concert. Meditation vs. marijuana. Choices.

Side hustles are a must for a lot of us, not just for the additional income, but also to keep our minds off the amount of grey we have. And not just in the sky — we desperately lack colour on our buildings, on neighbourhood signs, and in how we dress. We’re a town of toques, black yoga leggings, rain jackets, and Converse Chucks, and that’s quite alright. I for one love shopping second-hand ’cause we have so many wicked consignment/vintage boutiques here, aside from Value Village and Front & Co.

But, if you’re like me and live a pretty meagre routine during the week, you can do this. You’ll see my hubby and I jogging around our hood on Wednesday and Sunday mornings. And I’ve learned to make some mean vegan meals, thanks to Pinterest. Then maybe splurge on the weekend with a meal out at one of the many fine restaurants we have, soak in a live concert, or just take a walk around one of our landmark parks. I recommend Queen Elizabeth or Stanley Park for the flower availability, and the murals in the Mount Pleasant area and now, parking garage (Chain & Forge) on Granville Island. Look for the colour!

Getting married at the The University Women’s Club (Hycroft Manor), July 10, 2016. I remember my mom taking me to a fashion show/tea party here when I was younger and I thought it was unreal and only a place where the wealthy could hang out.
Photos Tomasz Wagner Photo & Films.

We may not be a Portland, Toronto, Denver, or Los Angeles

…but we don’t have traffic compared to LA. I don’t think we’ll ever be like a New York City, and that’s probably a good thing. They honk a lot out there. We’re young enough that we can innovate new systems like the organic food waste program implemented in 2013, Mobi bike share launched in 2016, and the impending ridesharing services. And while the devastation/revitalization of neighbourhoods (Hogan’s Alley, Chinatown) is a real thing here, I don’t think it requires as much upheaval as it would in a bigger city with older buildings, roads, and frankly, old-timers who like the way things are. We have the advantage of trying out new things, seeing what works, and scrapping what doesn’t. It’s not happening as fast as I’d like it to, but nothing ever does.

I love that we’re big into remote and co-working. That our liquor laws are finally coming around to allow for alcohol sales in grocery stores — though you won’t see me buying. I love the startup culture and how the die-hard entrepreneurs keep pivoting into something better. And that people do care about nature here and take hikes, even if they still don’t know how to sort their waste at food courts.

We’ve got a pretty damn good transit system out here. Yes, the late, crowded buses can be awful, but our Skytrain stations and cars are generally clean, the trains move quickly, and I can’t wait for the expansion to UBC, no matter what form that takes. Better accessibility means more opportunity to get outside and meet more people. We’ve had street parties in the past, and we’ll have more, so long as idiots don’t bring alcohol and the intent to riot along with them.

Livestock Block Party, Gastown, 2008; Vancouver Mural Festival Street Party, Mount Pleasant, 2016

Don’t get me started on the “it’s so hard to meet people” argument. I’m an introvert, and I learned to bust my ass and attend nearly every business Meetup in town when I started networking in 2008. Networking isn’t just for biz owners. It’s not hard to meet people, you just need to get out there, shake hands, smile, and talk to your neighbours. Look up from your mobile phone, take out your headphones once in awhile, and say hi. I have my colleague Kaare Long to thank for starting a Say Hi to a Stranger movement in 2013-2015 that taught me that friendliness in the city starts with ME. With US. Public Disco is also my new favourite street dance movement.

Meeting foreigners at Commercial Drive Street Party; with City Councillor Andrea Reimer & Kaare Long at Canada Place, Say Hi weekend 2015

Whether or not you think Vancouver is a cool city – or is liveable or not by your standards – is your opinion. In mine, it’s about to get there, and as I enter my 40’s in the next few years, I’m excited to see what’s next. We may not have many outdoor festivals (I prefer The Commodore or a movie theatre on rainy days anyway), be able to bring kids to breweries, or have converted solar energy to heat indoor beaches yet (you’re welcome for that idea), but we’re getting there. We have enough cool folks staying put that are making sure that rotary phones are getting recycled and fax machines get seamlessly replaced by cloud applications. And, the City of Vancouver and non-profits like Car Free Day are literally giving away money to people willing to head up initiatives. Still wanna complain? Start something instead.

The city is making it easier for the public to engage with them, both online and offline.

Hate the Internet? When’s the last time you visited City Hall to voice your complaints? I’ve been to a few open houses put on by developers of the new Oakridge Centre complex and a potential co-housing complex on Main & 42nd, and I hear people complain there. But at least their complaints are being heard!

Here’s a taste of some leisure events happening in the next month you can get to:

If the weather doesn’t call for sun, don’t forget your umbrella. But for god’s sake, COME.

Vancouver, you’re far from perfect, and there will always be haters. But deep down I think both the locals and foreigners love you. I know I do.

Sandra

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