Letter from Vancouver

It is April again – the month of birthdays and anniversaries – but as we won’t be around for most of the month, many of the celebrations would either take a different format or would take place elsewhere.

I recall that we were on the Road in Korea two years ago this time and I forgot to wish my son Lawrence a happy birthday. Since I knew that I would be travelling again this year during his birthday, I would not want to repeat the mistake; so I sent him a happy birthday message, albeit hurriedly from Chek Lap Kok; and as soon as I arrived at Vancouver and set myself up in Metropolitan Hotel at Howe Street, I sent him a follow up message. I hope he would receive it.

My memory of Vancouver dated back to the summer of either 1994 or 1995. My family of four was invited by a friend to stay in his monstrous house in Shaughnessy, Vancouver. This friend – let me call him Stephen – was a shrewd businessman and was hedging for 1997 at the time. The Vancouver mansion was an investment decision and there were many rooms in the house. At the time we arrived, however, a container with a collection of artifacts and valuables was at the doorstep, so that he had to put us up in the adjacent lodge, which was meant to be the servants’ quarters. I could not recall the exact location of Stephen’s house, except that it was not far from Downtown and that it only cost me ten Canadian dollars by taxi from there to Vancouver Hotel. Stephen stocked up the place with Black Label which helped to work off my jetlag the first day. With a glass in hand, I called my friends in Toronto and Calgary suggesting that I visited them en route to Los Angeles which was where we would be next. My geography of North America was never good and my experience of writing plane tickets even worse. Eventually we moved to Los Angeles direct after spending about a week to ten days in Vancouver. That was my first experience of the city.

Nevertheless, we did many things in Vancouver on that first trip. I went to a Rotary meeting in Vancouver Hotel and visited a few friends, including Joe, my first supervisor and mentor at work. I should have listened to him to take up a professional degree and left government, which was what he did. At the time, he was leading a quiet retirement life with his wife in an upmarket condo near the then rather new UBC residential area, while his children were working in Hong Kong. Joe and his wife have since returned back to Hong Kong, so that they could be closer to their children, I suppose. Rosita, on the other hand, touched base with an old childhood friend who had since settled there. This childhood friend was a neighbour in Sai Cheong Street at the far western end of Hong Kong. She married young and had a few children; and they all made Vancouver their home. I have never met them since. She was nice to us, taking us to many places, including Stanley Park and some Chinese restaurants.

Fast forward nearly 20 years, and as it turned out, I did not visit the city again until last year – February 2012 to be exact – when Su and I were here en route to Whistler for my first skiing experience. I caught up with a few friends here last year, including some long lost ones and between them, they showed me around the city.

I was not quite prepared for the current trip, which Su arranged more or less single handedly and with single minded determination, but here I am, and we have decided to make the best of the time we are here.

We slept rather well the first night, assisted by a couple of drinks from the 18-year old Chivas Regal bottle. I got up around 6am when the sky had yet to light up. As I looked out of the hotel window, the first thing I saw was a huge spread of what appeared to be piled up snow or dirt by the road side. At 15 degrees, It could not be snow though. It turned out to be the tree tops of cherry blossoms, in full blossom. As soon as we finished breakfast, we went for the site. The sky had fully lit up by then, and even though it was a bit cloudy, it was beautiful, very beautiful. The main road and side streets were lined with cherry, plum or peach blossoms and other flowering or blossoming trees. We took many pictures. It was like Korea two years ago when we joined a trip with a photographer to take pictures of cherry blossoms. The white papery blossoms appeared dazzling white against the sun and were everywhere, which in turn lightened and brightened the mind and made us very happy wherever we went. We got so carried away that we almost missed our meeting in the hotel with Gus at 9:30am.

Gus was waiting at the hotel entrance when we rushed back. He took us to Stanley Park on foot, taking the very picturesque routes so that we could take more pictures. The sun had come out by then and we had our hands full for the next two and a half hours, stopping often to take pictures. As it turned out and unbeknown to us, April is cherry blossom season for Vancouver. We think the local government could be more aggressive in advertising the city in that light, but I suppose they have other things on their mind over the years. As a start, the city must have been busy handling the rush of people from Hong Kong and their money which had caused such a boom in the property market.

Stanley Park has a lot to offer. It is big. This would be my third visit; and it looked different every time. There are plenty of skillfully laid out flower beds, well kept trees and beautifully maintained lawns, all connected by walking trails with lakes and meadows in between, so that it is almost picture perfect wherever one goes. Gus said that the sun and the kind weather could have helped, but quickly added that the place would be even more beautiful and visitors friendly in the summer months, with roses everywhere and different varieties of flowers in every corner. Gus took us to the Beaver Lake where we witnessed its slow but sure transformation to a marsh land and eventually to a meadow. We learnt that a riparian zone or area is the interface between land and a river, stream, lake or wetland. We also caught up with Gus on what has been happening around him. Among other things, we discussed the world of impermanence and the art of letting go.

We ended up having lunch at the café in the middle of the Park. Gus had taken us there last year when it was cold, wet and windy, and worse, when it was closed for a private party. This time round, however, it was warm and sunny, as was the reception.

The walking and the wine in great company must have been conducive to a great afternoon nap. We woke up past 8pm and walked to our next meal, which we took at a Japanese restaurant nearby, which offered great sockeye salmon sashimi and greater hospitality service, in very reasonable prices.

All in all, not a bad first day.

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