September 23, 2012

A Trip Supreme – Ich Bin Ein Vancouverite

…and so we landed in Lotusland. The sight of Grouse Mountain triggered a time warp back to my not-so-troubled youth. I recalled when Lady Van first seduced me around 1986, beckoning me with her mystic charms, perched on the edge of the continent with promises of escaping adolescence. The second phase of my infatuation came a few years later, when mere words from native son Douglas Coupland added to her allure while a recession prompted an exodus of Ontario youth to her shores. I had to do something more dramatic than just fly out to be with her; instead, I took a motorcycle trip across the continent in 1994 that ended up there. Since then, even an ocean can’t keep us apart and so I drag my family along to for a stopover in Vancouver whenever we go back to Canada for a visit.
Now back to the trip supreme tale:

As Tourists: we landed and checked into the (Sort-of) Comfort Inn. The luxury of my parent’s house was quite different from the reality of budget lodgings. But fear not! We jumped into a blinding array of sights, rambling around, just doing stuff.

Stanley Parkof course. Perfect for the kids. The tour of Vancouver Aquarium this time was far better for us than the last. Perhaps it was because we weren’t temporarily insane from jet lag like in 2008? Found the fish and other aquatic animals have a far better deal than their captive counterparts do in Japan. Dolphins don’t jump through hoops any more—don’t they have KPIs like the rest of us? Besides more living space and better union breaks, I think the aquarium has given the marine animals the vote. Only in Vancouver. I sound like Allan Fotheringham.

We love Richmond! I daydream, sense that if we moved here our lives would be as perfect as those depicted in IKEA catalogues. Even the Chinese food at the mall is Michelin-guide delicious. And here – no xenophobia intended – I feel like I am back in Japan thanks to my being among the small minority of non-Asians strolling the streets. Plus, I was “shushed” by one of the stern-faced producers of one of the Hollywood North TV shows that were filming as we strolled around Steveston. Overall, in two words, Richmond “felt right.”

Next day-Pacific National Exhibition: cruising for parking spot off East Pender St., an older Asian woman flagged us down and we parked in her nearby garage for $15. I enjoyed stiffing the outrageous parking prices of the city-run lots. We went to the PNE’s livestock area, walked among the rides.

Elena enjoyed it--like when we were in Guam, she reveled in being less constrained by rules. Got all you can ride day tickets for Naomi and Elena, and they went on a frenzy of mom-daughter bonding.

Marina seemed OK with being stuck with me most of the time. I went on a few rides with Elena. For lunch, we snorted back some plutonium-flavored poutine. I gambled toonies on the roulette wheel with zero luck—goddamn carnies. It was outrageous family fun; like a six-hour John Mellencamp song.

Nearing the day’s end, I caved in—despite my spidey senses telling me don't do it--and decided I would ride The Revelation. It is a 160 ft. tall skyscraper rotating arm with cockpit seats on both ends. Looked like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. But it provided the expected rush for this aging adrenalin junkie. The g-forces and the view were worth the extra $20 cost. Highly, absolutely and ecstatically recommended.

Soggy Granville Island: it had to rain at least once, right? I had a great coffee moment at the Granville Island Market (filled with retirees): swilled a freshly brewed gustatory masterpiece fashioned by a surly barista, then I perused the Georgia Straight while the Rising Daughters were magically docile for a few minutes. I took that as a sign and bought some very special healing crystals…Had you there, didn’t I?  Just messing with you, Reader. I am not Yanni.

Our trip clock was winding down. Day before departure for home, we took an afternoon drive out to Horseshoe Bay and basked in the view.

Returning to the hotel via Hwy 1, with perfect timing we crested a hill offering a nice view of New Westminster just as the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” played on the local classic rock station. A Perfect Moment.

After the kids fell asleep, a couple of nights I skulked out of the hotel room and took off for catch-ups with old friends in Vancouver. Like my friends in Ottawa, this is another reason I love to travel. We connected the dots between the years, information garnered from random stay-in-touch emails, and our present lives.

The night before we returned to Japan, we went on a night cruise in the car to downtown Vancouver. This is something we like to do in summer nights regardless of location. Drive around, suck in the summer night air, and the kids fall asleep in the back seats. Vancouver’s night scenes, new to our eyes, engaged the eyes and mind.

Excuse me, while I kiss the sky (in the City of Glass).
(Courtesy of the Internet.)

That’s it.

September 17, 2012

A Trip Supreme - Ottawa

Over two weeks have passed since our return; I have decompressed and can type objectively. Finding the right word to encapsulate the entire trip has proved elusive. Instead, like a good free jazz session, I will boil down the disparate, loosely defined elements to concoct a demi-glace of memories. Beware of the aftertaste as I offer only fleeting glimpses, banal thoughts, and silly sensations of our summer retreat to Canada.

Ottawa: lush and green despite local obsession with the “dry” summer (no wildfires threatening Kanata, now were there?). After four years since our last visit, I again appreciate the space and envy the ample elbowroom between people—an extrapolation of the expanses between cities, towns, and buildings. Curiously, only during this trip do I sense that the road lanes are definitely narrower than in cloistered Japan. Or maybe because the vehicle was larger? One warm evening, I introduced my family to the Britannia beach neighborhood and Naomi felt the same kinship with the place that I do. Must be the aquatic link and squadrons of shithawks patrolling the skies. Later that week, together with my brother and his girlfriend, we enjoyed a tour of the capital’s sightseeing spots while perched on a London-style double-decker tourist hauler. All the while, I ignored the ironic voices in my head and enjoyed the moment.

Family: The point of this trip was being with family. Every wonderful and occasionally exasperating moment of it. Mom made a tremendous effort to make us feel completely welcome: the downstairs bedroom was sparkling; a new bathroom was installed just for visitors, and this main course was topped off with an array of playthings for the Rising Daughters that would shame Toys ‘R Us. 

We sucked the marrow from the ten days. Examples: my extended family came for a mid-summer “Thanksgiving” dinner. Nearly two decades since I’d last seen my cousin M., who now has a very happy family not unlike my own. In general, Grampa and Nana did their best to keep the girls occupied.

We took a trip out to Calypso water park, which was splash-tastic. On the way back, we dropped in on some other relatives and found that my other cousin R and her husband had produced the cutest little girl on the continent: “L.” Here she meets “E” and “M”. We Are Family.

Old, Irreplaceable Friends: I am lucky to have remained friends with many fine people who tolerate our whirlwind visits with generosity of time and abundant humor. I am grateful that our personalities still jibe in defiance of the passage of time. We had a visit that featured mammoth, delectable burgers, and ample good cheer. Bringing family with me meant no booze, though, as did the afternoon time frame. With myself entirely to blame, such hyper-catch-up visits are like speed-dating except these are people I really want to talk/drink/swim with for more than a few hours. Next time!

Fishin’ and Drinkin’. This vacation timing was such that I could join the infamous Father-Son Camping Weekend that Steve-O and Dad have been attending over the years. Canoed in and out of the camp spot with my uncle Pat, who has a human hard drive of great stories from his globetrotting over the years. He was kind enough to mentor me on long-forgotten canoeing skills, otherwise I’d still be going around in circles on the lake. And no chicks allowed! Key words: canoe, bivouacking, beer, cussing without remorse, fish in beer batter, nasty snoring and enormous, horrifying farts issued with extreme prejudice.

The main leg of our trip home thus ended, and we lit out for Vancouver.